Purchasing officials are paying increased attention to consumer-oriented headphones, whose manufacturers are attempting to portray their equipment is “as good as” the status quo. The goal of course is to sell into the education vertical, but for unsuspecting schools and districts, this proposition can be fraught with peril.
In an era of tightened budgets and maximizing resources, expenses need to be scrutinized for the total cost of all prospective equipment – not just at the time of purchase, but also any potential back-end expenses. The largest cost is the item’s replacement, which is often caused by premature fatigue and not the gear not living up to expectations – but what if replacement didn’t have to occur as often?
In the case of headphones and headsets, buyers, principals and CTO’s need to pay particular attention to the fine print specifying whether or not the intended headphones are warranted for use in schools. This is crucial because not many educators realize consumer-oriented headphones were not designed or warranted for the heavy-duty, day-in and day-out use by more than one student in schools.
So what’s the difference between a “consumer” warranty and a “commercial” warranty?
Commercial grade headphones are designed to last longer, withstand the rigors of extended daily usage, generally made to more demanding specifications, and are tailored for learning environments.
Choice of material can be a hallmark of commercial headphones. Look for ones made from ABS plastic for greater strength, durability, and safety in case of breakage. Other added safety features include recessed wiring and slotted baffles to protect the inner speakers (and students). These would have a longer warranty than a consumer headphone. Also look for enhanced durability with lifetime protection against students chewing the headphone cord.
Since multiple daily users handling the same headphone means a faster accumulation of dirt and grime, they need to be cleaned more regularly. Some commercial headphones are even designed to be washed in a sink of soapy water or even a dishwasher!
All of these factors are at work in a classroom and amount to what’s considered to be commercial use. This voids any warranty protection offered by the manufacturers of consumer headphones. Below is an example of one manufacturer’s warranty:
As a rule of thumb, consumer grade headphones are not made to the same quality level as those designed for use in schools. They were designed for less frequent home use, sacrificing durability by using lower cost materials. The length of the typical consumer-oriented headphone is less than those designed for commercial (aka school) applications. A mere ninety day warranty (see above from another manufacturer) is not uncommon. Califone offers an industry leading three-year warranty on its most popular headphones and headsets.
Another facet of a consumer-targeted headphone is its intended use by a single customer (the “original purchaser”) instead of a class full of students because that would mean less wear and tear on the equipment. Multiple kids throughout the day using the same headphone is beyond what a consumer-oriented headphone was designed for (see example below). This too nullifies the warranty on a consumer headphone.
The adage “choosing the right tool for the job” comes to mind when applied to headphones too. Just as the aerodynamics of a car designed for high speed are different from a truck designed to haul freight, the audio playback quality in headphones can be designed to focus on different qualities. Consumer-focused models are designed for listening to music, which requires a wider frequency range. Conversely, headphones used in education are mostly for language learning. The frequency range of the human voice is not as wide as listening to today’s music, so the performance characteristics of an educationally focused headphone are narrower so they accentuate the nuances of the spoken word. Again, it’s a case of choosing the right tool for the job.
So make certain to look at the fine print before making the “buy” decision. The differences between buying a headphone covered by a commercial warranty and one with a consumer warranty can mean the difference between a quickly replaced item without experiencing lost learning time due to broken equipment, and who can afford that?