January 2021

Audio Collaborative 2020 – Event Commentary:

12 The Battle for ‘Share of Ear’

Futuresource Consulting’s 2020 Audio Collaborative conference shifted to an all-virtual experience, while still sharing a range of industry insights and discussing the future of the audio industry. Thought- provoking panels and presentations took place across the two days with world-class speakers, all of which were designed to support audio brands with emerging from the pandemic as stronger, better positioned, more valuable businesses. One of those panel discussions centred around the

overlapping and converging applications across the headphones market and how this could impact the developing landscape moving forward. Joining Luke Pearce, Market Analyst in the Consumer Audio team at Futuresource Consulting, for the conversation was Bernice Cramer, Director of Product Management and Global Marketing at Bose, Tim Johnston PE, Vice President of Engineering at Starkey Hearing, Stuart George, Managing Director at Cambridge Audio, and Chris Havell, Senior Director of Product Marketing, Voice and Music at Qualcomm Technologies.

The headphones landscape has experienced

phenomenal growth over the last decade and as a result, headphones are becoming the fastest-selling personal electronic device on the market.

COVID-19 has certainly accelerated this adoption

due to the increase in remote working, the growth of gaming and further potential in use cases, such as health and hearing augmentation. As a result, headphones and true wireless devices are expected to grow to over 700 million within five years. Cambridge Audio’s Stuart George commented that

headphones are no longer just used for work purposes but for leisure and relaxation – people have chosen to use audio as a place to find private space and personal isolation. In many ways, seeking solace to escape the stress and strains of COVID-19 has been a key reason to utilise headphones within the home environment. Bernice Cramer added that headphones are no

longer for passive listening alone but for multi-tasking. As we get used to juggling remote working with other personal commitments and family time, she stated that “COVID-19 has accelerated this need to move between different spaces; headphone devices are now being used as an interface with the world”. As the use cases for headphones intensifies, will one

‘super product’ take over? It is certainly more of a multiple-product ownership, Chris Havell suggested. “There are very significant differences between certain use cases and therefore where a product has its focus. Our requirements differ for work purposes, for fitness and for entertainment.” Ms Cramer also added that, “the single most reliable

predicter about whether consumers will buy a pair of premium headphones, is whether they already own another pair of premium headphones.” People are interested in custom-built devices for many different activities and so it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Mr George agreed that the headphones market and the rate of innovation for new products certainly fuels this

addictive need for seeking premium audio quality, time and time again. Interestingly, while consumer preferences for audio devices will differ, Tim Johnston stated that there will certainly be an overlap between what consumers are seeking with headphones products and what is requested from the hearing aid market.

Does sound quality ever just become

‘good enough’? “Sound quality is a universal requirement,” commented Mr George. “First and foremost, it’s purely about the listening experience and the ability to listen to music in better quality.” However, as all headphones products are becoming

more specialised, Ms Cramer believes that audio quality is no longer sufficient on its own. Microphone quality is also crucial, with the implementation of artificial intelligence allowing you to distinguish voices from anything in the background. This is particularly crucial given the amount of time now spent attending virtual meetings remotely. “Situational hearing enhancement is invaluable,”

she adds. “It’s harder to distinguish peoples’ voices during COVID and so that hearing enhancement becomes wrapped into the audio quality of devices.” Mr Havell believes that there are still numerous

improvements to be made, with immersive audio quality, microphone audio quality and protecting our health being of key importance. In addition to this, consumers are now gaming and

watching movies more using headsets, as Mr Johnston highlighted. This means that audio quality is also taking on another meaning, due to the fact it’s got to be low latency. Mr Havell added that it is now about implementing these features moving forward into standard headphone products for consumers.

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