Psst! Wanna Buy a Headphone Cheap?

When you buy a Rolex Submariner from a guy with a dozen of them in a cardboard box in Times Square, there is absolutely no chance of misunderstanding. Both parties fully understand that the timepieces in question are fakes. But what if you buy a pair of high-end headphones from that kind-of-weird stereo store across from the mall?

Much like Rolex watches and Gucci purses, audio/video products are increasingly targeted by counterfeiters. These guys set up an assembly line somewhere in China, run off 10,000 units, and then are gone in a flash. There’s almost no way for officials to catch them, and once their goods are in the supply chain, there’s no telling where they might turn up. The weird stereo store? An online shop? Flea markets? Craigslist?

To protect its customers — and its own good name — Sennheiser is addressing the counterfeiting problem with a powerful countermeasure. Beginning at the end of the year, its audio products and their packaging will carry an authenticity label called a PrioSpot. This tag is used as brand protection on products such as pharmaceuticals; each tag has a unique code that can be used to verify the authenticity and authorized distribution of the product.

Before or after purchase, a customer can manually check a code at to determine authenticity. Or, the code can be checked automatically by scanning an associated QR barcode with a smartphone or tablet. Either way, you know instantly if the product is legit.

A PrioSpot tag diffracts different colors under direct light and is engraved using proprietary processes that makes it impossible or difficult to duplicate. A cheesy counterfeiter could just print a look-alike tag on the box, using an otherwise valid code number. But, if the same code is checked repeatedly on the authentication website, the site warns that the tag — and the product — is probably counterfeit.

I am an avowed huge fan of high-end Sennheiser headphones. They are my reference headphone. I am glad to see Sennheiser stepping up to address this issue. Sure, the company will probably pass along the cost of combating counterfeiting to customers (another reason why counterfeiting hurts both manufacturers and consumers), but it’s totally worth it. All we need now is for consumers to start checking codes, and rooting out the fakes.

Now, you know all those guys selling Beats headphones at unbelievably low prices?  Just sayin’.