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Premium quality headphones – worth the investment?

by Austin Young

Despite the fact that many markets – whether rooted in digital innovations or more “traditional” fare – are still feeling the after effects of the worldwide recession, some are actually more lucrative right now than they’ve ever been.

One such example is the headphone market. Despite the general economic uncertainty plaguing most industries, sales of headphones have been showing a 24% year-on-year increase.

The bulk of this success can, of course, be accredited to the worldwide take up of digital music, and the subsequent massive increase in people listening to music on devices such as laptops, iPods, tablets and mobile phones. The market for headphones has such potential that HTC is even paying $309 million for a 51% stake in high-end headphone manufacturer Beats Electronics, which was co-founded by rapper Dr Dre and (deep breath…) Interscope Geffen A&M Records CEO Jimmy Iovine in 2006.

But, well, without sounding overly negative, how much difference do these “high end” headphones actually make to the sound quality we’re getting through our various musical devices?

Whilst I wouldn’t like to rain on anyone’s parade, the idea of spending up to £1000 on a pair is absolutely ludicrous to someone who, admittedly, doesn’t have a huge amount of knowledge on the industry.

Sure, I’ve listened to iPods through the can headphones that are on display at the Apple stores and been pretty impressed by what I heard. And I even made a point of buying a pair of can headphones that promised a “better quality” audio experience so that I could kick back in the flat and make the most of Bruce Springsteen’s back catalogue – again, no complaints from me there, they truly do deliver a better quality audio experience – and The Boss is always a winner!

But then again, the cans only cost me £50, and I just wouldn’t spend more than that on a pair of headphones based entirely on principal. Sure, there are slight imperfections in the quality of music that I’m getting through them (a joke about my taste in music would be too easy…) but those headphones are good enough for me. I just don’t have enough disposable income to justify spending anything more than that to slightly improve the musical experience I’m getting.

And, you know, if you do then that’s absolutely great – assuming that’s how you see fit to spend your money. It’s hardly like the headphone manufacturers aren’t offering exactly what they claim to – I genuinely believe that the headphones that retail at around about the £1,000 mark really do offer the ultimate experience with regards to sound quality – but does anyone really need it?

Whilst folks picking up premium quality headphones aren’t exactly being “ripped off” if they truly desire the best quality sound that can be delivered to man, I just don’t think there’s ever an excuse to spend a massive amount of money in search of it, especially when “lower-end” models deliver a similar (albeit scaled back) version for an absolute fraction of the cost.

I guess it’s just a matter of personal opinion, but for me, spending a hugely excessive amount of money on a pair of headphones is a little silly. But then again, I still regularly pay through the nose for CDs and even the occasional record, so I’m probably not the best person to judge…

What do you think? Can you ever justify paying up to £1000 for a pair of headphones designed for personal use? Or are you more inclined to agree with Austin? Let us know!

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