The headphones revolution: bright colours, street styling spark new craze

When we found this short article we were so pleased, having sought for over a year for this, finding it on this blog was an thrilling time for me.

Anyone considering buying headphones for a young relative this Christmas, take care before splashing out the £150 or more that the most fashionable – the Beats, or Skullcandy, or Urbanears models – can cost.

Each brand marks them out as one of a “tribe”, regardless of sound quality. Whereas 20 years ago the most important thing for a teenager was the brand of trainer on their feet – Nike, Reebok or Adidas – now it’s the brand covering their ears that matters.

Beats headphones, with their red cord and large “b” on the earpieces, began appearing in music videos in late 2008, largely through the efforts of the company’s co-founders, the rapper Dr Dre and the music entrepreneur Jimmy Iovine. That sparked rocketing sales to a teenage demographic looking for a new way to distinguish themselves out from their peers.

In doing so, Beats’ emergence showed that high-priced headphones would sell, becoming as much a fashion accessory as a gadget, commanding prices over £200 – a bracket previously reserved for the audiophile niche.

A decade ago, the white tendrils of an iPod’s headphones might have marked the wearer out as trendy; nowadays it makes them just one of the crowd, and Apple’s in-ear headphones are too common to bother with. A teenager wanting to stand out needs something big – and bold.

“Companies like Beats and Skullcandy have realised that kids today want something that looks better, over questions of sound quality,” says Sam Ruffe, who works at The Kinc, a marketing agency whose clients include Skullcandy.

And those kids (or their parents) will pay: worldwide, the market for headphones will be worth over £5bn ($8bn) this year, with 284m units shipped, according to the consumer consultancy Futuresource; over-ear headphones grabbed half of sales. And Beats alone will grab around £1.25bn – while the total market is forecast to grow by 5% annually for the next five years.

Skullcandy was originally designed for skiers and snowboarders, by Rick Alden, who got the idea on a chairlift in Park City, Utah. Starting in 2003, he managed to persuade skating and skiing shops to stock the product, which became known as an “extreme sports” brand.

Urbanears, meanwhile, brought Scandinavian design and a flourish of colour to the burgeoning headphone market, releasing two “collections” of headphones a year in limited-edition colours.

The continued success of Beats brought competition as these other brands began chasing the new demographic of people willing to spend money to wear their branding choice on their ears. Skullcandy moved off the slopes and into the high street. Now, they are more likely to be seen on the bus than on the piste.

Audiophiles aren’t impressed by the brigade of bolshy Beats products, which often pride bass and look over acoustic refinement. “I just bought a set of the Beats Solo HD headphones – it’s a Christmas gift for my 13-year-old daughter,” Chris Miller, a software engineer, told the Guardian, adding: “I think they are overpriced and you are paying a premium for the brand name. They aren’t bad, but I have headphones that sound better for half the price that I paid for the Beats.”

Sound quality, though, isn’t necessarily the point – which may have been missed by more traditional “audiophile” brands such as Germany’s Sennheiser, the Dutch brand Philips and the American Bose, who were caught unaware that colouring the earpiece and cord green or red could affect sales as much as their sound quality.

Andy Watson of Futuresource says you might struggle to tell some headphones apart at the factory. “With everyone owning the same generic-looking personal audio player or mobile phone, it’s the headphones that do the differentiating. There is certainly cachet and brand equity attached to many of the brands, beyond their intrinsic value. Much of it is about positioning a lifestyle rather than a product.”

Yet the growing tribalism of headphone ownership has led to derision in some quarters – such as the blog “Long Way From Compton”, which features pictures of people wearing Beats headphones, and measuring the distance from there to the notorious gang-ridden Los Angeles district from which Dr Dre emerged.

It’s in the can

Beats Studio

Arguably one of the headphones that kicked off the large and colourful trend, the original Beats by Dre headphones drove appeal through product placement in music videos. Pushed by the music marketing powerhouse of Dr Dre (pictured above) and Jimmy Iovine, Beats brought big, aggressive bass-y sound at a big price and made it fashionable.

Bowers & Wilkins P5

Proving that expensive, fashionable headphones could sound good, the Bowers & Wilkins P5 ooze luxury and sound great, with excellent noise isolation and good range, which makes the equally pricey Beats sound downright mediocre.

Bose QuietComfort

The commuter’s favourite, Bose took noise-cancelling technology – which silences the outside world by blasting sound waves to cancel out the noise leaving only the music audible – and made it popular. On their third revision, the Bose QuietComforts are still the active noise-cancelling headphones to beat for many.

Sennheiser Momentum

Long-standing quality audio company Sennheiser was late to the stylish headphone game, but its Momentum series combines a sophisticated look with top-notch acoustics.

Starck

A collaboration between the French designer Philippe Starck and the Bluetooth specialists Parrot, Zik headphones are some of the best wireless headphones around, with intuitive touch controls, active noise-cancelling, and sound profiles and acoustics that can be modified with iPhone and Android apps.

Skullcandy Crusher

Battery-powered bass means that the Crusher gives real wallop to what otherwise might just be loud music. Cavernous earpieces (made of “soft touch” leather) also come with a powered mini-amplifier, foldable hinge (for storage) and a microphone and remote on the detachable headphone cable. CA and SG

Source – http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/dec/06/headphones-market-beats-by-dre

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When NASCAR needed a faster, more efficient communications system, they turned to Motorola.

headphonesWhat’s your favorite feature of my earpiece? Personally, I like the design job – It is cooler than an Inuit’s underpants!

The Talladega Superspeedway covers 3,000 acres, and is a Super Bowl®-sized NASCAR event that attracts 150,000 on-site spectators and millions more watching at home.
NASCAR manages over 1,200 races every year on 200 race tracks in Canada, the United States, and Mexico, and each location poses its own challenges in terms of radio traffic and interference. These challenges are magnified when systems must be deployed quickly, every week, over a wide geographic area. Pit crews, drivers, officials, and all other members of the internal and external organization must have a communications system that supports flawless connections, every time. When seconds count, there is no room for missed or delayed communications; speed and voice clarity are everything. NASCAR recently realized that their older system was just not keeping up, and there’s no doubt that providing secure and reliable communications for an event like this can seem overwhelming. Each NASCAR event involves up to 40,000 people, with approximately 80 officials presiding over two races, each with 43 cars, and each with teams of up to 30 people. In addition to NASCAR drivers, maintenance personnel, and pit crews, each race requires spotters, timing and scoring groups, as well as fire and rescue units. Also working on-site are emergency personnel, food vendors, ticketing and parking attendants, television and radio crews, and public relations representatives. Because NASCAR stages many regional events, several outside organizations need to be integrated into the communications loop. The sheer number of radios and talk groups that have to be moved and set up very quickly is enough to tax any radio system, and NASCAR’s old system was clearly over-taxed. NASCAR examined all options during a six-month intensive study. Digital radio seemed to be the best route to achieving the key requirements surfaced in this study, which included NASCAR’s need to:

• Coordinate large numbers of radios
• Ensure absolute audio clarity
• Maintain consistent, reliable communications
• Have a radio that was durable enough to withstand a rough environment

After assessing all the options, NASCAR determined that Motorola’s MOTOTRBO professional digital two-way radio was the right system for their needs.MOTOTRBO digital radio precisely met each of

NASCAR’s four requirements.
To coordinate large numbers of radios, the MOTOTRBO system is engineered to maximize use of the radio spectrum. The power of MOTOTRBO is leveraged by NASCAR to bring together multiple talk groups who work all over the property and need to be in full communication at all times. MOTOTRBO is also used to connect spotters, emergency medical technicians, crews in the garage and pit areas, as well as security and all other service and support personnel required to help each race run smoothly.

MOTOTRBO’s ability to work in either digital or analog mode makes it possible to seamlessly integrate older radio systems that may not yet have migrated to digital. To ensure absolute audio clarity, MOTOTRBO’s noise-canceling technology enables headsets for racing officials to perform at higher levels. Added to inherently clearer digital communications, the noise-canceling capabilities of MOTOTRBO technology supports sharp and clean communications in even the harshest environments. If MOTOTRBO users can communicate clearly at a noisy racetrack, it’s easy to see how well these digital two-way radios would perform in most workplace environments. “ We have to make sure we’re communicating quickly and concisely. Through MOTOTRBO, we’re able to do our jobs a whole lot better
than we have in the past.”

To maintain consistent, reliable communications, MOTOTRBO’s digital technology makes possible extended battery life so that all users can easily connect throughout an 8-to-12-hour workday and then keep communicating, even when races run longer than scheduled. The MOTOTRBO system is
also less susceptible to static and interference, and when second-by-second communication is demanded, digital provides the proven reliability NASCAR needs. Durability is ensured with MOTOTRBO radios that deliver the highest quality of communications, even in harsh environments where they’re frequently dropped and exposed to dust, rain, grease, oil, and solvents. MOTOTRBO is designed to meet U.S. Military Standards C, D, E, and F, as well as IP57 for submersibility in water. When properly equipped with a Motorola FM-approved battery, MOTOTRBO radios have been certified by FM Approvals in accordance with Canada and U.S. codes to be intrinsically safe.

Source – http://www.motorolasolutions.com/web/Business/Product%20Lines/MOTOTrbo/_Documents/Case_Studies/Static_Files/Events_Nascar_car_racing.pdf