The average price of a pair of headphones has inched past the $40 mark this year, according to new data released this week by Futuresource Consulting. We now pay an average of $42.70, which is a 14 percent rise year-on-year and maintains a trajectory of double-digit annual growth. Last summer, Futuresource reported an 11 percent rise in pricing in 2015, to a mark of $34, driven by an appetite for more advanced features. Those are things like advanced noise canceling, fitness tracking for sports buds, and the novelty of integrated assistant software (like with Google Assistant on Bose’s updated QC35s).
By far the most commonly sought extra feature, however, is wireless technology, which Futuresource’s analysts believe is primarily responsible for the rapid growth in spending. Whether it’s over-ear or in-ear headphones, consumers are showing themselves increasingly willing to spend the extra money to ditch the wires. The enthusiasm for wireless is also said to spill over into driving sales of headphones with other added features. In the second quarter of 2017, for instance, the market for wireless noise-canceling over-ear headphones registered 42 percent growth, with 95 percent of those sales going to Beats, Bose, and Sony.
Apple’s abandonment of the headphone jack on the iPhone last year and the increasing adoption of jack-less designs from its Android rivals might also be starting to have an effect on this trend. In the future, the most sure way to know that your headphones will be compatible with whatever phone you have might just be to get the Bluetooth version. Certainly, Apple has contributed to the growth of the so-called true wireless earphones category, and the Cupertino company already commands 85 percent of shipments in that segment with its AirPods. Futuresource forecasts 10 million units of true wireless buds will be shipped this year, and the data also reveals that the average price of true wireless buds has gone down from $219 last year to $174 this year.
Google’s Pixel Buds — whose announcement softened the blow a little bit from the demise of the headphone jack on the new Pixel 2 phones — are just the latest in an expanding group of “smart” headphones that do more than just play back music. Between the Pixel Buds, Apple’s AirPods, Bragi’s Dash Pro, and the diversity of other smartened-up Bluetooth headphones, it seems like we’ll see plenty of choice and rapid iteration as this category builds out. One thing’s for sure: headphones are gradually evolving into more sophisticated, and thus more expensive, gadgets, and the momentum of their sales expansion indicates that it’s nowhere near reaching its peak.