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Not Just Phoning It In: Manufacturers of Studio Headphones Innovate and Adapt to Cater to Today’s End-Users

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • June 2018
  • Roundtable
• Created: June 12, 2018

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In 2018, headphones designed for professional studio use still have the same fundamental purpose and goal as always: true replication of source audio material and durability.

However, new and evolving features and user preferences such as cordless charging and wireless communication capability mean that some of the models of today and tomorrow are (or will) be taking these vital pieces of recording and mixing gear into heretofore unseen territory.

MMR recently connected with four major players in the realm of recording headphone design and manufacture to learn about what techniques are driving sales on the retail level, what trends are shaping cutting-edge design, and what models are selling best at the moment.

For your brand, what’s currently the “hottest” selling studio/recording headphone model?

Matt Engstrom: The SRH440 Professional Studio Headphones.

Nithin Cherian: Our hottest professional monitoring headphone is the Yamaha HPH-MT8. I find the most discerning of pros love how it sounds. Many are telling us they are changing from their favorites of the past 15 years for these new Yamaha models.

John Maier: Our entire audiophile headphone line does well for us. In particular, Lola is performing very well right now. While this model doesn’t have our signature audiophile power amp, it still retains the unique design and superior sound quality, but at a lower price point.

Peter Chaikin: The AKG line of affordable professional headphones – the AKG K52, K72, and K92 – is selling strongly. Providing legendary AKG studio performance, durability, and comfort, they are an exceptional value.

What “best practices” – displays, marketing, promotion – have you noticed that retailers who do especially well selling these headphones are adopting?

NC: The most successful dealers deploy displays where customers can test drive various headphones in-store. Additionally, these dealers ensure that their staff is well versed on how to help a customer determine which model is best for a given application, be it monitoring, mixing, tracking, etc.

PC: Retail locations with active demo of K52, K72, and K92 see greater velocity. At the affordable price points, differences in performance are apparent. An active display with ample output, and the ability to A/B compare headphones using well-produced tracks engages the customer, makes sonic differences apparent, and the purchase decision easy.

 

 

 

 

 

JM: Having interactive displays where the customer can experience the headphone’s features and sound quality can make a huge difference. Obviously, there are technical complexities to making this happen successfully. However, we’ve partnered with many retailers in designing and implementing these displays with great success.

ME: Education across product categories. This enables them to provide relevant tips and tricks as well as product recommendations. Additionally, it allows them to determine what use case the customer is looking to address. From there, they can create education and product bundles that serve those needs. They also engage people by sharing the information consumers are already looking for and taking that one step further by showing them what can be done and how to use it. And, they are more likely to engage customers.  

 

 

 

 

What are the major trends that are impacting the market with respect to studio/recording headphone design and manufacture?

JM: The biggest trend we see is the shift to consumers listening on mobile devices. Obviously this has been happening for some time now, however, engineers and producers are having to shift their thinking from mostly mixing for speakers to building their mix for a headphone-listening environment. That will put pressure on manufacturers to continue to innovate, but also bodes well for the market in general in the coming years.

PC: The headphone market is huge and growing and professional headphones are a familiar sight outside the studio. While AKG Professional headphones are designed and tested to meet the pro’s demand for accuracy, comfort, and long-term durability, these attributes are appreciated by the broader market as well.

ME: Headphones for studios are tools, not toys. Therefore, studio headphones can’t and shouldn’t cater to the latest flash-in-the-pan trends. Studio headphones must remain true to the source sound and must live up to rigorous use under conditions where failure is not an option. Those trends won’t change. To stay consistent with our corporate philosophy, we offer replacement cables and pads for most of our headphone products and we stand behind all of them with a two-year warranty.

NC: With changing standards, combined with the prevalence of wireless communications and other convenience-based features such as cordless charging, we’re seeing an increase in requests for these features in the entry pro market of headphone monitoring solutions.

What are your expectations for the coming months/year with respect to this market segment?

NC: We see growing interest in applications for mixing, monitoring, and playback of virtual reality (VR) audio. Therefore, we expect to see smaller manufacturers attempting to break into the market with non-traditional approaches.

ME: Our studio headphone sales have been very consistent for almost a decade, so we don’t anticipate any major changes. Our strengths will continue to be accurate and balanced audio quality combined with industry leading durability.

JM: We anticipate that the headphone market will continue to grow as more professionals are mixing with and for headphones. Manufacturers will continue to develop and refine their products to meet the needs of professionals and consumers. As the quality of the headphone market advances with improved drivers and features like our built-in amplifiers, the customer base will widen as both professionals and consumers embrace higher-quality headphones.

 

 

 

 

PC: We anticipate healthy growth of our professional headphone business driven by growth of the industry engaged in content creation.

Any product introductions or other news in this area that you’d like to share with our readers?

ME: Our policy is to comment on currently available products, so all we can say is that we are always working on new and exciting things and studio headphones are no exception.

JM: We have accomplished our goals in our introduction into the headphone market over the past few years. We are looking closely at our current microphone customers and developing headphones that are even more specifically designed with them and their applications in mind. Should be an exciting few years for us in headphones!

NC: Audio is becoming an increasingly personal experience, so as we move ahead we will be sharpening our focus on headphones even more as they assume a more prominent position in the marketplace. Yamaha has been a trailblazer in studio monitors since the NS-10M; today we continue to make monitors known for their neutral, open sound quality and fatigue- free wear for long-term use. Going forward, as we convert the wider live-audio experience into a more personal one  with the same accuracy that’s come to characterize our products – it will have mounting applications in gaming, VR, and more.

 

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