Big idea: Match a headphone manufacturer with a music industry big-wig. Co-develop an exciting, new, cross-branded audio product. Price it somewhere between OMG and WTF. Repeat until everyone’s so rich they’re barfing up diamonds and using Benjamins to flambé their Crêpes Suzette.
This is the formula being employed by seemingly every youth-market musical artist looking to repeat the magical success of Beats by Dre headphones, (which, by the way, had nothing to do with sound quality and everything to do with savvy marketing).
The latest pair of celebriphones come from Mix Master Mike, the hip-hop DJ best known as the guy who usurped Hurricane’s seat as the fifth Beastie Boy — the fourth Beastie being Mark Ramos-Nishita, naturally.
Now, I’ve seen so many of these collabo-phones cross my desk in the last couple of years, I’m almost at the point where I’m mailing them back without even opening the boxes. But I set aside my cynicism to take a look at the Mix Master Mikes. They’re made specifically for DJ use, and I was curious enough about them to test them out. Granted, I’m only a weekend warrior on the turntables, but it’s a hobby I take seriously enough to have formed some opinions about what makes a piece of gear gig-worthy.
To make his cans, the Mix Master teamed up with Skullcandy, the company that’s rapidly branching out from cheap, day-glo earbuds for the BMX set to higher-end, higher-priced hardware for more discerning listeners. These headphones are exemplary of Skullcandy’s new direction — they’re smartly designed, the sound is well-balanced and they have an appropriately eyebrow-raising $300 price tag.
The MMMs have some very cool DJ-specific features, my favorite being a trick that switches the headphones from stereo to mono when you twist one of the earpads, dumping both the right and left channels into the driver that’s still over your ear. This is handy for beat matching or cueing up a crossfade, as it gives you a better idea of how well the track you’ve got on deck will sit with the track that’s currently playing. To that end, there’s also a mute switch nestled into one of the ear cups that kills the sound in the cans so you can hear the room. You can just flip the switch on and off to monitor the sound without removing the whole assembly. The last bit of DJ-friendly business is a coiled cord with a plug that securely screws into the either the left or right ear.