If you were designing a set of headphones for the masses, would you invest in expensive carbon fiber as the primary material for the frames? That depends on what you wanted to accomplish. If you were looking to come up with one of the cheapest models on the market, carbon fiber would be out of the question. But if you were looking to build high-performance headphones that offered superior sound quality and long lasting durability, carbon fiber would certainly be on the table.
As so often is the case, choosing to use carbon fiber to build high-end headphones really boils down to overall performance. Designers have to consider everything from sound quality to product durability. They have to consider the total amount of technology they are building into their product. It all makes a difference. They cannot just glibly choose any old plastic and hope for the best.
Bowers & Wilkins just came out with a new set of carbon fiber headphones that surely raise the bar for them. Consider some of the reasons they went with carbon fiber.
It makes sense that designing a new pair of headphones would start with audio performance. What is a manufacturer after in this regard? First and foremost is crystal-clear sound that seamlessly plays high-, low-, and mid-range tones with no distortion. The best sound requires the best speakers.
Next, modern consumers demand noise-canceling technology in their high-end products. Our hyper mobile culture further demands that headphones not be connected to a phone, portable music player, or tablet computer with a wire. Consumers want wireless.
All of this technology requires more components. Every component increases the size and weight of a set of headphones. Then there is the issue of protecting the technology against daily use. Headphones get dropped accidentally. They get banged against desks and tables. They get crammed into backpacks along with schoolbooks, clothing, etc.
Carbon Fiber Answers the Call
Rock West Composites, a Salt Lake City company that specializes in composite materials and tooling, explains that carbon fiber answers the call of every high-end headphone manufacturer. It offers a level of strength and rigidity you just cannot get with cheaper plastics. If you are looking to protect a lot of expensive technology inside a set of headphones, you need carbon fiber’s strength.
For the record, carbon fiber is stronger than both steel and aluminum. Its superior tensile strength makes it ideal for protecting sensitive electronic components. But there is more to whet the appetites of headphone aficionados.
Carbon fiber is also very lightweight. How is this a benefit to manufacturers? By allowing them to add more weight by way of embedded technology. Carbon fiber is more than capable of supporting custom-made speakers, wi-fi receivers, and noise-canceling components without having to be exceptionally thick and bulky. So manufacturers can keep the weight of the frames down.
Easy on the Wearer
Lighter weight is not only good for manufacturers, it is also easier on the wearer. Having to wear less weight on the head for hours on end makes a real difference at the end of the day. If you are skeptical, try wearing a bulky pair of 80s-era headphones for just a couple of hours. You will quickly discover just how heavy they feel on top of your skull.
It is true that this type of headphones are more expensive than competing models made with cheaper plastics. But there are multiple reasons manufacturers choose to build with carbon fiber. Those building high-performance headphones loaded with modern technology need a material that is lightweight and strong. Carbon fiber is that material.