Audio Collaborative 2020: Headphone market booms, but who’s buying and why?

posted on Tuesday, 10th November 2020 by Steve May

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With the headphone market showing no signs of slowing, the direction of travel is toward immersive audio quality and low latency, as consumers use their headphones with multimedia sources. So suggested experts at Audio Collaborative 2020.

The industry conference organised by Futuresource Consulting moved to an online format this year, but the rich vein of insights offered by industry commentators was undimmed by the pandemic.

Headphone sales continue to surge, driven by WFH, gaming and new technologies such as Active Noise Cancelling. At Audio Collaborative 2020, a panel moderated by research analyst Luke Pearce discussed developments in the sector.

Stuart George, Managing Director at Cambridge Audio, cited the pandemic as a key reason for the boom in headphone use at home, with users finding relaxation and escape through music.

The trend is toward multiple device ownership, agreed the panel. Headphones are no longer a one-size-fits-all solution.

“There are very significant differences between certain use cases and therefore where a product has its focus,” said Chris Havell, Senior Director of Product Marketing, Voice & Music at Qualcomm Technologies. “Our requirements differ for work purposes, for fitness and for entertainment.”

Audio Collaborative 2020

Bernice Cramer, Director of Product Management and Global Marketing at Bose said headphones are no longer for passive listening alone but for multi-tasking, as consumers manage remote working with family time. “COVID-19 has accelerated this need to move between different spaces; headphone devices are now being used as an interface with the world,” he said.

There was a word of caution though, from Tim Johnston PE, Vice President of Engineering at Starkey Hearing, who suggested there was potential for long term hearing damage. “One in six teens are now experiencing hearing loss through sound exposure, while 5.2 million children now have hearing loss,” he said. One consequence is a crossover between what consumers expect from headphones and what is requested from the hearing aid market.

“The single most reliable predicter about whether consumers will buy a pair of premium headphones, is whether they already own another pair of premium headphones,” observed Bernice Cramer.

Stuart George said buyers become addicted to premium audio. “Sound quality is a universal requirement. First and foremost, it’s purely about the listening experience and the ability to listen to music in better quality.”

Bernice Cramer countered that audio quality is but one part of the equation. With online conference calls becoming a daily occurrence, microphone quality is also crucial, aided by the implementation of AI to distinguish voices from ambient noise.

“Situational hearing enhancement is invaluable,” he said. “It’s harder to distinguish voices during COVID and so that hearing enhancement becomes wrapped into the audio quality of devices.”

Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology specialist who also writes for T3TechRadarHome Cinema Choice, Trusted Reviews and The Luxe Review.

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