Headphone Design and Branding Brief Caseyj Marcham

Headphones Design & Branding project.

You will design a new brand of headphones to be launched through high street retailers and online.

You will design several new pairs of headphones (any style or shape)

You will design all related packaging design fit or the headphones.

You must identify the target demographic through your designs, targeting the following groups -

9-14 year olds - these will be mostly bought as upmarket 'stocking filler' presents for a Xmas period launch through trendy high street retailers, so must compete with other 'shiny goods'. Cost around £50

14-30 year olds, - this is the main product, aimed at a professionally employed demographic who appreciate design and are image conscious. They will be priced in the £80 to £300 range, depending on model

History of headphones

It was long before Steve Jobs produced with earbuds and Dr.Dre jumped in the game, however, that people began getting tunes pumped into their ear canal.

1881 – Way before MP3’s, dubstep and premium Spotify accounts, headphones had little to do with music at all. Back in the 1880’s, the first headphones were used by telephone operators. It was a single earpiece that rested on the users shoulder and weighed over 10pounds [kinda like placing a boombox on your shoulder].

1895 – Thanks to the Electrophone system, in 1895 folks could start rocking out to the sick beats of the local opera house from the comfort of their own home. Subscribers to the pricey service would listen through headphones that looked more like stethoscopes than a modern offering as very large people produced very big sound on a stage miles away.

1910- Nathaniel Baldwin began manufacturing the first modern headphones. He crafted them in his kitchen and sold them all to the U.S Navy. This was the first time a pair of cans resembled something you’d see today. Baldwin never patented them, however, because he was an idiot.

1937- The DT-48’s from Beyerdynamic became the first dynamic headphones to hit the market. Though it would be a few decades before electrostatic headphones came into play, this was obviously a huge leap forward in the can story. Dynamic headphones are, to this day, the most popular type on the market.

1949- With design in mind, AKG produced their first pair of headphones, the K120’s. If they were reproduced today, they would sell like hotcakes at Urban Outfitters. This model, and other more popular ones that followed, were enough to make AKG quit the film equipment business and focus just on audio.

1958- John C. Koss changed the headphone game in a way that would make Dr.Dre jealous. In 1958, Koss created the first stereo headphones [Koss SP-3] and launched an all out assault on awaiting ear canals. Over the next few decades, Koss would come to dominate the headphone industry, and he would do it all without the need for a pesky college education.

1959 – At a show in Tokyo, Stax debuted the worlds first ever electrostatic pair of headphones. The SR-1’s would go into production a year later. They are now extremely rare like an original pair of Nike Air Mags or a headphone user without hearing loss.

1968- A decade after introducing the first stereo headphones, Koss unleashed the first US made electrostatic model. The ESP-6’s clocked in at around two pounds, meaning they weren’t exactly like putting in a pair of earbuds, but were still a long ways from the massive pieces created less than a century before.

1979- If you had to pick the most important event in headphone history, youd be hard-pressed not to choose Sony dropping the Walkman. All of a sudden, headphones had to be portable. Included with the purchase of the first Walkman were Sony’s MDL-3L2 headphones and everything you needed to rock out to London Calling while roller skating in your driveway.

1980- For the man who was prone to headphone hair, the 80’s offered the first solutions. Both the earbud and the in-ear headphone made their way onto the scene in the 80’s even though they wouldn’t reach their peak in popularity until one Steven Paul Jobs changed the music game years later.

1997- If you wanted to keep your hair in check but also hated the fact that earbuds couldn’t isolate sound well, Sony thought you might like a pair of neckband headphones.

2000- Screaming babies and loud snorers met their match when Bose unveiled their QuietComfort line. Though pilots had been using noise-cancelling technology for decades, now passengers could also get some relief on loud flights.

2001- The ipod changed up the whole music universe. It became common to see people with a white cord running from their pocket to their ears multiple times a day. From their inception in 2001 to today, over 300 million ipods have been sold all with the accompanying pair of earbuds.

2008- Dr.Dre and Jimmy lovine joined forces and, along with Monster, created Beats by Dre headphones. Designed with deep bass and great sound quality in mind, the Beats line quickly grabbed a large market share and could be seen on just about every NBA player as they walked from the bus to the locker room.

2012- Headphones have become as much about style as they are sound quality. This may never have been more relevant when Lil Wayne wore these $1 million pair of Beats.


Top 3 wireless and wired headphones


1. JayBird X2

Fit [isolation]

  • sports earbuds the fit is very important
  • You can sweat as much as you want, these earbuds will stay put in even the slipperiest ears.
  • bundle includes 3 standard sizes of wings with the selection of silicone ear tips.
  • also comes with a selection of premium comply foam tips also in 3 sizes. Having the comply tips on it makes the JayBird X2’s one of the most comfortable and stable in-ear headphones on the market.

Jaybird does not focus on noise insolation, so it makes these earphones suitable for the gym or workouts outside so you can still hear what is going on around you.


Jaybird X2’s are Bluetooth and run on a battery they are still quite light and you wont feel much pressure from the battery weight. Jaybird focus on making them as lightweight as possible not to interfere with sports activities.


They aren’t the most well-built earbuds on the planet, but JayBird have a great customer service. X2 have a lifetime sweat-proof warranty by JayBird which means you will either get them repaired or replaced by a new product if they die out unexpectedly.


The wire that goes behind your neck has a small set of buttons where you can control the volume of music and song selection.

The earbuds feature an in-line microphone in case you want to make hands-free calls when connected to your Bluetooth device.

Bluetooth [battery]

It features the standard 30ft of range depending on the obstacles around you. Outside you will get better range than inside.

You can connect any Bluetooth enabled device, from iphones, ipads and macs to android or windows smartphones, tablets and laptops. Basically, all modern devices with Bluetooth connectivity are compatible.

Bluetooth connection is stable and battery life is solid.


Though Jaybird promotes these like they have an improved sound quality, an average user wont notice any difference at all.

For the more experienced listeners they might notice a slight difference in the bass which has been slightly boosted and tends to create a more dynamic sound.

Nonetheless, these are not basshead earbuds, the bass is balanced with other ranges so don’t expect ear drum rupturing lows from these. This doesn’t mean they have no bass at all, with an airtight seal which is a must for bass to be heard, you will enjoy any type of music.

The highs are very clear and precise without abusing your ears with aggressive sibilance like so many other headphones do. The mid-ranges are also good though Jaybird X2s have a slight V shaped sound signature [more treble and bass with less prominent mids

Summarised from the following

Jaybird X2 earbuds
Various colours of Jaybird X2 earbuds

There are more pros than cons with the JayBird X2 earphones with the only really con being they die out after a while but having a lifetime sweat warranty by Jaybird is great as you can get a replacement for free, so good customer service is one key element in trying to brand a pair of headphones. Not falling out even during fast exercise is a major element in the lifestyle I am branding headphones for this is due to improved wings and different style to fit certain ears so I need to look into this in further detail. They also have been rated to have the best sound quality in the category of Bluetooth sports earbuds with lasting up to 8 hours’ battery life per charge.

I like how they have used a variety of clean, bright colours, its simple but still effective. The black logo still also works well and stands out on the black headphone background which is a sleek look.

2. Bose SoundSport Wireless

Fit [isolation]

With the help of winged ear tips the fit is stable as you can get from earbuds.

These aren’t exactly regular in-ear monitors because the earbuds don’t protrude that deep into your ears. The earbuds are shallower and rest on the outskirts of your ears.This gives a great and stable fit, but doesn’t provide good passive noise insolation.

There is more sound leakage than with other IEMs.

If you want to use these outside its good to hear what is going on around you to avoid possible traffic accidents. At the same time if you use these in a quiet place with high volume others around you will hear your music, so these aren’t meant for office use.

For sports use, in the gyms, courts and outside, they are great because they stay put and keep you aware of surroundings.

The only bad thing about the fit is that they are rather large and protrude out of the ears, this makes it impossible to use for sleeping on the side or not looking abit dorky.


comfort is superb. Once you find the right size of ear tips, from the 3 different sizes, you’ll soon get so used to wearing them you’ll probably forget about them altogether.

They are light and have great ergonomics that fit even the smallest ears comfortably.

Durability [sweat resistance]

Since these are made out of plastics durability isn’t top notch, but its still above average. Build quality is good enough to justify the price but it isn’t one of the strong points.

Durability is probably the only average feature of these earbuds so you can’t throw them around and expect them to survive for very long.

They are sweat and moisture resistant so using them outside when raining or when sweating profusely isn’t a problem.

The wires a thick and flexible enough to instil confidence just don’t think they’re fail-proof, because they aren’t.


Just like all other Bluetooth earbuds, SoundSport Wireless also have an in-line microphone and remote. You can control the volume, song selection and accept or end calls.

The microphone call quality is good enough to make calls with, just don’t expect to make quality podcasts with it.

The buttons are big enough to press easily and seem to be built well. Once you get used to it, using it becomes a breeze.

Bluetooth [battery]

Bluetooth connection is very easy to establish with either, apple or android devices, or any other Bluetooth enabled device for that matter. The connection usually stays stable and doesn’t disconnect, though no Bluetooth headphones are completely without faults. Sometimes you might experience short distortion which isn’t really a problem.

The battery lasts up to 6 hours which is abit less than with the Jaybird X2, but good enough for any sports activity. It could be better considering the price but still doesn’t disappoint.


Sound quality is where you either have a love or hate relationship with Bose SoundSport Wireless headphones.

Typical Bose sound signature isn’t balanced, but rather emphasizes bass.

If you’re a purist who likes balanced sound signature, then pick the Jaybird X2 but if you like stronger bass that makes the music more dynamic and fuller, then Bose sound signature will be more to your liking.

Bass is not earth shattering to satisfy a basshead but stil emphasized to annoy an audiophile. For a more casual user who likes mainstream sound more, these are perfect. The bass gives you a nice rhythm to follow during your workouts and at the same time delivers clear highs and mids.

Bose SoundSport Wireless earbuds
Bose SoundSport Wireless

The main con for the Bose SoundSport Wireless is the big bulky design. These earbuds are different to other earbuds, they rest on the outskirts of your ears which means the noise isolation isnt very good. However they are good to use outside as you can still hear traffic which means less likely to get into an accident.

3. Beats Powerbeats 2 Wireless

Fit [isolation]

The fit is one of the advantages of Powerbeats 2. With its ear ‘hook’ design these are one of the most secure earbuds that stay in no matter what.

You can easily lift weights, run, cycle or do aerobic exercises without fear of dropping or constantly having to adjust. While the comfort might not be to the liking of all, they will stay in.

Noise isolation is good, as long as you use the right size of ear tips that will give you an airtight fit. Just make sure you don’t forget about traffic in case you run on the streets.


Because the hooks go over and behind the ear, there is some friction and for some people, the first couple of uses will be heard to forget youre wearing earbuds. But with frequent use you will learn to forget about it and then Powerbeats 2 become as comfortable as any other earbuds.

Durability [sweat resistance]

The build quality is better, made out of sturdy plastics, feels and looks like it can endure a lot of punishment.

The are sweat resistant according to the IPX4 standard, from earbuds, tangle free cord to the button controls.


Controls are the standard in-line buttons where you can change songs, volume and play or pause the music. Buttons are well made and using them becomes a breeze, just like you would expect from a premium, high quality product.

Bluetooth [battery]

Bluetooth works with all devices, iOS, android and BT enabled MP3 players, connects fast and stays connected up to about 30ft and may vary depending on the device youre connected to.

Accepting calls is easy and the microphone is quite good, producing a clear sound that’s easy for the caller to understand.

Battery life could be better, but at 6 hours isn’t that bad. It charges rather fast, 15 minutes charge lasts about 1 hour.


The sound quality is another nice surprise for this Beats model. Its better in all ranges compared to other brand models. It has clearer highs and mids with nicely emphasized bass.

If you like more bass in your music you’re going to like these. It still has that “Beats” bass signature.

There is no distortion at higher volumes and they’re quite easy to drive. (play at higher volumes without an amplifier)

Beats Powerbeats

The only con to the Beats Powerbeats 2 Wireless is the battery life not being as good as other brands.

The modern design and colours used are clean and sleek. I like how they have matched the logo colour with the colour of the headphones it makes the whole design flow better.

The hook design works well with these headphones as it makes them very stable but still keeps a modern look.


1.MEELectronics Sport – Fi M6

Fit [Isolation]

They don’t fall of and don’t irritate the ears even after hours of wearing them. If you have problems with other earbuds staying in your ears, you should try these.

Choosing from 6 different ear tips from the beginning is a nice feature, it’s very likely one size will fit your ears perfectly.

Noise isolation is rather average, but hearing what is going on around you makes them suitable for outdoor use as well.


Achieving a comfortable and stable fit is a bit of a problem in the beginning, but once you get used to folding the memory wire, it works nicely.

Durability (Sweat-resistance)

The design is simple but effective. Made from durable plastics with IPX5 sweat and water resistance and rubber memory wire, they are hard-core sports earbuds. They come in many different colors to match every outfit.

These are able to withstand any amount of sweat and even rain, perfect for inside or outside exercise. See other durable earbuds on the other page.

Earbuds connect with standard gold plated 3.5mm audio plug that lacks any strain relief, but this is common at this price range.


The regular earbuds don’t feature any in-line controls so you’ll just have to use your playing device for that.


The bass is emphasized, but detailed and doesn’t overpower other ranges. Mids are pretty clear and detailed for a budget model.

Treble is also slightly emphasized but not unbearable.

The overall sound quality might not be great enough for an audiophile but if you’re looking for some punchy bass with overall warmer and fun sound, you’ll like these.

MEELectronics Sport – Fi M6
MEELectronics Sport – Fi M6 various colours

The MEElectronics Sport Fi – M6 have a good comfortable fit and don’t irritate your ears after wearing them for a long period of time.

They don’t have any in-line controls so you have to change your music by using the device you are playing music from. I think this is a bad element of the design because when you are working out you will need to have the device in your hand if you want to change song or volume.

The bright colours work well and create a nice, modern design.

2.Bose SoundSport In-Ear [wired]

Fit [Isolation]

Bose SoundSport aren’t your average in-ear monitors because they actually don’t go that deep into your ears. The design is something in between in-ear monitors and first Apple earbuds.

The earbuds sit slightly into your ear canal but don’t go very deep. This is great for comfort, but it’s not very effective at noise isolation.

You can hear quite a lot of background noise with these so make sure you don’t intend to use them in a loud environment.

Sound leakage helps with being aware of your environment so this is a good thing if you’re working out outside.

At the same time, there is more sound leakage than with average IEMs (in-ear monitor). If you listen to them loudly, others will be able to hear your music.

For gym use that isn’t too loud these are perfectly fine, even better for outside exercising or running.

Keeping them in your ears is very easy, they don’t fall out even during fast movement.


These are very comfortable earbuds. In fact, they can easily compare to the most comfortable earbuds on the market.

You can barely feel them in your ears and because they’re quite small you can even sleep with them with your head on the side.

They’re lightweight and have great ergonomics, you can’t ask more from a pair of earbuds when it comes to comfort.

Durability (Sweat-resistance)

This is where Bose SoundSport lack the most, this doesn’t mean durability is bad, but it isn’t top notch.

The plastic housing is built rather well, but still can’t compare to metal earbuds that you can find on the market.

The wires are relatively thin, but have good strain relief with an I shaped 3.5mm plug.

They’re also sweat and moisture resistant to survive hot and sweaty workouts.


There are 2 models, one has an in-line remote and microphone and the other, cheaper one doesn’t have it.

Make sure to pick the right model as there are different models for Apple or Android devices. The remote is well made and easy to use with accessible buttons.

The microphone sound quality is good enough to make calls, but don’t expect sonic fidelity. If you’re used to cheaper in-line mics this one will be more than you’re used to.

In the package you get a nice protective carrying case, a shirt clip and 3 pairs of ear tips with wings.


Sound quality is another selling point for Bose SoundSport. While audiophiles might not like its imbalanced sound with recessed highs and mids and enhanced bass, it offers a fun and dynamic sound.

The bass isn’t too boosted so these aren’t basshead earbuds, but for an average user who isn’t too concerned with balanced sound, these sound great.

The music with these has a nice beat to it while not dramatically lacking mids or highs. It has the typical Bose sound signature.

Bose SoundSport

The Bose SoundSport In ear wired are good for all kinds of sports as they have great comfort and stable fit. They are also lightweight so when working out you wont even realize you have them in. The wire is also relatively thin too which is a great advantage.

They could have played around with a variety of colours more as they just have three main colours which are green, blue and orange. Although these colours are clean and simple.

3. Shure SE215

Fit [Isolation]

The whole design is very specific to Shure and it takes some time to get used to. In the beginning you might have some problems getting the right fit, but in a week or two you’ll put them on like regular earbuds.

Once you find that sweet spot they will hardly ever fall out unless you pull on them accidently.

One feature really standing out is the sound isolation that is better than competition at this price.


When it comes to comfort, it all depends on your ear size and shape, but most people find them very comfortable.

The secret is in finding the right sized earbuds and ear cushions that best fit your ears. Once you do that, you’ll have a hard time finding more comfortable IEM headphones.

Shure also designs their own ear tips, also called Shure olives. These too require some time to get used to, but do their job very well at comfort and isolation.

Generally SE-215 don’t irritate the ears and the unique Shure casing fits nicely to anyone’s ears.

Durability (Sweat-resistance)

The build quality is very good, it doesn’t have any particular sweat resistance or invisible coating, but fares just fine even in sweat. The casing of earbuds is all plastic, but sturdy plastics that instill confidence.

The most durable part is the wires. These are “memory” wires that you can fold to your own liking, usually forming an ear hook for best stability. The wires are detachable; Kevlar reinforced and rather thick, giving the impression they will last a long time.


The original Shure SE-215 wires don’t have any controls or microphone, but since they are detachable you can easily replace them with microphone wires if this is what you want.


The biggest advantage of Shure SE215 is their awesome sound quality.

At this price they truly excel with a very natural sound and a real presence of space. You’ll hear the sound coming from different directions creating a “sound illusion” of space.

Treble is very clear and precise, though the weakest range for SE215. Where these truly flourish are the mid ranges, which are very detailed, precise and rich, just fun to listen to.

The bass is not overpowering either, but slightly emphasized, just enough to give any song a kick.

The overall mix makes for a rather natural, but also dynamic and fun sound that you can enjoy in all genres of music.

Shure SE215
Shure SE215

Whilst the design and memory wire do take some getting used to with the Shure SE215, once youre used to it this element of the design does help keep them in your ears when moving around.

The sound quality is really good and detailed. The bass isn’t overpowering either.

The overall design could be improved with more colour variety being added but it has a unique style too.

All headphone models have been summarised from


The younger demographic used to be more about the inexpensive earbuds that came with their products but that seemed to change in 2010/2011.

Doug Henderson, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Bowers & Wilkins: In spite of all the commentary about the "death" of high fidelity, the growth in premium headphones makes it plain that people do care about better sound.

This demographic is interested in trendy designs at affordable prices. Another trend we see in this demographic is that they are used to having one device for all their needs and use devices like the iPhone as their phone and mp3 player.

Introduced two new models, a headset outfitted with the apple three- button remote to control music commands as well as a microphone for answering calls. The second is audio- technica’s first Bluetooth headset. Equipped with A2DP; the best profile for streaming high quality audio in Bluetooth devices today, this headset delivers clear audio reproduction whether you’re talking on the phone or listening to music. Models: ATH-BT03 and ATH-400i

Eric Stubbert, Channel Manager, Sennheiser: Listeners purchase new headphones for a number of reasons: style, application and sound quality. Sound quality and application have been Sennheiser’s strengths. Also have an assortment that meets a number of application needs: whether you need a robust sport headphone that wont fall out and also sounds great, an active noise-cancelling headphone with call control and Bluetooth capability, or the finest audiophile headphones, we have a number of styles to fit your needs.

Phil Cohn. Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Denon: comfort and style are both drivers in our design philosophy. We are interested in designing not just for pure listening but for how people are listening. And we’ve proved how to address these needs in both in-ear and over-ear styles. Our newest models are ergonomic, and our 2011 models will carry through on these themes.

For the business traveler we have our active noise-cancelling line; for the athletes we have sports-specific models; for the fashion-conscious we have our style line of headphones; and for the smartphone user we now have communication headsets. Its important that we always look outside of the box for those niche users since they typically include early adopters.


Twenty years ago the most important thing for a teenager was their trainers. Now it's the brand covering their ears that matters.

“Companies like Beats and Skullcandy have realized that kids today want something that looks better, over questions of sound quality,” says Sam Ruffe, who works at The Kinc, a marketing agency whose clients include Skullcandy.

And those kids (or their parents) will pay: worldwide, the market for headphones will be worth over £5bn this year, with 284m units shipped, according to the consumer consultancy Futuresource; over-ear headphones grabbed half of sales. And beats alone will grab around £1.25bn – while the total market is forecast to grow by 5% annually for the next five years.

Skullcandy was originally designed for skiers and snowboarders, by Rick Alden, who got the idea on a chairlift in Park City, Utah. Starting in 2003, he managed to persuade skating and skiing shops to stock the product, which became known as an ‘extreme sports’ brand.

Urbanears, meanwhile, brought Scandinavian design and a flourish of colour to the burgeoning headphone market, a releasing two ‘collections’ of headphones a year in limited – edition colours.

The continued success of Beats brought competition as these other brands began chasing the new demographic of people willing to spend money to wear their branding choice on their ears. Skullcandy moved off the slopes and into the high street. Now, they are more likely to be seen on the bus than on the piste.

Sound quality, though isn’t necessarily the point – which may have been missed by more traditional ‘audiophile’ brands such as Germany’s Sennheiser, the Dutch brand Philips and the American Bose, who were caught unaware that colouring the earpiece and cord green or red could affect sales as much as their sound quality.

Bowers & Wilkins P5

Proving that expensive, fashionable headphones could sound good, the Bowers & Wilkins P5 ooze luxury and sound great, with excellent noise isolation and good range, which makes the equally pricey Beats sound downright mediocre.

Bose QuietComfort

The commuter's favourite, Bose took noise-cancelling technology – which silences the outside world by blasting sound waves to cancel out the noise leaving only the music audible – and made it popular. On their third revision, the Bose QuietComforts are still the active noise-cancelling headphones to beat for many.

Sennheiser Momentum

Long-standing quality audio company Sennheiser was late to the stylish headphone game, but its Momentum series combines a sophisticated look with top-notch acoustics.


A collaboration between the French designer Philippe Starck and the Bluetooth specialists Parrot, Zik headphones are some of the best wireless headphones around, with intuitive touch controls, active noise-cancelling, and sound profiles and acoustics that can be modified with iPhone and Android apps.

Skullcandy Crusher

Battery-powered bass means that the Crusher gives real wallop to what otherwise might just be loud music. Cavernous earpieces (made of "soft touch" leather) also come with a powered mini-amplifier, foldable hinge (for storage) and a microphone and remote on the detachable headphone cable. CA and SG


Case Study

From reading the ‘Elements of a Successful Brand’ case study, brand positioning plays a big part in making a successful brand. There are three key elements which are be different, be focused and be relevant.

It has to stand for something fundamental—an underlying bedrock idea or principle that at every turn supports a company or product. This foundational platform is called positioning, and without it a brand can have no traction.

A brand needs to stand out from its competition this will attract people’s attention and which will mean an advantage in the market.

To be different, you need to attract a loyal following or no one will notice you. If a brand blends into the background noise, its lost from the beginning.

Marty Neumeier, author of The Brand Gap and Zag, writes: “An over-abundance of look-alike products and me-too services is forcing customers to search for something, anything, to help them separate the winners from the clutter.”


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