13 questions for Luke Wood, the President of Beats – CNET

Luke  Wood joined Beats by Dr. Dre in 2011, becoming its president and COO.

Beats by Dr. Dre

Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine are the names most often associated with the Beats brand, but there’s also a guy named Luke Wood. He was involved with the company since its early days but only officially joined on in 2011. He’s currently president of Beats by Dr. Dre, which was acquired by Apple in 2014 for $3 billion, in what remains the company’s largest acquisition to date.

Wood’s roots in the music industry go deep. A guitarist and producer, he began his career in 1991 with Geffen Records as a director of publicity, working with such bands as Sonic Youth and Nirvana. With his own band, Sammy, he released an EP and two full-length albums. He later became chief strategy officer of Interscope Geffen A&M (IGA). Doing double duty as president of Geffen’s DGC Records imprint, he worked with a wide range of well-known artists, including All American Rejects, Weezer, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Rise Against.

As Beats by Dr. Dre gets set to ship its flagship Studio3 Wireless headphone in mid-October, Wood answered a few questions — 13 to be exact — that we had for him.  


CNET: As a former musician and music executive, what were some of the high points of your musical career?

Wood: The high point was always the relationship with the artists and the music. Working with people who had the talent to explain the human condition through music in such intimate, insightful and unconventional ways was everything… I got as close to the music as humanly possible.   
CNET: Low points?

Wood: The low points were the moments I couldn’t help artists achieve their goals. Whether those goals were artistic or commercial, it was always painful when we didn’t reach the desired outcome. Music is perhaps the purest and most vulnerable expression of a person’s inner self, so to not have that embraced or to fail to find a way to successfully express it is hard.

CNET: Except for the BeatsX, which is totally new (and the EP), you’ve mostly stuck with the exterior designs of your previous generation headphones, with some small tweaks. Can you explain your thinking behind that approach, especially in regard to the Studio3 Wireless?

Wood: I’m fortunate to be on the board of Fender, and we have one of the most iconic guitars in the history of music: the Stratocaster. Fender has not changed the shape of that guitar since 1954, since the shape is so integral to the sound and feel of the instrument. We believe Studio2 is our “Stratocaster.” So what we’re doing with Studio3 is bringing technology and innovation to an already great industrial design to give consumers an even better listening experience.  

In our portfolio, we have a product designed for every lifestyle and use case. We don’t just change the design for the sake of making it look like a new product, but we instead focus on how we can improve the internal DNA to take full advantage of our acoustic designs that have become iconic and synonymous with the Beats brand.

With that said, we are always looking at areas to improve, even if the design stays relatively similar. For instance, most people can’t see a difference between Powerbeats2 Wireless and Powerbeats3 Wireless. But we actually changed the ergonomics between the two to provide a better in-ear seal in Powerbeats3 Wireless. We adjusted things by just a few millimeters, which results in much better sound quality.

CNET: You mentioned that Beats once had the market largely to itself (the Beats brand was dominant), but that all the competition now is actually good. Why?

Wood: When Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre started Beats, their vision was to make premium audio a part of the cultural conversation again. We accomplished that and continue to improve our products to make what I consider the best-sounding headphones on earth.  At the end of the day, the fact that other manufacturers, retailers and now consumers are focused on making, marketing and listening on premium headphones is a victory for the constituents who really matter — the musicians who make the music.

CNET: When you were acquired by Apple, that brought with it some benefits, particularly in regard to access to its engineers. How has that helped Beats?

Wood: This has been a huge step forward for our products. Apple has always made incredibly advanced, environmentally safe products with the highest quality. We have integrated the teams to bring these qualities into our products and it’s something we are very excited about. Studio3 had to pass all the same qualifications any Apple product would, and this translates directly to consumers when they experience the product for themselves.

Now Playing: Watch this: Beats Studio3 Wireless boosts sound quality, battery…

CNET: What headphone technology are you most excited about?

Wood: I love the Pure ANC [active noise cancellation] in the new Studio3 Wireless. Noise canceling is a valuable product attribute and we developed a technology that cancels the noise but lets the music through in its purest form. It processes at speeds up to 50,000 calculations a second to take an exacting picture of the user’s surroundings and cancels the noise but maintains the best possible music experience. It’s a new paradigm in how ANC works. 

CNET: Do you have a favorite Beats product?

Wood: I get an incredible discount on Beats products so I am fortunate to have a headphone for every specific use case.  I’m a runner and I adore my Powerbeats3, but when I’m moving around all day — listening to music and taking calls — BeatsX lives around my neck.  Obviously, my current obsession is Studio3, which I have been using most for travel. It’s the one thing that makes me look forward to a long flight. 

CNET: Favorite color?

Wood: I move around a lot when it comes to color — like many people, I love colors that are hard to find or limited edition.  I work very closely with the design and product development team on color development so I truly can say I love them all. 

CNET: What colors are on your no-way-in-hell will this be on a Beats product?

Wood: I think it would probably be hard to find a variant of a color we have not put on a headphone in the last few years.  What might look loud, garish, or passé in one context is perfect in another so you can’t really have any rules.  We work with so much great talent and often they have really specific and unorthodox requests. What I learned from 20-plus years in the music business is to follow great talent as they often lead you to magical places. 

CNET: How has the sound profile of Beats headphones evolved with this generation of products?

Wood: I often say, “These are are best sounding products ever… period.”  The complete redesign of the Studio3 technology has allowed us to create a balanced soundstage that I think was previously considered unattainable in a noise-canceling headphone. Jimmy Iovine worked with Bruce Springsteen and John Lennon; Dr. Dre worked with Snoop, 2Pac and Eminem; I was fortunate to be around artists such as Nirvana and Elliott Smith.  We are people who care deeply about sound and are committed to a full expression of the artists’ intended fidelity regardless of the genre. With every generation of products we iterate and get closer to perfection, and I can’t believe how far we have come. 

CNET: You showed the world average consumers were willing to pay upwards of $350 for a headphone and did the whole industry a favor. However, it seems like there are a lot more spot sales on Beats’ new models these days. Has the pricing needle moved downward? 

Wood: The headphone and portable speaker category has reached a critical mass and a level of consumer interest where it can now drive significant traffic at retail.  When Beats started, the headphone section was usually buried somewhere between USB cables and karaoke machines.  Today there is a lot of interest and commitment at retail, and when that happens, the pricing becomes more dynamic.  

CNET: Any chance we’ll see sports-oriented Beats totally wireless earphones?

Wood: I’m thrilled we have platformed the best technology in our current product, but we are always in the kitchen cooking up ways to move the headphone category forward. I can’t comment on specific technologies or industrial design, but I will say we are always looking to get even closer to perfection with audio. 

CNET: Have you done anything to enhance your customer service that you’re now part of Apple?

Wood: Absolutely. All of our products are fully integrated into the Apple Care quality team. We now are able to get incredibly detailed information back from the field and have a closer touchpoint to our consumers with Apple retail stores, Knowledge Base articles, and the AppleCare support system. We work hand-in-hand with AppleCare to ensure that our products are kept to the highest integrity and our customers are fully satisfied.

This interview was conducted via email, and was slightly edited for clarity. 

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