Headphone News: January 28, 2013
Dre still tops the headphone charts.
NPD reports on headphones here and here have spurred news outlets to report on the wildly growing segment, and the news is both good and bad. The good news is that the U.S. sales of headphones that cost $100 or more increase by a whopping 73% year-over-year in 2012. In fact, 43% of all headphone purchases is in this category, and those buying them have an average of 2.3 over-$100 cans at home. So yeah, headphones are well established in the popular consciousness now.
The bad news? Beats continues to radically dominate the premium headphone market with a 64% share! Two of every three headphones sold over $100 has the big red "b" on it. Un-friggen-believable! If it was done on the back of an honest focus on good sound, I wouldn't mind a bit...but it's not. I thought the Beats CEO Luke Woods quote from this Times article telling:
But the company's greatest innovation may have been its success at making headphones as much fashion accessories as they are listening devices. "If you're wearing a pair of Beats, it says, 'Music's really important in my life,' says Wood. "I've seen people wearing them at parties with hundreds of people, and they've got their Beats around their neck. It's no different than somebody wearing a Run DMC T-shirt and Adidas shoes, or the guy who always wears a Metallica T-shirt."
So do the math: Beats pulls in more than $200 million dollars and considers it "no different than someone wearing a Run DMC t-shirt." I'm sorry, but I feel headphones should first and foremost do honor to the art of music and faithfully reproduce what the artist and engineers wanted you to hear. Two hundred million bucks is plenty squeeze out a real acoustics development effort and to truly deliver on a brand promise of better sound.
"People aren't hearing all the music." Ha! Indeed.
Sony builds its first portable headphone amp.
21 years ago as HeadRoom's founder, I built the first commercially available portable headphone amplifier. At the time, my justification was that Sony would never put really good headphone amplifiers in their portable audio products because 95% of people really wouldn't care.
Sony recently announced its first portable headphone amplifier product, the PHA-1. With the exception of a rather high output impedance, Sony seems to have thought this product out very well, and have included iDevice digital compatibility, gain switch, up to 24/96 USB digital bit-rates, and a very nice strap system for attaching your portable player.
What makes this product introduction newsworthy to me though is I see it as a tacit admission that portable players from major makers will never have really good headphone amplifiers in them. And that means that aftermarket portable headphone amplifiers will always have a role to play in high-performance personal audio systems.
All we need now is universal USB digital audio hosting capability from smartphones---which seems to be coming along nicely---and we'll be off to the races. Seems to me this move by Sony will encourage the process.
New CEO for HeadRoom
Yes, another one. Ivy Burford has recently been replace by Jamey Warren as HeadRoom's new CEO. Ivy was a very good choice for CEO after Travis Waller left. Ivy knows HeadRoom and its business very well. She's whip crackin' smart, has very good people skills, and never shied away from a tough job. But she also knew she was missing one very important ingredient for being a HeadRoom CEO: She's not an audio geek, and she knew it would be a fatal mistake for HeadRoom's leader to lack that characteristic. She decided it was in HeadRoom's best interest to find a CEO with that characteristic.
I don't know the ins-and-outs of how the choice was made, but I can tell you that it makes perfect sense to me to see Jamey tapped for the position. Jamey had spent years at HeadRoom in both sales and product development areas, but he's also an audio geek and music lover to the core. I think he's got a great shot at doing some interesting things for HeadRoom.
I have no more official ties to HeadRoom other than measuring headphones for them, but I do get over there once or twice a month and maintain a friendly relationship with the folks. So, I've got a peripheral understanding of some of the challenges facing the company, and some idea of the directions they're thinking about exploring. My take? First, boy am I glad I don't have to climb entrepreneurial mountains anymore! And second, boy that's a good group of folks and I miss working with them sometimes. I think they've got interesting times ahead, and the beginnings of a solid vision for HeadRoom.
No sour grapes from me, I love my job at InnerFidelity, and I think HeadRoom is in good hands. The future will be challenging and difficult for both of us...same as it ever was.
For back story: Travis Waller's thread thanking me; HeadRoom's blog post introducing Ivy as CEO; Jamey's post on the HeadRoom blog announcing him as CEO; and a nice bit of insight into Jamey with his Reddit "Ask Me Anything" thread, and CEO announcement thread at Head-Fi.
Numark Redphone ($69.95)
I wish I had more experience knowing what DJs really want. It does seem to me that DJ headphones often don't adress their needs particularly well. Numark appears to be shaking things up a bit with an unusual approach with their new Redphone...or so I thought. Evidently DJs have been making "lollipop headphones" for quite a while now. Here's a thread on how to make one, and here's someone that custom makes them. At any rate, you can find more about the Numark Redphone here.
Hit by Train Wearing Headphones
I'm going to do this feature regularly, because it happens WAY TOO OFTEN! Please be careful wearing headphones while out and about, it's very easy to get inattentional blindness and do something dangerous unintentionally.