Will your headphones last 10 years?

Would you pay $100 for a headphone that lasts 10 years? Or would you rather buy 10 cheap headphones in that time?

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read

Most of the high-end gear I talk about in this blog is designed to sound great and last a long time. Granted, it's more expensive than mass-market audio, but quality gear is more expensive to build, market, and sell. Mass-market audio is not so different than cell phones, computers, or digital cameras; they're all designed to be disposable. So would you consider paying $100 or more for headphones that could last 10 or more years? Or would you rather buy 10 cheap headphones in that time? For that kind of money you could have bought one really nice set of headphones, and had much better sound for 10 years.

Throwing headphones into the garbage because the sound cuts out or distorts seems like such a waste to me. Why not repair the headphones when they break? Your answer probably is that the manufacturer or dealer doesn't offer service on the gear they sell. Perhaps it might be a good time to consider buying headphones that can be repaired when they break.

Grado SR225i headphones keep going and going and going. Grado Labs

Grado Labs' headphones last a long time, and the company builds all of its full-size headphones in Brooklyn, NY. I know more than a few people still using 20-year old Grado headphones. Current models range from the SR60i ($79) to the Professional Series PS1000 ($1,695). All of them come with a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, but after-warranty repair fees are reasonably priced. For example, Grado will repair a SR60i for $25. That coverage runs to SR60 headphones bought up to 12 years ago, when the model was first introduced. A SR225i ($200) headphone's drivers, broken cables, etc., are all repaired for a flat fee of $40. Fees for the higher-end Grado models are more expensive, but still fairly priced. The repair work is fully quality controlled, and the fees include return shipping costs in the U.S.. If you accidentally sit on your Grado headphones and break the "C" bracket that holds the earcup in place, Grado will send a new bracket at no charge (the new one snaps into position).

Custom-molded in-ear headphones from JH Audio, Westone, and Ultimate Ears can easily last 10 years; prices start at less than $400. I'll be reviewing new custom models from these manufacturers soon.

A JH Audio custom-molded in-ear headphone. Steve Guttenberg

Monster Turbine Pro and Miles Davis in-ear headphones come with a one-time Lifetime Replacement Guarantee.

You might avoid repairs altogether if you treat your headphones with care. Don't yank the connector out of your iPod by grabbing the wire; pull on the plug instead. Don't pull buds out of your ears by tugging on the wires; grab the earpieces directly. Don't plug or unplug headphones into your receiver, iPod or Zune when the volume is turned up; that practice can damage headphone drivers over the long run.

Tell us about your good or bad experiences trying to get headphones repaired in the comments section. Have you used a headphone for more than 10 years? Tell us about it.