Back when the iPod first came onto the market it was all about the iconic white in-ear headphones that came with them and how they identified that you were likely part of an exclusive group of people with the hottest portable media player in town. Lets face it, whether or not the headphones sounded well was not the priority back then.
Hundred of millions of iPods and iPhones later the white headphones are nothing other than an identification that you also own an Apple device, you have become one of them. There might be more to it, but it feels like the current trend in headphones is much about the same, it’s about making a personal statement and not necessarily about the music.
Don’t get me wrong, the designer headphones that are currently all the rage thanks to their celebrity endorsement, and our obsession with celebrities, are in most part of a higher audio quality than the old default white iPod headphones, and you will most of the time also find that the price tag is much higher as well.
Marketing people have always been able to target certain headphones to niche social circles, the difference these days is that there are millions and millions of us walking around listening to music wherever we are. We plug in on our commute to work, we plug in while at work, and we plug in when we go for our evening walk/run/gym session. Just like we dress to make a statement about who we are, our choice of headphones are also a social statement.
The mass headphone market has for long been dominated by a few manufacturers that you can find on the high-street, delivering low to mid-range headphones that has felt fairly generic, making our choices as consumers one of random selection more than anything. As Apple and others have influenced how we consume music, headphone manufacturers have also started to realize that their products are as much about creating something we can identify with as it is about delivering sound.
Although perhaps not the first in that market, Monster and Beats by Dr.Dre have definitely started a trend where celebrity focus and designer looks have become an important part of the headphones we buy. Since the first Beats by Dr.Dre headphones came out we have seen other headphone manufacturers come into the same market, we are seeing headphones produced to take advantage of popular tv-series and movies, and we are seeing sport stars, artists, and actors lend their names to headphone products in hope of increasing their own popularity and exposure (and bank account). Based on observation and sales, it looks like the strategy is working.
There has always been great options out there for the audiophile music lovers that are very discerning about audio quality, but in many ways that has been a niche market on its own. These days some of the lines between what is referred to as artist/studio quality headphones and the mass market price range has blurred, most of the time to the benefit of the consumer as quality of sound has improved. I still think that most of those that consider themselves as audiophiles will stay away from the latest trend headphones, but as for the mass market, we are likely to see more of the same in the coming months as we build up towards peak sales season.
Market figures support what we are seeing as well, as retailers such as HMV are starting to focus more on the headphone and other electronics accessories market to boost falling profits due to our changes in consumption of music. Whether or not their strategy will work remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure, we need better choice and opportunities to test headphones in store than what we currently get on the high street in the UK.
If you have bought headphones recently, what was the key factors you considered? We appreciate it if you take our poll below or leave a comment telling us about your view of the current headphone trends.