Why do people use expensive headphones?

Why good headphones don't have to be expensive

Let Storholt

The three biggest myths about headphones and current audio trends - and which of them are really true. A guest post.

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© Kues - shutterstock.com

Many consumers like to give away technology products for Christmas too, and headphones in particular are very popular again this year. And so this year, too, many different offers beckon shortly before Christmas. While headphones have become smaller and smaller in recent years, the opposite trend can now be observed again. Many young people are again using large and eye-catching headphones that are worn over the ears. For example, Apple has just released its new Airpods Max for just under 600 euros, while Tchibo introduced the new TWS in-ear headphones for just under 40 euros as direct competition to the AirPods (in-ear) at almost the same time. So how do you find the right headphones for Christmas? Many consumers still believe that good quality has its price - is that true?

The author of the guest post

Lasse Storholt, Head of Research & Development at TIDAL.com, is an experienced solutions architect, developer and project manager. As a tech-savvy music lover, he is always on the lookout for intelligent solutions and the latest gadgets.

Whether in-ear or over-ear headphones, via Bluetooth or cable, headphones don't always have to be expensive. Good sound is available for less than 100 euros, as recently confirmed by Stiftung Warentest. In this article I will therefore address the three biggest myths surrounding headphones: 1. Sound quality has its price; 2. There is no more innovation in audio; and 3. Nobody can hear the difference between streaming platforms.

1. Quality has its price

You guessed it, of course that's not true. In its "test" issue 09/2020, Stiftung Warentest compared 38 headset headphones with one another, including 10 headset headphones with active noise cancellation, 14 models without active noise cancellation and 14 headphones for less than 100 euros. Many of the products tested received an overall rating of “good”.

The Sony WH-XB700 over-ear headphones, for example, secured second place in the class without active noise suppression with a grade of 2.1. With the current low price of less than 100 euros, they are an inexpensive alternative to the test winner model Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H4 (2nd generation), which is almost three times as expensive at around 270 euros. In the listening test, the Sony model is just behind the test winner, but is in no way inferior to it in other areas such as wearing comfort, Bluetooth functionality and interference. With a runtime of 35 hours, Sony even lasts longer than the Bang & Olufsen model (26.5 hours) - a real price-performance winner!

2. There are no more innovations in audio

Just as the world has passed from mono to stereo sound in the music sector, we are currently experiencing the next level of innovation in the sound sector: Immersive audio (also called 3D audio or "spatial sound" in the original English) is the future of listening to music and lets listeners experience music as they are used to from Hollywood films in the cinema. Here, for example, the new Airpods Max come with a proud price of 600 euros. The powerful H1 chip can not only suppress noise that listens inwards and outwards, but also decode Dolby Atmos as well as 5.1 and 7.1 and project the surround sound through the two earphones.

It is important to know here that the 3D sound is not available from all video and music streaming providers who also transmit the surround sound to the headphones via Bluetooth. Hi-fi sound is available from Apple TV (app), Disney Plus and the music streaming service TIDAL. This is not possible via the Netflix or Amazon Prime app. Here, too, there is a cheaper option that costs only a third. At a little over 200 euros, the Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II) wireless headphones are still in the middle price segment, but still leave almost nothing to be desired. Wired headphones with 5.1 - 7.1 surround sound are also available at a price range of 30-100 euros.

3. Nobody can hear the difference between each streaming platform

Regardless of which headphones you ultimately choose, it remains important to know that the headphones are only as good as the sound resolution of the individual streaming platforms! The sound resolution on the individual platforms is different, sometimes only very compressed MP3 sound is streamed. Common music platforms often stream at 128 kbps to a maximum of 320 kbps. Loss-free sound in CD quality is only achieved at 1411 kbps. Therefore, the “vehicle” (headphones) alone is not enough. In order to stream better sound, consumers should therefore also pay attention to the quality of the “fuel choice” (streaming service). Here is our test of the high-res streaming services in comparison.

HiFi enthusiasts in particular should value this, because even with inexpensive hardware, the difference to lossless audio, e.g. via TIDAL Hifi, can be clearly heard. In addition to important physical quantities, the actual parameters of perception are of course decisive. For example, it counts how bright, rough and / or sharp a signal sounds, how exactly the sound source can be localized, how big or small it sounds and how much the surround sound is enveloped.

Also interesting: high-resolution audio services in comparison