Three weeks ago, when the coveted box of Dr. Dre Beats Executive headphones arrived for review I could not be more excited. After a grueling few months of poorly syndicated sound, courtesy of my flimsy Sony headphones — a relic I’d purchased on the streets of Bangkok — I was ready for something better. Just a week prior, the Beats acquisition by Apple had leaked, and the internet went wild, and now I had a chance to get in on the action. ‘Stoked’ does not begin to explain my enthusiasm. Evidently my expectations were set too high.
To be fair, Beats was not my first introduction into superior sound. As a long-time lover of music, I’d dabbled in Bose and Bowers & Wilkins in the past, but neither of these instruments boasted the Hip Hop tuning that Beats did. And let me tell you, I love Hip Hop. All evidence pointed to me loving Beats for this very reason. But I didn’t.
From the get-go my relationship with Beats were on the rocks. The first set sent to my office was defective. My sheer perseverance and naïve longing for base-y melodies cost me a good hour and half of investigation into the issue: batteries, check; cable connection, check; alternate cable connection, check; new batteries, double check; instruction manual read front to back, check; google search, check; consultation of colleagues, check; irritation, check, check, check.
Luckily, within a few days, there was a new set waiting for me on my desk. As you can imagine, by this point, the anticipation was essentially killing me. I lined up a playlist ranging from Miles Davis, to Daft Punk, to Wolfgang, and I hit play.
At first it was bliss. With the volume cranked high, the beautiful rhymes of Tyler the Creator streamed into my eardrums, erupting in a cerebral auditory orgasm. I was in love.
The comfort of the headset was unparalleled. Unlike some of the other music makers that had passed through our offices in the preceding weeks, this one reigned supreme on my ear cushions. If I can say one thing with absolute certainty, it’s that Dr. Dre knows how to craft some seriously comfy headgear.
It wasn’t until The Strokes’ ‘Hard to Explain’ graced my playlist that the first signs of flawed design started to creep into my perceived utopia of sound. In the middle of that particular song there is false ending, a pause, just for a second or so. False endings are great, when used appropriately, and find themselves into tracks across various genres of music. But with Beats they sssssuck, and here’s why:
Beats Executive is a noise-cancelling headphone system that draws its energy from two AAA batteries and there is a not-at-all subtle hiss that undercuts every track it plays. Prior to The Strokes gracing my playlist with their aptly placed pause, I had failed to notice it because the music had drowned out the screeching sound. After the pause my ear continued to catch the sharp sibilant sound—it completely ruined my music experience. Ironically, the battery-powered noise cancelling is supposed to eliminate the very type of sound it produces.
After this, the design flaws just kept rolling in. With most other noise cancelling headphones you can opt to not cancel noise. Unfortunately, Dr. Dre overlooked this option and instead forces his listeners to always engage in noise-cancelled music consumption. Thanks for the choices there, Dre.
To top it all off, I went through three sets of batteries during my two-week demo. Granted, I accidentally left them on for hours at a time while I wasn’t using them, but still. Three sets, that’s a bit outlandish, don’t you think? Batteries are expensive, and since you cannot disable the noise-cancelling function, you have to use them to listen to anything and everything. Brutal.
Verdict: Beats Executive retail for a ludicrous US$329.95. Although the sound is lovely and the bass is bumping, (but only when turned up to more than 80%) the hefty price tag just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. For the same price, or cheaper, you can buy a variety of headphones with similar sound quality and no hiss.