So you’ll never make a lot of money with
headphones, you say, so why bother offering them?
|At CES 2013, Audio-Technica is introducing several new audiophile|
headphones, including the ATH-AD900x, ATH-AD700x, and ATH-AD500x, which all feature large 53 mm drivers that have been exclusively designed for the headphones, as well as a wide frequency response, from 5 Hz up to 35,000 Hz.
Headphones may lack high profit margin
potential, but their popularity with consumers is
making high-end lines a must for custom integrators
and specialty AV retailers.
There’s been a bit of mystery as to how CIs can
sell headphones and what if any benefits there are in
doing so, but according to various manufacturers,
headphones are a natural add-on to a home theater
or media room, a fitting solution for families with
different music-listening preferences, and they offer
a great way to attract a future generation that both
knows and loves excellent sound quality.
“Piggybacking by promo,” is how Mark Aling,
senior director of marketing for Paradigm identifies
the way custom integrators can latch onto the
mass-market trend headphones have created with
consumers. “We see our custom integrators using
our headphones as a promotional vehicle,” as a way
of thanking customers for their business. “We say to
installers, ‘shift your thinking a bit…think brand,
promote brand, build brand excitement, encourage
brand loyalty. Give a gift that will last longer than a
bottle of wine or a gift basket,” Aling said.
Revenue stream aside, Paula Gauci, marketing
and communications director at Velodyne, noted
how much closer a relationship integrators have
with customers than does the average
retail associate. So headphones should be an easier
sell in many projects. “We believe headphones
should be a line item on every system proposal,
selling them as a natural mobile extension to the
customer’s high-end home theater system,”
Velodyne’s vTrue reference over-ear
headphones feature a forged aluminum
design and a signature shape. The vTrue
is designed with 50 mm drivers that have
been tuned to the standards of Velodyne’s
low-distortion bass reproduction. They also
feature dual 3.5 mm connectors and a tangleresistant
cable in a braided cloth design.
For Klipsch, the best way for custom retailers to
capitalize on the headphone trend is “to provide
a selection of headphones to their customers
that complement the range of other products
they are selling to a given customer,” said Chris
Aiello, product manager for headphones.
|Denon’s MM over-ear headphones come with 10-foot long oxygen-free cables that can be|
plugged directly into the headphone jack on a Denon AV receiver.
For the ultimate audio enthusiast with a high-end
dedicated theater system, Klipsch offers its flagship
X10i headphones. For customers that prefer the
convenience of wireless systems, the Klipsch Image
ONE Bluetooth headphones feature high-density
memory foam ear cups, a moving coil driver, and up
to 10 hours of continuous call and music time.
Wireless headphones are an important foray in
the market, allowing integrators to demonstrate
that high-quality audio “is also user friendly,”
said Eric Stubbert, channel manager, professional
systems, consumer electronics, Sennheiser. “For
the serious home theater enthusiast, wireless
headphones with uncompressed digital audio, such
as the [Sennheiser] RS170 or RS220, now offer
true audiophile sound that was previously only
available in wired headphones. The transmitters
are modern and functional, but can be placed
out of sight if better for the visual aesthetics of the
design,” he said.
In terms of visual aesthetics, Aiello also pointed
out that another advantage of selling these products
as a custom retailer is that while headphones “have
to fit with a customer’s lifestyle and design taste,”
they “don’t have to fit with a room’s décor.”
|For customers that prefer the convenience of wireless|
systems, the Klipsch Image ONE Bluetooth headphones
feature high-density memory foam ear cups, a moving coil
driver, and up to 10 hours of continuous call and music time.
Keeping the Peace
As dedicated home theater room installations have
transitioned into multi-use entertainment spaces,
there’s the challenge of how to enjoy music without
disturbing other members of the household.
Headphones can be the answer. “For many families,
private listening is high on the list of desirable
features as a stress-free way to accommodate
different tastes in programs,” said Greg Stidsen,
director, technology and product planning for
Lenbrook International, which distributes NAD
and PSB. “A first step for integrators is to include
a location for private listening and provide
headphone jacks as part of their installation. This
would naturally lead to sales of headphones as part
of the complete home installation package.”
Not only is there the element of providing a
hard-core audiophile with a means to enjoy his/her
theater system without disrupting the household,
but also catering to the different lifestyles of
individuals and how that likely varies in a home. For
the audiophile, Denon’s MM over-ear headphones
come with 10-foot long oxygen-free cables that
can be plugged directly into the headphone jack
on a Denon AV receiver, “so the end user
can sit comfortably on a sofa and enjoy
late night home theater without disturbing
the family,” said Petro Shimonishi, Denon’s
senior global product manager, headphones.
Denon’s updated headphone line specifically
targets different lifestyle categories, and Shimonishi
recommends learning more about the customer’s
normal routines when designing the system. Perhaps
the client travels often and listens to music on the
road, or perhaps they work out often. Denon offers
headphones suited for both of those lifestyles.
|The Paradigm H15NC on-ear headphones feature supra-aural noise-cancellation technology in a|
dual microphone design.
Shimonishi also theorized that headphones,
as more than a passing fad, are a key to attracting
the younger generation to high-quality audio and
securing future customers. “If our industry is to
thrive, it is important that we use the headphone
opportunity to get in front of a younger customer and
educate them about great sound…this starts with a
good pair of headphones,” she said. “The more the
younger consumer understand that a better quality
listening experience can be had with better gear, the
more they will seek out opportunities to make their
music sound better, whatever music they listen to.”
There is wide-spanning agreement that matching
top-flight industrial design with great sound
carries many different challenges.
“Almost anyone can produce a sexy industrial
design. It’s giving the sexiness substance that
counts,” said Paradigm’s Aling. “That’s where
our 30-year track record of producing awardwinning
loudspeaker comes in handy. Our unique
understanding of what makes a speaker sound
magical in a listening room was applied in the
design of our headphones.”
Paradigm is launching several new
models of its consumer-focused
Shift series in 2013. The
H15NC on-ear headphones
feature supra-aural noise cancellation
a dual-microphone design.
They also offer an onboard user
interface, 40-mm Mylar drivers
with 15-mm voice coil and neodymium magnet
structures. The H15 on-ear headphones feature
similar specs, but they are noise isolating. Both new
models are set to launch first quarter 2013.
|Velodyne’s vTrue reference over-ear headphones feature a Facebook or Twitter. forged aluminum design and a signature shape.|
Achieving the right balance of industrial
design and quality sound takes many factors into
consideration and varies greatly among designers.
“The volume of the ear cup and the sealing of
the ear cup to the ear canal are examples of the
critical factors that are required to provide accurate
sound,” said Lenbrook’s Stidsen, who also noted
comfort and style as important considerations.
Other examples include head size and shape,
geometry of the ear, weight, as well as wear and tear.
“Headphones are simultaneously one of the
most used and abused CE products, while also
being one of the products that comes in the most
contact with your body,” noted Aiello, of Klipsch.
“In the world of audio, bigger is usually better, at
least when it comes to enclosure size and volume.
But for headphones, we always want to make things
as small as possible. You have to rely on a lot of
tricks to maximize the acoustic performance while
not compromising the design–especially today
when headphones have become as much, if not
more, about fashion when compared to audio.”
Comfort and mobility are two key factors for
Denon’s designs too, from the extra three inches
of headband adjustment to the pentagonal-shaped
memory foam ear pads to reflect natural ear shape.
No Shortage of Options
|PSB offers the M4U 1 over-ear headphones with a tangle-free cord and gyro-suspended ear pads for comfort and dual input connection.|
With an abundance of design techniques, the
consumer headphone market is also flush with highend
audio providers each offering a variety of styles.
Harman Kardon’s over-ear style headphones
include proprietary digital active noise-cancelling
technology that parent company Harman
developed for acoustic installations in cars. Slowretention
foam is used in the ear pads to create a
comfortable fit that also improves passive noise
cancellation by creating an acoustic seal. The
headphones have a 30-hour battery life and are
recharged via a USB cable.
PSB offers the M4U 1 over-ear headphones with
a tangle-free cord and gyro-suspended ear pads for
comfort and dual input connection. They also fold
for travel and storage. The M4U 1 is for music
lovers that don’t need noise cancelling and prefer
to provide their own amplification.
At CES 2013, Audio-Technica is introducing
several new audiophile headphones, including
the ATH-AD900x, ATH-AD700x, and ATHAD500x,
which all feature large 53 mm drivers that
have been exclusively designed for the headphones,
as well as a wide frequency response, from 5 Hz up
to 35,000 Hz. The drivers use high-power magnets
and Audio-Technica’s copper-clad aluminum-wire
(CCAW) voice coil technology.
Audio-Technica also offers a range of
in-ear headphones options, like the ATHCKW1000ANV,
an “example of fashion meets
popular form factor meets high-end quality,”
according to Crystal Griffith, consumer marketing
manager for Audio-Technica U.S. “I think it’s
interesting that people are finally starting to
recognize that you can get audiophile quality sound
in in-ear headphones, which is a more mainstream,
preferred form-factor these days,” she said.
With the bevy of available styles, technologies,
and models available today, selling high-end
headphones into your next job should be less about
will you sell them into your next job and more
about how many will you sell?
Lindsey Adler is associate editor for Residential
Systems, Systems Contractor News, and