I love headphones. Past a certain price point, it’s not the big features that make them stand out against each other: it’s the little details.
Beats headphones take a lot of flack. People criticize their sound, their price, their branding, and their marketing. Many years ago, I might have agreed. These days however, it’s not so easy. They’ve refined their sound into something really spectacular. They’ve subdued their designs. And they nail something that can be, at times, a little more intangible: feel.
JBL recently put out a line of headphones pointed squarely at the giant market share of Beats, the Everest Wireless Headphones. They make on-ear and over-ear models, both with and without noise cancelling. On paper, they match or exceed Beats on every front, and their look is so close to the Beats design that I’m surprised no lawsuits were filed.
But JBL didn’t get one of the most important tiny details right.
Beats headphones can fold up, for easy stowage in their included portable case. The hinge mechanism, and the headband pieces surrounding it, are made from metal. The earcup arms click in and out of place when you fold and unfold them.
This clicking sound/sensation is one of the greatest experiences in headphones. I’m not even joking.
It has a tremendous weight, heft, and satisfaction to it. You click these suckers open, and it’s like yes, I am ready to LISTEN to a THING! When I walk past the Beats display in a store, I’ll sometimes just stand there and click the headphones open and shut a few times, just for fun. The click is chunky, with just enough give to make you anticipate the moment where it pushes past the threshold and lets you finish the fold.
Further, the adjustment mechanism of the Beats headphones has satisfying clicks at every size setting. It’s all very wonderful to feel and hear.
JBL’s Everest headphones have a hinged, folding design. Okay, so far so good.
The headband has metal parts, as do the hinges. Okay! I’m still in!
The hinge doesn’t click into place, instead gliding smoothly and stiffly. It feels like the hinges are jammed full of bread.
You lost me JBL, you lost me.
Further, the headphone size adjustments slide without clicking. It’s slow, sludgy, and unsatisfying. The feel of unfolding and adjusting the JBL headphones is so slimy and spongy and lame, that it totally ruins the experience. The click on the Beats headphones lets you feel the quality of the metal headband construction, and provides a satisfying response to your hands and ears and brain.
JBL lost me as a customer just because their hinges don’t click satisfyingly. That’s how important feel can be in headphone design. I know it sounds crazy, but once you start noticing these little details in all the things you enjoy, you’ll never go back.
I was so disappointed by JBL’s bread-filled hinges when looking at the store model that I didn’t even care whether or not they sounded better than the Beats. (They don’t).
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some headphones to click open and closed.