Friday, September 16, 2011

Trend Spotting: Headphones, Function or Beauty?

I'm typically the last to notice fashion trends, but when you spend as much time as I do waiting around a college campus for a bus, or for class to start, or for the line at Dunkin Donuts to subside, you notice things. Lately, I've noticed girls wearing laced boots that look like they jumped Laura Ingalls. I've noticed girls sprouting feathers from their scalps, and I've noticed that large, colorful headphones are infringing on the sacred turf of the tiny white Apple earbuds.

Experience says that the kids I went to high school and college with who wore bulky, over-the-ear headphones were audiophiles. (I've got a pair of Audio-Technicas, myself, but I never wore them out.) Apple earbuds served two purposes. They were easy to stuff in a purse or backpack and they let everyone know you owned an iPod.

But now, what are we chasing? One article I found says that these headphones can add "pop" to your outfit, especially in the age of dress codes (not that that applies to herds of undergrads). The sound quality is better, as well.... you know. If you're into that. Beats and Skullcandy are high on the list of brands in demand. Forbes even reported that the latter's stock is up, if only "modestly."

I guess my question with trends always remains: When did this happen? Is this the latest wave of Geek-Chic? Maybe it's a trend parallel to the surge in popularity of film cameras. They're also bulky and retro-looking, but those sepia-tinted filters are tapping into some kind of nostalgia for a period in time we did not live through.

That could be it. However, Beats is a brand by Dr. Dre, and Dr. Dre is decidedly not Geek Chic. A post from Gizmodo today talked about a cheaper model of Grados, ("the standard bearer of aural excellence," they say.) meaning that someone seeking nearly professional-level audio quality can lay down $600 and not only improve his listening experience but his music nerd cred. Gizmodo compared Grados among said "music nerds" to the afore mentioned Beats headphones among "fashion-conscious teenagers."

So maybe high school never quite ends. Instead of buying lime green headphones because we're cool, we buy really expensive headphones because we're cool and have audio needs that money just can't stand up to. Who knows, but the next time you're in some public place, look around. These headphones are everywhere. And feathers.

That's a whole different post.

If you have some insight/opinion, by all means, share in the comments.


aaron.dethrage said...

As an audio engineer, I certainly have a bias about this topic, but I'll gladly contribute my two cents. To build, fine tune, and maintain a high quality recording studio costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and even when that much money isn't invested, engineers invest innumerable hours into every song that is released. I don't think that it's a must for everyone to own a 600 dollar pair of headphones, even if everything truly does sound better. However, I do think that it speaks a lot to me that our generation is caring more and more about the quality of the music they listen to. We were the kids that always wished that music meant the same to us as it did to the earliest generations of our parents, but we were listening on 2 dollar headphones through low-quality rips. There doesn't have to be a direct correlation between fidelity and emotional sway (see flatsound or Bright Eyes), however there is something to be said about caring for the presentation of the music you hear. As an engineer, I get to see how much the production and presentation of a track can affect its reception, and, by obtaining technology that reveals more clearly all of the things that the artist is trying to convey, people are beginning to get a more full experience of the music being released.

As for the feathers, your guess is as good as mine.

do, do, do, dooooo, do, do, do, doooo.

(Will be stuck in my head all day.)

Erin C. said...

I was hoping that you would comment. I agree, I think it's great that people are going to be getting a higher quality experience when they listen to their music, but I question whether your average 16-year-old knows what he/she is buying besides headphones that look cool. Everyone's been so contented with earbuds for so long, if not for the fashion statement, would anything change?