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Super Sound, Luxury Looks Drive Headphones Biz

Style, comfort and performance highlight new product introductions in the ubiquitous portable audio headphones business.

By extending lines to include fashion-driven color and design with ease of wear and stellar sound, makers are offering one of the most diversified selections of headphones to hit the market in years.

The challenge, however, is in presenting product tailored to the changing demographics of sound loving consumers — items that zero in on the young, hip and mobile as well as the dedicated audiophile.

ForJensen, a Recoton company, “We wanted something outstanding in appearance for the fashion-conscious consumer,” said Stuart Perriam, senior product manager at the Lake Mary, Fla.-based company. Jensen’s lightweight, midsize wraparound JM16 headphones “make a strong statement with wide appeal to our target demographic,” Perriam said.

Included with its distinctive “futuristic” ear-cup styling, the JM16 offers slim-profile padded speakers for extra comfort and tension-loaded ear hooks that comfortably, yet firmly, hold the speaker snug against the ear. For greater convenience, the ear hooks remain in the “open” position while placing over the ears. Suggested retail is $16.99.

The Jensen JB9 offers an unusual winder case for ease of storage and use, with high-performance ear buds. The unit, at a suggested $9.99 retail, has a soft rubber case featuring two opposing panels that completely flip up for ear bud storage on one side and cord storage on the other. When stored, ear buds securely rest in a molded tray inside the case. The cord wraps around the center post of the case, like the rope of a yo-yo.

Jasco Products said it is combining sporty design and “high-class” styling with rich, clear sound, comfort and ease in a product ideal for digital audio, MP3s, gaming, CDs, computers and laptops.

The Oklahoma City-based company’s next generation in stereo headphones, the HO97728, is what it calls the latest GE-brand 2-in-1 product.

The 2-in-1 stereo headphones work two different ways. First, they work as a behind the neck set of headphones that fit comfortably and stay in place. Second, they can also work as a pair of earphones with a soft, snug ear piece that holds the earphones in place. Suggested retail is $14.99.

Said to be exclusive with Coby Electronics, the headphones concept of the cv630 combines both bass reflex and open air. Created and designed by the Maspeth, N.Y.-based Coby, the unit features removable ear cups. This gives the user two completely different sound systems through the same pair of headphones.

Leave the ear cups on, and the user has a bass reflex system. Take them off, and the user has an open-air system. The cv630, at a suggested $49.95 retail, offers 40mm neodymium drivers for improved sound reproduction.

“Our new headphones provide superb sound quality and offer a variety of looks suitable to any listener,” said Phil Petescia, VP/marketing for accessories at Sony Electronics. The Park Ridge, N.J.-based company, which is offering a wide selection, said its headphone lineup boasts the latest advances in audio technology, as well as features all shapes and colors.

Street Style headphones come with both traditional behind-the-neck headbands and a spiral design. Equipped with two pairs of interchangeable headphone caps, Sony’s Psyc Street Style MDR-G63LP, at a suggested $30 retail, features colors that complement the rest of the Psyc family. A spiral style design makes the MDR-G73LP, also $30, comfortable and stable while playing sports, dancing or walking.

For audio enthusiasts, Sony is offering noise-canceling ear bud headphones MDR-NC11, with a 9mm driver and closed-type ear bud that conforms to the shape of the ear canal to block out most exterior sound. Suggested retail is about $150 for a unit that offers extended 60-hour battery life on one AAA cell.

“Quality portable audio players are everywhere, but quality headphones are not,” said Thomas Wilson, manager of product development at Bose. “Audio performance varies dramatically from one headphone model to the next. In the end, consumers choose from dozens of models, primarily based on style,” Wilson said.

But that would not have to be the case with Bose Triport headphones, which combine exceptional audio performance, comfort and style and set a new standard for personal sound, according to the Framingham, Mass.-based company. “These were created to sound, look and feel great,” said Wilson.

Compatible with CD, DVD and MP3 players, the TriPort headphones produce full, rich sound, including extended low-frequency response, Bose said.

Suggested retail for the 5-ounce headphones is $149. The unit is styled in two high-tech finishes of glacier blue and slate gray.

There is a “trend toward consumers owning multiple headphones as they look to upgrade their portable systems, seek to meet various style needs and purchase models appropriate for specific activities like jogging or dancing,” said Gordon Tetreault, national sales and marketing manager for accessory products at Maxell Corp. of America.

“With movie watching, they want a model that offers the biggest sound,” he added.

Maxell’s newest headphone is a digital unit featuring a full ear cup for superior audio fidelity and comfort. The HP-550, from the Fair Lawn, N.J.-based company, has a collapsible design for ease of portability when traveling. With a suggested retail of $16.99, the unit also features a slide volume control, mono/stereo switch and gold plug with a ¼-inch adapter.

The sounds of silence are the main promotional theme for headphone configurations from Panasonic, where the company’s technology reduces extraneous background noise, primarily low-frequency sound.

Said to be perfect for traveling, studying or working, the headphones are designed to counteract the noise of airplane engines, air conditioners, disruptive voices and other ambient noise. Noise canceling can also be switched off when users want to converse or listen to external sounds.

The ear bud RP-HC50, from the Secaucus, N.J.-based Panasonic, features two-level noise canceling, separate controller, up to 50 hours of battery life and XBS Extra Bass System, for a suggested $39.95 retail.

Innovative designs featuring the latest technologies highlight new headphones from Woodside, N.Y.-based jWin Electronics.

The JHP 48 is a super mega-base digital stereo model with inline volume control. It comes in a hot blue color with free set of hot orange interchangeable panels. Suggested retail is $6.99.

Top of the line JHP 350 is a professional-reference, digital-stereo super bass headphones with inline volume control. It offers 3.5mm gold stereo plug with gold adapter for standard RCA, at a suggested $19.99 retail.

Color continues to be a story at EarHugger, with emphasis also on comfort, fashion and functionality.

The Lindon, Utah-based company’s new Around-the-Ear style headphones, with interchangeable ear frames, give users a double dose of color. The TV-6100BY comes in trendy translucent blue, packaged with a set of additional ear frames in sport yellow. The frames simply switch back and forth, so wearers can easily choose the color they want, right at the moment.

Suggested retail is $14.99. Two Sennheiser headphones, HD 477 and HD 497 were developed to optimize sound for a younger on-the-move market. “We’ve injected the same edgy style that today’s young, hip audio lovers are known for,” said Rob Douglas, headphones and brand manager at the Old Lyme, Conn.-based company.

Suggested retails are $49.95 for the HD 477 and $59.95 for the HD 497, which offers extended response at both ends of the musical spectrum. The most recent wireless headphones offering from Unwired Technology is suited for both private listening and audio enhancement. The Unwired 6000IR utilizes infrared technology, with no hassle of wires, which cause pulling and restrict listening enjoyment, according to the Farmingdale, N.Y.-based company.

A major step up from the radio frequency transmissions that were once the industry standard, the 6000IR is not affected by cordless and cellular phones, which often cause static and hissing in radio frequency broadcasts.

The unit, at a suggested $59.99 retail, has four, high-power LEDs, for maximum room coverage of up to 25 feet. A special “mute” circuit system shuts off all sound, so users don’t hear static or hissing, even if they are outside the transmission area. Another wireless headset is available from Acoustic Research, a Recoton company. Called the Wireless Surround Sound Headphones, or Model AW791, the company said the item is the first 900 MHz wireless surround sound headphones with Dolby Digital technology.

Model AW791 combines a Dolby Digital processor and surround sound headphone technology said to produce imaging and sonic detail virtually identical to that of a movie theater or a live musical performance.

The headphone is compatible with both digital and analog audio/video equipment, and the 900 MHz signal transmits up to 300 feet through walls, floors and ceilings. The Channel Select Switch makes it easy, said Lake Mary, Fla.-based Acoustic Research, to alter transmission frequencies to maximize reception when other 900 MHz products are present.

Suggested retail is $299.99.

When it comes to combination professional/consumer monitor headphones, the ATH-M30 from Stow, Ohio-based Audio-Technica features a low profile, closed-back design that provides clarity and isolation in high-volume listening situations.

Ideal for home recording, the lightweight and adjustable headband offers maximum listening comfort. In addition, the headphones offer a gold-plated stereo connector with strain relief and professional screw-on adapter with a sturdy, ultra-flexible cable with single-side exit. Suggested retail is $119.

By using proprietary technology, Amphony is introducing its Model 1000 2.4 GHz Digital Wireless Headphones. These transmit audio in a digital format, eliminating noise and distortion, at a data rate of more than 3 million bits per second from a stationary transmitter to one or more sets of portable headphones.

Geared toward the medium- and high-end consumer, the headphones from Shorewood, Ill.-based Amphony feature digital audio transmission at full CD quality, error correction, up to 100 hours of continuous operation, no audio compression and unlimited range with optional RangeBooster transmitter modules. Normal transmitter operating range is 200 feet line of sight and 50 feet through walls and ceilings. Suggested retail for the headphones is $129.