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How It’s Made Series: Beats By Dre — Medium

How It’s Made Series: Beats By Dre
Bolt’s “How It’s Made” series explores how household products are designed and manufactured. Avery Louie, Bolt’s Prototype Engineer, along with other Bolt staff, shed light on common tricks used by companies big and small to optimize hardware design. For more info on Bolt, check out www.bolt.io.

It’s nearly impossible to be on a train, fly on a plane or walk down the street without spotting the iconic “b” logo. Beats has been extremely successful in marketing its headphones and now enjoys large market appeal. But with a sky-high retail price of $199, is there more to Beats than meets the eye?

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Luckily the Beats headphones are fairly easily to disassemble, despite a few pesky glue joints.
Lots of optimizations are to be expected in a product manufactured in the millions of units: snaps and glue are used for assembly rather than screws (which require lots of human manipulation) and almost every part is injection molded plastic (which is essentially free at high volumes).

Anytime I take a product apart there are a few exciting surprises to solve some tricky problems. Here’s what I found for Beats:

Use of metal components to increase weight
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1/3 of the entire weight of the headphones comes from metal weights. This is a somewhat common trick to make products feel more substantive.
One of the great things about the solo headphones is how substantial they feel. 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. In these headphones, 30% of the weight comes from four tiny metal parts that are there for the sole purpose of adding weight.

The two larger parts are cast zinc. Cast parts are similar to injection molded parts in that there is a tooling cost and a per-part cost. Compared to injection molding, the tool is marginally more expensive, but the per-part costs are higher, and the tools do not last as long.

The brilliant thing here is that the two large metal parts are not mirror images of each other- they are actually the same part! This means that only one tool would need to be made to produce both parts, which saves money in tool design and number of tools. It also makes the headphones easier to assemble, since there are fewer unique parts.

Complex mold design of headband
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The most complex part on the Beats product. Complex cams, slides and sequenced ejector pin marks.
This part probably has the highest tooling cost of any of the parts in the headphones, because it requires many cams in order for the part to be released from the mold. Cams allow for parts of the mold to move perpendicular to the parting line. These extra parts have to meet perfectly, in order for the parts to be molded properly. It is easy to tell what direction the two halves of the mold pulled apart from the round dots you can see in the photo above — those are ejector pin marks, from where the part was pushed out of the tool.

From the flashing along the long snaps at the top of the part, I can tell there are two side actions that were used to create the undercut. You can see parting lines in the part right under the snaps, and at the bottom of the circle.

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Close-up of witness lines on inner ear cup frame. Many actions and slides are necessary to create this complex part.
You can also tell that inside the circle where the ear cup goes, there were actions to create the pins that the ear cup swivels on — the witness lines are visible, even though it has been post-polished.

Minimal use of screws
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Both parts of the ear cups are made from two totally different molds so a to avoid the extra screw holes on the right cup.
Screws are cheap but are tedious to install, hence nearly every part on this product is snapped or glued together. You can see how the number of screws are optimized at the cost of cutting two more molds by comparing the left and right speaker grills and speaker cups — one of them has an extra two screw holes. Screws are great here because they make sure the PCB does not rattle around near your ear- however, they could have shaved off some assembly time by using heat stake bosses, or simply trapping the PCB between the red plastic and the ear cup.

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Complete commodity earphone drivers
So, do Beats by Dre headphones really enhance the bass? I couldn’t tell from the product teardown but the generic drivers make it seem unlikely. I was impressed, however, by the look and feel that was achieved with so few parts.

While it’s difficult to accurately reverse engineer the COGS of a product, I will do my best with each product that I tear down. In this BOM, I break it down into several categories- plastics, metal parts, and electronic parts.

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*Part prices for plastics, metal, and electronics takes various assumptions into account.
I estimate that the COGS without labor or shipping is $16.89 - yet Beats is able to successfully retail these headphones for $199+. This is the power of brand; Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine have leveraged their personal backgrounds and a sleek design to launch a remarkable brand that’s become fundamental to music pop culture.

*Plastic part price takes the following assumptions into account:

  • 2% scrap rate
  • 1 cavity / tool
  • 20% regrind allowed
  • No additives (Meaning not glass filled, etc)
  • Machine rate, setup labor, and direct labor adjusted per component
  • Cycle time of 15 seconds is assumed per part
  • Markup is not included
  • Tooling cost is amortized assuming 1M units
  • No downtime factored into molding machine
  • Assume simple tooling (It’s known that some of these parts have actions, but was not added to the tooling cost)
  • Tooling cost assumptions are broad and based in China
  • Production costs based on Asia. Somewhat conservative and broad
*Metal part price takes the following assumptions into account:

  • 5% scrap rate
  • 160 ton press
  • 95% uptime, 8hr setup
*Electronics part price takes the following assumptions into account:

  • Quoted from Zirui @ qty 6000 FOB
  • CB with routing and v-score, 1 part placement
  • 25 seconds to solder @ Shenzhen min wage RMB2,030/mo = US $1.50/hr
  • Exact equivalent not found; found 40mm x 5.6mm, 32 ohm, 25mW for $0.75
Avery Louie is a Prototype Engineer at Bolt. Bolt is a seed-stage fund that invests capital, staff, prototyping facilities and expertise in startups at the intersection of hardware and software. For more info, check out www.bolt.io.



Such pieces of shit.
 
This thread title undersells the content. I already suspected that Beats was all hype, not that I cared.
I love tear downs, especially when they have some insight.
 
Many products are like that....hyped up and sold at premiums.

Jimmy I and Dr Dre don't care. They got rich off of it!
Investors don't care. They got a great return on capital.
Beats users don't care. They are in line with the trend.
Retailers don't care. They are selling them all the time.
Bootleggers don't care. They are some of the most copied electronic products out there.
 
Any product marketed to mass markets are generally crap. They are made by Monster for Beats, or should I say were.
 
Any product marketed to mass markets are generally crap. They are made by Monster for Beats, or should I say were.
And they actually were half way decent back when Monster were making them. People forget that Monster once upon a time made quality audio gear. Overpriced, sure, but it wasn't crap.
 
I actually have a pair that I got just after this past Thanksgiving. It was a "Black Friday" deal with a $60 mail in rebate on top of the sale price. I bought them primarily for when I travel. I got a GREAT deal, Beats wise. The rebate came in the form of a Visa(or MC) gift card which is somewhat standard now.

I haven't used them yet. I did listen to some music with them when I first purchased them and they have been in the case since.

I am not one to walk around the city(NYC) with either earbuds or headphones on. I rarely do it. If I am heading into the city to do some shopping, then I may take my earbuds with me. If I am headed upstate for the weekend, then I would probably break out the headphones.

The VAST majority of Beats customers wanted Beats because everyone had Beats...not for a superior sound. The VAST majority of Beats users are probably happy with their choice.
 
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Yep, that's how you have fused suits retailing for $3K. It's crap, but uninformed consumers mainly go by brand name. They assume big name brand = quality, while that assumption has been proven false a long time ago. From the well known luxury brands, Hermes is pretty much the only one that objectively sells quality goods. They still ask a pretty penny for it though.

Same goes for alcohol as well. Stuff like Grey Goose, or other 'premium vodkas' are all marketing. They cost exactly the same to produce as your average $15 store brand bottle. Sidney Frank (creator of Grey Goose) was a smart business man. He's one of the reasons why I never order vodka in a bar/club. Nearly all of it is overpriced crap.

Interesting article about him:
The man behind Grey Goose vodka understood that Americans want to pay more—You just have to give them a good story.
Sidney Frank - The Man Behind Grey Goose Vodka
 
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To be fair, most times when you buy alcohol in a bar or a club you are getting ripped off.

I would never buy a pair of Beats, but it has helped to usher audiophilia into the mainstream, which I think is important when companies like Apple can get away with selling their $800 phones with plastic earbuds with cardboard drivers. When I'm at home, I like to use my Audio Technica ATH-M50s and when I'm walking around or at the gym I use my Shure SE215 in-ears.
 
To be fair, most times when you buy alcohol in a bar or a club you are getting ripped off.

I would never buy a pair of Beats, but it has helped to usher audiophilia into the mainstream, which I think is important when companies like Apple can get away with selling their $800 phones with plastic earbuds with cardboard drivers. When I'm at home, I like to use my Audio Technica ATH-M50s and when I'm walking around or at the gym I use my Shure SE215 in-ears.

Of course, but you pay for the location and the service, so I'm fine with that. However, when they want 5 quid more for a drink because it's grey goose, or they charge 200 more for a grey goose bottle over a regular vodka one, that's when you're really get ripped off. There are all these premium vodka brands now, with awful marketing campaigns, one more expensive than the next. It's ridiculous.
 
I have a pair of custom made UE headphones. They were $600 or so back in the day, 7 years ago or so. Was it worth the investment? I think so, I still use them every day with little to no maintenance.
 
I have a pair of custom made UE headphones. They were $600 or so back in the day, 7 years ago or so. Was it worth the investment? I think so, I still use them every day with little to no maintenance.

Definitely. Pics?
 
Definitely. Pics?

I left them at work yesterday, will post pics on Monday for sure. I use them with a Caffeine AMP or a Fiio E11 amp. Both work very well with my Cowon J3 that I bought years ago too, almost 6 years ago already. It is actually interesting that is one of the reason why I started getting into high end stuff. It just last forever.

Look at lot like this;
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This was months before switching from the Cowon S9 to the Cowon J3. I still have the same interconnect that I bought 8 years ago, hand made in the US. 99.9% Oxygen Free copper and platinum neutrik plugs, they were a fortune back in the day.

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Ah... those are in-ear.
yeah, for someone in the move thise are the best. I want yo buy eventually something for my place, probably senheisser hd800 with a ray sammuels amp, both can be found in the used market highly discounted and well taken care of.
 
yeah, for someone in the move thise are the best. I want yo buy eventually something for my place, probably senheisser hd800 with a ray sammuels amp, both can be found in the used market highly discounted and well taken care of.

Great value are the Creek headphone amps. I've had mine for years and love it.
 
I'm testing some wireless headphones - B&W P7 wireless and Bose QC35. The sound on the B&W is fucking incredible. I'm listening to the Stones and I can make out the canasta and tambourine on You Can't Get All You Want. And I can almost make out what the fuck Mick is singing on Tumbling Dice. It's really impressive!

Pairing with Bluetooth is a pain in the ass and they're a little heavy and stiff. Ear pads are fairly comfortable. Definitely need some breaking in. They're so tight it's giving me a headache.
 
I can make out the canasta and tambourine on You Can't Get All You Want

Haven't heard that what album it on?

Nearly the same title as "You Can't Always Get What You Want"
 
I'm testing some wireless headphones - B&W P7 wireless and Bose QC35. The sound on the B&W is fucking incredible. I'm listening to the Stones and I can make out the canasta and tambourine on You Can't Get All You Want. And I can almost make out what the fuck Mick is singing on Tumbling Dice. It's really impressive!

Pairing with Bluetooth is a pain in the ass and they're a little heavy and stiff. Ear pads are fairly comfortable. Definitely need some breaking in. They're so tight it's giving me a headache.
What i always tell to people, anything but bose/beats. Same awful shit. Audio technica males some good headhphoned and so does AKG. Hifi man also makes some good stuff. That being said, be well aware that if you decide to go for big headphones an amp is a must.
 
I find the qc25 amazing , the noise cancellation is a must for me
Active noise isolation is utter crap. Introducing a drone signal into music degrades music completely, I have always been against it. Passive noise cancellation is much better than that. If you want passive noise cancellation get close back headphones, you are not gonna get as much space for the music to open and music might sound a bit crowded if the proper amp is not being used.
 
Active noise isolation is utter crap. Introducing a drone signal into music degrades music completely, I have always been against it. Passive noise cancellation is much better than that. If you want passive noise cancellation get close back headphones, you are not gonna get as much space for the music to open and music might sound a bit crowded if the proper amp is not being used.

Good for airplanes though
 
I'm testing some wireless headphones - B&W P7 wireless and Bose QC35. The sound on the B&W is fucking incredible. I'm listening to the Stones and I can make out the canasta and tambourine on You Can't Get All You Want. And I can almost make out what the fuck Mick is singing on Tumbling Dice. It's really impressive!

Pairing with Bluetooth is a pain in the ass and they're a little heavy and stiff. Ear pads are fairly comfortable. Definitely need some breaking in. They're so tight it's giving me a headache.

My daily beaters is a pair of the original AIAIAI TMA-1, that I have worn to pieces. Really dry and precise sound reproduction.
Now I am looking for something with a bit more richness and softness. Actually though about buying a pair of B&W P7 or P5. A colleague has the B&O H8 and another one just got the new Libratone wireless. Both have noise reduction - and at least with the Libratones the reduction sound/white noice is noticeable and made me a bit nauseous. Sound was not that impressive either.
 
My daily beaters is a pair of the original AIAIAI TMA-1, that I have worn to pieces. Really dry and precise sound reproduction.
Now I am looking for something with a bit more richness and softness. Actually though about buying a pair of B&W P7 or P5. A colleague has the B&O H8 and another one just got the new Libratone wireless. Both have noise reduction - and at least with the Libratones the reduction sound/white noice is noticeable and made me a bit nauseous. Sound was not that impressive either.
Noise reduction is for people that have no clue. If you live in a very noisy area might as well get the best of the best and im talking about the Etymotics er-4. I had them for a couple of years, they go well with literally anything. They are a bitch to move, but we are talking about audio here so thats that. Another problem of the er-4 is the microphonics because of the cable they use. They are also very cold/analytical, that being said when you are listening to music you thought you knew you will be blown away, fuck you can even listen to the guys breathing in and out, they are disgustingly accurate. If you want something more trendy and fun or warm either westone shure or the ones i recently got from UE, also Senheissers are awesome.
 
Noise reduction is for people that have no clue. If you live in a very noisy area might as well get the best of the best and im talking about the Etymotics er-4. I had them for a couple of years, they go well with literally anything. They are a bitch to move, but we are talking about audio here so thats that. Another problem of the er-4 is the microphonics because of the cable they use. They are also very cold/analytical, that being said when you are listening to music you thought you knew you will be blown away, fuck you can even listen to the guys breathing in and out, they are disgustingly accurate. If you want something more trendy and fun or warm either westone shure or the ones i recently got from UE, also Senheissers are awesome.
First off, you have no clue about anything, so stop dictating to people what their preferences may or may not be. Second, there are many reasons to want noise cancellation, traveling being the main one. Third, some people, such as myself, HATE in ear monitors, so over ear is the only option.
 
My daily beaters is a pair of the original AIAIAI TMA-1, that I have worn to pieces. Really dry and precise sound reproduction.
Now I am looking for something with a bit more richness and softness. Actually though about buying a pair of B&W P7 or P5. A colleague has the B&O H8 and another one just got the new Libratone wireless. Both have noise reduction - and at least with the Libratones the reduction sound/white noice is noticeable and made me a bit nauseous. Sound was not that impressive either.
This is something I struggle with as well. The nose 35 always have the noise cancellation on, so there's never a break from the slight pressure in my ear drum.
 
First off, you have no clue about anything, so stop dictating to people what their preferences may or may not be. Second, there are many reasons to want noise cancellation, traveling being the main one. Third, some people, such as myself, HATE in ear monitors, so over ear is the only option.
Why are so grouchy today? My opinion is the right one, sorry.
 

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