Heartbeats by Lady Gaga

I haven’t listened to Monster’s Beats, the large and flashy headphones branded by hip hop producer Dr. Dre, but I have noticed more and more people wearing them on the streets and in the subways, so I was definitely intrigued by Matt Calderone’s e-mail. The PR rep for New York City’s Dobbin/Bolgla Associates wrote:

I'm not sure if this is your thing, but please see below for information on a press conference hosted by Monster and Beats by Dr. Dre on Wednesday to debut Heartbeats by Lady Gaga, the latest addition to the Beats by Dr. Dre family of headphones. It will also be an opportunity to hear Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine, and Noel Lee discuss the broader Beats line and the emphasis they place on sound quality.

Let me know if you are interested in attending.

I took a moment to think about it, then responded:

Did you just ask if I’d like to hang out with Lady Gaga for a few hours? YES. I would love to attend. I will wear my bubble suit.

And so it was that I wound up in the impossibly lush Palace Hotel for the introduction of Lady Gaga’s Heartbeats. I’m directed through the towering wrought-iron courtyard gates of the Palace’s Villard Mansion and through the heavy doors that lead into the appropriately named GILT, an extravagant bar and restaurant known for its signature cocktails and extensive wine list. The hall leading to the conference room is buzzing with reporters and photographers. One wall is lined with long tables of colorful foods (sandwiches, cheeses and fruit, cookies and cakes); the opposite wall features a listening station where people are plugging in to Gaga’s Heartbeats; at the far wall, a well-dressed server stands waiting before an open bar. Inside the conference room, rows of chairs are lined up before a stage that is already made invisible by the swarm of paparazzi. Their enormous cameras hang and droop and peer in every direction. Meters are read, flashes are tested, men and women grapple for angles.

I sit down and wait. No offense to John Atkinson, Wes Phillips, or Steve Guttenberg, but this is, without a doubt, the cutest group of reporters I’ve ever been a part of. It is not the usual audiophile gathering. Soon Noel Lee, founder and CEO of Monster Cable, sort of just appears—it’s almost as if he was simply exhaled from the Palace’s ornate walls—coasting, as usual, on his Segway Personal Transporter. He is here to introduce us to the Beats line of products.

“This is a product story,” Lee informs us, “unlike any other.”

His reliable smile and rare air of confidence seem at once unsettling and disarming.

“It is a product story, a fashion story, a story of a collaboration that’s never been done before in the consumer electronics industry.”

Lee stresses sound quality. Through the Beats line of headphones, Monster is striving to reproduce the very sounds heard by engineers and artists in the recording studios, to give consumers the opportunity to hear “every nuance and delicacy and sound” as they were intended to be heard. The company is working to educate consumers who may have never otherwise had the opportunity to listen at home through a good hi-fi, but who have become accustomed to the sound of music through cheap earbuds connected to their iPods, iPhones, and other MP3-enabled smartphones.

Indeed, included within the press-kit for Beats headphones is a 16-page booklet, “The Engineering and Art of Headphone Design: A Brief Overview by Noel Lee.” Inside, Lee discusses “the art of listening” and “the search for perfect sound,” complements his opinions with measurements and graphs, and includes a glossary of hi-fi–related terms.

The lights go low and a video display flashes against the wall to Lee’s left. We see so many colorful images, cutting and racing and swirling images, depicting famous athletes, pop stars, and other celebrities sporting the easily recognizable Beats headphones. This all takes place to the sound of the Black Eyed Peas’s hit single, “Boom Boom Pow,” a lyric for which, we soon learn, was written specifically to promote the Beats headphones. It is a convincing argument for the power of product placement, and even I am feeling energized.

Noel Lee then introduces the chairman of Interscope Records, Jimmy Iovine. In casual attire and with a pair of Beats round his neck, Iovine tells us how Beats got started.

“This was around the time 50 Cent was making millions selling sneakers, and Dre came to me and said, ‘Jimmy, my lawyers want me to sell sneakers.’ I turned to him and said, ‘Dre, fuck sneakers. Let’s sell speakers.’”

And that was it. It then took Monster’s team two years to tune the headphones, Iovine tells us. “No other headphone, other than Beats, can make music sound the way it does inside the studio.” Iovine goes on to explain the degradation of music from the high-resolution studio masters to the 16-bit CD format to the watered-down, compressed MP3. He is fiercely against the degradation of music, and fiercely against the music industry’s role in perpetuating bad sound.

“In no other business does technology destroy the quality of the product. We have better televisions, better cameras, better everything, but worse sound. This has to stop. We’re going to work on the entire ecosystem of the digital music industry. Our headphones are the groundwork for fixing the problem.”

Somewhat strangely, Iovine then veers into discussion of the audiophile’s agenda, stating, “It’s against the audiophile’s religion to allow music to sound the way it does in the studio. It takes ignorance like mine and Dre’s to listen and say, ‘Stop, that’s the sound.’”

It’s unclear whether Iovine partially blames audiophiles for the music industry’s failure to promote good sound, or if he simply has some axe to grind. Nonetheless, it is clear that Iovine is passionate about sound, and, for this, we should be thankful. Much of his speech was devoted to preserving and engendering high-quality sound and music. Through auditioning the Beats headphones, we may be able to learn more about Iovine’s personal definition of quality.

Beats by Dr. Dre Studio headphones cost $299.95. A scaled-down version, the Solo, will be available soon for $179.95.

Jimmy Iovine introduces Dr. Dre. A million flashes flash, a million photographers scream: “Dre, over here. Dre, over here. Dre, over here.” Dr. Dre, who is slim and muscular and tidily dressed, does his best to look in all directions at once.

He is here to introduce Heartbeats.

“Some of the females,” he tells us, “were complaining about the headphones messin’ up their hair.”

And then he introduces Lady Gaga.

She is small, fleshy, and delicious-looking, in cream and gold and with chunky platinum locks of hair and stunning sunglasses that shoot from their rims like comets through space. Her dancer legs are captured by fishnet stockings and her thick heels add inches to her economical frame. Her lips and fingernails are fuck-me red. When she removes her sunglasses, her eyes look nowhere in particular. They are silent and searching and all over the room, with some touch of madness, with death-black lashes that reach out and claw and pulse for miles. She smiles.

She explains her Heartbeats.

“I wanted to create a headphone that would combine Dre’s sonics with my fashion to make Monsters out of all of us.”

She says this simply and perfectly, almost as if it were scripted, though it is clearly improvised. The crowd laughs and Gaga smiles. She then discusses the triangular shape and studded appearance of her Heartbeats.

“I often say that there are three sides to me, three things that I could not live without. I would die if I was forbidden to write, forbidden to love, or forbidden to fashion. Heartbeats embody the trinity of my human being. At the same time, while designing Heartbeats, I was reminded of the studded leather jackets that my friends and I used to wear, so the headphones are really a representation of who I am.”

When asked how the Beats headphones have influenced her time on tour, Gaga confesses that she cannot listen to her work unless she’s using them. “It’s important to have a headphone that’s truthful to our work and music.” She too is tired of MP3’s effect on music.

“You can download a file, but you can’t download a lifestyle. These headphones are part of the movement that I believe in. I'm not just a singer, I'm a songwriter and a producer, as well. I hear every little thing that happens to my songs when you listen to them through other headphones. But when I listen to my music through these headphones, it's the way I want it to sound."

Dr. Dre agrees that the Beats headphones have had a profound impact on his relationship to music. “It’s like I’m listening to my music for the first time”—an experience many audiophiles can relate to.

When asked if a men’s version of Heartbeats will be offered, Gaga enthuses, “Well, I think they’re unisex.” A wave of laughter rushes through the crowd and Gaga smiles. “They’re unisex for my fans.”

When asked about the headphones’ durability, Gaga tells us she’s been wearing them “while doing her vicious workouts,” and has experienced no problems. Much effort was put into material choices. Gaga acknowledges that “materials can change sound,” so the design team worked to select the best-sounding and most reliable materials.

Finally, when asked to discuss her recent controversial performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards in which she wore a costume covered in blood and was hoisted into the air above the stage to dangle in a pose that seemed to suggest suicide, Lady Gaga explained, most simply and sincerely, “People say that Lady Gaga is a fashion, so we made a garment that bleeds on its own. Fashion is very important to me. It is me, it is my heart.”

Had my own heart not been threatening to leap from my chest at the thought of addressing the panel, here is what I might have said:

First, thank you for being here to promote high-quality sound. I’m a fan of everyone sitting up on that stage today. You do wonderful work. I’m Stephen Mejias, with Stereophile magazine, and I agree that better sound will result in better, more enjoyable experiences with music, which in turn will lead to better, healthier, and happier lives in general. I would like to invite all of you back to my place to listen to music on the hi-fi. My system is fucking rad, and I’ve got a pretty awesome collection of sounds. It’ll be fun.

Lady Gaga, you look outrageously beautiful. Dre, you’re looking good, too, man. Noel, you are working that Segway like nobody’s business. Jimmy, with all due respect, I have to say that I slightly disagree with your comment regarding audiophiles and their religious beliefs. Audiophiles, I think, simply want to get as close as possible to the performers and the true sounds of the instruments that are being played. Realistic senses of air, space, and musical flow can be achieved through a good hi-fi without employing excesses of distortion or compression.

Lady Gaga, you mentioned earlier that you’ve been listening to a lot of industrial music lately. I was wondering: Have you listened to Cold Cave or Zola Jesus or Wolf Eyes? They all have industrial aspects to their sounds, and I think you might dig them. You also mentioned that, in designing Heartbeats, you wanted to create a headphone that combined Dre’s sonics with your style, while making Monsters out of all of us. (Nicely said!) In hi-fi, we’re always talking about compromises. It’s almost taken for granted that every system, and every component within a system, is made up of compromises that are absolutely necessary in order to achieve a certain personal vision. In general, do you agree with that? I mean, do you feel that compromise is necessary in achieving a goal—any goal, whether it be love or fashion or sound or whatever—or can some sort of perfection be met without compromise? And, finally, what compromises, if any, were made in creating your Heartbeats. Was sound ever compromised for fashion? Fashion compromised for sound? Whew! Thanks again.

Heartbeats by Lady Gaga are currently available exclusively for pre-order at BestBuy.com, and will be available in all Best Buy stores on October 18. The basic model costs $119.95. Basic model with ControlTalk, a volume control similar to Shure’s Push-To-Hear technology, costs $149.95. Lady Gaga Haute Couture Ultra High Definition model with ControlTalk, available in metallicized body with rose-red jewel-shaped crystal earpiece costs $179.95.

Al Marcy's picture

Another touching Xmas story ... thank you ;)

Justin's picture

No offense to Dr. Dre, Lady Gaga or Stephen Mejias, but this audiophile sure does feel dirty now.

andy_c's picture

Too bad you didn't know about this event more in advance. This would have given you time to buy a Monster Mini Golf hat for the occasion :-).

Stephen Mejias's picture

These comments are all so confusing. Thanks, though. Keep 'em coming.

Kenn's picture

Thank you Stephen, interesting development, hopefully, this may be the beginning of a revival of a new audiophile era for the masses. The way that MP3 sound was put down, will it be long before iTunes offers lossless downloads? Here's hoping.A fashion led 'good sound' revival, may get the teens on board.

BillB's picture

Hope they sound ok, BUT I listened to the Beats by Dr. Dre headphones (the $300 model) and the bass was so horribly exaggerated that it was unlistenable. I love bass but theirs was so overdone that I couldn't bear to keep the headphones on.

Erick Lichte's picture

Stephen-At that meeting I hope you wore your poker face, your, your, your, your poker face.

Jerry's picture

I'm sorry Steve, but I cant think of anyone less deserving mention on your blog than lady gaga and her souless bling headphones. i understand the tone of your entry, but giving dreadful entertainers that record dynamically compressed dreck any more attention than they truly deserve just isn't worth it. five minutes i'll never get back.

Jerry's picture

oh, and what makes me think these 'phones absolutely suck in every conceivable way??

AnonymousOne's picture

Yes, Jerry, why would these headphones suck? You seem to dismiss Lady G as if her ears couldn't possibly be as well defined as yours. Her music, at least the side that you know, might be over-compressed drivel (not mentioning that that's actually what audiences of that genre prefer...) but she actually is a talented pianist, one who likely grew up playing keys, and typically, classically trained pianists have incredible ears. Just because you don't like ones outfit doesn't mean they don't have good taste for food. An abstract comparison, but you should be bright enough to get it. True, her credentials don't make her an authority either, but the question isn't who Monster has to promote their product, it's how the product actually preforms. Proof in the pudding. So all my doubts are reserved until I get a satisfactory review.

indiancurry's picture

Yeesh, Lady Ga Ga! I'm nowhere near being an audiophile but I was quite petrified to listen some of the ignorant junk that you have reproduced here. Give us a break! Lady Ha Ha would have been more appropriate seeing her senseless capers for publicity.

Stephen Mejias's picture

I'm disappointed to see that some of you are so cynical. I prefer to look at this as Kenn does. Still, the question remains: Do the headphones really sound good, or is Monster simply selling the idea of good sound? Only one way to find out for sure.A little about Lady Gaga: Her real name is Stefani Germanotta. She is from Yonkers. Has been playing piano since she was 4. Gained early admission to NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. Cites as influences Andy Warhol, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Grace Jones. Is now just 23-years old, and seems to me to be extraordinarily talented and focused.Erick: I tried so hard to keep a poker face, but I clearly wanted nothing more than to be Gaga's disco stick.

Trey's picture

I hope they sound great. I fear they will sound crappy. But I like the idea of at least talking about good sound being important. While I prefer recorded music that can breathe because it is not over compressed, I still LOVE The Immigrant Song by Zep and it is compressed till it squeals. But it rocks, so compression, as I see it, is just another tool in crafting a sonic image.

Jerry's picture

Steven, That is exactly my point, and why I seem cynical to you: to me, they are selling the "idea of good sound," with a beautiful woman like Lady Ca-Ca, and most likely nothing more. Her music and her persona are, to me, so vile and lacking of substance that I can't possibly take her seriously-she is really foul-mouthed and offensive. And the people the like her music don't give a damn about good sound anyway because their ears are already destroyed by clubbing all night and can't hear the difference.

nunh's picture

Great article!I dig Lady GaGa's rise and media profile - her music - not so much. Dr. Dre, on the other hand, is one of my all-time favorite rappers/ producers. I would love to check out the claims of this new product. I have to admit to cynical feelings concerning their sound quality - hope I'm wrong (I better be at those prices).

jaime's picture

you are just too cute, mr mejias. great story. i love that you report about all kinds of stereo innovations, not just the obvious hi-fi stuff. i will totally rock those headphones on the subway.

Buddha's picture

I loved Lady Ga Ga, but it always felt kind of homoerotic, not that there's anything wrong with that.

Then I found she's really Prince in drag, so it's OK.