Last week I was talking with Roger Skoff and he mentioned that some older audiophiles see headphones as a fad, "just like they were in the mid-'70's." I have to admit I didn't notice the groundswell in the '70's, but I sure do notice the current explosion. And I don't think the current state of headphone use is a fad, I think it's our future.
Why do I see the uptick in headphone listening and sales as a permanent fixture on the audio horizon? Because of the one-two punch of demographics and technology.
First lets look at demographics. The world is getting more populated, and as we humans multiply and try to up our collective standard of living our main population centers will become even denser and the size of apartments and living quarters will shrink. Headphones deliver private listening when space precludes dedicated room-based sound reproduction. Also the trend that puts most 20 and many 30-somthings into roommate situations makes headphone listening the only way for many younger music lovers to connect directly with their music.
The second major reason for the explosion of headphone use is technology. Never before have consumers had so many devices that use headphones. First there were iPods, soon followed by iPod clone MP3 players, then came the smartphone revolution. Nowadays most people, even those who aren't that technically adept, are sporting smartphones. And they all play music into headphones.
A third reason for headphone popularity are the many young professionals drafted into a new more mobile lifestyle. Instead of working all day at "the office" far more jobs involve travel and work at customer and clients' sites. The portable office contained in a laptop computer is also the portable entertainment center during the downtime between locations. Hello, headphones...
The last major reason for the explosion of headphone use is that there are so many headphones and earbuds options available. Sure, there are some people who will go through their entire waking life using the "free" earbuds that came with their portable device, but most people will eventually either break their original earbuds, or look for something that sounds better. Given the number of portable devices out in the world, that's a huge market for "aftermarket" earphones. And as anyone looking at replacement earphones can tell you, there's earbuds and earphones for every price and taste ranging from $.99 airplane freebees to +$1000 custom-made in-ears.
I think that very soon most audiophiles will also be headphone-philes, each with their favorite reference earphones. And that's not a bad thing.