Easy on the ears

More people are buying true wireless in-ear headphones, which are small, light and cableless

Student development officer Hui Chew, 33, bought a pair of true wireless in-ear headphones (TWH) last month.

He joins a growing number of consumers who are ditching wired and conventional wireless headphones for a set of TWH, which are earbuds with no connecting cables.

"My new earphones are just much more convenient and I don't have to worry about cable entanglements. Plus, they are more comfortable compared with some headphones with headbands that might get stuck at your neck," says Mr Chew, who paid about $300 for the Jabra Elite 75t.

Globally, 130 million units of TWH were sold last year, almost triple the 46 million in 2018, according to technology research firm Counterpoint Research.

Ms Liz Lee, a senior analyst at the firm, says: "Consumers started considering TWH as they are convenient and simple. They enjoy the sense of freedom, instead of having to untangle cables they stuffed into their pockets or having wires dangle around their heads."

She reckons the other "big trigger" comes from phone companies removing the headphone jack.

Apple did that in 2016 - for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. At the same time, the Cupertino tech giant launched its first TWH - the AirPods, which are now in their second generation and have a premium sibling, the AirPods Pro.

Rivals Samsung and Huawei followed suit, removing headphone jacks from their premium smartphones.

As a result, the popularity of TWH has soared.

Like much of the tech and electronics sector, which is enjoying a boost during the Covid-19 pandemic, sales of TWH have remained strong. Global sales are expected to reach 221 million units this year, representing a 69 per cent year-on-year growth, Counterpoint Research forecasts.

In Singapore, TWH accounted for half of overall headphone sales from January to July this year, according to market research firm GfK. In comparison, TWH had only 12 per cent of the local market share in 2018 and 37 per cent last year.

Mr Alexander Dehmel, market insights lead for Asia Pacific at GfK, says: "TWH's innovative form factor became a novelty when this technology was introduced to the mass market. And the trend will continue to grow rapidly, with more brands putting out models with lower prices."

While premium brands like Sennheiser and Master & Dynamic offer sets that cost over $400, the likes of Chinese company Xiaomi have models going for as low as $40.

Even accessories brands like Aukey and Anker have branched into the TWH market.

Mr Jason Low, a senior analyst at market research firm Canalys, says: "With the low entry barriers, we are expecting stronger participation by various industry players, each showcasing their unique selling point."

The firm predicts that by 2023, more than 400 million TWH units will be shipped globally.

Marketing manager Ku Juan Yeou, 39, who uses a $99 Aukey EP-N5, says: "They offer good audio quality and great value for money, compared with expensive models like the AirPods Pro."

Mr Low of Canalys says smartphone vendors bundling TWH with phones has also helped boost the headphones' popularity.

For instance, Samsung offered its TWH for free to those who preordered its flagship Galaxy Note20 phone in August and the S20 FE last week.

Many premium TWH also have features such as active noise cancellation (ANC), which filters out ambient noise. They are also ideal for workouts as they are small.

Educator Tarin Teo, 29, recently signed up for a new credit card because the bank was giving away a pair of AirPods Pro to new applicants, even though she already owns two sets of TWH.

She pairs one set each to separate mobile devices, which she uses for different purposes such as work and gym workouts.

"They are lightweight and cable-less, which allows me to concentrate on my workouts without worrying about the cable being caught on weights or other gym equipment," says Ms Teo, who uses her new AirPods Pro for workouts.

"Having ANC helps block out surrounding noise, whether I am commuting or working from home."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2020, with the headline 'Easy on the ears'. Print Edition | Subscribe