The history of the Beats by Dre brand is extremely dicey: it took a copious amount of backstabbing to become the Apple-owned juggernaut it is today. Whether backstabber or backstabbee, one of the principals involved in the early days of Beats is Steve Lamar, who first suggested and arranged the Pentagram design partnership that gave Beats their iconic look, then unceremoniously cut out of the business for allegedly planning on selling his own line of headphones based on the design.
Now somewhat dubiously referring to himself as the “co-founder” of Beats by Dre, Lamar is back with a new audio brand, Roam. And with Roam’s first product, Ropes, Lamar is trying to do the same thing for earbuds that he helped Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine do for over-the-ear cans: turn them into fashion accessories that can retail for $300 a pair.
Ropes are slickly designed earbuds being marketed as a lifestyle brand for music lovers, just like Beats. Since Ropes connect through Bluetooth and have a six-hour battery life, they don’t need to be tethered to your smartphone through a long cord. Instead, they are tethered to each other at the top by a loop, which allows them to dangle around your neck like a pair of regular headphones when they aren’t in use.
As an attempt to make earbuds as visible a fashion accessory as Beats, the Ropes might be onto something here. It was the audacity of Beats’ aggressive, impossible-to-ignore industrial design that made a line of really crummy sounding headphones into the $1.5 billion brand it is today. But earbuds are just too subtle to make that same kind of effect on a post-Beats marketplace–unless you actually get people to take them out of their ears and wear them around their neck, where an audacious design can shine.
Audacious design or not, the question is whether or not Lamar can get people to spend $300 on a pair of in-ear headphones, that like every other pair of earbuds, have a number of inherent design trade-offs over larger pairs of cans: they break more easily, often sound worse, and are easily lost. On his part, Lamar’s claiming that the Ropes are worth the price: in fact, he claims they are the best-sounding headphones in the world.
That’s obviously laughable–the best-sounding headphones in the world won’t be streaming music over a compressed, lossy Bluetooth connection–but as Beats by Dre has shown, bold, unsupportable claims of great audio quality don’t matter at all as long as your headphone design makes an impact on its audience. Maybe Ropes can do the same thing.
Slated for a November arrival, you can preorder a pair of Ropes here.