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Nice Cans: Monster and Diesel Team to Reinvent the Headphone

Wasn’t long ago that Apple’s little white-on-white earbuds were so stylishly iconic that they were the visual centerpiece of the iPod — aw, remember iPods? — early-aughts advertising campaign. But a funny thing happened once people spent a few years with those things lodged in their ears: They weren’t comfortable, they didn’t sound particularly good, and after a week or two, the pristine white would get dingy and frayed.

It’s not a stretch to say that the Beats By Dre headphones went a long way towards changing the way people think about how they put music into — and onto — their melons. Created in conjunction with audio component giants Monster Cable in 2009, the massive sales turned high-end cans into a legitimate revenue model for artists, and made casual non-audiophile listeners pay closer attention to quality, while still, you know, looking cool.

Vektr, a new headphone that’s the spawn of Monster and Italian fashion brand Diesel, takes the style-meets-sonics dalliance a bold step further, pairing the former’s top-shelf guts with the latter’s angular, fashion-forward design. (It’s also the first major headphones launch for Monster since HTC took over the Dre line last year, and priced at a similarly digestible $249.)

Stefano Rosso of Diesel, who are launching a line of high-end headphones called Noise Division, claims the design was inspired by, among other things, snakes, in an attempt to make something that looks completely different from the typical smooth, rounded cans. Meanwhile, Noel Lee, the Monster CEO who gets around on a flame-emblazoned Segway, thinks that the collaboration is a Trojan horse of sorts, and just the beginning in what amounts to a wholesale education of general music consumers and an attempt to find a way to make dweeby sonic appreciation more palatable to the tech-averse masses.

“It used to be that headphones looked like barbed wire on your head,” Lee says. “With Beats, we changed that paradigm to make it so they can also say something about you and who you are. Portable music is ubiquitous now, but how can you tell what an MP3 file really sounds like listening through those little earbuds? It’s like watching HD on a black and white TV. Audiophiles don’t care about looking cool, they’re happy to be geeky, we’re trying to expose a general audience to what any audiophile is used to.”

And this is the same reason why these kinds of products have been so appealing to musicians, and not just as lucrative tie-in branding ventures. (Although, certainly that, too.) This Lee learned from working with Dr. Dre, who knows a bit about laboring in the studio for long periods of time. “Artists have everything to gain from having listeners gain this appreciation,” he says. “If you’re going to spend years in a studio getting every single sound just right, but then people can’t hear what you did, what good is that?”