When Beats’ headphones were first introduced to the market, audiophiles derided it as an over-priced, shoddily-made product. It succeeded anyways, quickly dominating the luxury headphones market and raking in billions for its makers, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine.
Observers have attributed Beats’ success primarily to two factors: a design that differentiates it from other luxury headphones, and slick marketing—but the most important factor may be something as simple as four scraps of metal.
As a part of Bolt’s “How It’s Made Series,” engineer Avery Louie took apart a pair of Beats headphones and examined the individual components. One of the most surprising discoveries was that four pieces of metal embedded in the headphones—adding up to 30 percent of the headphones’ weight—had no function whatsoever. They were just there to make the headphones feel heavier.
“A little bit of weight makes the product feel solid, durable, and valuable. One way to do this cheaply is to make some components out of metal in order to add weight,” wrote Avery Louie.
And if the wearer feels that the headphones are more high-quality, it just might make the music sound better too. The placebo effect of luxury items are well documented: people who drink the same wine disguised as different brands rated the more expensive brand as better tasting, which is why in wine-tastings, the different drinks are often served blind, so that that preconceptions about the wine’s quality doesn’t interfere with the drinker’s judgment.