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Headphones: Surging in Popularity
By Robert Archer
Ten years ago it seemed unfathomable that consumer audio’s shining star could be the headphone category. But Apple and Google’s success in the MP3 and smartphone markets over the past decade have helped to drive a boom in headphone sales no one could have predicted.
Headphone manufacturers have taken advantage of a market that was hungry for substance and style, and traditional loudspeaker companies have gotten on board too, responding to the public’s demand by designing a new wave of products that look and sound great.
As MP3-player sales wane, the portable media torch has been passed to tablets. Led by the iPad, as well as a host of Android products from companies like Samsung, Sony and ViewSonic – as well as Microsoft’s new Surface – tablet products offer the promise of a multimedia experience that ultimately requires headphones for a vast majority of applications.
“We believe that with the tremendous growth of products like [Android] tablets and iPads, the headphone market has nowhere to go but up,” says Mark Aling, senior marketing director for Paradigm, Anthem and MartinLogan.
The Numbers Say It All
To put in perspective the influence tablets are having on the headphone market, consider that Apple says it sold more than 5 million iPhone 5 units during the product’s first weekend of availability last September and more than 3 million fourth-generation iPads and iPad minis the first three days after both products were released last November.
According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), album downloads grew from 76 million units in 2009 to 85 million units in 2010 and to 104 million units in 2011. In addition, a ZDNet report published before the 2012 holiday season cited Steve Koenig, the director of industry analysis for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), saying he expected headphone sales to grow by approximately 10 percent during the annual shopping season.
B&W’s P3 on-ear headphones carry an MSRP of $200; they are available in a choice of colors and they are compatible with Apple’s iOS product line.
Aling says that just as the audio market has evolved to embrace digital audio, streaming media and portable devices, the specialty home audio market must adapt to remain relevant. He recalls that it wasn’t long ago that professional installers and specialty retailers focused on traditional speakers and architectural speaker solutions, but now people are listening to audio in so many new ways.
“Keep in mind - the new generation [of audio consumers] listens to music almost exclusively through portable formats,” Aling says. “We are keenly aware that part of Paradigm’s responsibility is to teach new listeners that good sound matters.”
Showing just how broad the appeal of headphones are, the CE Pro 100 Brand Analysis indicates that 60 percent of America’s highest grossing electronics installation companies offer headphones. Not surprisingly, the brands they rely upon are high-performance solutions like Sennheiser and Bowers & Wilkins (B&W).
Aling believes traditional audio manufacturers will continue to adjust to the headphone market.
“Obviously there is a learning curve involved in designing products for the headphone market,” he says. “However, good sound is good sound, period.”
Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at email@example.com
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