From a distance, it might seem like Beats By Dre and Third Man Records exist at opposite ends of the tech spectrum. The former, it appears, focuses on sonic innovation through digital technology while the latter is a creator of meticulously crafted analog devices. However, Third Man co-founder and spokesperson Ben Blackwell begs to differ as he calls from his desk at Third Man’s Nashville headquarters.
“I think points to keep in mind that these are both artist-run companies,” he notes. “They’re artists who are very, very strong, visionary men in their respective fields, whether it’s music or record labels. So to me it seemed like a very obvious connection… It seemed really appropriate.”
Thus, Record Store Day’s Black Friday celebration will mark the entrance of the Third Man Records Limited Edition Beats Solo3 Wireless, bringing together the two visionary companies for the first time. The collaboration came to be when Beats used the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” for a notably successful 2016 ad campaign, and got both parties talking about ways they could collaborate moving forward.
The decision to work together on headphones came relatively naturally, both Third Man and Beats expressing outward enthusiasm for the project and a desire to bring out the best in each other. “When you get to work with another company that is motivated as much as you are, if not more so, it makes you want to step up your game and really really bring it,” Blackwell explained.
As for the headphones themselves, they are aesthetically gorgeous, staying true to Third Man’s signature colors of yellow and black as well as its core focus, including a 60-inch braided audio cable with 1/4 stereo plug adaptor for direct turntable plug-in. The 60-inch cord is also ten inches longer than the traditional Beats audio cable, allowing you to comfortably move from your player to finding the next record in your collection.
The sound is truly wonderful, with an ability to capture the intricacies and beauty of all genres, from rock to pop to hip-hop. “I really, really like the sound of them,” Blackwell says. “They sound really, really f**king great.”
In terms of the design, Third Man tried to take as many creative liberties as they could, while staying within the parameters of the traditional Beats landscape. “We had all kinds of crazy ideas of different kinds of add ons or inventions to do to the headphones, and they ultimately come back and say we could attempt that but here’s the retinue of regulations that we have to go through,” Blackwell recalls.
“[Beats] were like, ‘Yeah we can talk about that,” he said. “That would take five years to do what you guys are describing.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh sh*t man, no one wants to do that. No one wants to come up with an idea and have to go through five years of testing for it for something of this caliber. So, we tried to accentuate little details.” According to Blackwell, the addition of the braided cord with the headphones is a first for Beats, bringing with it an aspect of durability and quality not previously considered.
Within the packaging is also a special, collector’s translucent yellow flexi disc of “Level,” the debut single from what one could call Jack White’s most pop-leaning project the Raconteurs. “I like the Raconteurs song because I felt like we wanted to steer away from the obvious, and the obvious would’ve been to do… The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” Blackwell explained.
“But, we realized that we’re in this opportunity where we could be speaking to people that don’t know the history of Third Man or the Raconteurs or Jack White,” he continued. “It seemed like a good chance to utilize that opportunity to pull a track that’s maybe a little deeper but no less bombastic or captivating. So, the hope was to pull something that we knew was great and an important attention-grabbing song that maybe the rest of the general public may not be aware of, and I think that song fits that 100%.”
When asked for the perfect track to experience through the headphones, Blackwell pauses to think. “You know perfect is a tricky word there,” he chuckles. His conclusion: “Sixty Feet Tall” from the Dead Weather’s debut album Horehound. “What’s sticking out in my mind is the sound profile of the bass on that song that is wonderfully served by the strength of this headphone,” he explains. “These headphones were tailor-made to drive a song like this.”
At the end of the day, Blackwell hopes that the news of the collaboration will be another reason for fans to revisit music they once loved that might have been put to the side recently. “Whether it’s a headphone or it’s the opening of a pressing plant, anything in life that causes you to go back and listen to music, and appreciate it in a different or new or unique way; that’s kinda one of the most important things in life, you know?”
Third Man Records Limited Edition Beats Solo3 Wireless are currently available for pre-order on the Third Man website for $329.95, and will be available in-store at both their Nashville and Detroit locations on Record Store Day Black Friday (November 24). The collaboration can also be purchased on Apple.com come December 6.