Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Headphones Brand and Quality

20140529_065425I’ve never been a fan of Beats headphones. They seem to project a sense of immense quality, whether it be in sound, construction or comfort. Clearly many people bite. I didn’t quite think so. Now, an article on Medium reveals just how cheaply made some Beats headphones are. So cheap, that sometimes they actually have to add extra weights.

A teardown by Bolt of the Beats Solo headphones has found that one-third of the headphone’s weight is made up of useless metal parts. Alright, they are not totally useless, they were needed to make the headphones heaver. They needed to make the headphones heavier so that gives a sense of quality, durability and value.

That’s insane. Or, perhaps some people prefer to call it marketing, or branding. I’ve always thought Beats was more about marketing than real quality.

In fact, I’ve been planning to write a post for some time on the topic of branded headphones. I’ve somehow left it in draft for several months. This teardown of the Beats Solo reminded me of that work-in-progress.

Sometimes, it’s true that you’ve got to pay for quality products. The more it cost, the better quality they are likely to be. If something’s too cheap, then it can’t be that good. Well, you see, companies know what customers are thinking. Some of them capitalise on that to better market their products.

So on the matter of branding, you probably think some brands are better, generally, than others. Like how this could be the case with high-fidelity headphones. Is that true?

An old article, at least by Internet standards, from TIME caught my attention some time ago. The article ranks 18 headphone brands from worst to best. The ranking may surprise some people. To be clear, this ranking is mostly based on expert reviews of individual products, and to a lesser degree also considers specifications and features. The individual product scores are averaged toward their respective brands.

This ranking is not about the price. It’s about how good the actual products are, on average, of the respective brands.

Did you think Beats by Dre should be ranked pretty high? Not quite, it seems. Did that surprise you? Well, that depends on whether you’ve been con by all the intense marketing surrounding headphones. Out of 18 brands, Beats ranked as the 2nd worst. That’s right, second worst.

Now, there are some good Beats headphones. The TIME report compares brands. The many individual products are averaged out to contribute to the brand ranking. So don’t run off thinking that all Beats headphones are bad. But it is telling about the brand. It isn’t as good as the marketing may have made it out to be.

In fact, even the better Beats headphones aren’t all that great.

I expected Sennheiser and AKG to do better than where they are ranked, which is above average in the TIME report. I did not think Shure would stand in the first place to be the best brand. I suppose this means that even the worst of Shure’s headphones are pretty good.

Here’s the brand ranking from best to worst, with the scores in parenthesis.

  1. Shure (90)
  2. Grado (89)
  3. Klipsch (84)
  4. Pioneer (83)
  5. Sony (80)
  6. AKG (79)
  7. Sennheiser (78)
  8. JVC (75)
  9. Audio-Technica (74)
  10. Panasonic (74)
  11. Apple (74)
  12. Bose (73)
  13. Philips (72)
  14. Creative (68)
  15. Koss (68)
  16. Skullcandy (62)
  17. Beats by Dre (58)
  18. Plantronics (57)

Bose, surprisingly, ranks below average too.

Of the 18 listed up there, I’ve personally had a preference from brands like AKG, Klipsch, Sennheiser, and Sony (in no particular order), when it comes to sound quality.

The lesson here is that you cannot just shop by the brand. You need to pay attention to the specific products. More importantly, get it in your head that Beats isn’t about quality at all. If you want quality, there are so many better ones out there.

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