It does not happen every day that you get to sit down with Dr. Dre and talk about his current projects. We had the opportunity to meet with the hip-hop mogul alongside with Beats president and COO Luke Wood during their stay in Hong Kong as part of the Asian leg of his 2013 Beats Tour. As the frame of the meeting suggests, our conversation did not touch any of his own music — so don’t expect any updates on Detox in the following lines — but rather a detailed look on the latest developments and products of Beats Electronics that include the latest model of the Studio headphones and the highly anticipated new streaming service called that Daisy. While both products are set to push the envelope in their respective market segments, our conversation shows that passion and the appreciation for detail of its makers are what made Beats a successful and influential brand with global recognition.
What is the focus of your current Asia tour? Any personal expectations?
Dr. Dre: For me it’s basically just to promote the headphones in this exciting market. We’ve spent a lot of time to promote our albums and records so why not invest the same amount of time to promote the thing that will help the people listen to the music right on?
Has the development of the brand turned out to be as expected?
Dr. Dre: It is definitely an intense ride (laughs). When we started back in 2006, we worked with Monster for a few years. Then, approximately 16 months ago, we started taking over our own product development. About eight months ago, we separated with Monster entirely. The Pill and The Executive — products that we put out last year since then — these were developed entirely within Beats as a freestanding company. Looking back at the beginning and comparing it with where we stand today and operating independently on a global scale, we are definitely proud on what we have accomplished as a brand and company in such a short span of time.
What can you tell us about the new Studio headphones?
Luke Wood: We were working on these for the past year. With the new Studio Headphones, we really want to be evolutionary in a sense of design. As you can see, it’s really beautiful and iconic. But when it comes to the sound perspective, we had to be revolutionary with this model. I always like to use artists to draw reference or comparison. If you think back to the first record of The Clash (The Clash, 1977), you can tell it’s all energy, vision, idea, momentum. But they didn’t know how to play together yet. By the time they come to London Calling, which I think is a classic record, the group completely learned what their sound was, how to play, how to use the studio. So this is where we find ourselves as a sound company. The first Studio headphones was our first album so to speak.
(Turns to Dre) If you go back to your sound of the late ’80s and compare it to records you made 10 years later, you can tell it’s like night and not.
Dre: Yes, it is (laughs).
LW: At Beats, we learned how to use the tools. Just like Dre and Jimmy learned the tools on the console in the recording studio, we learned about electrical engineering to get our sound. The design is really different. We are employing automotive servicing techniques. There are no straight lines, it is inspired by the evolution of the Porsche 911 over 30 years and how it slowly smooths out. All the materials are completely different. It’s a third lighter and much more durable than the first Studio. It’s really not until you feel the two headphones from the design aesthetics that you start to see how much crisper and cleaner the new Studios are.
What about the technology of the headphone itself?
LW: It has an advanced power management system. It fixes this with a 20-hour rechargeable battery and can be charged via micro USB almost anywhere. You prevent wasting energy with the Auto On/Off feature turning off when you unplug.
How about noise cancelling which assumes a bigger role in the headphone industry?
LW: For the old one we used analog noise canceling while for the this one we approach it in digital way. It’s a very new platform for noise canceling, so we created two different modes. If the headphone is on with no cable plugged in, experience increased noise canceling because no music is playing. When music is playing, we’ve calculated the perfect balance between noise canceling and sound quality. We call this switch Adaptive Noise Canceling (ANC) switch between two modes.
Dre: Nobody before was doing headphones that actually made records. We understand how to do it and how it’s supposed to sound. A lot of people think of these headphones are just bass-heavy. No, they are right and you’re just not used to listening to the headphones in a right way.
How do you plan to fight product piracy in Asia?
LW: If you look at our product, it is an incredibly complex puzzle. The glue, the polymer the consistency of every part of the materials, the density of the cushion as it moves around, all that affects the sound. Do you think anybody who’s doing a counterfeit is thinking about any of that? No. The biggest challenge is that people think they are buying Beats and then getting this horrible, poisonous experience of fraud. So it’s the shame that they might think that this is just the way our products sound. So we have to stop it. Not because it is about commerce but because it is about sound. It’s very important to us so we are focusing on all ports of entry. Our strategy is to work very closely with customs enforcement all around the world. We are also trying to focus on the internet because online is the first place of piracy. Mostly, it’s about education. You’ll find that most of the customs folks want to do the right thing to help but they don’t know the difference, so we have to show them what real Beats look like. Two years ago, they didn’t even know what Beats were. In addition, we are also working closely with the Chinese government to go back to the actual source which is the factory level. The Chinese government has no real interest in having fake products coming off these lines. That’s not beneficial for their economy, not beneficial for their legitimate suppliers who are building real businesses and pay taxes.
How do you evaluate if a brand or artist good for a collaboration with Beats?
Dr. Dre: Since we are always trying to push the envelope with Beats, we look for people and entities that are interesting and extremely talented people. This makes it much easier for us to work with them since they are also highly involved in the development of the products they represent. They excite and inspire us.
LW: Although I hate to say it as it might sound boring, but all the people we have worked so far — Lady Gaga, LeBron James, Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj and more — are all friends of ours. All the collabs that we have done with artists or what we have done at retail, it’s never a marketing idea. It’s a great platform for artists, athletes, fashion designers, etc. because music goes everywhere. So when we sit down together it basically starts out as an idea that we want to accomplish together.
Dre, how hands-on are you when it comes to developing new products for Beats?
Dr. Dre: Very hands-on. I’m involved with the sound and the look. With the first Studio headphone for instance, we went back and forth for at least two years developing the look and the sound. Most of the time went into the sound to be honest because that is the center piece. This is not just a celebrity-endorsed product. It is something that I am part of very actively and I want to represent me and what I do in a real way. It’s not like you can just stick my face and my name on it and put it out there.
Special thanks to A-Vibe