Why do we keep buying disposable audio crap?

How many pairs of headphones have you thrown away?

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
Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Most cheap headphones aren't built to last. They fall apart or stop working in less than a year, then get tossed in the garbage. You get a new pair and the cycle repeats again and again. Sure, they're cheap, but over time you could have bought a much better headphone that would sound a lot better and last a lot longer. I absolutely love Koss Porta Pro on-ear headphones, and they're sold with a lifetime warranty.

Maybe it's not just crap headphones. It's the same thing happening with cheap, or even not-so-cheap Bluetooth speakers ? Maybe their lifespans run a few years, but again, the cheap stuff doesn't last. Most mass-market brands don't service out-of-warranty gear. When it breaks, you throw it away.

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A Linn LP-12 turntable.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Then again, smartphones aren't cheap, and we used to replace them every 18 months, but now it's up to 29 months on average. Still, the urge to get new play toys and toss the old is irresistible -- got to get the shiny, new bauble.

Long-lasting audio, aka wired speakers , stereo (not AV) receivers, amplifiers and turntables can have useful working lives measured in decades. A couple of my audiophile friends enjoy Quad electrostatic speakers manufactured in the late 1970s, and they listen to them nearly every day. I have another friend who still plays a Rega Planar 3 turntable he bought ages ago. A musician friend has 30-year-old Vandersteen speakers in his main system, and they sound better than a lot of new speakers!

As for quality headphones, they can last practically forever. I recently bought a set of 45-year-old Sennheiser HD 414 on-ears from the original owner for $68! They still sound awfully good, and I will devote a blog entry to these historically important headphones in the near future.

Audiophile digital gear is hardly disposable, but no one's clamoring for 20-year-old CD players or digital converters. Turntables age far more gracefully -- check the eBay prices of 30-year-old Linn LP 12 'tables.

My point: when you buy quality audio from brands that stand behind their products long after the warranty expires, you might get to enjoy great sound that endures.