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Celebrity endorsements are nothing new. Late night show hosts shill for Microsoft, directors show up at product announcements and movie stars appear at product unveilings. There is one type of product, however, that’s become notorious for its epidemic of endorsements; headphones.

You’ve probably heard of some already. Beats by Dr. Dre. Soul by Ludicrous. House of Marley. These are just the most common of what’s become a burgeoning business. While these headphones may seem attractive at first glance, savvy buyers should be cautious. They’re usually not worth the (often inflated) price.

The Beats That Started It All

Celebrity headphones weren’t always a thing. Their recent surge of popularity occurred only after Beats by Dr. Dre hit the market in 2008. Arguably, Beats aren’t really an “endorsement” because Dr. Dre actually founded and owned the company, but whatever your thoughts on its authenticity, there’s little doubt that Beats paved the way forward.

Beats came into the market to serve a specific purpose; heavy bass 4 Equalizer Tools to Get The Best Out of Your Android Audio 4 Equalizer Tools to Get The Best Out of Your Android Audio Nearly every premium Android music app comes with a working equalizer (e.g., n7player, doubleTwist) and there are a few free music players with working equalizers as well (e.g., Shuttle Player, Rocket Player). However, if you... Read More . Dr. Dre no doubt picked up on the fact that fans of hip-hop and pop love to listen to their music on sound systems with earth-shaking sub-woofers, and headphones often sound weak by comparison.

monsterbeats

The first products from Beats were met with mostly favorable reviews. The Beats Solo received a four out of five stars from Digital Trends in 2009 and the Monster Beats received 4 stars out of five from What Hi-Fi? earlier the same year.

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Not a bad start. But then things started to go wrong.

Here Come The Clones

Other celebrities took note of Dr. Dre’s success, and a long list of copy-cats followed. 50 Cent founded his own company, SMS Audio in 2011. Ludacris became involved with Soul Electronics to produce the SOUL by Ludacris. A company called House of Marley cropped up to make Bob Marley-themed audio gear. Jay-Z got in bed with Skullcandy to spawn the Roc Nation Aviators. JBL put out the Tim McGraws. Koss designed the Tony Bennett TBSE1. And so on.

tonybennettheadphones

So, are any of these headphones good? To find out, I spoke with Digital Trend’s Ryan Waniata, a professional audio reviewer and former sound engineer. He told me that the common-sense notion that celebrity headphones are overpriced isn’t wrong.

“There’s no doubt that some of these headphones offer quality performance, but you’re also paying for the marketing,” he told me. “People tend to lean towards them for the style, or possibly just to mimic their favorite sports star, but sound quality is rarely the best available for the money.”

This tends to show up in reviews. The new Beats Studio received only 3.5 out of five stars at Digital Trends. The latest Soul by Ludacris earbuds received a 3.5 out of five at PC Magazine. And the SMS Audio Sync wireless headphones were panned by Laptop Magazine, earning just three out of five stars. While none of these ratings are terrible, they obviously fall short of favorites like the Shure SRH1540, Sennhesier Momentum and Audio-Technica ATH-M50.

So Why Do People Buy Them?

We’ve now established that celebrity-endorsed headphones are often overpriced and underwhelming. Yet they seem to sell like hotcakes. Step onto a bus or into a gym and you’re almost certain to see Beats or SMS Audio within a few minutes.

There are a few reasons why they might be preferable. The first is audio profile. As mentioned earlier, Beats was originally founded to fill a gap in the market; bass-heavy headphones. They still fill that role to an extent, though improvements by competitors and the emergence of other bass-heavy cans have cut into their advantage.

50centheadphone

Another is style. High-quality headphones are usually designed with audio quality, not looks, as a priority. That means they’re pretty dull. Some buyers consider headphones a fashion accessory 6 Online Fashion Communities For Stylish Men And Women 6 Online Fashion Communities For Stylish Men And Women Fashion is not always avant garde and experimental. There are tried and true style basics that can propel you into new levels of self-confidence and self-expression. These communities will help you get there. Read More and are attracted to the celebrity brands which, besides their name, often offer a variety of colors and inviting aesthetics.

And not all celebrity headphones are expensive. The Street by 50 Cent line, for example, is about $100. The cheapest Beats are about $120. And House of Marley sells on-ear headphones for $94.99. It’s not hard to understand why someone might wander into a store, see a sleek pair of celebrity headphones for around a hundred bucks, and walk out with them in under five minutes.

Don’t Fall For It!

In fact, you may at this point feel swayed. You may be thinking, “Hey, that doesn’t sound so bad. Can you even buy a decent pair of headphones for $100?”

Yes, you can. Examples of high-quality, low-cost headphones 5 Quality Headphones That Cost Less Than $50 5 Quality Headphones That Cost Less Than $50 Owning a quality pair of headphones is very important for anyone who wants or needs to listen to music by themselves on a regular basis. In fact, they're more important than the device actually playing... Read More include the Sony MDR7506, the Audio-Technica ATH-M30x and the Harmon Kardon CL Precision. All of these provide surprisingly rich audio quality, yet sell for less than $100. That’s not to say they’ll beat every celebrity headphone, in every situation, but they certainly take the snot out of the Street by 50 Cent!

audiotechnica

“Those may be good,” you might be thinking, “but man, they’re kind of ugly.” Let me let you into a secret; if you wear headphones in public, you’re going to look like a dork unless you’re the celebrity whose name is on the package. No one will care that you look like a dork, but that doesn’t make it any less true. If you’re concerned about looking cool, go buy a pair of half-decent earbuds and call it a day.

Conclusion

There’s no surprise ending here. Celebrity headphones sound alright, but there’s almost always a better option available at the same price. They sell on name and style and they’re not a good deal if you value sound quality.

Do you agree or (heaven forbid!) disagree? Let us know in the comments!

  1. Jonathan Wassapp-Ng
    September 29, 2015 at 9:12 am

    What is said in here is absolutely true. In fact if your looking to spend around 200-300 bucks of your money I recommend the Bose sound link in ear wireless which has great sound with clearing on bass and vocals on mids and highs and lows. Plus the wireless features will tell you your battery life and even tell you who is calling you. This headphone is priced at 250.00 but if you look online you can find for around 200.00 and I do own a pair. Another good buy but can be found online is the sol republic tracks air wireless headphones. This one is the best wireless headphones in terms of rich dynamic sounds with clear bass. This headphone will tell you the battery life and you can twist the head band which ever way and won't break. I also own a pair of these. Both the Bose sound link on ear wireless and sol republic tracks air wireless work up to 15 hours wireless!!!!

  2. Mustahsin S
    May 8, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    What the hell!!!!!! Never thought so deeply about headphones. I was gonna buy a beats by Dr. Dre after two months. Man! didn't know these facts, my heartiest thanks to you. Though I still have a desire to buy it in case I get extra money but before that I ain't buying any celebrity endorsed headphones. I doubted for a time that maybe its not worth its money cause its a celebrity thing, but did not know my doubt would come true. Thanks again for a great article :D

  3. Steve
    May 8, 2014 at 4:24 am

    3 words... Koss Porta Pro. A portable headphone with amazing sound for around $40. I bought my first pair back in 1984. Yes they're still around and that says it all. They're not serious sit down headphones but great for portable devices like phones, iPods etc. Accurate sound with great bass and a lifetime warranty.

    http://www.koss.com/en/products/headphones/on-ear-headphones/PortaPro__Porta_Pro_On_Ear_Headphone

  4. stevieod
    May 8, 2014 at 2:44 am

    Americans that are plainly stupid and lazy buy these over priced pieces of crap. When they are compared with high quality headphones, they generally have a ultra heavy, muddy bass response a screeching treble response and an overbearing mid-frequency response.

    I like to listen to music, I like bass and drums, but not exclusively. I like to hear the full range of frequencies, but since the dumbing down of America, music now only requires a beat, a loud bass sound and stupid misogynist words.

    Give me a good, high quality set of headphones, you can keep that house/rap crap.

  5. John W
    May 8, 2014 at 12:05 am

    Look at photos of recording studios - Beyer Headphones. Look at the microphones, AKG, Sennheiser, Sony, Shure. Think of any Hifi manufacturer that's been making audio equipment since the 1970's Panasonic, JVC .... etc
    I wonder who knows more about making audio transducers - Sennheiser or Dr Dre? You will never see a pair of endorsed Chinese made, fancy branded 'phones in a radio station or recording studio.
    Try to listen to your music through the equipment it was tracked and mixed on. Remember that 'phones tuned for bass heavy Hip-hop are completely useless for nearly every other type of music. They are also spectacularly useless on speech.

  6. KT
    May 7, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    I avoid celebrity endorsed anything, just a valueless mark up. The best example is: In the 90's Kip Winger had a signature series bass guitar! You know because when you think seriously talented bassist, you think Winger!

  7. Djgriffin
    May 7, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    I've been a club DJ for 25 years and I would never own a pair of beats. I have used pioneer, Sony Sennheiser and finally settled on the Allen and Heath Xone XD 53. Great warm sound, good high quality, especiallly in a loud DJ booth. They are a little expensive, but they sounds is awesome and I have not broken them yet - 2 years later, that may be a record!

    Nice article, It seems like designer headphones are like designer jeans, its just another fad that will fade away soon.

  8. P.f. B
    May 7, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    "We’ve not established that celebrity-endorsed headphones are often overpriced and underwhelming."

    I think you may mean "We've _now" established..."

  9. DachsieMom
    May 7, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    Bose is my preferred brand. I have both the on-ear and the earbuds. I also have the Bose radio/cd combination, and I've plugged it into my flatscreen TV creating a rather inexpensive home-theater.

    Bose has 5 star customer support, excellent products, so what else would I need? It works for me; I'm happy with it.

  10. Rod
    May 7, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    Interesting subject. .What would you really want , no celebrity tie-in and high quality reasonable price ? What would you go for?

  11. Paul Y
    May 7, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    Someone I know just bought a pair of Beats by Dr Dre - spent $400... I asked him if he was mad? He said they sounded OK - I suggested they had better sound better than that....

  12. john gudmundson
    May 7, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    Beats (the ones that I have had) all seemed to be cheaply made and never lasted and the sound wasn't any better than $ 10 earbuds from Walmart..plus I usually got my Beats when I was overseas, usually for about $60 US in audio shops in Germany and England

  13. Denise E
    May 7, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    Since I am quite destructive (hope daily use counts?) with my headphones, I like using those little in-ear ones. Been buying these Sony ones (can never remember the model number, but Google says: MDR EX50), suit me just fine in terms of sound quality and price. Daily commuting/running for buses and trains with occasional tripping over/stepping on said cable: gets me through a pair a year.

    Used to hanker for a pair of these big ones for sound isolation and sound quality - but then realised I wasn't super duper fussy about bass and stuff sounding _just right_, and also, it's hard to sleep on your side with big headphones on your head.

    Light, portable, value for (my) money, decent sound..

    But you know, if this stuff is what people knowingly spend their money on - then so much the better for these celebrities.

    • Matt S
      May 7, 2014 at 9:06 pm

      Earbuds are where it's at for most purposes. But when I'm at my desk, which where I'm listening when I pay real attention to the music, I break out the headphones.

  14. Mike D
    May 7, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Amazingly simple to put together your own pair for under $10 USD. Simple, no tools, and just combining two off-the-shelf items. Here's all you need to do; http://dbugslife.blogspot.com/2014/05/worlds-cheapest-noise-canceling.html

  15. PizzaEater
    May 7, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    People who don't have money want people to think they do have money, so they buy a few expensive items and show them off. People who do have money don't want anyone to know it so they try to blend in and not draw attention to themselves.

  16. pete
    May 7, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    I found Endorsed headphones prices working the other way. I recently tested some AKG K712 Pros in a HiFi shop (over USD$450) and then the AKG K701s (USD$259) they sounded the same to me. Then I read about the Quincey Jones Q701s which were identical to the K701s except for the labels and lime green colour accents like the connector cable. Next I saw Amazon do a sale price on them at just over USD$100!.. It sure pays to look around when buying headphones....

    • Matt S
      May 7, 2014 at 9:05 pm

      Yes it does. Those Q701s go for $259 to $299 at a lot of shops. I saw that Amazon deal on them, it's pretty outstanding. But then again, the Q701s are a bit of an exception to the rule, because they're actually a bit of an improvement over the basic K701s.

  17. etim
    May 7, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    I'll never understand why people would actually want to actually pay to be walking billboards for various corporate entities.
    If you want me to advertise for you, fine, give me the product for free-- or PAY ME!
    Of course, that rarely happens nowadays since there's so many fools out there who happily lay out extra $$ just to do the corp's grunt work for them.

    • Jim
      May 7, 2014 at 6:11 pm

      It finally dawned on me that what etim says is the truth. I wish I had all the bucks back I spent on Hang Ten t-shirts and those Izods with the cute little gators on them. I now hesitate to buy any items that advertise locations that I visit or products that I buy. But . . . if someone offers me one for free, that's another story.

  18. NP
    May 7, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    Yes! Celebrity endorsements and almost all other attention-getting marketing fulfill one only one purpose - GREED to increase company revenues. Attention is superficial by definition. High quality is enjoyed when a product performs excellently and is not infused into a product merely by stamping a label onto it.

  19. June D
    May 6, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    I'm with Matt. I would rather keep my ear buds than the headset. The only plus I have found is on a plane. Its obvious even to the annoying guy next to me that I am off in another world, to bugger off. For sure wouldn't buy them on say so of celebrity hawker.

  20. Tommy Crosby
    May 6, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    The Beats wasn't only the first to offer a heavy bass selection, they were the first to have removable headphone cables with a Mic/Remote on them.
    This is the reason - and only reason - why I got myself a pair at the 2009 Boxing Day.
    I wanted a remote and I'm a total cable killer that paid more in cable import for my old Sennheiser HD497 than on the headphone themselves during the 5+ years I had them.

    Even today, the AT-M50x now finally comes with a removable cable, but it's a special one that have a locking mechanism and don't have a Mic/Controller ie: it's nearly useless for me. It's even worst than the Sennheiser HD497 I had back in the days!

  21. LetsBfriends
    May 6, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    I use Panasonic RP-HT225's. They cost next to nothing, they sound good (to me), have a reasonable frequency range (better than some spendy cans), and are fairly sturdy. Best low cost headphones I've owned.

  22. Blah
    May 6, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    >>So Why Do People By Them?
    "by" should be spelled "Buy"

    • Matt S
      May 6, 2014 at 4:50 pm

      Thanks, fixed

  23. Thom Knepper
    May 6, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    I sure agreen by what you said.
    I have a pair of Sennheiser HD205. It sounds so much better dan Beat by Dre and i only coast me 40 euro's. So don't buy headphones so expencive!

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