An Open Letter to Headphone Manufacturers

Dear Manufacturers of Headphones,

As a headphone tech reviewer and avid consumer for several years now, I’ve gotten a chance to witness great triumph and tragedy in headphone design and functionality. We’ve come such a long way from the giant forever-alone-in-my-room over-ears of the ‘70s or the foam-and-plastic-electro-shock-hazards from the walkman fueled ‘80s. But there is always room for improvement. I know it, my readers sure know it, and they let me know about it. So I wanted you, dear Headphone Companies, to know it too. Here are some features that seem really obvious, but are sorely lacking in the marketplace. If you could see it in your hearts to add them to products that also sound really great, well, we’ll all just throw our money at you. Promise.

Detachable (and replaceable) Cords
Man, do I ever get emails asking for this. Here’s the deal: headphones with cords are just asking to get snagged, run over by a desk chair wheel, chewed on by the family dog, kinked, bent, and otherwise mangled in our bags. But when this occurs to cables that are permanently attached, that’s the end of the life of the headphone. Replaceable cables solve this issue, not only by offering a way to increase the life of more expensive cans, but also by offering the potential to have mics and remotes, or not, or Apple vs. Android compatibility. There are a few companies that offer this option, (Onkyo, Shure, and Westone to name a few) but why all headphones over $50 don’t is beyond me. A pipe dream of mine is cords that are swappable for folks who cross platforms depending on device. Hey Manufacturers! Think of the additional accessory income you could make! And speaking of varying platforms…

Android Compatibility
I get emails asking me to review more Android headphones at least once a week. I have to explain each time that I can only review what is available on the market. Which is not much. Now, I get it. Lots of people have Apple products. I do too. But most “universal” in-line mic and remotes are limited in capabilities. Generally, this means no device volume control, and minimal music and app controls. So folks who want a decent pair of headphones that also make the most of their device need to buy platform specific headphones. For Apple, there’s a really good selection. But Android or other non-Apple platform device owners are generally out of luck. What’s that about? Especially when someone is paying $150 plus for a pair of earbuds, would it kill ya to throw other operating systems a bone? Maybe check out my swappable/replaceable cord idea above.

Removable Boom Mic
Gamers, Skypers, and people who don’t like yelling to be heard prefer a boom mic on their over-ear headphones. The problem is, even if the mic folds back, you still look like a grade-A dweeb if you wear them outside. And for what some gaming headphones cost, you really should be able to use them for more than one activity. Enter the removable boom mic. Genius. And only one manufacturer offers it. I’d recommend you buy them, but the problem is that the headphones they connect to sound like a boomy mess. Put that chassis and mic option on drivers that sound fantastic? You guessed it. Money thrown in your general direction.

And a Few Neat Ideas I’d Like to See More of
Urban Ears Kransen has two clever little details that I’m amazed nobody has done before in inexpensive in-ear headphones. First, the backs of the earbuds snap together so they don’t tangle when not in use. Secondly, the 1/8th inch jack nests into itself to create a loop around the stored coiled cable. Together, they make keeping the earbuds untangled significantly easier. I realize some of these things may seem insignificant to you, but believe me, down here in the trenches, I hear all about how important little details like these can be for your customers. And really, I don’t think we’re asking too much. So do all of us (and your bank accounts) a favor and get designing! We all eagerly anticipate your results.


Lauren Dragan and the Rest of the Tech Community

Geoffrey Morrison's picture
The Android thing drives me bonkers. Not everyone cares to have an iFruit product.
BillyBob's picture

Good article, hopefully some manufacturers listen. Additional boom mic for gaming is really something that would sell a lot more headphones i believe. It does not have to be included, just have it as an option for gamers. And replacable cable should be mandatory. Also the QPAD QH-90 and QH-85 have the removable boom mic feature.

veggieboy2001's picture

How about cords that fit into the headphone jack, even if you have a case (Otterbox etc.) on dirvesd a lot of people crazy!

JustinGN's picture

I don't think the onus should be on headphone makers for a jack tailored towards phone cases. Rather, I think it's the responsibility of the case maker to ensure the jack isn't obstructed in such a way that standard headphone jacks don't work. Same how Apple revised the iPhone to ensure it worked with standard headphones, rather than continue to rely on headphone makers to make Apple-standard headphone jacks.

JustinGN's picture

Agreed on the mic front. As much as I love my HD800/Blue Snowball setup that I have now, I'd love it more if I had a boom mic I could utilize with them somehow. It seems like an easy thing to implement by custom cable manufacturers, especially for cans with detachable cords like the HD800s; put the boom mic on the right channel cable (after the Y split), then have a simple analog mic output branch off near the headphone jack, something that could be easily extended with an off-the-shelf cable from RadioShack.

So how about it, custom cord makers? Looking at you, Moon Audio...