A potential angle for the music industry to play up in order to help sales would be to create the same effect that HDTV had for many people, including myself. When I first got an HDTV, it absolutely ruined regular definition TV for me. I remember flipping back and forth between ESPNHD and regular ESPN in amazement for probably a good half hour. Since then, I honestly hate watching any SD (standard def) programs or channels, because HDTV has exposed the ugliness that it really is, and also informed me that there was something I was missing out on. This phenomenon happened all across the country, and is still spreading. It’s what the music industry needs to happen.
For me, it’s already happened. Between my wife’s new car having a killer sound system and a gift of a pair of ATH-AD700 headphones (my review), everything changed. Suddenly, I could hear things I didn’t know I was missing. Music sounded so much better that I just couldn’t believe it. It immediately was noticeable by playing something digital vs. the CD itself, and then when I went back and listened to music I had digitized in lower bitrate mp3 (more on that here) I was horrified to realize I had ruined all my music by accepting the lower quality as good then chucking the CD. Compression (for mp3 or otherwise) works by actually removing or re-writing parts of the track that ideally you wouldn’t really notice or hear anyway. Now with great headphones, I could literally hear that something was missing, and it was just nasty.
Prior to that point, I, like most other people I would presume, had no idea that there was something missing. Not at all. When listening to music on little iPod earbuds, everything sounded fine, because it limited what I could hear in the first place and made all my music pretty much sound like the same quality. But now, I’m enlightened. And honestly, if the rest of the world was, I think things would be a lot different. I haven’t downloaded any music in the last few years, but if I did, I’d stop now. I hardly buy from iTunes anymore, because if I can get the CD or buy it in higher quality straight from the artist I’d much prefer that. While it may not stop illegal downloading, I think it would help translate more of those downloads into sales for people who wanted the high quality version of it. While many people say even though they download music that they buy stuff they like it, I’d guess more than 90% of those people actually don’t. Why would they? They already have it in a good enough quality for them. But when you make it so that it’s a low quality and they want better, you’ll get more sales because it will create an actual reason to buy it—which is really all that’s missing in the industry right now.
The challenges? Well, for one, when people think of higher-end headphones they think of audiophiles, then naturally think “suckers.” Audiophiles make most people think they’re just snobs who “think” they hear something different when they really don’t, and in some cases justifiably so. However, we’re not talking Audiophile range, we’re talking $70-$200 range. There are also some really bad headphones out there, and in that price range and higher, which may make some people hesitant. But honestly, there are some really good ones that need to be sought out.
The other problem is headphones that are being marketed as high quality, but are actually crap. I’ve listened to some of the cheaper Skullcandy headphones (Best Buy) and hated them. Their more expensive stuff might be better, but I wouldn’t know. What I do know though, is if a headphone is being marketed for its style and color options, they probably don’t put that much effort into sound quality. I also sampled the “high definition” Solo headphones from Beats by Dre, and they also sounded like complete crap. Keep in mind though that I’m talking about rock music I was listening to—I’m sure they’re more than sufficient if their job is to contain and amplify bass noise. Another dirty secret about Beats by Dre is that they’re made by Monster, the company made famous for trying to trick people into thinking their $300 HDMI cables were somehow superior to a $15 alternative (and they weren’t).
Finally, price is an issue. The MSRP of Beats by Dre is $230 and I wouldn’t pay $20 for them. Headphone manufacturers need to focus on getting a high quality product down to the “normal” product’s price point. With headphones it’s a bit tricky because once the sound quality is sufficient, what also determines price is weight and construction. Bottomline though is that you can get more than sufficient “high def” sound with great comfort for under $100 if you know what to look for. And of course, when trying out headphones (any Guitar Center will let you sample any of them in stock), always bring a high quality version of music you’re very familiar with (old to you).
I’m convinced that if the music industry worked with the headphone industry (and speaker industry too—both home and auto), they could create their own version of the HDTV revolution. They just need to go about it the right way by eliminating the garbage and letting people hear exactly what they’re missing. Then maybe people would actually have a reason to buy music again.