Apple's buying Beats? They must be deaf

I may be among the first to say it, but I'm certain I won't be the last. Beats headphones are crap. The technology in the headphones caters to music with heavy bass. In my opinion, it's similar to turning up the bass on your cheap home or car stereo in order to make it sound better. It's an illusion to cover up a lack of quality sound reproduction.

So I was bewildered when Apple announced it was forking out $3 billion to buy Beats Electronics and Beats Music becuase (and I'm no fan boy) Apple makes high quality products. Why would they fish downstream?


I understand the logic behind Apple purchasing a headphone company. Apple is not a speaker company, but boy have they made a living on music with iTunes. So, with an acquistion, they not only get the headphone company's existing base of customers, the supply chain and sales infrastructure, but Apple also gets to upgrade its own EarBuds/EarPods technology, which I think has been sub-par from the beginning. I never have been able to comfortably wear those things, never mind moving around without them falling out.

I'm a fan of Klipsch, myself. I fell in love with Klipsch during the 1970s when I first heard a pair of Klipschorn floor speakers. A German salesman at a local music store played some reel-to-reel Jazz and Blues tapes over them. I closed my eyes and felt like I was sitting in front of a stage.

Over the past five years, I've had two pair of Klipsch's S4 in-ear headphones, and I've yet to find something better for the price. Admittedly, Klipsch's quality has gone downhill by catering to the masses in recent decades, but they're still a solid bet. Bose makes some fantastic over-ear and on-ear headphones, albeit overpriced. Shure headphones are also highly rated, but you do have to check with your credit line to make sure you can afford them. Beats headphones aren't exactly cheap either. They cost up to $450 a pair.

Of course, like food, sound reproduction is more often about individual taste. But, like food, it's either high quality or low quality, regardless of whether it's popular or not. So again, why would Apple reserve its biggest acquisition to date to buy Beats?

The experts confirmed by suspicion about Beats' quality. A Time Magazine article recently published the results of data it compiled from the website FindTheBest. The site compiles expert reviews on a number of consumer products. Beats by Dr. Dre headphones ranked 17 out of 18 brands. Number one: Shure. Dead last: Plantronics.

So, perhaps Apple chose Beats because it was more expensive to acquire a higher-quality product. Beats Electronics reported $1.5B in revenue last year. By comparison, Voxx International -- which bought Klipsch a few years ago -- only reported just over $800 million in revenue last year. Then there's Bose. Sure, it's a private company, and two years ago they reported $2.28B in revenue. Still, that's in the ballpark of possible acquisitions considering the amount of do-re-mi Apple has in its coffers. So it's not likely the acquisition price.

What Beats may have going for them is that they charge a premium on their headphones based on celebrity. Dr. Dre promotes them, millions of adoring fans buy them, and yet, the headphones only cost the company as little as $14 to make. Sad as it is to say, this may be exactly why Apple is purchasing them -- profit margin.

Still, I have hope that Apple will do to Beats headphones what it has with its own products and raise the bar on quality.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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