For many years, tech industries were all about creating the sleekest and smallest desires. And to some extent, this remains true. Apple offers numerous prime examples, most notably through its “air” series of tablets and computers that were designed to provide the same capability of larger devices with impressively light designs. And while larger smartphones such as the Samsung Note series and the upcoming iPhone 6 (rumored to be debuting a larger design than any previous iPhone) may seem to signal a reversal of the trend toward tiny tech, they can also be seen more as smaller computers and tablets than larger phones.
Additional examples exist all across consumer technology. Wearable tech devices like Samsung’s new watches and Google Glass are offering sleek, subtle, and small ways to enjoy mobile tools; speakers are being made more portable, providing booming sound in devices that weigh just a few pounds; we’ve even seen thermostats made sleeker in the past year with the debut and enormous popularity of the Nest smart home unit. But oddly enough, among all of these examples and the consistent trend toward smaller sizes with greater capability, one of the most popular consumer tech products on the market seems to be following a reverse path. The best headphones on the market are getting larger and bulkier.
This isn’t to say that smaller headphones are by any means obsolete. In fact, cheap earbuds remain the most practical options for many of us. But look up the best headphones on the market, or ask an electronics store employee for the trendiest option, and you’ll almost certainly be pointed toward an enormous, bold pair of ear-covering, sound-canceling headphones. And at the end of the day, this is primarily due to large scale brand marketing and celebrity exposure, particularly in sports and gaming.
The first example that comes to mind is surely the enormous marketing campaign for Beats by Dre headphones, which have become the most recognizable headphones on the market (save, perhaps, the Apple earbuds). The headphones have been featured in a number of television commercials, including the well-known series set to Aloe Blacc’s “The Man,” and have received specific endorsements from the likes of NBA stars Lebron James and Kevin Garnett, and NFL standouts Richard Sherman and Colin Kaepernick. The result, of course, is that instead of being viewed as oversized and clunky, Beats by Dre headphones are now viewed as being trendy and high-end. It’s worth noting that the product line also includes various smaller options, but it’s the oversized, ear-covering ones that feature in the ads.
Moving away from major professional sports, we’ve also seen plenty of examples of oversized headphone exposure in other realms of gaming, and particularly at pro poker tables. In certain events, and often at final tables, headphones are prohibited for various reasons. However, in the more casual stages of events, it’s not uncommon to see pro poker players wearing enormous, sound-canceling headphones possibly as a fashion statement and possibly to block out distractions. Case in point: Recent WPT winner Keven Stammen received a pair of oversized gold Monster 24k headphones as part of his victory prize! Simply put, there’s been a slight rise in prominence when it comes to headphones in poker, as you can typically find Chris Moorman rocking Beats by Dre headphones at events.
Finally, there’s the relatively new example of additional exposure for oversized headphones through UFC, which really reaches an entirely different market. UFC is actually an official partner of Monster (another very popular brand for oversized headphones, which was once a big part of Beats by Dre). While fighters of course cannot wear headphones while competing, it’s not uncommon to see them wearing them during pre-match rituals. But in January, the connection between UFC and the oversized headphone trend grew even deeper with the announcement of specialized “Octagon” headphones from Monster, providing, as the product site says, “ultimate sound; music for champions.”
Even with all of these examples considered, it’s tough to say exactly why top-notch headphones are getting bigger when most tech products continue to aim for smaller sizes. Perhaps the best explanation is that headphones can have an application as fashion accessories, and popular pro athletes and competitors are taking advantage of this fact. Regardless, it should be an interesting tech trend to watch in the coming years, as we’ll find out if the oversized look is a fleeting one or a lasting development.