Posts Tagged ‘headphones’

December 11, 2016

My Headphones, My Self

By JACOB BERNSTEIN  NYTimes.com 10/10/16

You see them on every block: people being propelled through their routines listening to their own individualized soundtracks, with the outside world serving as a stage set.

Headphones are now fashion statements. Status symbols. Fetish objects on par with luxury watches and limited-edition Nikes.

William Crosson, a 28-year-old executive recruiter and part-time D.J., wears V-Moda Crossfade Wireless headphones, a $270 set that looks like something a cyberhooligan might wear to a Berlin disco.

Alexander Gilkes, a member of Vanity Fair’s best-dressed list and co-founder of the auction site Paddle8, wears $400 headphones made by Master & Dynamic.

Martin Gaynor, a 27-year-old freelance app developer for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, wears Symphonized 2s, a pair of wood-covered, over-the-ear headphones that he bought on Amazon for $53. “The wooden earthy look just seemed to complement the subdued classical look I have on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “It just matched.”

Don’t forget the cultural bellwether Beyoncé. In her “Lemonade” video this year, she belts out “Sandcastles,” a ballad of a woman scorned, while wearing $550 Prymas.

Global headphone sales hit a peak of $8.4 billion in 2013, and two years later, that figure rose to $11.2 billion, according to the research firm Futuresource Consulting. The company predicts that sales will rise another $2 billion by 2018, meaning we have yet to reach Peak Headphone.

The combination of the iPhone and headphones in many varieties (in-ear, over-the-ear, shaped-to-your-ear and so on) gives city dwellers the ability to largely avoid an experience that was once arguably the whole point of living in the crowd — interacting with others.

In a fraught public sphere, headphones provide a measure of privacy. Those who fall deeply into a Spotify playlist or the latest installment of an addictive podcast enter a cocoon-like zone all but impenetrable to tourists, beggars and those do-gooders with clipboards.

“Headphones are the front line of urban social defense,” said Julie Klausner, a comedian, actor and writer. “I’m introverted and socially anxious by nature. My worst nightmare is sitting next to someone on a plane or someone who wants to strike up a conversation on an elevator.”

But Ms. Klausner knows she opens herself to experiences she may otherwise miss when she leaves the headphones at home.

“The other morning, I forgot my headphones and was on the 2 train going to physical therapy when I spilled water over my own seat,” she said. “Then this smiling older woman came over to talk. If my headphones had been on, that probably wouldn’t have happened.”

Alone Together

On a recent Thursday in Midtown Manhattan, Grimaldi Perdomo, 37, an architect, was on his way to work, wearing a Burberry trench coat and listening to the Weeknd’s new album, “Starboy,” on his Parrot Ziks, popular $400 black and titanium headphones designed by Philippe Starck.

A look through Mr. Perdomo’s black Banana Republic bag revealed that he, like other urban warriors, has headphones for all occasions.

Tucked into a small cardboard box was a pair of white Jaybird wireless in-ear headphones for the gym. Should the Jaybirds fail, Mr. Perdomo had a backup: trusty white Apple earbuds, the minimalist sound-delivery system that was all the rage not so long ago but has increasingly been replaced by more garish accessories. At home, Mr. Perdomo said, is an old pair of Beats.

“I like my music,” he said.

All the same, he believes something has gotten lost as many people navigate public spaces under the spell of the private experiences encouraged by digital media.

“Technology has ruined us,” Mr. Perdomo said. “You go to a restaurant and look around, and maybe 80 percent of the people are looking at their phones.”

Please Go Away

The experience of intense private listening in public settings is nothing new. It goes back to teenagers communing with the Shangri-Las via the earpieces connected to transistor radios in the 1950s and ’60s. It recalls the Sony Walkman craze of the ’80s.

But the latest round of headphones popularity may be an expression of our disaffected times, coming during a season when people holding different views on matters political and cultural struggle to open their mouths without triggering an argument.

Some headphones are chrome and accentuate the bass. Others are gold and boost the treble. The companies producing them can go from obscure to white-hot overnight.

Enormous growth has taken place for headphones priced from $99 to $500. But companies like HiFiMan, Audeze and JH Audio have built substantial businesses selling headphones that retail for as much as $3,000.

Alexander Wang and Proenza Schouler are collaborating with brands like Beats and Master & Dynamic on limited editions. Canali teamed with Pryma. Barneys, Neiman Marcus, Colette and Opening Ceremony all stock headphones.

There is even a Broadway show, “The Encounter,” by Simon McBurney, experienced through headphones. It opened to rave reviews in September, with its fancy listening devices given, free of charge, by the German headphones brand Sennheiser. The irony of “The Encounter” is that it relies on state-of-the-art technology to deliver a lament against it.

“For Sennheiser, it’s product placement and an indictment,” Mr. McBurney said.

Did they mind?  “I don’t think so,” he said.

The Shift

The paradox of the headphone experience — which somehow brings together, as Mr. McBurney suggested, isolation and intimacy — did not seem to be on the mind of Val Kolton, 39. A sports-car-obsessed techno fanatic, he founded a headphones company in 2004, naming it V-Moda because “‘moda’ means fashion,” he said, and all his favorite brands were Italian.

“Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace,” he said. “And I was really into motorsports. Lamborghini, Ferrari, Ducati.”

Before starting his business, Mr. Kolton was living in San Diego and working at Aviatech, a digital marketing company. Then he had an awakening on a dance floor in Ibiza, Spain.

“We were doing antismoking commercials, and I heard we were going to do another for Mothers Against Drunk Driving,” Mr. Kolton said one evening this fall, as he sat on a black leather sofa in his West Hollywood offices. “And I was having a drink and a smoke, and I thought: ‘You know what? Why am I doing all these “anti” campaigns? What’s next? An antisex campaign? Dance music is going to break through. House music is here!’”

Two years later, Mr. Kolton’s parents gave him money to produce candy-colored $99 earbuds. At the time, Apple was scheduled to release the first iPhone, with a recessed headphone jack that was incompatible with most headphones on the market.

Mr. Kolton got the bright idea of manufacturing his line to Apple’s market-busting specifications. He flew to Cupertino, Calif., and made the pitch. He figured he would be one of many entrepreneurs with Apple in mind, but that was not the case.

The market got more crowded after Beats by Dr. Dre, founded by Andre Young, known as Dr. Dre, and the music producer and executive Jimmy Iovine, introduced its first $300 headphones in 2008.

“Before Beats, $300 for a headphone was considered an outrageous amount of money to spend,” said Jamey Warren, the chief executive of Headphone.com. “You could buy a Sennheiser HD 600 over-the-ear headphone for $300. It was considered the world’s best, and it was a stretch for most folks except audiophiles.”

Increased demand isn’t the only thing fueling the boom. Crowdfunding sites have given potential entrepreneurs new routes to capital, while manufacturing costs have fallen. The 2014 sale of Beats to Apple, for $3 billion, also ushered in a new wave of headphone hopefuls.

Steve Guttenberg, a contributing editor to the digital products review site CNET and a high-fidelity expert, explained how the business has changed.

“Thirty years ago, when someone said, ‘I want to make a headphone,’ he would probably try to make it here in the United States, or he might design it and then get on a plane and say to the people who make headphones in China: ‘Here’s the design. Can you execute it?’” he said. “Now, we’ve eliminated the first two steps. The requirement, quote unquote, is that the person who’s running the show knows what it should sound like and look like and feel like and is able to say, ‘Keep showing me your samples until I find it.’

By the time Jonathan Levine, 54, a former investment banker at Lehman Brothers, started the headphones company Master & Dynamic in 2014, it was clear that design and marketing were key.

Mr. Levine settled on the brand name Master & Dynamic because it sounded similar to established audio brands such as Bang & Olufsen, Astell & Kern, and Bowers & Wilkins. “‘Levine’ didn’t exactly scream luxury,” he said.

To get out the message for his 1950s-inspired, produced-in-China headphones, with its cognac-colored headband, he hired Carolina Clouet, a Balenciaga-clad former consultant for Barneys and Neiman Marcus, as his director of sales.

In October 2014, Bergdorf Goodman, Opening Ceremony and Colette received the first shipments of Mr. Levine’s pièce de résistance, the $399 MH40. In December of that year, Mr. Levine’s team sent them as freebies to Art Basel Miami Beach attendees at the Edition hotel and the Standard Miami.

After David Beckham began wearing them around Los Angeles, GQ proclaimed them “The Most Stylish Headphones Money Can Buy.” By the end of 2015, Master & Dynamic’s staff increased to 36 employees, from eight, who now work in a loftlike space in the garment district, where the walls are adorned with artwork by Christian Marclay and Terry Winters. There is even a Chuck Close portrait of Philip Glass, who, Mr. Levine was pleased to say, wears Master & Dynamics.

While many celebrities serve as brand endorsers, unwitting or not, others are trying to become the brand. This year, Will.i.am, a longtime minority partner in Beats, started Buttons, a $200 set of wireless, in-ear headphones shaped like small saucers and sold through Apple. The fashion stalwart André Leon Talley is the creative director, styling the ads and the boxes, which star Naomi Campbell and Kendall Jenner.

“Nobody has made a fashion headphone that’s in-ear,” Will.i.am said by phone while on a break from taping the British edition of “The Voice.” “They’re all big headphones that sit over your head. The reason we went with earbuds is because we were designing it to be like jewelry.”

The countless options can be paralyzing to customers. The writer and radio host Kurt Andersen said he had trouble picking the right headphones as he perused CNET’s exhaustive review section recently.

“I like that the over-the-ears are not as dorky as they once were,” he said. “The ones from Beats seem fine. But then do I look like someone trying to be young, with groovy, hip-hop headphones?”

The Holdouts

A challenge for the industry is getting women interested in its high-end gear. Amy Uaarmorn, a 31-year-old staff member at the Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles, received a free pair of Master & Dynamic MH40s last year. Yet she said she seldom wears them and cannot imagine spending any more than $50 or $100 on headphones

Never mind that Ms. Uaarmorn’s former boyfriend, Brannan Mason, 24, happens to be the co-owner of Noble Audio, a three-year-old Santa Barbara company that has received glowing notices for its in-ear earphones with prices that begin at $300 and go to $2,700.

Some of the ultraexpensive headphones are made to fit your ear exactly. To get a pair, you see an audiologist, who takes impressions of yours ears using a Play-Doh-like substance and ships them off to a manufacturer like Noble Audio.

This variety, known as CIEMs (short for custom in-ear monitors), started with touring musicians, who use them to block ambient noise and monitor their own sound.

Julie Glick, an audiologist who has a practice on Park Avenue, operates almost like a pharmaceutical rep for Noble Audio and other brands that specialize in custom, in-ear headphones. Matt Stone, a creator of “South Park,” and Daniel Villano, a colorist at Frédéric Fekkai, are among her clients who pop in to test demo units. When a sale is made, she earns a commission.

The trend really took off when JH Audio, a big player in this area, began posting photos of its famous customers and their CIEMs on Facebook and Instagram

But even as the boom shows no sign of abating, there are those who, like Ms. Uaarmorn, have no interest in spending hundreds or thousands of dollars for a perfect listening experience.

Julie Klausner is also sticking to the basics.

“Apple earbuds,” she said. “I don’t really need anything else.”

 

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the History of Headphones

August 8, 2012

HEADPHONE HISTORY

How Headphones Changed the World

June 3, 2012

Derek Thompson 05/30/12 Atlantic

A short philosophical history of personal music

If you are reading this on a computer, there is an excellent chance that you are wearing, or within arm’s reach of, a pair of headphones or earbuds.

To visit a modern office place is to walk into a room with a dozen songs playing simultaneously but to hear none of them. Up to half of younger workers listen to music on their headphones, and the vast majority thinks it makes us better at our jobs. In survey after survey, we report with confidence that music makes us happier, better at concentrating, and more productive.

The triumph of headphones is that they create, in a public space, an oasis of privacy

Science says we’re full of it. Listening to music hurts our ability to recall other stimuli, and any pop song — loud or soft — reduces overall performance for both extraverts and introverts. A Taiwanese study linked music with lyrics to lower scores on concentration tests for college students, and other research have shown music with words scrambles our brains’ verbal-processing skills. “As silence had the best overall performance it would still be advisable that people work in silence,” one report dryly concluded.

If headphones are so bad for productivity, why do so many people at work have headphones?

There is an economic answer: The United States has moved from a farming/manufacturing economy to a service economy, and more jobs “demand higher levels of concentration, reflection and creativity.” This leads to a logistical answer: With 70 percent of office workers in cubicles or open work spaces, it’s more important to create one’s own cocoon of sound. That brings us to a psychological answer: There is evidence that music relaxes our muscles, improves our mood, and can even moderately reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety. What music steals in acute concentration, it returns to us in the form of good vibes.

That brings us finally to our final cultural answer: Headphones give us absolute control over our audio-environment, allowing us to privatize our public spaces. This is an important development for dense office environments in a service economy. But it also represents nothing less than a fundamental shift in humans’ basic relationship to music.

A SHORT HISTORY OF PRIVATE MUSIC

In 1910, the Radio Division of the U.S. Navy received a freak letter from Salt Lake City written in purple ink on blue-and-pink paper. Whoever opened the envelope probably wasn’t expecting to read the next Thomas Edison. But the invention contained within represented the apotheosis of one of Edison’s more famous, and incomplete, discoveries: the creation of sound from electrical signals.

Screen Shot 2012-05-30 at 8.31.54 AM.pngThe author of the violet-ink note, an eccentric Utah tinkerer named Nathaniel Baldwin, made an astonishing claim that he had built in his kitchen a new kind of headset that could amplify sound. The military asked for a sound test. They were blown away. Naval radio officers clamored for the “comfortable, efficient headset” on the brink of World War I. And so, the modern headphone was born.

The purpose of the headphone is to concentrate a quiet and private sound in the ear of the listener. This is a radical departure from music’s social purpose in history. “Music together with dance co-evolved biologically and culturally to serve as a technology of social bonding,” Nils L. Wallin and Björn Merker wrote in The Origins of Music. Songs don’t leave behind fossils, but evidence of musical notation dates back to at least Sumeria. In 1995, archaeologists discovered a bone flute in southern Europe estimated to be 44,000 years old.

The 20th century did a number on music technology. Radio made music transmittable. Cars made music mobile. Speakers made music big, and silicon chips made music small. But headphones might represent the most important inflection point in music history.

If music evolved as a social glue for the species — as a way to make groups and keep them together — headphones allow music to be enjoyed friendlessly — as a way to savor our privacy, in heightened solitude. In the 1950s, John C. Koss invented a set of stereo headphones “designed explicitly for personal music consumption,” Virginia Heffernan reported for the New York Times. “In that decade, according to Keir Keightley, a professor of media studies at the University of Western Ontario, middle-class men began shutting out their families with giant headphones and hi-fi equipment.” Headphones did for music what writing and literacy did for language. They made it private.

ALONE, TOGETHER

Loneliness is one of the first things ordinary Americans spend their money achieving.

So wrote Stephen Marche in last month’s cover story for The Atlantic. “Loneliness is at the American core, a by-product of a long-standing national appetite for independence,” he said. “The price of self-determination and self-reliance has often been loneliness. Americans have always been willing to pay that price.”

It is easy, and therefore popular, to say that headphones make us anti-social. But Marche is right. Wealth can buy — and modern technology can deliver — the independence that people have always sought. People have always had private thoughts. Headphones have the capacity to make our music like our thoughts. Something that nobody else can hear. Something we can choose to share.

Dr. Michael Bull, an expert on personal music devices from the University of Sussex, has repeatedly made the larger point that personal music devices change our relationship to public spaces. “People like to control their environment,” he told Wired magazine, and “music is the most powerful medium for thought, mood and movement control.”

Controlling our public environment is more important now that Americans have stopped moving away from density. Sunbelt suburbs today are languishing. Urban centers are thriving. “Today, the most valuable real estate lies in walkable urban locations,” Christopher B. Leinberger reported in a new Brookings study last week. In a re-urbanized United States, the earbud is the new car stereo. “With the urban space, the more it’s inhabited, the safer you feel,” Bull says. “You feel safe if you can feel people there, but you don’t want to interact with them.”

Personal music creates a shield both for listeners and for those walking around us. Headphones make their own rules of etiquette. We assume that people wearing them are busy or oblivious, so now people wear them to appear busy or oblivious — even without music. Wearing soundless headphones is now a common solution to productivity blocks. Baldwin’s invention for the Navy has become a social accessory with a explicit message: I am here, but I am separate. In a wreck of people and activity, two plastic pieces connected by a wire create an aura of privacy.

SOUND AND WORK

We still haven’t answered the first question I posed: If headphones are so bad for productivity, why do so many people work with headphones?

It’s not just that headphones carve privacy out of public spaces. It is also that music causes us to relax and reflect and pause. The outcome of relaxation, reflection, and pausing won’t be captured in minute-to-minute productivity metrics. In moments of extreme focus, our attention beams outward, toward the problem, rather than inward, toward the insights.”When our minds are at ease — when those alpha waves are rippling through the brain — we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward,” Jonah Lehrer wrote in Imagine. “The answers have been there all along. We just weren’t listening.”

In a crowded world, real estate is the ultimate scarce resource, and a headphone is a small invisible fence around our minds — making space, creating separation, helping us listen to ourselves.

Quincy Jones endorses headphones, hopes to change how you hear music

September 6, 2010

September 3, 2010 LA Times Gerrick D. Kennedy

More than 25 years after producing “Thriller,” Quincy Jones is still looking for ways to reinvent the music experience.

The legendary producer has teamed with professional audio company AKG to launch a line of headphones.

Dubbed the Quincy Jones Signature Line, the collection of headphones will be a mix of in-ear, over-ears and on-ear minis set for release in October. Jones said the partnership isn’t something new, as he’s been using AKG headphones exclusively for years now.

“It fit like a glove. It feels like home,” Jones said in a phone call from his Paris home. “I didn’t have to sit there and talk about quality. They just blow everybody away.”

Jones said he is more than aware of the current trend of musicians hawking personalized headphones.

Monster teamed with Dr. Dre to roll out a line of sleek – and pricey – headphones. Dre has Beats by Dr. Dre, Sean Combs is the face of Diddy Beats and Lady Gaga put her over-the-top style on her Heart Beats line. Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z even got in on the action with both rappers endorsing their own brand of Skullcandy headphones.

But Jones said he’s isn’t just jumping on the celebrity endoresement bandwagon.

Artists “do this all the time. But, I’m very discriminate about that,” he clarified. “I’ve been with them my whole career. It wasn’t a hard decision. I go with the heart first.”

Headphones Christopher Dragon, spokesman for AKG’s parent company Harman, further stressed Jones’ point.

“One of the important factors here is this is not a new partnership. It’s one we took to the next step,” Dragon said. “It was far more than, ‘Hey, do you want to endorse these headphones?’”

With prices ranging from $150 to nearly $500, the sticker shock might be difficult for some consumers to overcome. But Dragon argues (of course) that consumers get what they pay for.

“The average consumer ends up re-buying headphones every 14 to 16 months,” Dragon pointed out. “The reality is these products are very reliable. I am the typical frustrated musician [like Jones]. There are a lot of headphones at this price point. There is a robust headphone line above $100. To me, that’s a bargain.”

Jones isn’t hoping to just revitalize the way we listen to music, he also wants to change the way we consume it too.

“I’m dealing with a parallel path to reinvent the record business. My next record [‘Q Soul Bossa Nostra,’ Jones’ first original album since 1995’s “Q’s Jook Joint”] is coming out on 700 million cellphones in Beijing,” Jones said. “A hit record over there — with the way piracy is — is 1 million [copies sold] and it’s pathetic. It really hurts me. It’s sad. We had the biggest album and single [‘Thriller’ and ‘We Are The World,’ respectively -– both of which Jones produced] here.”

The 77-year-old doesn’t mince words when it comes to the state of piracy, and he places the blame on the same digital technology that has allowed home studios and small artists to thrive.

“The record company business is over. It’s 95 to 99% piracy everywhere. I look at sales of Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Black Eyed Peas -– the biggest artists of today and the sales are hurt [by piracy]. It’s wrong and it’s immoral. A lot of people are going to get hurt. The passion for music is the highest it’s ever been, but we have to change [piracy]. We didn’t have problems until we had digital,” Jones said.

While Jones has his work cut out for him in terms of saving the industry, he does plan on putting a share of the proceeds from each set of headphones sold in his line toward the Quincy Jones Musiq Consortium, a foundation dedicated to furthering music education for youth.

“It’s interesting that music is something that’s been on this planet for all these years,” Jones said. “I think water and music will be the last thing to leave the planet.