Adding Bite to Bluetooth Headphones
A new lineup of improved gear for a retailer’s arsenalJune 19, 2013 By John R. Quain
The market for headphones has become a monster, with plenty of Beats knock-offs and models of every brand and stripe now crowding store shelves. With nearly every label offering $250 headphones, this year’s CE efforts to carve out a new section of the market are squarely aimed at delivering wireless models.
The coalescence of several features could mean that wireless models are ready to take off this year. Thanks in large part to Bluetooth, there’s now a de facto wireless standard. No more dongles to make a smart phone or tablet connection or worrying about whether shoppers are Android or Apple users. Even AV receivers from the likes of Onkyo, Pioneer and Sony are now boasting built-in Bluetooth.
Furthermore, while wireless sound still can’t match that of corded headsets, it has improved remarkably. And it promises to get better. Bluetooth compression of MP3 tracks can introduce some audio anomalies, but the newer aptX audio codec for Bluetooth does a better job maintaining audio quality over the air and is gaining traction. It’s already supported by Samsung’s popular Galaxy S III and S 4 phones, as well as by HTC’s One. As higher quality, lossless digital formats take hold, aptX will become a more important feature to maintain audio quality.
Out of the mix here is Apple’s iPhone line. Apple hasn’t yet added aptX support to its smart phones. Nor has the company added wireless near field communications (NFC) support to its models. Nevertheless, some headsets now support both, and with mobile payment systems increasingly relying on NFC, dealers can expectthat Apple will add both features shortly.
The final feature that makes wireless headphones more appealing today is improved battery life. Many models are rated to last for up to 12 hours of playback.That exceeds the real-world battery life of most multi-tasking smart phonesthese days. And should the power dissipate on the headphones, most models come with an audio cord to plug in the old-fashioned way.
Initially, wireless Bluetooth headsets were primarily in-ear models intended for workouts and wandering. They were designed more for convenience than quality. But the trend this year is toward models targeting the Dr. Dre market. These on-ear and over-the-ear cans are for commuting and flying, rather than running around the track. Here’s a look at some of the latest models and what kind of shopper they’ll appeal to.