Cans, You Dig It?

The graphic above was created with data provided to me by the CTA (Consumer Technology Association). I understand that this data cannot possibly account for every single pair of headphones sold in any given year, but I believe that this is the most accurate account of data currently available to us.

As we can see from these graphics, compared to turntables, headphones account for a much larger part of the consumer tech industry.


This is to be expected for a number of reasons. Here are the obvious ones:

• Size. They're small and portable, making them less of a commitment.
• Affordability. There are more affordable headphones than turntables, making them more accessible at earlier ages.
• Purpose. Different headphones serve different purposes. We need headphones for airplanes, exercise, every-day street wear, this genre, that genre, and so on. Because of the size and affordability factors, we are able to own multiple headphones for multiple purposes.
• Trends. Trendy headphone wearing hipsters and their trendy headphone-wearing advertisements.
• Apple, Beats, and Bose.

Affordability is the key factor. Let's take a look at the year 2015, for example: There were 9705% more pairs of headphones sold than turntables, but only 1590% more ($1939 million) was made in gross annual sales revenue.

Headphones always seem to cause a major ruckus in the audiophile world. They're often blamed for isolating the listening experience and separating the social aspect from the hobby. Personally, I've never been able to relate to this perspective because my initial introduction to the audiophile world was through headphones.

So while some may view this headphone data as a negative perpetuation of the isolated listening experience, I hope others choose to see this as a pool of potential audiophiles.

Hi-Reality's picture

Hi Jana,

Interesting stats, thank you! (I think the rise of headphones and turntables/vinyls sales indicate consumers' strive for maximizing their personal audio experience)

3D and binaural audio via headphones can truly elevate our sense of realism. The launch of products like the new Smyth Realiser A16 (currently on Kickstarter) is key.

Imagine the functionality and even higher performance-level of Smyth Realiser built into the headphones of the future; I am certain we are getting there within 5-10 years.

I once met with an Apple executive who told me that Apple constantly tries to minimize the physical dimensions of its products and improve the performance at the same time. I see this philosophy being adopted in the audio industry which is a good trend.

Regards, Babak
Hi-Reality Project

Here is the link to Smyth Realiser A16 on Kickstarter:

Anton's picture

Thanks for the cool info!

It looks as though a pair of headphones was sold for every teen and adult in 'Merica in the past two years, at about 15 bucks per set. Ubiquitous is good, as a certain percentage will migrate toward quality.

With a trend toward smaller places, more apartment dwellers, people living in mom's basement, etc...this is a nice, polite trend that allows people to enjoy the hobby without making the neighbors 'unwilling audiophiles,' too!

I never thought of it as a solipsistic thing. Especially, since most 'audiophiles' tend to have one chair in their listening room, so what's the diff?

Thank you posting the cool info.

dalethorn's picture

I'd be concerned that nearly all of these purchasers, and to a growing extent audiophiles, don't actually have their full attention on the music. i.e. it's "background" music. My impression of serious loudspeaker systems that were purchased for attentive listening at realistic volume levels, is that the users were not cruising the Internet or reading the newspaper while attentively listening. 'Attentively' is of course redundant in that last phrase. So my concern is mainly for what happens to the music 'industry' due to the dominance of audiophile headphones. Unless users can truly multi-task and give due attention to listening while doing other things, the industry will begin to reshape itself around the concept of background music listening.

michaelavorgna's picture

Some of the most serious listeners I know do crazy things while listening like read liner notes, sing, dance, and all manner of non-anal-retentive stuff ;-)

It is music we're listening to, after all. Not a podcast from God.

dalethorn's picture

I think you tried to skirt my point and failed. You said "...we're listening to...", and what I noted was the not-listening part. Maybe you have some statistics on users' ability to do true multitasking. My understanding is that humans can't, where one task requires total attention. Think: Driving and texting.

michaelavorgna's picture

I've seen lots of people sing and dance (and other stuff) while listening to music. And they are most certainly very engaged!

Think: music

dalethorn's picture

I have no problem with the concept, as we were instructed as children from the King James text, i.e. "Make a joyful noise unto...." etc. But again, if you want to include distracted listening in audiophile listening, all you needed to do was say "Yes, distracted listening should be included as audiophile listening."

michaelavorgna's picture

I never used the phrase "distracted listening". That's all yours.

I'm watching the US Open so I have no need to continue this silly match.


dalethorn's picture

A rose by any other name is still a rose. That's why I used the concrete example of distracted driving.

Christian Goergen's picture

For me is to prodect my neighbours. When I move my head and the source of sound moves in the same direction, that's the opposite of natural sound. Many people seem to feel challenged to increase the loudness more than appropriate. So their hearing abilities are impaired too early in their lives. But binaural recordings are really impressive. First real soundstage delivered by headphones.

Anton's picture

Just wait until the headphones will have head position algorithms that will correct for head motion!

Christian Goergen's picture

whether anybody works on it?

Anton's picture

I bet it happens pretty soon!

John Atkinson's picture
Christian Goergen wrote:
Anton wrote:
Just wait until the headphones will have head position algorithms that will correct for head motion!
Do you know whether anybody works on it?

The Smyth Realiser does this. See

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Christian Goergen's picture

we can hear more from this subject. My current imagination of a more satisfying system for acoustical entertainment leads to open multichannel and surround systems.

dalethorn's picture

I've been using audiophile headphones (Stax, Beyer, Sennheiser etc.) for a long time, and have purchased a number of binaural recordings. For most of those, I don't hear anything particularly compelling. On the other hand, some of the late 1950's stereo recordings done for RCA and a couple others using 2-mic techniques for natural sound, sound pretty good. Now to pop music - I'm listening to a Doors greatest hits album, certainly not binaural, but its 'soundstage' sounds great to me. It sounds like I'm too close to the band, but judicious use of the volume control and even the tone controls as needed does the trick!

Christian Goergen's picture

Training programs for impaired persons. New possibilities in skill training. Musical simulations ( to play in a combo ). Much, much more interesting than to hear only recorded music.