Dr. Dre's headphones put heat in the beat

Dr. Dre's beats are some of the most potent in hip-hop. Now his Beats by Dr. Dre headphones will let fans hear what he hears.

Frustrated by listening to MP3s through mediocre ear buds, Dre spent two years working with Interscope Geffen A&M chairman Jimmy Iovine and audio accessory maker Monster Cable to develop sets that replicate what he hears in the studio.

"If people think they like their music on those little ear buds or computer speakers, they'll experience it on a whole different plane," Iovine says.

The $350 headphones offer detailed highs and deep bass while shutting out ambient noise. They go on sale Friday at Apple, Best Buy and beatsbydre.com. "They definitely get across what my music should sound like," Dre says.

The price won't scare off audiophiles and is comparable to the cost of premium headphones from Sony, Shure, Bose, Panasonic and JVC, says Richard Doherty of The Envisioneering Group, a technology assessment and market research company.

"They cater to consumers who want to hear every last essence of the music," he says. "The difference between $350 and $60 headphones is subtle."

The reclusive Dre has never endorsed products but was won over by the zeal for sound quality shared by Monster founder Noel Lee and son Kevin. "Dre said his lawyers wanted him to sell some Adidas," Iovine says. "I looked at him and said, 'Forget sneakers, let's sell speakers.' "

Kevin Lee says getting pristine sound and noise abatement in one set of headphones seemed impossible.

"Unlike with video, there is no benchmark reference for what absolute perfect sound is," Lee says. "That's where Dre comes in. We probably ran about 150 prototypes before we got it just right."

Iovine and Dre reviewed more than 20 designs before settling on the sleek black headphones' distinctive look.

"This is different from making perfume and having some rock star put her name on it," Iovine says. "We're pretty finicky guys. Those headphones (had to) sound better than every pair made."

Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Akon, Bono, The Edge, Pharrell Williams and Gwen Stefani tried them out and liked what they heard. Dre also got a thumbs-up from other producers.

"People in the studio took them home to listen to music they've been working on, and the sound was so different, they wanted to start over," Dre says.