April 27, 2012 – 12:09 pm

Instead of the ear plugs that many music listeners grew up with and consider as standard earphones, the new rage is the over-exemplified use of cans, or headphone with the over-compensating design, or what Jason England of New Rising Media calls, The Rapper Headphone Conspiracy.

Allow me to propose a scenario to you.You purchase an iPod and begin listening to music through the earphones that come as standard with the product. Now that the minimalist white design isn’t such a fashion statement anymore, it’s lifted the veil on a search for audio quality, which is still driven by looks; but under a different rule to before: bigger is better.

No this isn’t an intended double entendrè for rambunctiously promiscuous females, it’s a trend that returns us to the use of cans. Over-exemplified headphones of the on-ear variety, with an over-compensating design ethic. Granted other smaller profile, in-ear models are on offer; but there is only one set of headphones that the subsequent rapper usually poses with in promotional photography.

This took Dr. Dre to the length and breadth of audiophile superstardom when his name was used for a branded series of headphones by Monster, simply dubbed “Beats by Dre.” This warranted an overblown design, a jaw dropping price and, to take ‘Steve Jobs’ terminology, a reality distortion field surrounding these bass-heavy headphones being the best sound quality that money can buy. Although these could also be the unquestionable demise of the high-end headphone market.

Here is where the conspiracy begins.

Quoting from Dre himself:

People aren’t hearing all the music.

Artists and producers work hard in the studio perfecting their sound. But people can’t really hear it with normal headphones. Most headphones can’t handle the bass, the detail, the dynamics. Bottom line, the music doesn’t move you.

With Beats, people are going to hear what the artists hear, and listen to the music the way they should: the way I do.

Just a quick, picky thing: you won’t hear ‘what the artists hear,’ as they’ll be embracing the uncompressed version on the recording desk, which when mixed together (before mastering) will give a far superior sound before being turned into whichever form of digitally compressed file you take your music nowadays. So Beats or no Beats, this is technically incorrect.

The frequency response of their original (and most promoted) headphones, the ‘Studio,’ is what you’d expect from most headphones of this size on the market: 20-20,000Hz; but with the use of ‘advanced materials’ to deliver undistorted highs and rich lows. They have a 115db dynamic range, and a respectable (but not the biggest) 40mm driver size. Of course, this may be all good quantitative statistics. However, we must also focus on the qualitative, because audio is something much more of a finely-tuned judgement, the same way that pixels don’t necessarily define the quality of a camera’s photograph. The sum of its parts.

For the Beats Studio, and many other headphones branded by rappers that match this product, I’m not sure how incorporated into the R&D and building process they were; but the bass exists far too much within the context of the sound. It swaps into the mid-range, the active noise cancellation offers a hiss that when you hear it never disappears, and there are just simply other headphones that cost less, yet have a similar or better sound signature.

The textured sound of these are next-to indistinguishable with a pair of Sennheiser HD 419s. They even manage to implement the same over-quantified bass that the Beats and many more love; but that’s where the conspiracy lies.

The on-ear, closed back headphones of old were celebrated by sound enthusiasts and constructed for that very purpose: providing a thoroughbred set of audio values that were simply unobtainable elsewhere. Now, however, in partnership with a rapper, we now have a set of bass-heavy, hip-hop reliant, over-visually branded and fashioned, over-priced cans that are supposed to be the representation of the ‘high-end’ market, when forty quid can get audiophiles the same quality.

And now that 50 Cent, Jay-Z and, most recently, Ludacris have entered the Rapper Headphone game, it seems that this is the final kiss of death heard all over the world through a pair of headphones valued close to £300. That is until Vanilla Ice has a go…

Note: Jason England is the Editor-in-Chief of “nerd journalism” site, New Rising Media, where they write about social media, technology, music, movies and games to anyone who’s interested.

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  2. I agree with the basic point of the article, but ouch, that’s some tortured writing. What is “over-quantified bass?” What does “swaps into the mid-range” mean? Isn’t “quantitative statistics” redundant? Does the writer understand that mastering and mp3 compression are two different things? And since the writer claims to know what good headphones sound like, why didn’t he make any recommendations?

    By Jesus Harvey on Apr 28, 2012

  3. Check out the ‘Celebrity Headphone Deathmatch’ at the headphone specialist review site Innerfidelity.

    They’re not all as bad as the Beats, but you have to ask yourself how much of a premium you’re paying for a celebrity name on your cans.

    By Dan on May 4, 2012

  4. My hearing impaired ears can’t tell difference anymore, so $300 for headphones just won’t work. After all, I’m just happy that I can hear at all, for without music, my life would be very dull. And it’s very hard to lip-read an audio recording.

    By Roger on Jun 11, 2012

  5. I’m shocked, SHOCKED, that rappers would come out with really expensive head phones. that being said, I didn’t grow up in the era of in-ear phones, so I’m used to headphones. sure, it draws more power from my iPOD, but I took an 18 hour bus ride with those damn in-ear head phones and the sound SUCKED and it was uncomfortable as Hell to keep these seemingly Spanish Inquisition designed torture implements in.

    I think what the author of the spiel was missing is the fact that ‘cans’ are used in recording studios. I can tell you as a fact that no one in a PRO studio uses those goofy little as phones. I mean really you’re in a $200 and hour studio and they hand me ear buds and i start looking for other problems, like drum overhead mic suspended by duct tape from the ceiling. thing is i bought some light, quality phones that cover my ear and don’t hurt for $16 USD. so if you wanna buy $300 headphones go right a head. but is a matter of people be jackasses, not a conspiracy.

    By Gus Doja on Jun 25, 2012

  6. and by the way, I’m making this an open challenge to P Ditty to a remix contest, his big ‘ol earphones vs. mine. I don’t think, even with the expensive headgear that his silly ass could mix his way out of a paper bag!

    By Gus Doja on Jun 25, 2012

  7. So no need to mugya in a back alley when you’re dumb enough to hand over $200+ for a pair of $50 phones.

    Ts’all about vulgar and droopy pants.

    By Vaniila White on Jul 10, 2012

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