March 07, 2024

Headphones

Time for a merchandising story.

I've wasted thousands of dollars over the past four decades on headphones. I'm no different than any other headphone audiophile. You always think you can do better.

In the past year, I saved my pennies for a pair of Airpods Max. Mistake. They sound good. The feel really good on your head. But they aren't headphones as much as they are a computer on your head. Turn your head to the left while watching a movie on Apple TV and the sound shifts in your head. Cool? Absolutely. But it's a computer.

With quality sound gnawing at my soul, I decided to dip my toe into better sound. I got a great deal on a pair of Sennheiser HD569s. $99 ... I got them for $73. They sound so much better than my expensive Airpods Max. Connected to my little hybrid tube amp, they sound even better. Completely quiet background. Details in songs I had not heard before. A really, really good experience.

But obviously I could do better.I decided to go down the Reddit rabbit hole (and the YouTube rabbit hole). It's here that, quite literally, maybe fifty individuals steer the customer in whatever direction they want to steer the customer.

I spent two months reading headphone discussions on Reddit, watching videos on YouTube. Seriously. The experts want you to buy an open ear headphone (which means everybody in your house is going to hear what you are listening to). I can't do that, so it is closed ear headphones for me ... I don't want the audio quality loss with bluetooth headphones. I want corded closed ear headphones.

Months into my nightly Reddit-based education from users named "BoseStinks" and "Bonkers44292", there is one pair of headphones that keeps coming up ... not from the experts, but from actual users. They are the Meze 99 Classics ($309 ... currently available for $278). The people on Reddit DO NOT LIKE THESE HEADPHONES! But those who listen to music with the sole purpose of enjoying the music ... they like 'em.

And it turns out that headphone companies partner with a company called Drop to produce comparable (or in this case identical) models at a discount. For $169 ($10 first time buyer discount), I pick up a pair of the Massdrop 99 Noirs.

Oh.

My.

God.

Connected to my hybrid tube amp or to a Dragonfly Red dongle, these headphones are absolutely what the Reddit folks who refused to give in to the mob said they were.

  • Fun.
  • Musical.
  • Bassy.
Turns out the 50 headphone influencers on Reddit demand that headphones match a "flat" frequency response. In other words, what the headphone produces should be identical to what the individual mixing the original song intended. In coffee terms, they demand that your coffee be black and be perfect. Put some cream in there? They don't like that.

These headphones are not a black cup of coffee. They add a little bit of bass, something that those who listen to R&B or Dance Music or Rap or some Pop Songs like. I've listened to hours of songs since getting them and I just couldn't be happier. I've heard things I've never heard in songs before. And for $169? My goodness. They are musical. They are fun! And they have a little bit more bass than they should have ... bass that can be equalized away if you don't like it. I'm sure a $1,000 pair of headphones will sound better ... but these things are fabulous and only cost me $169! Listen to this song with 'em. You'll find the song "fun" and "musical"! There are bizarre horns at the 0:54 mark in the right ear that I haven't heard in the eight years I've been listening to this song.


Why share this story?
  1. Who controls your industry? It's a surprisingly small number of people. Why don't you have a relationship with these individuals? Better yet, why isn't one of your employees one of these individuals? Seriously.
  2. Readers keep telling me that digital advertising doesn't work as well as it used to. If you were Meze, how would you fight 50 influencers on Reddit who don't like your product? Spending more on Google doesn't solve the problem, does it? More retargeting doesn't solve the problem. Paid social doesn't solve the problem. Meze, instead, sent a pair of headphones to a vocal critic and said "say whatever you like about them" ... and the person said positive things about them. That's a better use of money that spending money on channel-centric marketing tactics.
  3. My long-term catalog readers keep telling me that the print industry is going to bankrupt them. Yes, they are going to bankrupt you. "Their influencers" have you convinced that you need them.
    1. Hint ... you don't need them.

In 2024-2025, your customer acquisition efforts are increasingly focused on hand-to-hand marketing combat. You'll have to get into the trenches and convince individual customers that you matter ... like I have to do with you on a daily basis. You won't be able to pay Facebook a million dollars and let them do the work for you.

You're going to have to do the work.

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