Losing Headphone Momentum

Losing Headphone Momentum

I took the picture at the top of this story a month ago for a story about how the Arctis Pro probably represents the pinnacle of gaming headset design...and then I didn't write it.

It wouldn't be that hard though. The Arctis Pro is the perfect blend of modern nonsense features and good fundamental design. Those nonsense features, and their marketing, really frustrated me.

But, its combination of a metal headband, comfy isolating ear cups, good sound signature, excellent microphone...and a bunch of bells and whistles like Hi-res audio and DTS Headphone X 2.0 makes it the peak of current gamer products. Which is why it has a premium price.

A lot of headphone releases are predicated around making you want to buy more headphones.

It's an insidious industry, in a way, and no different from the constant push for new content in film/television/games/books/music. It's not enough for your brain to simply own one pair of headphones. Once you've heard one good pair, you start to wonder...what else is out there that I've been missing?

Manufacturers rely on that too. They put out new models every 12-18 months with slight, incremental upgrades. Like the Arctis Pro. Or the Logitech G Pro. Or other things with the word Pro in them.

It's hard to say that technology has peaked.

That's a dangerous road to go down. But I get less excited about new releases in gaming headsets and headphones now than I did a couple of years ago. I think that the bar for quality has risen very high recently, and studio classics have shot into the public eye thanks to the explosion of the headphone market. The DT770, M50, and 7506 have been good for decades, and only now are they finally seeing a huge audience outside the world of production.

A good headphone is good for the life of the product. Sound signatures aren't taking huge leaps and bounds every year, we're just adding more extraneous features.

The Arctis Pro is about the right level of extraneous features, for me. No, I didn't buy the wireless model, and yes, the wireless market has expanded tremendously in the last few years. But at least for the moment, it seems like boring old efficient wires are also doing okay.

I recently wrote a piece advising people to avoid marketing hype in the audio world.

Eurogamer recently wrote a piece that reads like a press release/marketing fluff piece for Turtle Beach.

Oh sure, it looks like a news story. It also has Fortnite and PUBG in the headline.

Gotta get those clicks.

If you read the text, it's just based on data from Turtle Beach. Eurogamer fell for it, hook line and sinker. Unless Turtle Beach specifically paid for ad placement, I would have laughed that story out of the room, and instead tried to get some overall sales data that showed the health of the market instead of just pumping up Turtle Beach's numbers.

But that's just me.

Turtle Beach makes a couple of good headsets. But they've also smartly saturated the low-end market with a bunch of plastic nonsense that doesn't sound amazing. A few other companies have started making cheaper models that sound better and are built better, like the HyperX Cloud Stinger, Astro A10, and Rig 400. But I'm not sure if they've made a dent in Turtle Beach's thin plastic onslaught.

I don't think one of the biggest gaming sites in the world really needs to give them more help just to get some clicks on a story that's not actually about the two biggest Battle Royale games, right?

This kind of thin marketing veneer is thick in the industry right now, and its fandom. Headphone fans are ruthless. They either can't decide what their next purchase should be, or love their most recent purchase so much that everyone who doesn't agree with them is wrong.

I call myself a headphone enthusiast. And the two behaviors in the last paragraph are the two I try most ardently to avoid. I make lists of headphones I'm interested in and follow my instincts instead of demanding others make up my mind for me. And I champion headphones I like, and shudder at the ones I don't...while recognizing that my opinion isn't law.

But I'm pretty pleased with the small collection of headphones I have now. And fewer of the new releases genuinely interest me. So if you see my headphone reviews dwindle in number over the next several months, don't be surprised.

I don't do this professionally in spite of what almost everyone thinks. I'm just a guy, and I do this as a hobby. I would have been buying these headphones and thinking about them anyway, and sharing those thoughts on the internet makes it feel like they have a bit more of a point.

You can find my stuff on Medium over here, and my Twitter over here. Thanks for reading.

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