When you pay more money for a top-shelf, brand-name item, you expect it to be better than a cheaper version of the product. Generally speaking, that’s true: For those who can afford to drive them, the typical Cadillac will outperform a similar Chevy. Diners seeking a culinary treat will find that The Capital Grille serves up better-tasting food than McDonald’s (MCD).
But the old adage “You get what you pay for” doesn’t always ring true. Let’s take a look at some well-known consumer brands that, while charging premium prices, don’t always offer superior value.
Bose makes speakers in every conceivable format — radios, iPhone docks, home theater components, and headphones. Compared to its competitors, Bose’s products are almost always the most expensive in their class. But is it really worth it to pay more for a Bose-made speaker?
According to many audio enthusiasts, no — the quality of Bose’s audio equipment doesn’t justify its premium price tag. Look up reviews of Bose speakers online and you’ll find that critics often cite Bose’s use of substandard materials (paper cones) and inaccurate sound reproduction. Even Audioholics Magazine, in an article that defended Bose, admitted that the company was the “punch-line of jokes about over-priced speakers.”
CNET has generally given Bose products favorable reviews, but has criticized the company’s pricing. In its review of Bose’s SoundDock 10, it remarked that the iPod dock offered “really good sound” but was “expensive” and lacking in features. Similarly, the publication faulted Bose’s Companion 2 Series II for not offering “sound [as] good as other computer speakers in this price class.”
Given how its quality compares to its more reasonably priced rivals, it’s hard to justify stretching your budget to buy Bose.
While Bose products are generally better than their no-name, dirt cheap competitors, the same can’t be said about some of Monster’s products.
Monster makes a variety of home theater-related products, including TV mounts and remotes. But the company is mostly known for its cables, particularly HDMI cables that are used to connect cable boxes and Blu-ray players to HDTVs.
If you just bought a new TV and need an HDMI cable, you can buy a 4-foot one from Monster for $19.99 on Amazon.com (AMZN). Or, you can order an off-brand HDMI cable for less than $6. But no matter which cable you use, your TV’s picture isn’t going to look any different.
Side-by-side comparisons of various HDMI cables have found no discernible difference in picture quality, regardless of their price.
Criticism of Monster is so widespread that the company has had to defend itself, arguing that, over long distances, cheaper HDMI cables can experience signal loss, leading to a lower-quality picture. That’s true, but most people don’t keep their cable boxes more than a few feet away from their TV.
The bottom line: Unless you need a cable much longer than 10 feet, Monster’s HDMI cables just aren’t worth the money.
Beats by Dre
Interestingly, before 2012, Beats by Dre headphones were manufactured by Monster. Today, the company handles its own production, but both firms still share something in common — their penchant for high, arguably unjustified, prices.
Slate, in a piece exploring the growing popularity of Dre’s headphones, wrote:
Beats by Dre have received, at best, mixed reviews, with critics complaining of sticker shock, poor sound performance, and shoddy construction. (Seriously, just Google (GOOG) “Beats by Dre falling apart” and read the tales of woe.) While Consumer Reports recently graded the new Beats models rather highly, they tempered their praise by acknowledging that you’re mostly paying for the name and the look, not the sound.
Indeed, when it comes to high-end headphones, it’s hard to find something more stylish. The company’s iconic logo has become a status symbol, and endorsement deals with celebrities and musicians — including Lil’ Wayne, Kobe Bryant, and Lady Gaga — have helped the brand grow its headphone sales at a rapid rate.
Those looking for a fashion accessory that also lets them listen to their tunes might find Beats by Dre’s high asking price justified, but buyers looking for a great deal on quality-sounding headphones should look elsewhere.
Motley Fool contributing writer Sam Mattera has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, Google, and McDonald’s. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Google, and McDonald’s. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.