Why has the Percieved Value of Headphones Risen in the Past Decade?

A decade or more ago, I thought the Sennheiser HD 25-1 was very expensive at $249. These days, with rapper cans and four figure high-end headphones, $249 for a really good pair of headphones looks quite reasonable.

People seem far more willing to spend money on headphones these days. The general public finds more value in headphones these days. Why?

Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

Which of the following contributes most greatly to the increase in the perceived value of headphones?

Why has the Percieved Value of Headphones Risen in the Past Decade?
Headphones sound much better than they used to, so they're worth more.
16% (75 votes)
As player prices rise, headphone prices can rise without people noticing.
7% (36 votes)
The success of the iPod in the pop culture allowed headphones to become a sweeping fad of fashion and celebrity.
42% (204 votes)
The success of the iPod and smart phones in integrating technological advances with everyday life makes headphones more valuable
35% (167 votes)
Total votes: 482

Grahame's picture


Don't forget to adjust for inflation.

Using the CPI Inflation Calculator at http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

$249 year 2000 dollars are worth $326.39 2011 dollars (for now ;) )

But more likely, the marketing departments have discovered the power of "Price Anchoring"
( http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/07/27/anchoring-effect/ )

If your only headphone is $250, that might be considered expensive
(considering, say, how many Big Mac's you could get instead)

But if you compare it to, say, a $1000 headphone, it seems like a relative bargain. Why, you've just saved $750!

Plus, who pays retail anyway :)

dalethorn's picture

The chicken or the egg? The popularity of headphones due to the explosion of digital music tracks, or the popularity of headphones due to the number of major headphone forums on the Web? I dunno. Both I suppose.

Armaegis's picture

A couple other factors that are all part of the big pie:
- the increasing trend of amateur/wannabe DJs with more cash than sense
- as much as I dislike them, Monster has done a huge (and successful) marketing push towards getting people to buyheadphones and changing the perception of what is expensive/affordable in the first place
- which wouldn't have been possible without the likes of Skullcandy paving the way for "headphones as fashion" motif

khaos's picture

I'm not quite sure how to vote on taht poll, all of the above is true to some extent and contribute to higher prices.

- prices have to be adjusted for inflation, something like 25 to 30% over the last 10 years in most western countries.
- there's undeniably a technological progress, an HD 800 measures better than a HD-25 and the bass in today's orthos are something that could be achieved 10 years ago.
- pop cultures plays role as well, headphones have become trendy items.
- But there's also a larger market due to the rise of mobile devices, and a larger market simply means more products available over a larger price range.

shamu144's picture

Sony released the R10 quite a few years ago, and the MRSP was already a 4 digit figure.

Stax started manufacturing their original Omega back in 1993, and MRSP was not precisely cheap.

No, I won't mention older headphones for now ;-), but franky, quality headphones have been around for more than a few decades.

That they are more popular now is for me entirely due to the iPod generation. And of course, manufacturer are riding the wave and taking the opportunity to sell whatever they can at highest possible price since younger generations don't have price point reference and standards...

mward's picture

I was surprised that a few years ago, an arguably state-of-the-art headphone like the AKG K 701 could be had for so little that I could afford it on a graduate student salary. I think that's evidence the market could bear higher prices, especially when you consider other hi-fi gear that's in the $10k+ range.

Things like Senn 800, HifiMan, and Audeze have filled upped the price ceiling for full-size headphones and have brought performance to justify their prices.

Add to that things like custom IEMs that start at $500 and go to well over $1000 and easily justify their price with their bespoke origins and performance—I do believe there was a price and performance niche waiting to be filled.

dalethorn's picture

The Koss ESP-9 was $150 in 1974, which is $687 today, close to the ESP-950 price I think. The Stax SRX-MKIII/SRD7 combo was about $300 then, or about $1374 now, a bargain compared to today's SR-009. Beyer DT-48's were about $75 then, or $343 now, making the current price very good considering the adjustment between dollars and marks between then and now. But back then there was little to choose from in lightweight "open" headphones, and what there was sounded awful. The Sony cassette Walkmans of the early 1980's introduced portable stereo with near-fidelity sound and headphones to the masses, but it wasn't until the advent of MP3's in the late 1990's, and adequate memory a couple years later to store a decent number of tracks that sparked the rush to high quality portable sound. An argument could be made for portable CD players and DAT machines of the 1990 to 1998 period, but DAT's were too specialized for the masses, and CD players, despite their "anti-skip" electronics, skipped anyway. Not a good solution, besides where to put the CD's? The ubiquity of MP3's explains the mass market for cheap headphones, and the proliferation of Apple-type stores explains the market for mid-priced mid-fi headphones like Bose, Philips, Klipsch and Sennheiser et al make. The market for the better headphones from $300 on up is best explained IMO by a more demanding customer for better sound, but using essentially the same gear as the mid-fi users, i.e. iPods and the like. Audiophile players and amplifiers don't drive the market for better-than-$300 headphones necessarily, as the example on Head-Fi shows where the user asked if he should just buy a Sennheiser 800 and use it with his portable media player, at which point he was forcibly told to downgrade his headphone choice and buy an amplifier with the leftover money.