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Wired headphones: Enhanced fidelity emphasized

Makers are adopting high-quality parts to improve the audio output and external design of their products.

China suppliers of wired headphones foresee positive developments for this established and mature category, particularly in terms of exports. Companies are prioritizing sound quality and external design in their R&D efforts, expecting overseas shipments to grow by 5 to 10 percent in the next six months.

Wired headphone
  The TS-466 dynamic model from Guangdong Takstar has 102dB sensitivity, 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response, 32ohm impedance and 150mW power handling.
To improve audio output, makers adopt high-quality ICs from Taiwan, Japan, Europe and the US. Suppliers, however, also use some Taiwan-and mainland China-made chips for entry-level models.

The CD-7000 model 6.2-channel home theater wired headphones from Cosonic Electronics Co. Ltd adopts a Taiwan-made IC. It has eight separate speakers per ear cap, namely front right, front left, rear right, rear left, center right, center left and two subwoofers.

To eliminate environment noises, many makers apply active noise reduction technology. Dong Guan Eimuse Electronics Co. Ltd, for instance, has released the NC-001 noise-canceling model. The product comes with adapters and accessories including airplane plug.

Despite the line's maturity, some enterprises still invest in testing equipment to improve overall product quality. Guangdong Takstar Electronic Co. Ltd, for example, has a central laboratory and correlative spectrum analyzers from Denmark to conduct more detailed tests.

Major headphone makers emphasize midrange and high-end models because these are more profitable. Cosonic, for instance, highlights its DJ, hi-fi , noisecanceling, 5.1,6.2 and 7.2-channel headphones.

Partnerships with international companies in the headphones field is another strategy for major makers. Ocvaco collaborates with Sony, Panasonic and Koss.

Suppliers will continue to strengthen their product development capability as they are currently increasing shipments to relatively new markets in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and South America. Bolstering optimism is the China government's support, particularly by raising the export rebate tax for electracoustic products, including wired headphones, from 13 to 17 percent in June 2009.

Wireless headphones are considered the main threat to the wired line, particularly as makers accelerate R&D for Bluetooth models. At present, however, wired models still dominate with a 70 to 80 percent share of total headphone output.

Products & prices
Industry overview
Bluetooth headphones: Taiwan suppliers upgrade sound quality
Hong Kong: Selection targets diverse applications
Products & prices

Mainland-made wired headphone designs include overhead, behind-the-neck and clip-on. Some models have an integrated microphone.

Prices will be stable in coming months as costs of materials and components remain low. Makers expect this to hold true even with the slight increase in copper rates.

For nonelectronic parts, suppliers adopt ABS, PVC, aluminum and magnesium alloys, leather and silicone. Cable quality is also a factor in good sound performance. Midrange and high-end models generally come with oxygen-free copper or OFC and Ohno continuous casting or OCC wires. Tough pitch copper or TPC cable is used in low-end versions, which are still the most common. Some suppliers, however, offer midrange and high-end units.

Entry-level wired headphones from China are $1 to $3, and have one or two channels, 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response range, 16 or 32ohm impedance and about 100dB sensitivity. They come with a copper or TPC cable, 2.5 or 3.5mm jack and a plastic or ABS housing.

Midrange 2 or 2.1-channel versions have 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response range, 32ohm impedance, more than 100dB sensitivity and a noise-canceling function. They are bundled with a 2.5, 3.5, 6.3mm or airplane jack, USB interface, and an OFC or OCC cable. Materials used are plastic, silicone and leather. The housing is usually metal. Prices are from $4 to $15.

High-end models exceed $18, and have 5.1, 6.2 or 7.1 channels, a noise-canceling function, 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response range, more than 45ohm impedance and over 100dB sensitivity. Such units come with a 2.5, 3.5, 6.3mm or airplane jack, USB, RCA interface, an OFC or OCC cable, and an aluminum and magnesium alloy housing. Plastic, silicone and leather are also used.

Industry overview

There are about 250 to 300 headphone makers in China. Most are small private locally owned companies that carry out OEM production. Large suppliers deal with OEM and ODM clients and perform most production processes in-house.

In general, small makers have fewer than 200 workers and can turn out 10,000 to 50,000 units a month. Midrange companies have about 500 workers and produce 80,000 to 200,000 units.

Operations at large enterprises are manned by roughly 1,000 workers. Such companies can produce about 400,000 units monthly.

Bluetooth headphones: Taiwan suppliers upgrade sound quality

Most Bluetooth headphones from Taiwan adopt version 2.0, but models using Bluetooth 1.2 and 2.1 are available as well. These have 50mW to 200mW power rating, pairing encryption, and authentication.

Product development priorities for the line include enhancing sound quality output and lowering power consumption. In line with the numerous portable devices coming into the market, Bluetooth headphones with compact and small form factors, usually foldable, are an R&D target as well.

Mainstream models are equipped with a 3.5mm audio connector, 30 to 36mm speaker drivers, and rechargeable Li-polymer or alkaline batteries. A2DP, AVRCP, HSP and HFP are supported. Solutions used are sourced from CSR, Broadcom and Taiwan ISST.

Entry-level models have small form factors and incorporate Bluetooth 1.2 or 2.0. They usually have a CSR chipset and are priced at about $15 or $16.

Midrange units adopt Bluetooth 2.0 and are between $18 and $20.

High-end Bluetooth 2.1 models go for at least $21. They usually support power ratings of up to 500mW for better audio quality.

Wired headphone
Hong Kong: Selection targets diverse applications

Hong Kong's supply of assorted wired headphone models reflects suppliers' aim to serve a wide end-user base.

For top-of-the-line active noise reduction or ANR headphones, the latest are on-ear versions providing lighter, extended wearing comfort and portability.

Value add-ons are regularly introduced as well. Certain units can be converted into headsets through detachable microphones and cable splitters.

Weight reduction continues to be a major influence in wired headphone design, especially for models with large 40mm drivers. Intended for active users, most lightweight and fashionable models have leatherette cushions and closed-back circumaural styles. Decorative plates are also widely used, including some customizable versions.

Gaming is another strong wired headphone segment. The main trend is to develop models with the look and feel of those used on car racetracks, in aviation and by the military. Such designs are typically heavier than regular units with the option of vibration function and brushed metal for the headband. They have thick padded ear cushions and deeper, richer bass.

This article "Wired headphones: Enhanced fidelity emphasized" is originally posted in Global Sources.

Note: All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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