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Headphones Say Goodbye To Hollywood

LAS VEGAS — Attention ladies and gentleman: The celebrity headphones trend has finally died.

Well, sort of.

Although this year’s International CES had a good amount of star power (see p. 24), it was clear that Hollywood — and consumers — has had just about enough of the celebrity-branded headphone. With the purchase of Beats Electronics by Apple, Dr. Dre has been crowned king of the craze, and most manufacturers are finding it makes more sense to stick with brand ambassadors rather than full branded lines. While SMS Audio is still going strong with rapper 50 Cent at its helm, Soul Electronics has apparently dropped the Soul by Ludacris line, with no mention of the star on the manufacturer’s website. (The company did not respond to requests for comment.)

Ben Arnold, executive director, industry analyst at The NPD Group, affirmed this sentiment. “I think the celebrity- branded headphone is probably a trend that has ended,” he told TWICE. “Consumers for the most part have moved on and are focused on other drivers to purchase headphones, like form factor, new features and sound quality.”

However, it doesn’t mean we still won’t see big names in consumer electronics going forward. “There is still tremendous value in attaching one’s brand — especially in audio — to an artist, so we will see different flavors of that as a tactic going forward,” said Arnold. “But Beats was truly a pioneer in the celebrity-marketed headphone space. When other companies try to use the same model, they get compared to Beats, and that is tough. At this stage in the headphone market, there are other, more effective ways to make your product stand out.”

While celebrities weren’t the ones drawing attention to headphones at this year’s CES, the category still managed to grab ample attention with several other trends.

Go On, Get Healthy

The rise in fitness wearables has motivated manufacturers to launch headphones to accompany them. At the show, Monster further expanded its Adidas partnership to include an athletic model, and it also added wireless earphones to its iSport line. Audio-Technical debuted new waterproof SonicSport earphones, and Gibson entered the market for the first time with a model featuring a built-in LED for night runners.

“Water-resistant headphones, most of which are marketed as suitable for fitness, grew 42 percent [over the past 12 months],” noted Arnold, which added “nearly $100 million to the market.”

And Get Wireless

With Bluetooth now built into just about everything, more headphones manufacturers are entering wireless. Definitive Technology entered the category for the first time with a Bluetooth model, and new wireless offerings were shown from Polk, Sennheiser, iHome and Voxx Electronics, just to name a few. According to Arnold, Bluetooth headphone dollar sales grew 133 percent year over year through November 2014.

High-Res Is (Almost) Here

Despite well-publicized efforts from Sony and Neil Young’s Pono Music, there is still much to be done concerning consumer education about the benefits of high-resolution audio. The headphones category is no exception, with most high-end efforts still relegated to the niche audiophile market.

“High-res audio is still a niche market, but there was a ton of players, receivers and compatible headphones at CES,” said Arnold. “I think in 2015 we will see more product announcements and that will grow the number of high-res devices on the market, but the way to sell high-res audio is to have consumers actually hear the difference. The industry has to better educate consumers on what constitutes high-res audio capable products, where to find content, what compatible file types are available, and so on … It needs to be more accessible.”