Rival rappers want words in your ear

The Life: Dubai distributor Shift LLC teams up with 50 Cent to offer SMS Audio by 50 Cent headphones in the Middle East market. The competition: Dr Dre.
Canada's track cyclist Joseph Veloce uses a pair of Beats by Dr Dre headphones during the London Olympics. Stefano Rellandini / Reuters
Canada's track cyclist Joseph Veloce uses a pair of Beats by Dr Dre headphones during the London Olympics. Stefano Rellandini / Reuters

With the advent of iPods and personal music systems, the demand for high-end headphones - defined as those costing more than US$100 (Dh367) - has exploded.

Last year, Dr Dre, the American rapper, ruled the $1 billion industry, with his Beats brand, capturing a 53 per cent share of the market. The business, which started as a sideline to his music career, made him $110 million last year and helped propel him to the top of the Forbes Cash King list of hip-hop's highest earners.

Dr Dre ruffled feathers at this year's Olympic Games in London by giving athletes Beats headphones in their team colours, the kind of "ambush marketing" that the International Olympic Committee is keen to keep a lid on.

Celebrities spotted wearing the headphones with their 'b' logo include Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj.

But now Shift, a distributor based in Dubai, has teamed up with the rapper 50 Cent in an attempt to knock Dr Dre from the top spot in the Middle East.

Shift started selling SMS Audio's 50 Cent headphones two weeks ago in Virgin stores in the UAE. Since their launch, they have become the top-selling brand at the chain, according to Mazen Khanafer, the managing director and founder of Shift.

"Dr Dre has been uncontested for three or four years now," says Mr Khanafer. "We are very proud that since our launch with Virgin Megastore, we are the highest-selling headphones."

While Dr Dre's stylish headphones - designed by a former Apple employee - have been phenomenally popular, many industry experts have dismissed their sound quality as poor.

Mr Khanafer says the headphones put as much emphasis on sound quality as style. The premium wireless versions use Kleen technology which, unlike Bluetooth, does not compress audio files.

"Bluetooth was made for the telecommunications industry, not the music industry," says Mr Khanafer. "It's for talking, not listening."

Such wizardry does not come cheap. Wireless Sync headphones retail at Dh1,499, while Street wired and in-ear headphones cost Dh999 and Dh499 respectively.

lgutcher@thenational.ae

Published: October 16, 2012 04:00 AM

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