Beats Electronics and Monster Cable Products, two companies that together defined the current $1-billion headphone industry with the Beats by Dr. Dre line, are parting ways at the end of the year.
But before the two become competitors in a segment of consumer electronics that is just as much about fashion as it is technology, a wave of new Beats by Dr. Dre headphones and boom boxes (built by Monster) will hit store shelves.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, I caught up with Jimmy Iovine, Beats Electronics' chairman and CEO of Interscope Geffen A&M Records, to talk about what products the Beats brand had planned for 2012 (you can see our interview in the video above).
First up will be the new Mixr headphones, designed by Grammy-winning producer and DJ David Guetta. The Mixr is a lightweight and strong design — I twisted and bent the headband, and it returned to form and never felt week — that offers the bass-heavy sound Beats is known for. At $279, the Mixr is set to hit U.S. stores in early February in black and white. They're already available in Europe.
February will also see a wireless release of the Solo headphones, also priced at $279. And due in mid-September are the $349 Executive headphones, which bring a sleeker and more understated look with a leather headband and aluminum ear cups.
Iovine was also proud of the new BeatBox, a follow-up to the first-generation (and much less portable) BeatBox, which will sell at a price of $399. A release date hasn't yet been set for the new battery- or AC-powered BeatBox, which plays music from smartphones and MP3 players docked on the speaker setup.
Since launching in 2009, Beats has teamed with Justin Beiber, Lady Gaga and Sean "Diddy" Combs for artist-sponsored headphones. The Mixr is the only artist-specific set of headphones planned for 2012, Iovine said.
But this year we will see more HTC smartphones paired with Beats headphones as a result of HTC purchasing a $300-million stake in the audio company late last year, he said. And Beats speakers will be found not just in the Chrysler 300, as they were in 2011, but also in the Dodge Charger. And, as we saw at CES, Beats speakers are making their way into more HP laptops this year too.
After the Monster manufacturing deal expires at the end of the year, Beats plans to go out on its own, Iovine told my colleague Gerrick D. Kennedy on our sister blog Pop & Hiss. Despite reports to the contrary, Iovine said, the split was always the audio start-up's intention.
"It was always planned. It was always a five-year deal," Iovine said. "It was a manufacturing distribution deal. We were with Monster for headphones and speakers. It was always a plan to turn into a freestanding company."
Image: The Beats Executive headphones from Beats by Dr. Dre. Credit: Beats Electronics/Monster Cable Products
Eliza Dushku served as the official celebrity ambassador for the Entertainment Matters program at the Consumer Electronics Show this week.
We caught up with the actress — known for playing Faith on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and roles in movies including "Bring It On" — at the Wynn in Las Vegas, where she was hosting Spike TV's VIP CES party at Tryst nightclub. Her gig as ambassador was intended to promote the relationship between the tech and entertainment industries.
"You're seeing kids that watch all their programming on iPhones or whatever smartphones they have," Dushku said. "So it's important that we're on top of that."
Dushku said she planned to walk the show floor with her boyfriend, former Laker Rick Fox, and wanted to check out the 4K and 8K televisions. "I remember last year going home [from CES] and looking at my own televisions and feeling like it was completely Stone Age," she said.
Calling herself a bit of a techie, Dushku, who has done voice work for video games in the past, rattled off a long list of her favorite tech products, including her BlackBerry and iPad. But her No. 1 item is her Bug Vac, the kind you buy from those SkyMall airline shopping magazines, she said.
"If a bug's on the wall, you extend the telescope-y thing and you suck the bug and it pulls it in and it fries it on a little metal plate," she said. "I love that thing. I can't live without it."
And it works?
"Oh, full on, you smell the bugs burning on the plate," she said. "Sorry, but better than crawling up my face."
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
Photo: Eliza Dushku at Tryst nightclub at the Wynn in Las Vegas during the Consumer Electronics Show. Credit: Andrea Chang / Los Angeles Times
50 Cent’s branding empire already includes energy shots, cologne and books, but his latest products are all about the music.
The rapper was at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week to promote his new line of headphones: the wireless Sync by 50, the wired Street by 50 and the soon-to-be-released Street by 50 wired ear buds.
The audio products, he told The Times during an interview at the Las Vegas Convention Center, are “an extension of my passion for music.”
“I’ll spend 30 or 40 minutes when I’m really inspired and have an idea, and the song will be done. And then we’ll spend a week making sure it sounds right afterwards,” he said. ”Then to have it go out to the general public and them listen to it on things that don’t actually allow them to hear it with the same qualities –- not so cool. So I want to try to be a part of [how] they consume it the right way. And maybe they’ll feel like I’m as good as I think I am, when they hear it that way.”
Both headphones are already available in stores and online after a soft launch during the holiday season.
The $400 Sync by 50, which 50 Cent was wearing around his neck during our interview as “a fashion statement,” promises to give users “crystal-clear wireless sound” up to 50 feet away and the ability to sync as many as four pairs of headphones to a single audio source. The headphones are professionally tuned and feature 40-mm drivers, 16-bit lossless digital sound and on-board controls with bass boost, volume control and mute.
The Street by 50 headphones are priced at $300 and feature professional studio sound, enhanced bass, soft memory foam cushions, passive noise cancellation and a detachable cord.
The ear buds, expected to be launched later this year, have a professionally tuned 11-mm driver and an ergonomically designed Apple control mic with volume control and reinforced cables. The wires on the ear buds are flat, which 50 Cent said prevented tangling. They are expected to cost $130.
The products are made by 50 Cent’s SMS Audio; he created the company and is its chief executive. Down the line, he said, SMS Audio will expand its offerings to include home audio systems, professional audio equipment, speakers, iPod docks and DJ headsets.
“I love music,” he said. “Why would I not want to make the best possible way to hear it?”
The celebrity headphone market has taken off in recent years, led by the Beats by Dr. Dre line. Dr. Dre was in Las Vegas for CES, as were Ludacris and “Jersey Shore” star Snooki — both of them hyping headphones.
50 Cent signed autographs for fans Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at CES and said he was excited to check out the latest technology at the trade show.
“My girlfriend, in my office, she’s a massage chair. She doesn’t talk much, she just works,” he said. “And I’m interested to go see what the new version of that does.”
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
Photo: 50 Cent wears a pair of his Sync by 50 headphones at CES in Las Vegas. Credit: Andrea Chang / Los Angeles Times
LL Cool J wanted to make one thing clear at the Consumer Electronics Show this week: He’s got a new product, and it’s not a line of celebrity headphones.
Instead, the rapper-actor wanted to talk about the Boomdizzle Virtual Recording Studio, which he said eliminated the need for an artist and his or her team to be in the same place to record music. LL Cool J co-founded Boomdizzle, an online community for artists, in 2008.
“The problem was: I’m in L.A.; my producer or my engineer’s in New York. I want to go in the studio tonight, but I want to collaborate,” LL Cool J said at a press gathering at the Las Vegas Convention Center. “I don’t want to email you my track and then you email me back your bass line, then I email you back a vocal and then you email me back a drum and then we email back and forth and back and forth.”
The Virtual Recording Studio provides the digital production, mixing and sound tools for artists to create music, LL Cool J said. To demonstrate the technology, he recorded a song Tuesday in front of an audience at CES while his engineer was in New York.
The platform will be completely Web-based and feature a “simple, accessible user interface,” he said. Users will be able to upload tracks and see each other over a video chat feature. He noted that the Virtual Recording Studio was not just for professional musicians, but for casual users as well — such as friends who wanted to get together online and sing karaoke.
“I think that that basically revolutionizes the world of music,” he said. ”If LL Cool J was 16, 17 years old and I was just starting out, I think I would grow vampire teeth to sink my teeth into this product.”
When the software launches, LL Cool J said, part of it will be free, another part will be pay-as-you-go and yet another portion will be subscription based. “I want to make sure that as many people have access to it as possible, and I also want to make sure that it does well as a business.”
The initial launch of the technology will be by invitation only.
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
Photo: LL Cool J announces Boomdizzle’s Virtual Recording Studio at CES. Credit: Andrea Chang / Los Angeles Times
Like many celebrities, Robert Horry is at the Consumer Electronics Show this week to help promote a tech company. Problem is, when we sat down with him Tuesday to chat about Haier America, basketball's Big Shot Rob conceded he hadn't yet seen the appliance brand's latest products.
In fact, he says he's not much of a techie.
"I try to keep my life as simple as possible," he said. "[If] I get all this high-tech, I'm going to buy more stuff and more stuff."
No matter. The affable former Laker, who won three of his seven championships with the team, was happy to talk generally about the brand, which is a sponsor for the NBA, and his hopes for his partnership with the company: "Haier has a lot of good products, and I'm just trying to get in good with the family so they can remodel my kitchen," he joked.
He was also eager to chat about his basketball days, saying he still keeps in touch with Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher. Although he's a Lakers fan, he said he sees challenges ahead for the team this year, including "a lot of young cats on their team," tough competition from the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat, and leftover issues from the trade drama at the start of the season.
"I just think sometimes, with the way the season started out with them and all the turmoil and the guys being traded and them trading guys and trades not going through, you put a wall up as a player," he said. "Even though you go out there and play, it's still not the same because in the back of your mind, you always got that fear of being traded, so you don't play as well."
These days, Horry works as a sports commentator and lives in Houston — though he noted that "everybody thinks I live in L.A."
"L.A. is just too expensive for me," he said. "That's one thing about me: I'm from the South and I'm cheap."
Horry said he goes to a lot of Houston Rockets games now that he's retired and has free time. "I try to keep my face in there just in case one day I want to try to venture into the coaching realm or the GM realm or something of that nature," he said. "I'm waiting for my son to turn 13 and go to high school, and then I want to get back into it."
But back to tech: Horry, who has attended CES a number of times in the past, said he loves coming to the show to see what new products are coming out. "My favorite part is going to booths and coming home with a bag of stuff," he said.
One device he won't be going home with: a 3-D television.
"I can't watch 3-D. It gives me a headache," he said. "I just saw a guy with a 3-D camera and that was cool, but after looking at it for 2, 3 seconds, my head started to hurt."
But Horry said he loves watching television shows — "The Closer" is a top choice — and has three Apple TVs in his home. As expected, he said Haier's TVs "are great." His favorite model?
"The big ones," he said. "The thing about them is they're slim and you can put them anywhere. Right now, I'm working on getting one to put in my bathroom. Sometimes you like to sit back and take a nice bubble bath and watch NBA TV."
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
There are many things you can count on at the Consumer Electronics Show every year: a crushing mass of humanity; enough tech swag to open a retail store; and the oft-repeated line, "This will really take technology to the next level." Just as predictable: a slew of scheduled and surprise appearances by Hollywood celebs touting their own products (typically headphones) or partnerships with tech companies.
Unfortunately Lady Gaga — who showed up at CES 2011 sporting a black veil and light pink hair — won't be at the Las Vegas Convention Center this year, but there won't be a shortage of stars. Here's a look at who has shown up so far and who's scheduled to appear in the coming days:
Justin Timberlake made a surprise appearance at the Panasonic news conference on Monday to hype the brand's partnership with MySpace. In announcing a new MySpace app for televisions, the actor and singer said he hoped to make the television experience more social. "This is the evolution of one of our greatest inventions," he said.
Sony had a few surprise guests on Monday as well, bringing out Will Smith during its media event after giving reporters a 3-D sneak peek of Smith's summer blockbuster, "Men in Black 3." Sony Corp. Chairman Howard Stringer closed the event by having Kelly Clarkson sing an acoustic version of "Mr. Know It All" on stage.
50 Cent is promoting his new music company, SMS Audio, and a line of wireless and wired headphones. "It offers something that a lot of the other headset companies that are out right now don't have," he told me during an interview Tuesday. "It's an extension of my passion for music." The rapper will be signing autographs Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.
LL Cool J introduced Boomdizzle, an online community he created that enables people to record, share and remix original music and video content. "If LL Cool J was 16, 17 years old and I was just starting out, I think I would grow vampire teeth to sink my teeth into this product because I think it's absolutely amazing," he said at a media gathering Tuesday.
Actress Eliza Dushku is at CES as a celebrity ambassador for the Entertainment Matters program, which aims to bridge the tech industry and Hollywood's film, television and digital community. As part of her ambassadorship, Dushku hosted Spike TV's VIP CES party on Tuesday at Tryst nightclub at the Wynn. During an interview, Dushku said she was excited to walk the show floor the next day and check out the 4K televisions.
Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi of MTV's "Jersey Shore" signed autographs and promoted a slew of audio products at iHip’s booth on Tuesday. She later hosted an iHip party at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino.
Fitness guru Jillian Michaels chatted about the marriage of tech and fitness on Tuesday and discussed the effect of digital innovation and her recent partnership with BodyMedia, an on-body monitor company.
Haier America hosted former Laker Robert Horry at its booth Tuesday and will have former NBA star John Salley on Wednesday to drum up publicity for the appliances brand. Oddly enough, when I asked Horry what his favorite tech product was, he said: "Apple TV."
Actor Greg Grunberg and actor and singer Wayne Brady are scheduled to appear Wednesday at OnStar for "Tweet House" sessions, the official social media track for CES.
Justin Bieber is set to appear with TOSY Robotics; the teen pop star is expected to help TOSY unveil its new entertainment robot on Wednesday afternoon.
Dennis Rodman is scheduled to be at Paltalk's booth on Thursday to promote the service, which allows users to explore the online world of chat sites with community chat rooms and webcam technology.
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
Upper photo: 50 Cent wears a pair of his new headphones at CES in Las Vegas. Credit: Andrea Chang / Los Angeles Times
Lower photo: Eliza Dushku on the red carpet at Tryst nightclub. Credit: Andrea Chang / Los Angeles Times
Charlie Sheen was apparently trying to send Justin Bieber a direct message with his phone number over Twitter, but accidentally sent the message — "310-954-7277 Call me bro. C" — to more than 5.5 million followers.
The actor's phone reportedly began ringing off the hook while he was at dinner in Las Vegas, and he humored some callers by answering with "Ray's Pizza" and "Winning!" according to the New York Post.
By Monday afternoon, callers hoping to reach Sheen received an automated message: "The number you dialed is not a working number. Please check the number and dial again."
Still no word on why the former "Two and a Half Men" star wanted to get in touch with Bieber.
– Andrea Chang
Photo: Actor Charlie Sheen during his Comedy Central roast in September. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times