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Audiophilia's Future Looks Bright If Headphone Users Can Convert To Full Systems

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Headphones_and_Facebook.jpgHomeTheaterReview.com is the leading specialty audio/video publication in terms of fans on Facebook, but we recently got a lesson on how to increase our reach using the all-powerful social media tool. Part of the program included friending more and more of the top audiophile and home theater manufacturers to our fan page. Other than the time it took (which was most of a Sunday in February), it was a pretty compelling project. In looking at over 250 Facebook fan pages, there were two camps of companies: ones who have Facebook fan pages because they think they need them and others who have jumped in with both feet. Often, you could find both types of Facebook presences from companies that directly compete with one another, which is something of a head scratcher, as Facebook is best at linking people of common likes (think home theater, audio, music, movies, Blu-ray, etc.) even more so than the mightier Google, which is better at delivering people who are in the "buy it now" mode when on their computers.

Additional Resources
• Read more original commentary in our Feature News Stories section.
• See more headphone news from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Explore reviews in our Headphone Review section.
• Learn more in our Industry Trade News section.

Digging deeper into my Facebook project, I saw that one category of audio company was booming in ways that were notable. The culprit: headphones. While you might not consider Beats by Dre to be audiophile-grade headphones, their 2,400,000 Facebook fans suggest that Noel Lee and Jimmy Iovine have drilled into a nerve with mainstream consumers via their hip-hop-tastic headphones. Klipsch has an impressive page that also includes their headphone products, which has about 50,000 fans. Professional grade in-ear monitors Ultimate Ears are packing nearly 100,000 fans. A personal favorite of mine, Etymotic Research, is weighing in at about 5,000 fans. Paradigm's brand-new Shift headphones are rocking 2,500 fans, and that's a debut fan page for the speaker company. More traditional headphone companies are booming, too, with Sennheiser encompasses over 12,000 fans. Often clunky but always good-sounding Grado Labs has 2,300 fans.

With hundreds upon hundreds of millions of iPods, iPhones, iPads and iProducts, headphones are the least expensive ways to upgrade your audio for the masses. I am sorry to tell Apple that their ear buds are both uncomfortable and sound like crap, but I don't think they care, as they sell everything from Bowers & Wilkins to Beats to Focals and many other brands. They likely make more profit dollars selling high-end headphones to go with iProducts than they do selling the iPhone/iPad/iPod itself.

What's most encouraging is the idea that men and women alike are starting to look to upgraded audio. Generation Y (aka Millennials) represent the largest demographic since the Baby Boomers. While they have come out of college to a brutal job market and a "correcting" economy, they still love themselves some music. This is an incredibly important sign. Student loans can weigh a kid down, but not forever, and when that burden is lifted, homes are bought and promotions and raises are given at work, they might just start looking for a better audio experience. That's how the Baby Boomers did it in the 1970s, which gave birth to the audiophile hobby. Music and audio were luxury goods and could become so again. Today, there are more music lovers with more access to music, movies and media than ever before. Moreover, the love of audio might not have to be the swordfight, one-gender hobby that it has been previously. In modern pop culture, headphones are quickly becoming the same type of fashion statement that up-market basketball shoes were for men in the 1980s and "sex on a stick" shoes were for women in the late 1990s. Unlike traditional audiophile components, a hip new audiophile might have a collection of headphones that match his or her wardrobe, ranging from colored Beats to edgy-looking Bowers & Wilkins to reggae-influenced House of Marley headphones and more. Compact travel headphones like Paradigm Shifts or my reference Etymotic Research ER-4s (with custom ear molds) that roll up might be stashed in a purse or briefcase, while comfy over-the-ear headphones like the new Focals might be plugged into an audio rig, game console, computer or HDTV at home. That's a lot of ways to sell audio to a large demographic.

A lot has been said about the death of brick and mortar audiophile stores. In many ways, a good number of them needed to die. Some are even suggesting that Best Buy might go the way of Circuit City, The Good Guys, Tweeter and others. But even with change in the air, there is a new grassroots movement towards music and media that has some serious mainstream pull. If I owned an audio boutique, a stereo store or even a custom integrator, I would definitely be looking at how to sell to this booming market of consumers now, as well as how I could build a reasonable upgrade path for future audiophiles in the coming years, decades and generations, because selling pricey tube amps and tone arms to 68-year-olds isn't your future. The future is much brighter than that and Facebook shows us the proof.

Additional Resources
• Read more original commentary in our Feature News Stories section.
• See more headphone news from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Explore reviews in our Headphone Review section.
• Learn more in our Industry Trade News section.
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