Headphones: Style Sells

Quality and comfort remain important

Several executives from prominent vendors recently told Dealerscope how they view the state of the market and what they are doing to differentiate their products from the hundreds of others vying for the ears and the dollars of consumers. Here’s a segment from article that will appear in our February issue.

DEALERSCOPE: Are styling, performance and comfort on equal footing these days as considerations in consumers’ minds when they shop for headphones? Or does one factor trump another?

Mark Aling, Director of Marketing, Paradigm: It’s hard to judge comfort from a box. But we’re trying to get “try-on” POPs to dealers for the earbuds, offering replaceable tips, so people can see if they fit properly. In terms of performance, Paradigm has always been known for that kind of quality. So we’ve tied the marketing back to our speaker series, so people automatically have an assumption of what they’ll sound like, based on what they already know of Paradigm. We’ve voiced the speakers to match up with series of products. We’ve got a good-better-best scenario with speakers, being Paradigm, Reference and Signature, and then we have the same scenario with earbuds. The E1 is voiced the same as the Monitor, the E2 is voice like a Studio, and the E3 is voiced like a Signature.

Mike Klipsch, President/Global Operations, Klipsch: Styling is critically important. When you buy a headphone, in many cases and certainly online, you can’t hear it and are making a buying decision based on its looks and packaging. The looks and the industrial design are a huge topic, and becoming bigger and bigger. A lot of the products are being viewed as fashion items; people see them almost as jewelry, and as a statement.

Eric Stubbert, Channel Manager, Consumer Div., Sennheiser: The market research shows that style and comfort are at the top of the list. They do rank higher than sound quality, but sound is subjective, and there aren’t really many that sound horrible. We also have to consider that the quality of the audio source has been in decline. During the ’90s we were listening on fairly expensive CD players, where everything had 44.1 kHz sampling rates and completely uncompressed digital sources. Now, we’re listening off MP3 players, where they get as much data possible on as small a device as possible by compression. The quality has been reduced, so the benefit of a $1,500 headphone is lost on an MP3 player. So there’s give and take, but style, comfort and noise isolation tend to be the leading features or benefits that drive decisions right now. At the higher price points, I think sound quality is assumed.

Editor in chief of Dealerscope
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