Headphone maker Beats Electronics is launching a $200 pair of wireless ear buds that the company says would survive six days of sweaty, hour-long workouts without needing a recharge.
Athletes are already among the most prominent users of the earmuff-like, single-side-cord Beats headphones. It's hard to walk into a gym or watch an NBA game without seeing someone's head adorned with one of the products that have propelled the Culver City company to the top of the premium headphone market. Apple has said it plans to acquire Beats for $3 billion in a transaction that could close by September.
Beats' new in-ear buds, created with the help of basketball star LeBron James, are exclusively designed with athletes in mind, the company said. The Powerbeats Wireless buds latch around the ear, and a cord that sits on the back of the neck connects one side to the other.
Beats says the headphones have a six-hour battery life, are water-resistant and able to connect to any Bluetooth device within 30 feet. Black, red and white versions go on sale in stores and on Beats' website in the coming days, the company said.
The market for headphones for runners and gym-goers is filled with competitors, including Sennheiser, Bose and Plantronics. Some of the options, including one from Sony, hold music on an embedded memory card that eliminates the need to have a phone or MP3 player around. When judged on sound quality, Beats products often rank as an also-ran in product reviews, including from the well-regarded blog the Wirecutter.
Still, few of the companies can match Beats' marketing power. A recent commercial featured Brazilian soccer star Neymar, and the campaign for the new Powerbeats Wireless is almost certain to feature James. A report on ESPN.com described James as an investor in Beats and said that he stands to earn as much as $30 million from the sale of Beats to Apple.
"Music is one of my main motivations when I work out, and I know others can relate because music takes people to a different place that inspires more energy and focus," James said in a statement. "Ultimately, music and athletic performance are one, and through this partnership with Beats, we continue to push that envelope in every way possible."
Expanding use of smartphones has increased the need for headphones, whose No. 1 use is during exercise, according to the market analysis firm NPD. The firm said in March that the market for headphones costing more than $100 surpassed $1 billion in 2013, representing 21% growth in a year. Key to the growth, NPD said, was a near doubling of the market for wireless headphones.
"Nearly two-thirds of headphone users exercise while using their headphones and that number increases to three-quarters when we look at the 18-34-year-old segment," NPD analyst Ben Arnold said in March. "From the growing digital fitness device market to ruggedized smartphones and sport headphones, fitness and exercise use-cases are a growing opportunity throughout the consumer electronics market."