For a very long time, what inspired envy more than anything else were ladies I saw on the subway carrying authentic Hermes Birkin bags. Now, what inspires envy more than anything else are kids I see on the subway sporting Dr. Dre Beats “Studio” headphones. They’ve been designed by the rapper/producer to deliver recorded music in all its richness while reducing outside noise. And they’ve been designed to call attention to themselves. They’re huge — each earpad is fist-sized, and hides a pair of AAA batteries — and they’re awesome. They come in all different colors but my favorite are the red ones, which are an impossible-to-avoid shade right between fire engine and Ferrari. It’s a joyous, electric color.
Unlike a lot of fancy headphones, the “Studio” headphones are designed so that the headband, the earpads, and the connection between them all feel substantial. These are headphones for a serious audiophile, that can cost more than an MP3 player, and that would look right on a DJ or a recording studio technician. So it’s funny seeing them plugged into a tiny player or phone. I remember the first generation of Walkmen, when the devices were showy and the headphones were small. Since the release of the iPod and its little white earbuds, the listening device has became a discrete, precious object and the headphones have just about disappeared. The Beats headphones turn that around, drawing attention away from the music player to the act of listening, and to the listener himself. They turn headphones into fashion.