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Jan 18

IN THE NEWS: Who’d Think of Buying $200 Headphones? (How What’s Old Can Be Made New Again)

I have to admit that I’m not what you’d call an audiophile. I like music and listen to it daily, but I don’t mind using my $10 ear buds to listen to highly-compressed MP3s from a cloud service like Google Play or Spotify. It’s just not a big deal to me to have high-end headphones, especially considering the rate at which I break them.

And that’s one of the reasons I’ve been quite surprised at the success of the Beats by Dre¬†headphones, which run around $200-300 per pair and which are primarily designed to amplify the bass signal on digital music. The success of this headphone line is no small thing; it’s made musician Dr. Dre into the world’s highest-paid musician¬†and become a fashion accessory in its own right. That’s thanks in part to the headphones being prominently placed in music videos and endorsed by other popular musicians like Lady GaGa, Justin Bieber and Eminem.

When I first saw these headphones start appearing on shelves, I felt like they were something of a specialty item, really made for those who consider themselves DJs or who are hardcore music fans. Given that the last ten years have been about moving from music as a physical good to music as a digital collection and that the device that you use to listen to music has become the focus of many consumers’ purchases, I really didn’t forsee headphones, which come pre-packed with digital music players, as being a great area of growth.

In hindsight, what I ignored was the fact that music is more than just an activity; it’s a lifestyle. Young people often distinguish themselves by the music they listen to, and showing that they’re willing to spend a couple of hundred bucks on their headphones helps others to know how serious they really are. Being seen with the right headphones is just as important as having superior sound. And while true audiophiles roll their eyes at the thought that anyone would spend a lot of money on headphones and then listen to music encoded in a format such as a 128 kbps MP3 (which lowers the sound quality due to its compression¬†algorithms), it’s not really about the quality; it’s about the statement.

And that’s a statement that more and more people seem to want to make now that digital music players have become a commodity. An article in Time this week talks about how Beats by Dre has not only kicked off one of the fastest-growing areas in consumer electronics, but how other musicians and celebrities are jumping on the *ahem* bandwagon.