By Simon Vozick-Levinson
September 30, 2010 at 02:27 PM EDT

Image Credit: D Dipasupil/FilmMagic.comDr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine are busy men. One is a legendary recording artist and producer, the other runs one of the biggest labels in the music industry. So why are these guys, who surely have cooler places to be, spending their Wednesday afternoon at a Manhattan theater hawking headphones?

“Because this is our life right now,” Dr. Dre tells the Music Mix backstage shortly after he, Iovine, and Monster Cable founder Noel Lee have finished a press conference introducing the latest additions to their Beats by Dr. Dre audio products line. “This is something that we’re really into. We’re really proud of it.” Iovine gets more personal with his answer: “I was a recording engineer when I was 19 years old,” says the Interscope-Geffen-A&M chief. “Sound has been my way into a better life. So sound is as important to me as music…. Without sound and music, I’m still in Brooklyn, working, you know, down on the docks. So it’s very easy for me to show up for this.”

Iovine and Dre have developed the Beats line to combat what they see as an epidemic of low-quality sound. Tinny laptop speakers and cheap earbuds drive them absolutely nuts. “Headphones became a commodity,” says Iovine. “And when that happened, it was a very, very dangerous thing for us. Then you add the bad files and the bad sounding computers, and you’ve got a chain of events that are cataclysmic to music.” Most Beats products are expensive — the new Beats Pro headphones and Beatbox speaker dock, for example, will each retail for $399 — but they hope to persuade consumers that a professional-quality listening experience is worth the price tag. They’ve even partnered with Justin Bieber for Just Beats headphones that they hope will help appeal to a younger audience. And a new line of iBeats earbuds, also aimed at kids, will sell for $99.

Earlier at the press conference, Dre mentioned that his most important non-headphone project, the extremely delayed Detox album, might possibly be released by this Christmas, “in a perfect world.” He didn’t sound too definite about that release date. Isn’t he tired of answering those questions about when to expect Detox? “You have no idea,” he sighs backstage, then laughs.

So why has he kept working on Detox when he could have retired comfortably years ago? “I have a genuine passion for making music, and that’s all it is,” Dre replies without hesitating. “I mean, I love being in the studio. I love creating and coming up with new things. And making records is such a high for me, because you wake up and you have to go into the studio and just pull something out of thin air, and you have to do it well enough for people to get up and go to their computer or do whatever they do to buy it. It’s a perfect job for me.”

Earlier: Dr. Dre says he’d be open to working with American Idol contestants

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

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