Samsung was rumored to be interested in Beats Electronics before Apple snapped it up for a cool $3 billion, but it appears the South Korean giant hasn’t given up on expensive headphones. On Wednesday, Samsung announced a line of headphones and speakers coming to the United States, the Level line, and it looks suspiciously similar in product and price to what Beats sells.
There are four products currently carrying the Samsung Level mark: a pair of over-ear headphones, a pair of on-ear headphones, a pair of in-ear earphones, and a Bluetooth speaker. They’re all decked out in gold trim — or matte black, if that’s what you prefer — and they’re priced like premium products, in some cases, with a suggested price over the equivalent products from Beats. For instance, the over-ear headphones connect through Bluetooth and include active noise canceling technology, but they’re $50 more than the Beats Studio, which has a very similar design and list of features, as well as more color options for the fashion-focused.
Samsung’s not breaking any ground with these audio products — all four products are similar to what’s already available in malls worldwide. I’ve had a chance to listen to the in-ear earphones, and they’re a pair of made-in-China buds with a marquee name on them at a luxury price. Samsung’s not the first company to try this approach — the marketplace is littered with unsold headphones from companies like 50 Cent-endorsed SMS Audio or Dr. Dre-less Monster — but they’re certainly the biggest.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Samsung use its headphones and speakers as a way to offer discounts and promotions with its smartphones. Something along the lines of “buy a Galaxy S5, and get these headphones for half off.” Samsung is also trying to promote ties between its software and hardware products: these headphones supposedly work best with an EQ app called Level that’s available from the Samsung Apps store.
Samsung’s American marketing approach actually has a lot in common with Beats. Both Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones and Beats-branded headphones became household names through big celebrity endorsements, like LeBron James, who endorses both Samsung and Beats. But building awareness and market share is a long slog, and in fashion, like technology, it’s not easy to predict what becomes trendy and what doesn’t.
What this move shows is the value that Beats represents for Apple. Sure, Apple might have been more interested in the streaming audio service, but this proves Apple also has found a little bit of value in the headphone business as well, or else Samsung wouldn’t be trying to butt in. Beats already has the cache among young people and the name recognition to sell high-margin $300 headphones — to the tune of an estimated $2 billion per year — and although Samsung can rush some fancy headphones to market, it doesn’t yet have the cool.