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Open Ear TWS to replace traditional TWS (True Wireless Stereo) earphones?

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Open Ear TWS to replace traditional TWS (True Wireless Stereo) earphones?

2024-05-22 14:16:03

In recent years, the emergence of open-back headphones has genuinely reinvigorated the headphone market, offering a fresh growth opportunity in a blue ocean sector, compared to the fancy innovations in specific areas. Open-back headphones, simply put, are non-in-ear headphones. They come in two forms: bone conduction and air conduction. These headphones transmit sound through bones or sound waves, and they are either clip-on or ear-hook styles, ensuring higher comfort and making them ideal for sports scenarios.

The design philosophy of open-back headphones contrasts with that of regular headphones. Typically, we use headphones to create an isolated environment from the outside world, immersing ourselves in music, which is why noise-canceling headphones are so popular. However, open-back headphones aim to maintain a connection with the external environment while listening to music. This leads to a demand for comfort, pushing open-back headphones to strike a balance between sound quality and comfort.

The most significant advantage of open-back headphones is their safety and comfort. The non-in-ear design eliminates the pressure and foreign body sensation in the ear canal, thus avoiding sensitivity and health issues. They do not overly stimulate the eardrums, reducing the risk of hearing damage, and they can be worn for long periods without discomfort. This feature is essential for people with ear problems like otitis. Moreover, since they do not block the ear canal, users can stay connected with their surroundings, making them safer for outdoor activities and distinguishing them from regular headphones, turning them into a hot item.

According to Frost & Sullivan's "Global Non-In-Ear Open-Back Headphones Independent Market Research Report," the global market size for non-in-ear open-back headphones almost increased tenfold from 2019 to 2023, with a compound annual growth rate of 75.5%. The report predicts that from 2023 to 2028, sales of these headphones might rise from 30 million to 54.4 million units.

The year 2023 can be called the "Year of Open-Back Headphones," with numerous headphone brands fully embracing them. Companies like Shokz, Oladance, Cleer, NANK, Edifier, 1MORE, and Baseus, as well as international giants like BOSE, Sony, and JBL, have launched their open-back headphones, covering daily use, sports, office work, and gaming, creating a vibrant and competitive market.

Yang Yun, CEO of Shokz China, stated, "In the current market, whether it's emerging independent brands, traditional old brands, or even phone brands, they are all stepping into the open-back headphone market. This blooming phenomenon is undoubtedly a positive force for the category's development, providing users with more choices."

Despite the explosive trend of open-back headphones, they still face significant issues. A headphone blogger noted that many open-back headphones have low volume, serious sound leakage, unstable wearing, and poor sound quality. Hence, it will take time for them to become mainstream.

A headphone design expert told Brand Factory that open-back headphones first need to overcome physical limitations and develop better sound leakage control algorithms. Their physical openness inherently causes significant sound leakage, which can be partially mitigated using reverse active noise cancellation technology, though the industry hasn't perfected this yet.

Shokz's self-developed DirectPitch™ directional sound field technology is a leading sound technology in the industry. By setting multiple tuning holes and utilizing the principle of sound wave phase cancellation, it reduces the sound leakage of open-back headphones. Their first air conduction headphone with this technology, OpenFit, achieved over 5 million global sales last year, indicating strong recognition, although comments on sound leakage and poor sound quality still exist.

To improve sound quality, Bose has adopted spatial audio technology in open-back headphones. The recently released Bose Ultra offers an excellent spatial audio experience. In fact, the open characteristics of non-in-ear headphones are more conducive to experiencing spatial audio content. However, except for a few brands like Apple, Sony, and Bose, others are hesitant to invest in spatial audio for open-back headphones, likely due to the category's nascent stage, with domestic brands focusing on sound quality and foundational stability before considering other features.

Moreover, as open-back headphones are positioned for long-term wear, comfort and stability are crucial. Therefore, miniaturization and lightweight design will be key directions for future iterations. For instance, Shokz recently released the OpenFit Air headphones, featuring an air-hook design and reducing the weight of a single earbud to 8.7g, combined with non-slip soft silicone to enhance comfort and stability.

Open-back headphones have enormous potential and are set to rival TWS earbuds. Yang Yun, CEO of Shokz China, said, "In the long run, the biggest potential of the open-back headphone market lies in replacing traditional TWS earbuds. As consumers increasingly seek better sound quality, comfort, and convenience, open-back headphones are likely to gradually capture a larger market share."

However, whether this development will unfold as expected remains to be seen. In my view, open-back headphones and TWS earbuds cater to different needs and cannot replace each other. Open-back headphones offer safety and comfort but struggle to match the sound quality of TWS earbuds and cannot actively cancel noise. TWS earbuds allow for immersive music experiences but are inconvenient for long-term wear and intense activities. Thus, the usage scenarios of the two types of headphones do not overlap significantly, and considering open-back headphones as a secondary option for specific situations might be more reasonable.

As a music playback hardware, headphones seem to have exhausted their potential, but there are still significant opportunities hidden in the gaps. There is considerable demand in niche scenarios like office work, translation, temperature measurement, and gaming. Combining headphones with AI, viewing them as smart hardware, might reveal many unexplored applications.

When seeking a reliable earbuds manufacturer in China or bluetooth headset manufacturers, it’s crucial to consider these emerging trends and innovations in the headphone market.

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