Pitching the Benefits of Headphone Sales to Custom Installers 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.Lindsey Adler ⋅ Jan 9, 2013 At CES 2013, Audio-Technica is introducing several new audiophileheadphones, 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.So you’ll never make a lot of money with headphones, you say, so why bother offering them? 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,” Gauci argued. 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. Denon’s MM over-ear headphones come with 10-foot long oxygen-free cables that can beplugged directly into the headphone jack on a Denon AV receiver.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. 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. For customers that prefer the convenience of wirelesssystems, the Klipsch Image ONE Bluetooth headphonesfeature high-density memory foam ear cups, a moving coildriver, and up to 10 hours of continuous call and music time.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.” 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. The Paradigm H15NC on-ear headphones feature supra-aural noise-cancellation technology in adual microphone design.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. 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.” Design Obstacles 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.” Velodyne’s vTrue reference over-ear headphones feature a Facebook or Twitter. forged aluminum design and a signature shape.Paradigm is launching several new models of its consumer-focused Shift series in 2013. The H15NC on-ear headphones feature supra-aural noise cancellation technology in 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. 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. PSB offers the M4U 1 over-ear headphones with a tangle-free cord and gyro-suspended ear pads for comfort and dual input connection.No Shortage of Options 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 Healthcare AV.