Beats’s Jimmy Iovine: “Apple got everything right—except that earbud”

White earbuds having nothing on that hat.
White earbuds having nothing on that hat.
Image: Reuters/Gus Ruelas
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If you’re trying to figure out why Apple wants to buy (paywall) Beats Electronics for $3.2 billion, you could do worse than watch this 2013 interview with Beats co-founder and CEO Jimmy Iovine. He explains the company’s origins, his relationship with Steve Jobs, and his plans for moving into subscription streaming with Beats Music.

Watch all 41 minutes here, or here’s the 14-minute highlight reel:

Iovine praises Apple for reinventing the music business, with one caveat: sound quality. This is the key bit:

Apple got everything right—except that earbud.

It wasn’t so much the files. Your sound system is only as good as its weakest link. And when you have an entire generation hailing Apple and thinking because that earbud is in there and it’s white and that means you’ve got class or style or swag because you have that white earbud…

It sounded terrible. It had no emotion. Why? Because it was flat, and Steve liked that. They wanted it flat. That was in there to see if it worked. That’s it. There was no emotion.

So Dre used to come to me all the time to say, I don’t care about the stealing music part. What I really care about is that the music is not being interpreted right. I spend months on one song, and it sounds terrible. It sounds terrible on laptops and PCs, and it sounds terrible on this earbud. So we got together, and we decided to try to move the thing over, to make young kids listen to sound.

So if Beats did anything, it got young people interested in audio again, which really just was not cool for a really long time. No one cared about audio.

The irony is that Beats isn’t particularly respected for sound quality, at least compared with other headphones in its price range. They only sound good relative to Apple’s flat, tinny earbuds.