Earbuds Consumer Survey Identifies Key Takeaways for Manufacturers

August 11 2020, 00:35
Austrian company ams, a leading worldwide supplier of high-performance sensor solutions, shared the results of its ‘Comfortable, Smart, High-performing Earbuds Survey’ conducted in Spring 2020 with 2000-plus consumers around the world on their audio earbud uses, habits and preferences. Earbud comfort seems to be a key focus for existing users, with the survey identifying the benefits of active noise cancellation and volume-limiting technology as top earbud innovations. Preference between loose fit and tight-fitting, in-ear earbuds, depends upon type of activity.

In Spring 2020, ams surveyed over 2,150 consumers around the world. Respondents were almost evenly split between men (49%) and women (51%) between the ages of 18-29 (41%), 30-44 (32%), and 45-60 (18%). The new survey was conducted in Austria, China, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, UK, and USA. It found that consumers are demanding greater comfort and hearing safety without compromising on sound quality – or their long-term hearing. This becomes more important given the trend to wear earbuds all day. In fact, users are asking for innovations like reducing background noise without losing awareness of one’s surroundings, volume-limiting features, 3D/special sound, and long battery life. This is especially true in China where consumers seem to be particularly well informed and more selective on earbud innovations. 

Listening to music was cited as the primary use of headphones across all regions (80%), followed by sports/exercise (61%), voice calls (51%) and gaming (45%). In fact, the survey showed earbuds are an integral part of daily life for many consumers. Users in USA and some European countries reported that they tend to wear earbuds all day – while making calls, listening to music, or exercising.

“Until now, real data on consumer needs, wants, and uses for earbuds was hard to find. By talking directly with a statistically relevant sample of earbud users, we have learned, that users want a say in earbud innovation. They want comfort, safety, and usability: such as a comfortable yet secure fit; innovations, that will protect their ears and hearing; and long battery life in both the earbuds and charging case regardless of the usage scenario. ams strives to deliver innovation to meet these needs. Examples include: digital active noise cancellation for loose-fit earbuds to address comfort and hearing safety; features that help reduce the symptoms of Tinnitus for safety; and proximity sensors to help increase battery life. They want these features regardless of their activity – traveling, working, relaxing, or doing sport activities such as running or biking,” says Wim Renirie, Vice President and General Manager for Accessory & Wearable Solutions Business Line at ams.

Around 45% of the users surveyed revealed they use tight-fitting, in-ear earbuds because they are perceived to stay in place (67%) and feel more secure when exercising (51%). However, consumers noted tight-fitting earbuds are not comfortable for extended periods or they do not fit correctly (44% across all regions surveyed). Respondents also reported that tight-fitting earbuds can make them feel less aware of their surroundings (21%) and that they hear their own footfalls when wearing them – particularly during exercise (11%). Those problems are remedied with the loose-fit earbuds which have ANC. In addition to being more comfortable than tight-fit earbuds (26%), the ability to hear what you want to hear with augmented hearing allows users to hear necessary surrounding noise and activity (20%). 

The survey results showed that volume-limiting technology to prevent hearing loss or damage was important across the world with 56% requesting this feature. While half the respondents in China (49%) use active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones to reduce the distraction of ambient noise, just 17% in the US and 16% in Europe have ANC headphones. However, about 21% of respondents said they hear too much background noise with loose-fit earbuds.

Battery life continues to matter. Nearly 49% across all regions agreed acceptable battery life must be at least 5 hours. However, 32% of respondents said they prefer battery life of over 8 hours and up to 24 hours. Just 11% said less than 5 hours of battery life was acceptable. OEMs building devices with longer battery life may fare better than competitors.

High volume without distortion (mostly for gaming) was important to consumers in China (50%) but less so in the US (31%) and Europe (19%).  While complaints around wired earbuds included tangled wires (17% across all regions), users of wireless options fear losing them (10%), perhaps as they do not fit correctly and/or fall out (20%). A ‘find me’ feature is differentiation point for earbud manufacturers, with nearly one in three respondents requesting this. Even more users considered it important for their earbuds to be water-proof (42%).

One problem OEMs can solve for tight-fit earbud users is the complete filling of the ear canal. Users of tight-fit earbuds noted they often cannot hear themselves in a natural way during voice calls (14%) and they block out too much surrounding noise, such as approaching vehicles, or where the sound is coming from (31%). 

“These are all areas where ams can support audio OEMs with our industry-leading expertise to deliver differentiated sensor solutions designed to help consumers enjoy a better lifestyle,” Renirie added. “We offer premium noise cancellation performance for both tight- and loose-fit earbuds in a small form factor and with ultra-low power consumption. Our ultra-sensitive and miniaturized proximity sensors are used to detect when the earbuds are in use or not, which extends battery life between charging. With our technology and insights, ams can partner with OEMs worldwide to cost-effectively and quickly create the earbud solutions that fully address consumer needs.”

For more information, ams made a detailed eBook available, which can be downloaded here: https://ams.com/wireless-earbud-solutions
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