SOL REPUBLIC builds a headphone brand with a purpose

Stephen Whiteside

Headphones long seemed like the ultimate example of commoditization in the electronics category, with prices spiralling downwards and little or no differentiation on display between competing products.

If the launch of premium headphone brand Beats by Dre in 2008 marked the beginning of a seismic shift in this sector, then its sale to Apple – the owner of digital downloads service iTunes and maker of the iPhone and iPad, where a rising amount of music consumption occurs – for $3 billion in early 2014 confirmed the emergence of a hugely powerful brand with very deep pockets for support.

Headphones from Beats by Dre

The transaction also demonstrated that the sector had moved from being a niche concern to the mainstream. According to research provider NPD Group, the American stereo headphone market was worth $2.3 billion in 2013, of which over $1 billion went to sets commanding $100 or more. Beats by Dre was the number-one brand across the whole category, ahead of Bose, Sony, Skullcandy, and JVC.