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JBL’s Secret to the Top: Q&A with HARMAN’s Pascal van Laer

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From accurate sound to breakthrough technologies, JBL has a history of transporting superior audio experiences to fans across the globe; and its headphones are no exception. The team’s unwavering commitment to delivering unmatched experiences and unique talent to identify upcoming trends in the headphones space has allowed them to stay ahead of the game with countless innovative solutions. As a result, JBL has witnessed unprecedented growth over the past five years, topping charts as the fastest growing headphones brand in the world, with more than 100 million headphones sold to date. We caught up with HARMAN’s Vice President & General Manager, Headphones & Wearables, Pascal van Laer to learn more about JBL’s role as a headphones trailblazer and discover the secrets to its success.

How did JBL reach this milestone? 

In 2016, we decided to build on our 70-year reputation in the audio industry to become a leading force in the headphone category. We did this by focusing on three elements – superior sound, new technologies, and user-focused design. Our timing was just right, too, since it coincided with the headphone becoming a popular lifestyle accessory and a powerful device in its own right. Every year that followed, we focused on a star feature that consumers really loved and brought it to the market at accessible price points. The consumer response was incredible. We sold 10 million units in 2016 and passed the 100 million milestone in under four years.

What have been the star features since 2016?

In 2016, we launched wireless headphones at affordable price points. In 2017, we seriously entered the sports market with a complete range of fully waterproof headphones. In 2018, we released active noise cancellation headphones at a broader level, which was a big deal because it meant that ANC (Active Noise Control) could be used for the daily commute, not just for plane travel. The year 2019 has been all about the freedom of true wireless, with eight headphones and various prices, styles, and features, including multiple voice assistants. And in 2020, we’re going to light up the gaming sector with our fantastic JBL QUANTUM range.

What are some of the challenges in developing user-focused headphones? 

People often underestimate how challenging it is to make good headphones. No two ears or two heads are the same, but our headphones have to fit 80-90% of consumers. In terms of design, headphones are a personal thing to wear, so we have to get the color and shape just right. Then there are the features – you want to have wireless, you want to have noise cancellation, and you need to have battery life, but the product also needs to be super light… The good news is that by becoming increasingly complex, headphones allow us to showcase our capabilities. That’s another reason why we’re growing so fast.

Why should customers choose JBL headphones over similar products?

First, we know our stuff. With our 70 years of audio heritage founded firmly in professional audio, we have a level of expertise and ability to innovate that other companies just can’t compete with. Second, we have a winning combination of quality design, superior sound, freedom of choice, accessible price, and consumer-focused technologies, all strengthened by a massive commitment to R&D. Third, our passion and enthusiasm. JBL is synonymous with epic audio experiences – as we like to say, the true measure of our success is not the number of units we sell, but the number of goosebumps we create.

Since JBL's inception, JBL has brought epic sound experiences to fans everywhere with new and innovative products every year. As we head into CES2020, stay tuned to our newsroom, and Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn channels to see what JBL will unveil next in the headphones category.