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,
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.