We all know that wireless audio products have been around for quite some time, but do you actually own any? Many readers might have a wireless speaker or sound bar, but when it comes to picking up a headset to blast your favorite beats do you really consider going wireless? Probably not, according to wireless’ market share at least. According to Sennheiser exec Kapil Gulati wireless headsets only make up around 5% of the total market right now (surprisingly), though their adoption has grown incredibly fast (from less than 1% three years ago) and is expected to double to 10% in the next two years.
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In the past few years the audio industry has begun to rethink how they brand their products to differentiate them from the cheap earbuds included with smartphones. These cheap buds essentially cut out a significant portion of the lower end of the market; why buy a new pair if these work just fine? To combat this line of thinking companies are touting features, such as bass response, noise cancellation, “active style” or “DJ style”, or they focus on turning headsets into a fashion statement, such as Beats. Due to decreases in price, improvements in audio compression, and the increasing number of devices we use day to day wireless headsets are poised to go mainstream.
Until very recently wireless headsets were not cheap enough for the low end of the market (sub $80), and were not high quality enough due to the nature of wireless transmission for the discerning audiophile. Wireless headsets really only appealed to someone who is not looking for a high-end audio experience but is willing to pay a premium. However, both of these factors have largely changed recently. Finding a pair of wireless headphones for less than $50 is not difficult, and wirelessly transmitting audio has drastically improved. Sennheiser’s Gulati states, “The technology has improved a lot, we’ve just launched a pair of lifestyle headphones with Bluetooth. But Bluetooth is not the only technology either, we’ve also got radio-frequency headsets, which can deliver audiophile quality sound. So that’s where we’re headed – audiophile quality on wireless.”
Sony India’s Satish Padmanabhan, echoes Gulati’s sentiment. “Wireless is still a small part of the market, but I believe that you’re going to see more people moving to wireless in the next 12 to 18 months.” Sony has been busily developing technology to enable the explosion of wireless audio, particularly at the high end of the market. “Data compression on Bluetooth was a bit of a problem but we developed the LDAC technology which improves this and the quality is now close to audiophile levels.” Sony’s LDAC audio compression technology reduces noise and lag in Bluetooth audio transmission, and has been compared to the quality jump that Blue-Ray was to the DVD.
That being said, LDAC is not cheap and has been confined to high-end headphones, though this will change in time, according to Padmanabhan. He also adds that the widening of wireless products from the entry-level to exorbitant is a crucial development for enabling mainstream adoption. Sennheiser’s Gulati also points out that the expanding number of devices in our lives is also fueling the adoption of wireless. “You could want just one headset for all your devices, right? You could then use it with your phone while you’re out for the day, and then connect it to your TV or music system when you get home.” Though it might not be as impactful as price and audio quality, as we continue to acquire more devices with wireless capabilities and ability to stream music it makes sense to get a single pair of headphones that can be easily connected to them as needed. Gulati and Padmanabhan certainly make a strong case for wireless audio; is it enough for you to buy in?