Why do TOTL headphones cost the same as TOTL speakers?

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by rhythmdevils, Mar 8, 2022.

  1. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    I know there are $25,000 speakers out there, but there is also the orpheus, which would sell really well if it were on the market today. And there are a whole shitload of huge, well designed and implemented TOTL speakers in the $4k range that cost way more to make than any headphone with equal R$D and at least equal markups.

    copied from a profile discussion that is worthy of a thread

    rhythmdevils There's something seriously wrong with the fact that you can buy a huge TOTL pair of speakers like B&W Nautilus for 4k and Tiny TOTL headphones cost 4k or more. There's soooooo much less material and. manufacturing cost between a B&W Nautilus 803 or example vs an LCD-5 or Susvara or Utopia. And you know that B&W has a huge markup and isn't selling them with bare margins.

    I don't see how R&D would be that much different, I think we are all just getting swindled becaue we are willing to pay that much, or enough people are (me included). it's really fucked up. Hopefully ETA keeps going and progressing and fucks up the market.

    ColtMrFire "a fool and his money are soon parted"

    pure5152 I think people are just willing to pay for "better performance", irrespective of the actual cost it took to get that performance. I think companies like schiit and ETA (and some boutique manufacturers that just do some multiple over the bill of materials, like ECP and DNA) are unfortunately the major minority, but for the sake of consumer audio I wish them the best

    nishan99 Then you see the little tiny fuckers costing 2k+.

    Merrick Agreed! I’m so glad a company like ETA is coming around to show the big dogs what can be done with a little elbow grease and an actual ear for what sounds good. When I started in this hobby the top tier of headphones were the HD800 and HE-6 and each of those was around $1k new and even that felt excessive. Now we have $4k+ headphones. WTF

    Once you dip your toe in the 2-channel world the cost of many headphone related components look questionable.

    SoupRKnowva I’d say you’re only getting swindled if you don’t think they’re worth what you paid, but at that point I’d have to ask why you bought them. I agree though, once getting into speakers, headphone pricing is nuts.

    Getting my acoustic zen adagios for 1800 bucks felt like the best deal I’ve ever gotten in audio

    Lyander Based on what I remember from my granddad's old rig (coloured by nostalgia probably) and store demos proper speakers are by far better value in terms of SRP vs BoM, though implementing them is another matter altogether. Sigh.

    BenjaminBore It's ludicrous and exploitative. Focal Utopia VS Focal Be Tweeter + headband & earpads price difference is in the multiple four figures. I'd bet the Utopia BOM isn't that much more than the Elear or Clear. The question is why are headphone customers more accepting of it than two channel customers? I guess it boils down to a lack of competition, or at least good competition.

    Merrick I think part of it is that the high end headphone world is much younger than the high end stereo world. Even though headphones have been around for decades, they were usually seen as an afterthought to the stereo system. Now they’re being seen as valuable on their own and manufacturers are taking advantage.

    BenjaminBore @Merrick you've given me a thought. Though headphones individually are priced egregiously the ceiling on total system cost is far far lower than a speaker system, particularly with what dealers stock. There're typically no monoblocks, preamps, subwoofers, multi channel etc. Due to space constraints, power requirements, and other inherent limitations. They may feel there's more budget on the table to extract.

    E_Schaaf My goal in life is for ETA to become the elephant in the room when anyone spends a ludicrous amount on a pair of headphones. Audio megacorps are BANKING on people's ignorance and willingness to buy into patented solutions to non-problems (which are normally just novel ways to cut costs), new tech that's not well implemented, visual appeal, etc.

    Working high end audio retail completely disillusioned me regarding price v performance in this industry. The final nail in the coffin was Focal asking $2k to repair a Utopia headband when the company I worked for bought Utopias by the hundreds at far less than even that (despite selling them at list price). Fat margins on the product isn't enough, they want to massively profit on repairs too. Scummy AF

    I bet the actual build cost difference between a Clear and Utopia is tens of dollars, not thousands. Same for LCD2C vs LCD4, any cheap vs expensive HFM, the list goes on...

    Merrick @BenjaminBore I think you're onto something there! Additionally, there's a level of pride that comes with hifi ownership and I'm sure there are plenty of people who want to feel like their headphone purchase is equivalent to high end speakers. So instead of spending $4k on speakers, which wouldn't seem so outrageous given that market, they spend $4k on headphones and feel really good about it.

    Merrick I'm not opposed to companies making a profit; by making their top tier products nearly unobtanium, the brands may think they're creating prestige but I think they're really alienating more customers than they realize in the long run. Or maybe the highest end stuff is designed to make the next highest cost item look much more reasonable?

    BenjaminBore There're few more motivations that come to mind: 1. Prestige product to attract buyers to their brand and other products 2. To extract as much as possible from the whales (financial-marks) 3. As an audio accessory for the orfas league 4. Frustrated enthusiasts like us

    BenjaminBore Another way to look at it is that there are simply people willing to spend that kind of money, for various reasons, and a manufacturers headphone range is artificially priced to maximise what the addressable market will bear at different budgets. Whilst trying to find every way to create the appearance of differentiation and premium-ness to falsely justify it. ie capitalism

    BenjaminBore @E_Schaaf If you HAD to build a headphone in these price ranges without inflating pricing what could that headphone theoretically be, without resorting to audio-jewellery.

    rhythmdevils I think one factor may actually be the size itself. Psychologically, it changes how you view headphones vs speakers. Speakers are also communal devices vs headphones which are personal. The size and personal nature of headphones I think allows them to be sort of fetishized. You can collect headphones, you can't nearly as easily collect speakers.

    I think this is why people will pay so much more...the fetishization of headphones.

    E_Schaaf @BenjaminBore field coil drivers with included high spec LPS, fully CNC'd enclosure/headband made from customer-chosen materials, passive acoustic FR contouring to customer specs with free retunes to the original owner for life, lifetime warranty on all parts, + accessories package w/ multiple custom earpad designs, travel case, cables.

    3DP or injection molded version with oem headband and without some of the extra accessories would probably be half the cost or less.

    BenjaminBore @rhythmdevils That's an interesting way to look at it. People are attached to headphones in a way I don't think they are speakers. We physically interact with headphones regularly, hell we "wear" the damn things. There's an element to them like a watch or sneakers. With far greater potential for visual design varience that gives each one more character promoting personal attachment.

    Merrick Also it's much easier to collect a variety of headphones for different sounds, most people do not have more than one serious speaker system, and the system is built entirely around the speaker. Headphone systems are more variable/modular.

    ---------------

    The question I’m asking is why headphones cost so much more than speakers and why the markup is so much more. Why are people ok with this?

    I have personally taken apart dozens of Audeze headphones. The LCD-5 is the cheapest headphone to manufacture that they’ve ever made by far yet their most expensive by far. No wood, which Sankar has personally said was the most difficult part of manufacture, no metal parts, it’s mostly plastic and very simple in construction. I would actually wonder whether the LCD-2 costs more to make than the LCD-5.

    Audeze is not the only one by any means, just the only brand I’ve taken apart extensively. Focal, Hifiman, Empeyrean, Final Audio, they are all doing the same thing.

    Hell, look at iems. They’re tiny and look at what the 7hz Timeless has achieved for $200 that Audeze charges 3k for and it sounds like garbage.

    Over 1k iems are ridiculous.

    I really think there is a fetishization of sorts happening that allows people (us included) to pay that much.

    CONTINUE.... :)
     
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  2. HotRatSalad

    HotRatSalad Friend

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    I wish ETA would make some speakers !
     
  3. BenjaminBore

    BenjaminBore Friend

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    @Merrick a lot of that collection mentality seems to be borne from those existing in mid-fi hell, and all the reasons it exists. Low cost, small size, system optional, FR variance, design variance, and each headphone being so flawed in different ways.

    @E_Schaaf Can you expand upon the benefits, design, and additional costs associated with a free coil driver design and LPS in a headphone application.
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2022
  4. jnak00

    jnak00 Friend

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    I Googled the B&W Nautilus since I know nothing about them, and they are listed on B&W's website for $60,000 a pair. Their Diamond series ranges from $14,000 to $35,000. So it's not just headphones that have some crazy pricing.

    The short answer to your question on crazy prices, whether it's headphones or speakers, is that the market will accept and pay these prices. If people stop buying outrageously priced IEMs, the price will come down. Unfortunately there are too many people with more money than brains, and I think social media, forums, etc. add to the fetishization you referenced - you see someone else has it and realize you want it too. Then you buy it, realize it's not quite what you really wanted, and the cycle restarts but usually at a higher price point.

    I guess the other thing with headphones is it's much easier to resell and upgrade. I can box up a pair of headphones and ship them anywhere, fairly cheaply. It's not so easy to do that with a pair of floorstanders. So people climb the headphone upgrade ladder faster, and the marketplace for higher-priced headphones grows faster. Manufacturers are smart to jump on this trend and cash in by charging more and more.

    Having said all that, I love my stupid expensive ZMFs...I never thought I'd spend that much on headphones but here we are.
     
  5. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    I agree! IMO headphone systems should be treated like speaker systems. Find the headphones you most love, build a system around it. Maybe find one or two other headphones that additionally have good synergy with the system you've built.
     
  6. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    The Nautilus range has gone way up in price, my parent's 803 series was 4k. And there are a shitload of very big, sophisticated designs with multiple cones (adding to the cost) for the 4k range.
     
  7. ColtMrFire

    ColtMrFire Writes better fan fics than you

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    And headphone pricing will likely follow suit. They're just getting started on the insanity.
     
  8. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    It's a luxury market, meaning price is a significant part of what you are buying. This is the paradoxical idea that an items "value" is more if you pay more, so increased price = more value.

    I only participate because there often is a significant (to me) SQ delta between say Elear, Clear, and Utopia, but what the actual BOM is actually largely irrelevant - am I and others going to pay X for said delta? The answer is often yes.
     
  9. E_Schaaf

    E_Schaaf MOT: E.T.A Headphones

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    Edit - this is kind of off topic from the thread title but it is a good question to ask - what SHOULD a $4k+ headphone be like in a world that doesn't have insane margins and bullshit marketing?

    ...

    A field coil driver basically removes the magnet in place of an electromagnetic system. DC creates the magnetic field at the voice coil, so you need a quality power supply for that to work. Aside from that PSU, it would be able to work with any typical headphone amplifier. The benefit of a field coil vs a magnetic electrodynamic driver is that you can create a much stronger magnetic field than any currently known magnet can provide. I'm sure you could manipulate driver behavior by changing aspects of the DC PSU too. Damping via magnetic field manipulation is wholly unexplored at least to my limited knowledge (I'm sure many early field coil speaker makers figured this out, I just haven't read enough). The main cost associated with this would probably be R&D, because it'd be a 'worlds first' kind of thing for a headphone. And then in terms of BOM beyond the electrical/mechanical components, I'd just assume leave those choices to the consumer. If a product is going to be insanely expensive, it should also be intimately customizable in my opinion. Why trust a manufacturer to curate your experience of music for you? You should have some part in that too...

    Honestly I am not an engineer and my understanding is limited, so I'm sure such a project would require some collaborations beyond current ETA staff. But what I pitched is kind of the 'endgame' statement piece I envision for ETA in the distant future... of course while continuing to strive for more price-accessible and better sounding products at the lower end too.
     
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    Last edited: Mar 8, 2022
  10. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    There are $60k speakers but they're not marketed to the mainstream of the hifi crowd. That stuff is ORFAS level wankery with ridiculous markups. $4k headphones are being marketed to the mainstream of the headphone community.
     
  11. Gazny

    Gazny Friend

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    Because they can get away with it.

    A more serious answer is, I believe the headphone community is so much more of a novice group. The perception of price to performance is HUGE to the current marketing campaigns. TBH too many sub par products and too much pushing to this weird campaign trying to declare graphs to performance over subjective impressions.

    To counter I will say some headphones do appear to have a nice build quality but I don't think we have advanced too much from some of my experience.

    It's all doomed
    Old good, new bad
     
  12. Wobbletits

    Wobbletits Acquaintance

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    I kind of want to see someone bi/tri amping their headphone/iem with monoblocks just because... maybe throw a pair of subs in there for good measure.
     
  13. elwappo99

    elwappo99 Friend

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    I remember an old CS thread you made 10 years ago heck almost to the day: http://www.changstar.com/www.changstar.com/index.php/topic,137.0.html

    Same questions were being asked, but instead of discussing a $1,200 headphone we're now at $4,500.

    Why is a pretty easy answer. Because people are still buying them. The reality is, people still bought them. The T1 got hyped up on HF and people bought them in droves. They were selling DT990 for $150 a pop and now they were selling the same headphone for $1200 each. Manufacturers took note and kept pushing the price and people kept buying. Now we're at $6k for the Susvara.

    It's weird that there seems to be a disappearing of the "middle class" of headphones. The $500-$1500 price range has been pretty barren with a race to the most expensive headphone and also a massive audience increase in the <$200 price point.

    I think there is good news though. The <$200 price point in the last 10 years has flourished and provided a massive new influx of people into the hobby. Thank @CEE TEE and his work to get gear at price points that really provides accessibility to a lot of people.

    But seriously if you're spending over $1k on headphones look at speakers instead.
     
  14. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    Subs are so last century. The new paradigm is obviously haptic transducer vests: https://www.woojer.com/pages/vest
     
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  15. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    What's interesting is that this push is also happening with the objectivist community, which I find extremely odd as I thought the whole point of the objectivist movement was that once you get to a certain level of transparency, which $100 gear has already achieved, then there's no point in ever going beyond that. And yet the latest $1k Topping DAC/amp gets a big push on ASR (for reasons we know have nothing to do with performance).
     
  16. YMO

    YMO Chewbacca's hairy brother

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  17. ColtMrFire

    ColtMrFire Writes better fan fics than you

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    I'm shocked! Shocked I tell you!
     
  18. E_Schaaf

    E_Schaaf MOT: E.T.A Headphones

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    I edited my above post to kind of encourage this (somewhat tangential) train of thought, but I'm going to post again with some hypothetical questions -

    In an ideal world where prices actually do reflect build cost, what would you personally want out of a mega-expensive headphone or IEM? What adds value to the product if you take bullshit marketing out of the equation? If you could have ToTL sound quality for $500, what would you want to see out of a $4000 product to make it 'worthwhile'?

    To me, it comes down to customization/personalization of the product itself and amazing customer service after the sale. These are things huge manufacturers will never do, because variation and customization add enormous cost per unit if you're peddling thousands of units, and you can't possibly provide amazing service to every customer when your company is itself inflated with people who have poor knowledge of the product and are just running through scripts with every interaction.

    We already see this kind of thing with bespoke amplifier manufacturers - pick your caps, trafos, tubes, etc. Have a real discussion with the person who is literally building your product, with enough knowledge to suggest things to optimize your experience. Have it your way. Make the sale a collaboration instead of a unilateral exchange of funds for bullshit with deception every step of the way. Why can't headphones be the same way?
     
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  19. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    To be honest, for $4,000 the headphones better also be a fully functional sex robot.

    Edit: Just out of morbid curiosity, I looked up the price of TPE sex dolls, and the upper end of the models I saw were in the $4k range, with most of them sitting around $1800-$2400. So even the sex doll industry is more sanely priced than the headphone industry!
     
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  20. supertransformingdhruv

    supertransformingdhruv Almost "Made"

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    Some unrelated thoughts:

    A. I think the way that "traditional" audio media (i.e. Stereophile) covers headphones skews towards #1 and #3. Based on some conversations I've had with older hobby folks at CAF and when I'm buying gear in my area, I think a lot of them are discovering headphones for the first time-- now that headphones are playing in the same price bracket as the two-channel gear they're interested in and showing up in their magazines. A lot of these guys also haven't touched headphones other than their airpods and maybe a pair of grados in the 80s, so they're getting into it.

    2. I'd be curious to learn what the same $8-10k gets you for setting up a two channel + a typical american's living room with minimal setup tweaking gets you vs. Meze Elite/LCD 5 + some totl amp & dac + not having to worry about your room's sound. I don't play anywhere near this $$$ but based on what I've heard at shows (i.e. big speakers in small rooms) I wouldn't be shocked if the results were close. Doesn't mean it's a good deal, but it might not be stupid. Like... if I was 20 years older and had no time to crawl around positioning subwoofers, maybe it's even the smart move?

    C. I'm not defending these prices, but obviously there's money to be made or nobody would bother.
     

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