Smartphones drive new headphone boom

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

You might think the world of high-end earphones and headphones is only for audiophiles, but the smartphone boom has drastically expanded the market, if the turnout at the Portable Audio Festival in Tokyo was any indication.

Industry insiders say casual music lovers are spending more money on headgear in recent years because smartphones have made it easier to use music as a lifestyle or fashion statement.

“Because of the smartphones, more people bring music with them and want to listen to the music with better sound than the earphones that come with the handsets,” said Koji Hata, a marketing manager for Pioneer Corp. said at the festival, held in Akihabara.

According to Hiroyuki Hori, a manager at Kanjitsu Denki Co., a headgear importer and wholesaler, units costing over ¥10,000 are quite popular, with orders for units between ¥50,000 and ¥100,000 surging. Many enthusiasts now own several pairs, he said.

“You can have three or four and decide to use this one at home and that one for outings, or you can match them with your outfits,” Hori said.

A 32-year-old man who came from Fukushima for the festival said he got into high-end listening gear about two years ago after purchasing an iPod.

“I was listening my iPod with some ¥3,000 earphones and wanted a better sound quality,” said the man, who now listens in bliss with a customized pair that set him back a cool ¥130,000.

More than 500 different models were on hand at the event, which runs until Sunday.

Hori claimed that earphones and headphones are becoming items people buy to set themselves apart from the crowd, like watch lovers do, and spend fairly large amounts of money on them.

Makers said the market is likely to get a boost from “high-resolution audio,” a new technology that provides more realism than the MP3 audio format and CDs.