Which headphone maker will be most influential in promoting sound quality as an important performance characteristic?

I'm in the process of writing a survey of headphone manufacturers and their worth in the world, and find myself repeatedly asking the question of who will carry the banner for high quality sound reproduction in the future. Consumers will claim sound quality is important, but, in fact, it plays a lesser roll in actual purchase with styling, comfort, and build quality leading the way in consumer decisions.

Which of the following major headphone producers do you think will do the most to promote sound quality to consumers at large as important...and deliver on that promise?

I'd love to hear the reasons for your pick in the comments below!

Which headphone maker will be most influential in promoting sound quality as an important performance characteristic?
9% (7 votes)
Audio Technica
2% (2 votes)
9% (7 votes)
4% (3 votes)
1% (1 vote)
0% (0 votes)
2% (2 votes)
0% (0 votes)
1% (1 vote)
63% (51 votes)
2% (2 votes)
0% (0 votes)
6% (5 votes)
Total votes: 81

ixtayul's picture

Having tried several of these brands from inexpesive models to expensive models Sennheisers exhibuted attention to sound quality through out price range. I would include Audio-technica in the same category. Most of the other brands either failed to give you sound quality value on their low end or not enough for the price on the high end.

donunus's picture

If I were to pick a second maybe Audio Technica. Sennheiser has a lot of bad headphones as well but the HD800S, HD600, and something such as the cheaper HD461i that I currently bought have that organic character that I have a hard time getting from other brands. For that sound erring towards naturalness alone Sennheiser became my top pick.

ProfFalkin's picture

?? Why not?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I definitely intended to include them. It's added now.
vforrest's picture

I voted Senn but wished for a "None of the above." choice.

Vade Forrester
Reviewer, SoundStage! Network and The Absolute Sound
My words=my thoughts.

Rossysaurus's picture

The brands listed reflect the glory years of dynamic headphone design, when the technical limitations of dynamic drivers had not yet been found. Now we have a multitude of "Summit-Fi" dynamic driver headphones each with a trade off or compromise but overall near perfect reproduction of the source and consumers pay a hefty price to experience that level of perfection.

What the industry needs to do is get that level of performance to a price point mortals can afford. Midfi has not progressed far past the HD600, HD650, DT880, K701 and none of the brands listed have any interest in challenging the budget or midrange market and driving a race to the bottom while the race to the summit is proving so profitable and recycling old designs old still producing the goods.

Brands which push the industry forward? to challenge the status quo? Companies like RHA who have released a range of earphones which can not only go toe to toe with the likes of Shure but can do it at a significantly reduced cost. Companies which are investing in new technology like Audeze and hifiman, companies which are investing in research into new ways of producing sound or understanding how humans experience sound like Dolby and Harmon. Those companies will push the industry forward towards better sound quality.

I truly believe the future of high quality audio is not in pushing the mechanical limits of headphones, but much like performance sports cars it will move more into the electronic control systems which can work within those mechanical limitations.

Journeyman's picture

Sennheiser promotes and delivers in all market segments.
Sony although not listed, should not be forgotten. It's a sleeping giant with a lot of good engineers and designers.

Im Not Chase's picture

Sony also does a lot of stuff with there marketing of "Hi-Res"

IgorC's picture


Argyris's picture

I'd have to go with Sennheiser. They have coverage in virtually all major market segments, worldwide distribution, and an established focus on sound quality. Outside of Bose and Beats (and to a lesser degree Sony), Sennheiser is the only other brand of headphones I've actually seen non-Head-Fi sorts mention or own, and in any conversation I've ever had with these people, an emphasis on sound quality always comes up. All this, I believe, places Sennheiser in a good position to claim a significant portion of the "sound quality" market in the future.

Not to mention, Sennheiser is the only company currently that seems to be producing competent wireless/noise cancelling headphones to compete with the likes of Bose. As per the IF reviews, they're not brilliant, but they're head and shoulders above the non-Bose competition in functionality and sound, and they keep getting better. Sennheiser is clearly paying attention to where personal audio is going.

The difficulty for Sennheiser, like any other traditional hifi company, is going to be in convincing the Head-Fi sort to take the newer technology seriously. The future is wireless headphones with the amp built in, possibly along with DSP--whether traditional audiophile types want to accept that or not is going to determine the ultimate direction Sennheiser goes. If audiophiles are willing to give them a chance, I anticipate we'll start seeing true high-end headphones from Sennheiser using the new technology. If instead audiophiles cling to their multi-thousand dollar cables and DACs and shun the new technology, then I expect Sennheiser will simply pivot toward the Bose and Beats crowd exclusively and leave the stubborn audiophiles in the lurch. Either way, I believe Sennheiser's offerings will likely be among the best in their segment--it's just a question of which segment(s) they'll be competing in.

And the competition will be stiff. The new Beats Solo3 Wireless is conclusive proof that it's possible to create a wireless headphone that is functionally identical in performance to its wired counterpart. Sennheiser's own wireless Momentum M2, arguably their statement product in the Beats category, doesn't quite achieve this. They have work to do, but at least we know there's no insurmountable implementation issue with the new technology. I expect Sennheiser will get on the ball going forward, or risk being made irrelevant, which I fear is the fate of a lot of the brands in this survey.

Three Toes of Fury's picture

For me, time and time again, i go back to: Sennheiser.

I own low-to-mid-range headphones from all listed manufacturers (with exception of Beyerd..need to check them out some day). And i do come across a good one or two from most all time to time..often discovered thanks to Tyll and folks sharing comments here. However the one brand that i believe excels in sound-quality-vs-cost, for the largest number of their offerings, is Sennheiser. That particular attribute is the most important for me when buying headphones.

The thing that saddens me is that I would (and have) answered "Sennheiser" three years ago. I was very much hoping that by now, there would be several other contenders for this category. Every so often there would be a glimmer of hope that they were moving in the right direction...the Skullcandy Aviator..the Phillips L1/L2...Koss has its portapro...why even the evil that can be beats has come out with a decent upgrade or two (solo2). But i dont feel any of them have really made a conscientious overall shift in their products to focus on sound quality. Thats not to say they dont have such offerings but not overall.

I guess thats why sites like Innefidelity and HeadFi are so helpful..because until we get a known brand with consistent and constant attention to sound quality, we'll have to work together to offer up our thoughts, reviews, and findings for those diamonds in the rough.

Peace .n. Living in Stereo,

Three Toes of Fury.

Journeyman's picture

Even if by today's standards they are considered Mid-Fi by some audiophiles, they are still regarded by many pros as a decent pair of cans to have around in studios all around the world. I voted Sennheiser because Beyerdynamic still needs recognition by the typical consumers. With that said some people don't like the in your face sound of some beyers, I love them compared to some veiled Sens in the same price range.

HalC-76's picture

By most accounts, Sennheiser has the most marketing clout and recognition in the headphone markets for "high quality" sound reproduction and is the most likely to leverage that position into the future. However, marketing and selling differentiated products is not the same as delivering high quality of sound reproduction - probably two different directions to explore.

I would argue that the companies listed are established companies that will spend more money selling products based on technologies they have already developed rather than advancing the state of the art for sound reproduction quality more than incrementally. This is the "practical" investment strategy for established businesses today and does not lead to innovation. "New" products from these companies will reuse existing technology to address different market segments to harvest changing revenue sources. Most of the innovation will come from new, enthusiast ventures not included in this list.

The other complication of this list is how different market segments perceive "high quality" sound reproduction through headphones. I would argue that this list covers multiple groups of users that listen to different types of music and have varying opinions on what sounds "good". Each company on this list will market to and appeal to different target user communities. Just as there is no universal technology that can satisfy all definitions of "good" across all market segments, no single company is likely to produce and promote products successfully across all user segments. It is more likely that there will be different leaders in each user segment and while some companies may produce products targeted at multiple segments, no one company is likely to be the leader in all segments.

To close the loop, I agree that the greatest proportion of headphone buyers will select products based on priorities other than sound reproduction quality - an unfortunate reality for the smaller niche of users interested in reproduction characteristics they judge as "good quality". However, these niche segments are the ones that need to be isolated for responding to the question of who will carry the banner of good sound reproduction quality, as these are the groups that will consider the precise issue rather than all the other selection criteria that contribute to most users selecting a "good" product to purchase. While most readers of InnerFidelity may be interested in good quality, do all those responding to this survey prioritize "good quality" reproduction and what characteristics of "good quality reproduction separate the companies that carry the banner in different user segments? I doubt there is a single answer.

For the record, I am not a user of Sennheiser of products, but do use headphones from other companies that meet my personal preferences for good quality music reproduction. I am happy there is competition regarding different executions of technology in the pursuit of good music reproduction. A category leader is just a marketing label and not the only viable solution.

fawad's picture

Although Sennheiser Always does focus on sound quality, Beats is the brand which started the headphone revolution, and made people spend more for their portable audio. it drove the industry to the point it is at today. Sennheiser has been doing the same thing since many years, their best headphone the 600 has been out since early 90's. if there was no Beats by Dre, there would be minimal interest in headphones, just like the late 80's early 90's. It was mostly about the walkman, not what you attach to the walkman. I personally began my audiophile journey by being attracted to the beats logo, it drove my curiousity into audio, my first headphone was a Solo 1. followed by a myriad of sennheisers and hifimans.

Davidsky's picture

I bought Koss PortaPros back in 1984 for my Walkman because they made it sound better.

fawad's picture

Good. but did you get sennheiser hd600 in the early 90's though?

Davidsky's picture

I had Sennheiser HD565s and Beyerdynamic DT880s

Johan B's picture

I am most impressed with my Sony MDR-EX650AP in ear after "What hifi" recommended it. I bought the WOF Hifiman HE400S and several WOF Phillips as well. Put me in front of the HIFI police but it is the Sony that Is the winner. Stereophile needs to get over it and start testing Sony as well.

Davidsky's picture

There's no place to listen/shop for headphones based on sound quality. Back in the 80s/90s I had RadioShack plus small local stereo shops with big displays of headphones to try on and listen to. We need the stores.

Gandasaputra's picture

No JVC on the list? Not even Westone nor Yamaha? I'd throw my coin on them because of the EPH-100 (Yamaha), Westone W4, and JVC HA-FX750.

Hell, there are more and better audio company on the rise that need our attention like 1More, Xiaomi, and Dunu.

Jazz Casual's picture

Snob. ;)

Journeyman's picture

The headphone hobby would be so much better.... :-)

mav52's picture

Sennheiser. I look at it this way, Sennheiser was established in 1945 in Wedemark, Germany, Sennheiser is now a global brand represented in over 60 countries around the world. Their investment and growth structure in the global market dwarfs all other headphone companies. They have the technical research and design know how which is backed by operating capital and a strength in marketing that will push headphone technology into the future. They just don't produce audio headphones, their company is a leader in 7 other business segments involving wireless, wired and professional headsets. They are even involved in audiology and conference products.

andymblock's picture

I don't think AKG will make the best headphones. I think they'll continue to make really good headphones and I think they'll improve, but now that they are owned by Harman, they need to do something to distinguish themselves from all of the rest. I think they'll aim to capitalize on their history as a pro brand and emphasize precision and "artistry" of manufacturing with the intent of justifying higher prices for headphones that will be made in the same Chinese factories that make rice cookers and noise hair trimmers. I think their headphones will get better-sounding and I hope they will be well-built, but with so much competition in the $100-$300 price range I think AKG is the company most likely to really push the notion of sound quality as the determining factor in headphone selection. Philips is just as capable of making really great headphones, but a company that markets batteries and lightbulbs isn't going to go far with the notion that they make superior headphones. AKG was a leader in the past and still has a premium image which makes it much easier for them to claim audio excellence. Harman can already seek more profitable, low-priced headphones under one of their other brand names. I think AKG will be the brand they use to distribute their best stuff, or at least they will position it to be an aficionado's brand in order to capitalize on the company's reputation.

ultrabike's picture
Apple can potentially do so as well.
OldRoadToad's picture

Sennheiser has a headphone history of it's own making whilst fApple bought theirs via Beats.

Sennheiser is devoted to the preservation and improvement of its corporate image and fApple and their bastard Beats are nothing but image.

Of course this all begs the question of how Beats by fApple has so much more market share. Easy.

Flies eat shit and there a lot of flies out there. Ergo if a megazillion flies are eating shit and listening to crap on a daily basis, poop must be good for you. Me? I refuse to take a bite of the Beats by CrApple pile.

I refuse to purchase any thing that aligns it self with cRap or flHip-FlHop fArteests or the like. fApple personifies the Generation Nothing Zeligs out there.

If others feeeeeeeeeeel different, that is their right and they can vote with their wallet as it is their right to do so. Dig right in, little flies.


YeehawGandalf's picture

Wow seriously? I thought the absurd anti-hip-hop snobbery was mostly dead, but I see it is alive and well. I get that you don't like rap, but that doesn't make rap bad. Every genre produces good music and garbage. If it's not your bag don't listen to it, but don't be a douche bag trying to act superior to those that do. And this is coming from someone who barely even listens to rap (I'm mostly a classic rock and jazz kind of guy.).

Also, Apple has made some great products. They practically invented the modern smart phone. I'm not an Apple fanboy. The only Apple product I own is a Macbook pro. Though as a software developer, I can say that there is not a better tool out there (I hate the keyboard on the new ones though.). I also think that Beats/Apple will lead the smart audio charge. The future of audio will be built around software, sensors, and chips. These things have high R&D costs, but they also bring incredible economies of scale. Apple is one of the few companies that can afford to invest the money and also expect to sell the volume to make it profitable. That said, other companies will likely benefit greatly from Apple's investment.

OldRoadToad's picture

Yes. Seriously. I find nothing redeeming, socially or musically, about cRap or Hippity Hop. Anti-social dross is what is. Filth. And no, not every genre produces good music.

"...don't be a douche bag trying to act superior to those that do."
Please... Or as you would say, "Wow seriously?"


YeehawGandalf's picture

Please enlighten me. Just what are the socially and/or musically redeeming genres then? After all, I would hate to indulge in degenerate art.

ADU's picture

Cezanne, Picasso, and van Gogh were all regarded as "degenerate" too. Hip-hop is in good company.