There’s no doubt that headphones are one of the hottest things going on in the personal electronics market today. Between laptop computers, phones, tablets, and other gadgets, pretty much everybody is watching, listening to, or playing something, or talking to or meeting somebody, and they are all using headphones!
It’s easy to understand, then, that those headphones are such a huge growth market, both in America and globally. It’s not always easy, though, to understand that market, or to find a single source for all of the statistics, demographics, and other information you need.
So here at Speakergy, we have put together just that – a single article with all of the market data you might need or want, as well as other related information and even a few fun facts along the way, to give you a clear and cogent picture of this exciting growth market – and, hopefully, to save you from spending thousands and thousands of dollars to access essentially the same thing in a professionally compiled market report.
📍 Please note that all sales amounts are in US dollars, even when discussing other countries or the global market. Also, we have brought together data from many different sources, and while some data sets may not seem to perfectly jibe with others, it is our belief that this variety of cited sources gives us a better overall picture of the market.
Table of Contents
- A Brief Look at Headphones Past, Present, and Future
- Headphone Types and Functionality
- Headphones: A Brief History
- Sales of Headphones – American and Global Markets – 2023
- What is the Headphone Market Worth?
- What Types of Headphones Are People Buying?
- Top Headphone Brands 2023
- Top Headphone Brands Ranked from Best to Worst – A Scientific Approach
- Headphone Prices 2023
- Headphone Usage Statistics 2023
A Brief Look at Headphones Past, Present, and Future
Headphone Types and Functionality
Headphones are, at their core, essentially very small speaker systems that you place against your ears, or insert to a varying degree into your ears, so that you can hear audio from some source – a stereo system or music player, a computer, tablet, or smartphone or anything else.
The main types of headphones, and popular varieties of features and technology, include:
Wired or Wireless
The first is a pair of headphones that uses normal physical wires to connect to the playback device, while the second instead uses some wireless technology – usually Bluetooth, but not always – to connect to devices without physical wires.
Bluetooth especially has come to be much better in performance in recent years, offering a more stable and reliable connection, allowing for farther distances between the headphones and their paired devices, and having much improved sound quality.
A form of wireless headphone, specifically an in-ear headphone which does not have any visible wiring at all, and is thus much smaller, lighter, and more convenient. Older wireless in-ear headphones (which form is still made today) have a wire which connects the left ear with the right, and this wire would typically rest on the back of the neck during use.
Over-ear, On-ear, In-ear, and Earbuds
Over-ear, or circumaural, headphones have a band that goes over the top of the head – the most traditional and oldest design for stereo headphones – and cups that are large enough to completely cover and enclose the ears.
On-ear headphones also have a band that goes over the head and connects the two ear cups, but the cups themselves are smaller and meant instead to rest upon the ears.
Earbuds sit inside the outer ear, with the sound transducer facing the ear canal, while in-ear headphones actually insert, partially into the ear canal, allowing for better isolation and less ambient noise, as well as (arguably, at least) better sound quality. Earbuds and in-ear are often confused, though, and used synonymously, and can refer to the same thing.
Open Back or Closed Back
Applicable only to over-ear or on-ear designs, open-back headphones have ear cups that are open on the back, whereas closed-back have an enclosed cup, with a solid outer wall. While closed designs can be more efficient, have and tighter bass response, and are more suitable for playing music around other people (less sound leakage), many audiophiles claim that open-back headphones have a better sound – more open, more accurate, with less distortion and greater ease.
Read more here: https://speakergy.com/open-back-vs-closed-back-headphones/
Headphones that not only play music, but also allow for voice conversations, voice commands and interaction with digital assistants, control of appliances and other devices on a smart home or other smart networks, and even personal monitoring – temperature, respiration, heart rate, for example – as well as other possible functionality. Smart hearables today are mostly in the form of true wireless headphones.
Headphones reduce or mostly eliminate extraneous and ambient sounds, allowing the listener to hear and focus better.
Today we generally see active noise cancellation (ANC) headphones, but noise canceling is also used, if mostly in marketing, to indicate passive noise cancellation – often indicating nothing more than in-ear or over-ear headphones and the superior acoustic seal they can provide.
But getting back to being able to “hear audio,” if you look at headphones from even a couple of decades ago that was their main function – to play music or audio, usually with a high fidelity sound that either reproduced the original signal as closely as possible or sounded as good as possible or both.
In recent history, though, headphones have developed in pretty amazing ways, with such features as built-in microphones for telephone calls and video communication, various kinds of noise reduction, smart switching, wireless technology, and a lot more. Some of these technologies and features have been available in one form or another for a lot longer, but the way they have been perfected, miniaturized, and put all together into a single rather space-age product is – despite our familiarity today – still nothing short of miraculous!
Headphones: A Brief History
Although we can see the first headphones being made by the end of the 19th century, and relatively wearable sets soon after, we really need to skip forward to the 1950s to see the first pair of headphones which might be considered a modern high-fidelity system, as first produced by Henry Koss, after which things began to get more and more interesting, as all sorts of innovations and technology began to be incorporated into often smaller and smaller stereo headphones.
Some of the most important milestones in the history of headphones include:
1890 – Ernest Mercador is awarded a US patent for the first pair of in-ear headphones, which were not only light enough to wear (somewhat) comfortably but also remarkably similar to today’s popular in-ear headphones – at least in some ways.
1954 – The first earbuds began to be available, primarily packaged with transistor radios. This combination allowed people to listen to news and music on the go and set the stage for so much which has followed.
1958 – John Koss introduces the Koss SP/3, which is the first pair of modern stereo headphones and had a major impact on people’s listening habits, as well as their expectations for sound quality.
The 1960s – The first wireless consumer headphones became available, with a radio transmitter and receiver system allowing for the transmission of an audio signal without wires.
1969 – The first open-back headphone, the Sennheiser HD 414, was introduced, and though this did not become the prevalent design approach, it did allow for larger and more open sound, and lighter and more comfortable headphones, and is still used today – especially in many audiophile products.
1979 – The Walkman was introduced by Sony, and its lightweight but high-quality headphones became a new standard for portability and convenience, not to mention incredibly popular.
1982 – Sony first introduced stereo earbuds, which may not have been the very first instance of this form in high fidelity stereo sound but, packaged with the more and more ubiquitous Walkman, they certainly made the product very popular.
1989 – Bose developed active noise-canceling technology, and introduced products – first for the aviation industry – in this year that not only were effective in canceling ambient noise but also used rechargeable batteries.
1994 – Bluetooth is invented, allowing for a very (and increasingly) high-quality wireless transmission of audio signals with very small circuitry, and opening up wireless listening to a wide range of personal electronic products.
2001 – Apple introduces the first iPod, with its basic white stereo earbuds. Not only did this product further advance and optimize personal portable audio, but it also made earbuds one of the most popular and widely seen products.
2015 – Onkyo introduces the W800BT, which is the first TWS, or true wireless stereo, in-ear headphone – the product and technology which has probably shown the best performance and most growth in the overall headphone market in the last 7 years.
There have been many more large and small inventions, technological advancements, and product designs that have led to the modern smart wearable headset as we know it today – an often tiny true wireless stereo headset that is capable not only of playing audio information with beautiful high fidelity sound, but also includes high-quality microphones, the latest Bluetooth technology, active noise reduction – both for the microphones and the audio signal – and very long battery life from rechargeable batteries.
But, being “smart,” the current generation of headphones also allow not just two-way telephone and video call communications, they also allow for interaction with various voice assistants – like Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and Apple’s Siri – as well as control over all kinds of devices – not just the connected phone, computer or similar, but also smart home appliances and devices on the Internet of Things.
There are other functionalities of new smart headphones, and other smart wearables, and undoubtedly many more to come, but we can end our brief history where we started – simply put, regardless of technology, innovation, or advancement (or often because of it), headphones today still focus on sound quality, which is pretty much always at least one of the most important factors in product design.
And while so many high-tech companies, like Bose, Apple, Sony, Huawei, Xiaomi, and others, have come up with some pretty amazing tech, and pretty amazing products, other companies – Final Audio, Sennheiser, Audeze, Hifiman, Beyerdynamic, Focal, Grado, Shure, AKG and many more – are currently making high-end audiophile headphones at all price levels, which often do absolutely nothing but play music, and which all sound absolutely fabulous.
Sales of Headphones – American and Global Markets – 2023
What is the Headphone Market Worth?
Our first infographic shows consistent growth in the US headphone market – increases in sales every year but 2018 – and much better performance and growth during the last couple of years – when Coronavirus had such a strong negative effect on the economy, manufacturing, and shipping, consumer spending, and confidence – than many analysts expected.
These figures show an average annual growth of nearly 5%, and overall growth from 2012 to 2023 of just over 61%, with the 2022 market size very close to $500 million US dollars.
Global headphones sales, including all kinds of headphones sold on the personal electronics market, reached approximately 549 million units worldwide in 2021, an increase of over 23% from the previous year.
Analysts attribute much of this growth to the increasing acceptance of, and even reliance on, “smart hearables,” increased telecommuting and homeschooling, and, somewhat conversely, improvements in the economy and consumer confidence at the easing of negative impacts around Coronavirus, among other factors.
Another source, which looked at the larger total headphone and earphone market for 2021, shows a total market value of approximately $85 billion dollars globally and expects an average of 11% growth per year, which would lead to the market exceeding $175 billion US dollars by 2028.
The same study projects a slightly higher CAGR of 12% in the United States, 15% in India – a major market expected to show strong growth in all areas – and around 9% for Europe overall.
Speaking of Europe, the United Kingdom is the leading market in Europe today, and this, as well as the overall ranking of the top five markets, is not expected to change in the next 6 or so years.
With the increasing market penetration of smart wearables and personal digital devices, sales growth in both the American and Global headphone markets will be even stronger than many analysts expect, with low 2 digit CAGR for several years in America and Europe, and even stronger performance in India and China. This strong performance will also be greatly supported by easing of the negative effects of Coronavirus, as well as the (nonetheless still increasing) number of people engaged in telecommuting and homeschooling.
What Type of Headphones Are People Buying?
As of 2021, the majority of headphones sold were True Wireless Stereo (TWS) – as high as 63% according to some data – and these all could also fall under the category of smart hearables.
Other types of headphones, like wired in-ear, wireless in-ear (not TWS), earbuds, and more traditional banded over-ear and on-ear headphones (both wired and wireless), make up the remaining 37%, though breakdowns of those types individually, in terms of sales and market share data, are difficult to find,
Given the dominance of TWS and the strong expectations that this segment will continue to grow and account for even more market share in the near future, it makes sense to spend some additional time considering sales figures – this time more specifically the sales and market of TWS headphones.
The global market for TWS headphones reached a new high in 2020, with over 233 million units sold, and Apple was by far the market leader in that year, with close to a third of overall sales, followed by Xiaomi, Samsung, JBL, and QCY.
The same market study also shows that 36% of total wireless headphones sold around the world were in the lowest price bracket – under $50 – while sales in the other four price brackets were quite evenly distributed.
If we look at the most recent data, we see that for the last two years Apple’s dominance in the TWS market has slipped somewhat.
This study is from a different source, so we best not compare these numbers directly to what we see in the previous charts, but even from Q2 2020 to the same quarter in 2021 we see Apple’s market share falling from 38% to 26.5% – a drop of over 30%.
The similarly sized increase in Xiaomi’s market share for the same period could well reflect the emergence of China as a major market in TWS.
Our most recent numbers show Apple again with a larger market share – at least in Q4 of last year (2021) in the global market. These numbers reflect an increase of nearly 20% from the same quarter in 2020, in terms of total units shipped, but a very slight decrease in actual market share – just over 1%.
The next three companies in the top five for TWS market share in Q4 2021 are Chinese, while number five (boAt) is a newer Indian hearables brand.
Although it is difficult to determine exactly what percentage of total headphone sales can be claimed by the smart hearables market, analysts have determined a few interesting basic facts:
- In 2021, there were nearly 400 billion smart hearables already in use
- Of all types of smart wearables (including also smart glasses, smart watches, and various body monitors), the most popular type are smart hearables
- The largest region for existing smart hearables base is the Far East and China
This chart shows the leading region for TWS sales, the United States, in comparison to two emerging markets – China, which was already second and only four points behind the US as of Q3 of 2019, and India, which in that period accounted for 10% of total global TWS sales.
Many analysts predict that China will be the leading market in the very near future, even as Chinese headphone brands – especially smart hearables manufacturers – gain more and more market share. India too is expected to be a huge growth market in the coming years, though not predicted to surpass the United States.
As smartphones, smart wearables, smart homes and other smart networks, and other types of smart and technologically advanced personal electronic and digital devices achieve more and more market penetration, the need for more and more advanced smart hearables will become stronger. As such, smart hearables and TWS headphones - though already very strong n the market - will continue to increase in market share and sales, and in the next two years should account for fully three quarters of the total headphone market, both in the United States and worldwide. During this time, and in the more extended future, China will become a bigger and bigger market, easily surpassing the United States in 2023 or 2023 in both sales and market share. At the same time, Chinese manufacturers will grow accordingly - especially among Chinese consumers, but also in the global market.
Top Headphone Brands 2023
Many of the charts in the last section give us a very good idea of which brands are leading in the largest segment of the headphone market – TWS – and now we will look at which brands are the most popular overall.
According to a recent survey, Apple is by far the leading headphone brand among US consumers. When you also include Beats by Dr. Dre – a brand acquired by Apple in 2014 – their dominance is almost overwhelming, with very close to half of the overall market share.
Another survey from the same firm, this one from 2017, shows Sony as nearly as dominant then as Apple proved to be 4 years later. Although different wording in the two surveys could account for some of the difference in numbers, this still is a good indication of Apple’s rise in the headphone market in the last few years.
In 2017, Sony was number one, followed by Bose, and even including Beats by Dr. Dre (a brand acquired by Apple in 2014) Apple is still only in the third spot, 12 percentage points behind Sony.
An even older survey gives us the most recent picture of which headphone brands teens prefer. With an average age of 16.4 years, teens overwhelmingly preferred Beats by Dr. Dre, followed by Apple, Skullcandy, Sony, Bose, and JVC.
It can be safely assumed that these positions might have changed more recently, as market saturation of smartphones in this age group increases dramatically, and the preference to some degree turned toward smart wearables. In either case, though, it is a safe bet that Apple is a winner.
Apple’s market share in smart wearables/TWS headphones, as well as headphones overall, has fallen recently, but this decrease should moderate in the next one or two years, and we expect the company to maintain its dominance in both TWS and overall headphone markets for the foreseeable future - especially in the US market. That said, we also expect strong growth in sales from Indian companies like boAt, and from Chinese brands like Huawei, Xiaomi, Edifier, and others, in the next couple of years, and for the foreseeable future - and we especially expect these companies to show very strong increases in market share globally, and for the Chinese firms to be clear leaders in their home market. This is based not just on the emergence of China and India as leading regions in this market, but also on the increasing amount of TWS products that will be sold, and relatedly on the quality and applicability of the technologies and innovations Chinese, and to a lesser extent Indian, companies are offering, as well as their increased savvy in international sales and marketing.
Top Headphone Brands Ranked from Best to Worst – A Scientific Approach
Using a formula that weighted review averages (from major reviewers around the internet) as 75% of the assessment score, and specifications and features as only 25%, Time Magazine attempted to rank the best and worst headphones available today, and their study came to some interesting conclusions – which in many ways seem to disagree with both sales statistics and public opinion.
Their analysis indicates that the best headphones on the market are made by Shure, followed by Grado, Klipsch, Pioneer, and Sony – not all, obviously, the best known or most highly regarded by average consumers.
The five worst, from the bottom up, include some very highly regarded brands, as well as some of the most popular headphones on the market – Koss, Creative, Philips, Bose, and Apple.
It’s “science,” so it must be true!
Headphone Prices 2023
Most American respondents to this 2018 survey claimed they would like to spend below $50 on new headphones, with the single biggest group willing to spend only up to $25.
Despite the popularity of expensive headphone brands and models from companies like Bose, Apple and Sony, people said they were far less likely to spend on the highest price levels, with only around 10% willing to go as high as, or exceed, $150.
In this next chart, we will see approximate retail prices – in US dollars and for the US market – of four popular headphone models for each of the above-listed top manufacturers.
By far the most expensive headphones that can be considered very popular among the buying public are the wireless, noise-canceling Apple AirPods Max, which retail for around $550, and yet they also make one of the least expensive models, the wired EarPods.
The most premium brands overall, at least according to price, are probably Bose and Beats, their most popular headphones all well over $200 and $100 respectively, but most manufacturers have a wide range of prices, with several bestsellers coming in at under $20.
Fun Fact – the most expensive consumer market headphones available in 2023 is the Sennheiser Orpheus, which includes a vacuum tube amplifier built into a non-resonant base of Carerra marble, and sells for around $55,000.
Blinged-out versions of more standard models of headphones can be more expensive than this – the Onkyo H900M bedecked with 20 carats of diamonds and the Focal Utopia customized by legendary jewelers Tournaire cost around $100,000 and $120,000 respectively. Maybe not on the subway…
Headphone Usage Statistics 2023
In this section, we will look at what kinds of headphones people are using, how often they are using them, and what they are using them for.
According to the survey cited in the above chart, slightly less than half of the respondents used over-ear headphones, and approximately the same percentage used earbuds. In-ear headphones and earbuds occupied the third and fourth spots respectively.
We should note that respondents may own and use more than one type of headphones.
31% of Americans use their headphones every day, and 24% at least several times a week, according to a survey from about five years ago (2017).
An older survey of Canadian respondents broke the frequency of usage numbers down by age and gender.
The age group which used headphones the most frequently were the 12 to 19-year-old respondents, while 20 to 29 and 70 to 79 were next, both reporting their headphones an average of 8.1 hours a week.
Keep in mind that this survey also includes headphones as hearing aids, and this might help account for the latter group’s high usage.
When broken down by gender, we see that men claim to use their headphones about two hours more a week than women.
American headphone users say they use those headphones mostly for listening to music, with 87% of respondents claiming they use them in this way. Nearly half use headphones for watching movies and TV, and a surprisingly low number – only a quarter – say they use their headphones for phone calls.
It’s not surprising, based on the previous chart, that sound quality is the single most important factor in headphone purchasing decisions. Comfort, price, durability, and weight rounded out the top five factors.
If you are a data nerd and want to dive deeper, you can access our Google Sheet with all of the numbers, charts, and sources listed.
We hope this article has been helpful in giving you a clear and fairly complete picture of the dynamic and exciting headphone market.
With so many different technologies, functionalities, and features, today’s smart headphones are truly marvels of design and usability, and it is certain that as smart devices become a bigger and bigger, and a more and more integrated, part of our lives, smart hearables will advance, even more, becoming even more advanced, useful and amazing – and that the market for them will reach unprecedented levels in the foreseeable future.
At the same time, many headphone manufacturers – both major and independent brands – have not forgotten the basis of headphone use – listening to music – and indeed so many of today’s headphones, from a few dollars in price up to tens of thousands of dollars, sound better than ever before, and make personal music listening a truly joyous and rewarding experience.
Please check out our website – Speakergy.com – for other industry and market reports, informational articles and tutorials, reviews and buyer guides and so much more!