Dr. Dre is putting some hip-hop into headphones.
"Beats" by Dr. Dre is a new line of stylish, great-sounding headphones. Dre is the legendary rap artist/producer, joined on this venture by music industry legend Jimmy Iovine (Interscope-Geffen-A&M chairman) and Monster Cable (longtime leader in audio/video cables and accessories). Together, they have made some interesting-looking and sounding headphones.
At the top of the line are the $349.95, full-range, over-the-ear design Beats. They are beautiful to look at (shiny black eye-candy with bright red trim) and to listen to. This is an active, noise-canceling headset. That means they are powered by two AAA-batteries and have an on-off switch. It also means that compared to most nonpowered headsets, the Beats can go loud -- not loud enough to make your eyes bulge out of their sockets (or permanently damage your hearing), but loud enough (115db) to be heard clearly everywhere. Even in the subway.
Beats by Dr. Dre
Sound quality is quite good. Highs are smooth and never harsh. Midrange is clear and clean. The bass is prodigious and forceful. Overall, the balance is neutral with a very slight tilt toward the dark-bottom end of the spectrum but always musical.
In our tests, a number of us have tried the Beats and found them comfortable to wear (9.2 ounces) and great to listen to. We also like the fact that the headphones actually contract and fold to fit in their own small carrying case for easy carrying when you're done listening.
And now there are two. Last week, Monster announced the new "Beats Tour" ear buds. This new design carries through with its fore-runner's shiny black-and-red design and takes it to the next level. In the Beats Tour, the in-ear "speaker" is shiny black and the ribbonlike cord is red.
The 'Beats Tour'
The first thing you notice about the Tour is that red cord. Notice I said that it is ribbonlike. That's so the cord doesn't tangle, twist or knot -- which nearly every other ear-bud design is guilty of at some point (usually when you take your device and earphones out of your pocket.)
As for sound, the family resemblance is amazing. These sound a lot like their bigger, powered brethren but they weigh a whole lot less. They are smooth-sounding for voice and instrumentation, with mandatory powerful bass added to the mix. They also go loud. Very loud. Too loud for me (and that's something.) For the record, they sound pretty good playing very loud. An in-ear design does wonders for canceling outside noise without having to resort to any extra electronic circuitry.
The earphones come with a set of different-sized ear tips (not to be confused with Q-tips). The medium tips that were premounted on our sample fit some of us perfectly and were too small for other testers. The earphones also come with their own small, round, zippered case.
The Beats Tour will soon be available (mid-December) in limited quantity at the pre-launch retail price of $149.95 at
and beatsbydrdre.com. They're a huge bargain at that price -- and worth a trip out of your way to listen to.
Gary Krakow is TheStreet.com's senior technology correspondent.