Headphone Market Booming as Portable Devices Become Primary Music Player

Headphone Market Booming as Portable Devices Become Primary Music Player

The global AV headphones market is expected to witness growth of 20% in 2012 to reach $6 billion in value, increasing from $5 billion in 2011, according to a new report from Futuresource Consulting. Fuelled by a booming base of portable AV devices including smartphones and tablets, the market for headphones, including in-, on-, and over-ear headsets, will continue to witness strong growth through to 2016, as portable devices become the primary music player for a growing number of consumers.

In unit terms, Futuresource forecasts anticipate sales in excess of 260 million units in 2012, up from 228 million units in 2011. Positive growth is predicted throughout the forecast period, with the market expected to top 330 million units in 2016. Soaring portable device ownership, including smartphones and tablets, as well as a proliferation of digital content for these devices and multiple ownership of headphones are the key drivers in the market and will remain so moving forwards.

Looking to the hardware, the key players are investing significantly to differentiate their products and educate their core audience about the specific features and benefits of their brands, as the headphone market becomes more and more crowded.

Fashion and design have become important factors in consumer purchasing decisions, resulting in significant revenue share of brands such as SkullCandy and Monster, which are particularly popular among teenagers and other young music enthusiasts.

Sony, Philips, Sennheiser and JVC dominate in terms of unit sales. Revenue share is increasingly dominated by a collection of high-end brands, often leveraging innovative design, celebrity endorsements and/or brand heritage in high-end acoustics. Some of these brands include Bose, Monster/Beats by Dr. Dre, Skullcandy and AKG.

In terms of the specific market segments, in-ear headphones typically priced at under $25 still dominate the market accounting for over 60% of total headphones unit sales. However, the high-end over-ear headphones have seen explosive growth, particularly in developed markets. As a result, average retail price increased by 8% to reach $22. Over-ear headphones accounted for 16% of the overall sales in 2011.

The Olympic Games have provided brands with a lucrative opportunity to gain maximum exposure through effective marketing strategies and celebrity endorsement. Despite strict rules for athletes not to promote any non-sponsoring brands throughout the games, some high-end brands circumvented this rule by handing out headphones free of charge to a number of athletes, many of whom then chose to wear them during or in preparation for the event. As millions of people around the world watched the Games and cheered for their sporting heroes, the increased visibility of high-end headphones is likely to boost sales this year.


Futuresource Consulting is a specialist research and knowledge-based consulting company, providing organisations with insight into consumer electronics, digital imaging, entertainment media, broadcast, storage media, education technology and IT. With a heritage stretching back to the 1980s, the company delivers in-depth analysis and forecasts on a global scale, advising on strategic positioning, market trends, competitive forces and technological developments.

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