Beats by Apple

So those who know me will know that I like my tech, especially that which has a shiny apple on the back of it, which meant I was interested to read this week about Apple’s latest purchase. If you hadn’t already heard, Apple are currently in the process of buying Beats, the headphone brand that Dr Dre is co-founder of for $3.2bn. Generally speaking, this didn’t really surprise me, but deep down I kind of wish it had shocked me more… Let me explain.

Beats

Beats are a brand that can really split opinion (like Apple) and this opinion massively depends on who you ask. Ask most people on the morning commute and I imagine that most of them will like, or possibly own Beats, but ask any audio geek or tech fan and 9 times out of 10 they will probably have the opposite opinion. The brand is one that is very desirable and aesthetic based which, although is not a bad thing, can mean that you pay extra for the letter ‘b’ on each ear ‘can’. If this is compared to a brand like Bose for example, whose business strap line is ‘Better sound through research’, vast differences can easily be seen.

Bose (or Sennheiser for example) are both tech companies, based to create products with cutting edge tech that sounds great, whereas Beats do that with more of an emphasis on image (this is starting to remind me about the whole Apple vs Microsoft debate!). Headphones naturally are a more desirable accessory to own (as written about by a blog from Trevor Cox when comparing public perceptions for headphones vs loudspeakers), so I guess part of this comparison between companies could be to do with the background of the company.

Infograph of most common words associated with Headphones and Loudspeakers. Words nearer top related more to loudspeakers and vice versa. Words on right more commonly used than those on left. Credit Prof Trevor Cox

Infograph of most common words associated with Headphones and Loudspeakers. Words nearer top related more to loudspeakers and vice versa. Words on right more commonly used than those on left. Credit Prof Trevor Cox

One major conflict of agreement will come when the quality of audio produced by Beats headphones is mentioned, some love it, some say it is awful. For me, I would prefer a pair of headphones by a tech company, but I can see that Beats do make some good sound. The main advantage to Beats audio quality is that there is bass and lots of it. The target market for these is primarily younger who listen to bassier music, which makes sense. Bass tones have the effect of making the user feel like that the sound is more immersive. This is to do with the wavelengths of bass sounds being bigger, hence it physically surrounding the listener more meaning they can feel the sound, not only through their ears. However, bass is not the be all and end all of audio quality; there are many more things to look out for in a good set of headphones (Comfort, Clarity, Sound Isolation, Frequency range, Price/Value for money…).

So if the quality is not so good, why do people buy them? To be honest, most people may not be able to notice the difference, or may not really care. One of my course mates wrote an interesting blog this week on whether we really care about the quality of our music, or whether we just go for convenience which I would recommend if you get a chance. One other main factor is again about appearance, if you’re going to spend £100-200 on some headphones, you want them to be noticed!

To me, Apple is a company of quality, yes with a big emphasis on image, but mainly focused on quality (more generally speaking and not when it came to audio!). Hence, when I saw they were buying Beats, I was kind of disappointed that they had opted for image over top end quality. Saying this though I can’t imagine them ever having bought a company like Bose or Sennheiser. When it come to brands (particularly those that make tech) people really buy into products, which is a factor that makes a huge difference (e.g. opinions of peers etc). Because of this I can imagine plenty of you will have different opinions to me! I would love to hear these if you want to comment below, alternatively click below which of the two options you’d choose!

Notes

[1] BBC News article – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-27340356

Wingardium Leviosa

Here’s a short video you hopefully may find interesting, it’s a more extreme visualisation of standing waves that I wrote about doing in some lab sessions a few weeks ago. As shown in the video, the way it works is by using 4 lines of loudspeakers all facing each other playing the same simple tone. As they interact with each other, they create a standing wave, meaning parts of the waves interact constructively and others destructively. This basically means that some parts of the wave move a lot and some don’t move at all.

As the small objects are dropped inside (they must be small enough to fit into the wave and light enough for the wave to be able to oppose gravity) the part of the wave that is constantly moving most traps them. As the air particles move up and down (about 1,500 times a second) they manage to oppose gravity and hold the object, so that it is levitating.

You may notice that that the polystyrene pieces are spread out and not all constantly spaced; this is because at the nodes of the standing wave (the bits with destructive interference where the sound wave does not move up and down) have no strength against gravity. When the pattern moves around in air, that is because the pattern of the loudspeakers change, causing the standing wave to move.

You may now be wondering if we had big enough speakers, could we levitate a person… Well theoretically I would say yes, I can’t see why not, however unfortunately in practice I think by the time you’d reached a loud enough Sound Pressure Level, your ears would have been exploded and you would probably be half way to mashed potato! As nice a thought as it is, if you want to fly it’s probably best to just go to a wind tunnel instead!