Blowing the (Headphone) Speakers

Claire Wyman, a UT dance major, tests the Razor Carcharias headphones in the Belo Center for New Media.

Photo Credit: Silvana Di Ravenna

Any music-loving student knows the importance of a good pair of headphones. But with headphones coming in all shapes, sizes, colors and prices, how do you decide what constitutes a truly good pair?

Different brands play up different areas of emphasis. An aggressive advertising campaign has brought attention to the celebrity backing behind Beats. Brands like Bose, Razer and Sennheiser market themselves primarily on performance quality, while other brands such as Frends and Skullcandy attempt to set themselves apart by way of stylistic appeal. So where does one start in making a decision?

“For performance, it depends on what you’re listening to,” said Steve Smiles, who works in retail sales. “For example, Beats give you a lot of bass, but for some people it’s too much. Skullcandy are good for volume, but they can sound tinny to some people.”

One way to avoid those and other performance issues is to spend more money for a pair of headphones that cover all the bases. V-Moda headphones are an example of consumer technology closely emulating professional quality.

“They have better bass than most high fidelity headphones, and they’re powerful enough that you don’t need an amp, just a phone is power enough for them,” said sales worker Cliff Senneff. “The only bad thing is the price tag.”

Price is a significant issue for anyone, but it is especially so for students.

“In college, cost is always a factor,” said Claire Wyman, a student at UT. “Some nicer headphones, I’ll never be able to afford them.”

Even those who work in sales admit that the price hurdle can be a difficult one to leap over, and that it isn’t always the actual performance that you’re paying for.

“The style, the name of the brand, all of that plays into the price,” Smiles said.

Some brands try to avoid being lost in the muck of competition by targeting specific niches. Razer pushes its equipment onto avid video game fans by supporting gaming competitions and tailoring their marketing efforts towards their target young male demographic. Frends contrasts that approach by appealing directly to women with trendy and effeminate styles.

Brand names and the latest styles can be legitimate selling points, but such factors aren’t always the first to stand out to more practically minded students.

“I do like style in my headphones, but I prefer comfort,” Wyman said. “I just have ear buds because they’re small and easy to take with me.”

Ultimately, choosing the right pair of headphones comes down to personal taste. And for students, a healthy dose of practicality is likely to be factored in as well. Wyman illustrates this in describing what drew her to her own pair.

“They were free, and they’re blue.”