The Price and Value of Headphones Page 3

The Future
It's a little grim, methinks. Lots of money is swinging the way of Monster, Zound, Skullcandy, et al. Are they going to spend it on licensing endorsements from rock stars and fancy graphics, or on R&D to make better sounding cans? Some of both, I'd hope, but I'm not holding my breath. Skullcandy assures me they're working on it, and I am going to make a trip down there one of these days to have a look at their R&D facility, so there's hope. On the other hand, have you heard the Monster Beats Solo or Urbanears Plattan? Yuck!

There are bright spots though: Sennheiser partnered with Adidas and the HD25 adidas Original sounds great. The Quincy Jones Q701 by AKG is good. The Skullcandy Roc Nation Aviators are terrific, and the prototyp Mix Master Mike's I heard at CES were also quite good on short listen. I do think there is hope. And my hope rests mostly on something very basic, actually.

My Hope for the Future
Have you ever had an eargasm? You know, it's that moment when your audio gear and music all come together and the pleasure is exquisite. The music touches all the nerves in your body, and you just want to move and smile. Your groove is on. Yeah, that's an eargasm.

I think most everybody can have one ... they just haven't yet.

Having one with a speaker-based audio system is an expensive affair; you'll probably need to spend $2000 on the speakers alone to really pull it off. And until 20 years ago there weren't many headphones that would turn the trick. But today there are a good number of $200 headphones that will get you there with your iPod.

My Point is that given time enough with a reasonable number of good headphones available to the consuming public, more and more folks will have their first eargasms ... and will be wanting more. Pure Bacchanalian pleasure seeking may save the day. Once you've really gotten off to your music, you're not going to want to go back crappy earbuds. Like sand through an hour glass, there's only one direction you can go: more eargasms.

Yes, it's a bit crude, but if there's anything you can count on it's human nature, and humans like to have their pleasures. The good news here is that the pleasure is safe, and the music good for our souls.

The Solution!
The solution is simple really: Give a friend an eargasm. Share your high quality headphones and enthusiasm for good sound with others. Keep doing it. Recommend some good cheap headphones --- Creative Aurvana Live!; Spider realvoice; Koss Porta Pros; Grado SR60; for example, all under $100.

Slowly at first, and then faster and faster, more folks will come to know the real value of well reproduced music. The ability of great audio to go right to your core and touch you intimately; when you're not just hearing the music, but are immersed in it; this is what gives quality audio a chance to have its still, small voice heard in the raging noise of information age fad and fashion: Its pleasures are real, and with headphones, relatively inexpensive. Fad and fashion will fail in the face of true and beautiful experiences of the real flesh.

So, share the real value of your great sounding headphones with a friend. You'll be doing good for the long term health of the market.


donunus's picture

I Love the Solution! I keep doing that all the time. I also stay away from being snobbish when people ask about whether to buy bose, beats or any question like that. I feel that being elitist about it will only alienate them. Instead I calmly guide them based on what kind of sound they are looking for or let them listen to some decent sound from my speakers or headphones and build upon that.

JIGF's picture

Amazing article Tyll.

I feel greatly identified with the concerns raised here.

Armaegis's picture

I've tried... but you know what? They don't care. I've had a couple friends that were truly amazed at a $200 headphone, but as soon as I told them the price they balked. Fast forward a week and they've bought themselves a new tablet or cell phone. Those stock earbuds are good enough it seems.

You see, sound quality just isn't important in mass culture these days. You can even generalize a bit more and say quality in general is not on the radar. People want gadgets, features, more things to consume, and make it cheap enough that when it breaks you can just buy a new one.

Who needs fidelity when most music nowadays is just a layer of noise? Start with a heavy synthetic bass line, add a synthetic melodic line on top which is really just one line repeated over and over, screw the accuracy just turn it up so people don't have to think. It's easier to get people to like your music when you obscure their ability to actually hear anything.

People don't listen to music. They acquire it and play it as background noise so they don't have to listen to their own thoughts. Music is a distraction from themselves, and the more it distracts the better it is.

donunus's picture

Whats funny about it though is that the people that heard the $200 headphone said nevermind because of the price then a few weeks later, you find out he has a 300 dollar Bose or some 400 dollar beats. You ask him, "how come you changed your mind about getting expensive headphones?", he replies... "Its okay, these are genuine Monster Beats Man!" LOL

Soaa-'s picture

Few things induce more rage and fury within me...

dalethorn's picture

I guess I have a few things to be thankful for, until the market changes and the choices aren't as good anymore. The notion that I can buy a world-class headphone that runs from an iPod with enough reserve that it doesn't go into clipping on most tracks - that's a real plus. The ability to load all of my media onto a pocket-sized 64 gb player is a big plus. I really want to have all my files at my fingertips wherever I go, a dream I described to people 50 years ago (and I can still hear 16 khz!) As weak as the iPod may be compared to a true audiophile DAP, the quality of what's being released by the music companies worries me more, because the iPod is on an almost certain track to improve SQ-wise, while those commercial recordings may not see audiophile versions released for 40 years or so. The Beatles was 47 years ago. Do you know what was 47 years before the Beatles? Caruso, recording into a large horn with no electronics.

RudeWolf's picture

Here in eastern Europe the tainting grasp of monsterous marketing is very weak. Most of the fashion headphone victims wear Scullcandies but they are quite few in numbers. The problem here is that very few people actually care for the sound. The most common solution here for buying headphones is to buy the most cheapest, wait for it to kick the bucket then rinse and repeat. Others argue that they have tin ears and they doesn't hear any difference between good or bad headphones.

I think the main problem is indifference. Despite that people wear (yes, wear- not listen) headphones for a quite large portion of their time they don't really listen to music. My main gripe with the equipment that plays music nowadays is that it is not designed for deliberate listening. And nor is most of the music. Take for example the so called "loudness war"- all it managed is to produce is a lot of music that is very good for background murmur. It doesn't draw attention. I really don't remember where, but there was this one text about the loudness war on some music lover page. The author acknowledged that more and more people are using headphones, but he endorsed the reader to look at them. Music should provoke some emotional response, right? I think I won't be mistaken when I say that everyone of us tap their feet, fingers, bob their head and play the occasional air guitar. What do you see when look at the headphoners at the bus or metro? Blank stares. While you fidget as someone who hasn't got his daily dose of ritalin. And I don't think that they are listening to easy listening ambient music or some obscure psychodelica. I think that they are listening to nothing.

As Armaegis said- silence is not a blank page, it's a mirror.

timmyw's picture

I think this article is very interesting. I have actually tried to get my friends to listen to my set up and appreciate how good the music is.
Unfortunately, there is no chance they would ever spend any significant amount of money on headphones. My greatest success was getting a friend to purchase some Klipsch S4 instead of using his stock buds. Needless to say he loves them.
In fact when I confessed I was seriously considering purchasing some Beyerdynamic T1s I was openly ridiculed when they discovered the price.
I first started listening to music through headphones because I did not want to disturb others (especially late at night). I started out hating them. I heard all sorts of distortion through them which led me on a merry chase to find pure sound. I am one of those people that hear high pitched noises from monitors and flourescent bulbs. It really was quite frustrating and indeed painful on occasion.
I gradually started to read more and more about them and fell in love with with them and now I am very happy.
Unfortunately I just don't think many people are interested in finding audio nirvana. Especially when the costs are going up and everyone's disposable income is going down. I know my friends would not even consider buying a sound system, most are very happy with the rubbish tinny speakers you get in computer displays, let alone getting a pair of high quality headphones.
I think the average person just doesn't care enough about the quality of the sound. So this leads me to believe that there is a minority of people feeding the audiophile market, which I guess is why the monetary value has increased.
Well, they don't know what they are missing as getting shivers and goosebumps all over my body listening to Edvard Grieg, Camille Saint-Saens or Opeth or Isis or Devin Townsend is priceless for me.
It's a shame, perhaps if a lot more people did care, the price of the equipment may go down.

Share the Love I say!

SAS's picture

When I've let friends listen to my system -- headphones or otherwise --, they are usually impressed. The difference between them is that the classical music lovers then go out and buy the Grado SR 60, and the rock music people don't do anything. This phenomenon is not limited to musicians versus nonmusicians. I have lots of friends who are classically trained. True. I also played guitar in a rock band, and those guys are happy enough with their iPod docks and whatever earbuds come their way.

People who listen to classical music are extremely familiar with what live unamplified instruments and voices sound like. People who listen to rock are not. Furthermore, the average classical recording sounds better on a better system. The average rock or pop recording sounds worse. Jazz is hit or miss.

How many headphones are endorsed by leading conductors or classical musicians? None that I know of. They don't have to. Their listeners can easily tell for themselves whether a headphone sounds right or not.

Classical music listeners tend to pay attention to what they are hearing; most jazz listeners as well; a very small subset in other genres. To these folks, it is not sonic wallpaper. To most of the market it is just that.

Classical music represents about 3% of the music marketplace -- about the same for jazz. About what percent do you think these genres represent in the musical diet of the average audiophile?

I listen to and enjoy all kinds of music. I don't think that classical music and jazz are the only paths to audiophilia. But, I do think they are the clearest ones, and the ones most often followed.

maverickronin's picture

That was always on of my favorite bible stories.

bikermanlax's picture

When people will listen, which isn't often, I tell them to spend twice as much on headphones(portable) as they did on the player.

For example, a Nano will run $150. Buy a Clip+ for $50 and then spend the rest on headphones.

Missed in the review is the variety of headphones. Ten years ago, you had very bad stock earbuds, mediocre Sony portable headphones, Koss Porta Pro and Etymotic. The first two were the only widely available options.

Now, the variety is mind blowing. The explosions of IEMS in the last few years has added tremendous value and quality to the headphone market and may mean the preservation of hearing in many.

For someone who purchased his first portable player in 1981 and has had just about every variation since then, the value has increased without question for me personally.

LFF's picture

I take a different stance on the price and value of headphones. Surely each factor Tyll posted on the poll has contributed to the proliferation of headphones and IEM's...some more than others.

However, sometimes I feel that the true proliferation of headphones and associated paraphernalia is the death of live music. It is so hard to find a place to enjoy real good, top notch live music today. Music isn't being taught much in the public school system and what little live music is available is usually strictly for adults (nightclubs, concert venues, etc) or way too expensive for the average person to enjoy.

Thus the average person has come to recognize music as something that is presented to them via processed and packaged mediums, be it downloads, CD's or LP's or a host of other media. I am often amazed at the reaction I get when I play a minimalist binaural recording for someone. The reaction is one of awe and new discovery. Why? Because people simply are not accustomed to hearing music being presented in a natural way.

If more people had access to music the way they did back in the 1950's, perhaps we might see a musical renaissance in the hi-fi arena as well as a resurgence in the interest of proper music recording and music reproduction in general.

Just my 2 cents.