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After the iPhone 7, headphone companies are preparing for a post-jack world

Customers look at the iPhone 7 smartphone at an Apple store in New York.
Eduardo Munoz | Reuters
Customers look at the iPhone 7 smartphone at an Apple store in New York.

Slowly but surely, the headphone manufacturing industry is embracing life after the iPhone 7.

Apple paved the road to a wireless future by eliminating the headphone jack in the new iPhone 7, a move that stunned much of the technology world. Yet in a world where wireless headphone sales are projected to top $18 billion worldwide within the next several years, key headphone brands are already positioning themselves to benefit from a future that looks increasingly unplugged from traditional jacks.

Headphone-maker Skullcandy has long offered wireless products, from earbuds to headphones to speakers. For that reason, its chief commercial officer, Sam Paschel, told CNBC that the company views Apple's announcement as an opportunity to bring its products to a wider audience — especially with the holiday season soon approaching.

"When you have an influential brand investing in a category, it'll drive greater awareness. The rising tide raises all ships," he wrote in an email to CNBC. "This holiday, experts are predicting wireless market share percentage could be as high as 70 percent."

Skullcandy is taking advantage of these expectations by launching its new Crusher wireless headphones. Preorders for the $199.99 devices have begun, and the product will be shipped out in late October.

It's not enough to simply sell wireless headphones, though, Paschel said. The transition to a wireless future must go hand in hand with new features. For Skullcandy, that means creating sound projection that listeners can feel, almost as if they were in a movie theater, and continuing to draw new customers in with better headphone offerings.

"We definitely see wireless continuing to gain share and we see these products as the way of the future," Paschel told CNBC. "It's where we will spend the majority of our extensive in-house engineering and product development resources."

Recently, German audio manufacturer Sennheiser also released new wireless headphones. The $399.95 device features active noise cancellation and up to 30 hours of battery life.

"Wireless I believe is the long-term future purely because of the convenience of not having the cord around you," said Andreas Sennheiser, co-CEO of the company along with his brother Daniel Sennheiser.

Skullcandy wireless headphones.
Source: Skullcandy
Skullcandy wireless headphones.

For its part, Sennheiser is offering consumers a world of 3-D sound: An immersive technology that is focused on virtual reality gaming and audio recording at the moment. Andreas Sennheiser told CNBC he hopes to eventually bring that experience into the mainstream market, and expand technology beyond wireless.

"In the future, I believe headphones will become assisted listening devices," he said. "They will enhance listening rather than just blocking out noise."

What has, and hasn't, changed

Still, the post-iPhone 7 world doesn't mean audio hardware manufacturers are ready to cut the cord altogether.

Most companies plan to continue selling wired products for years before wireless innovations fully catch on, a function of consumers who still want traditional headphones.

Paschel said Skullcandy's business is about evenly split between the wired and wireless markets. Sennheiser said traditional wired products remain "staples for music lovers."

Apple iPhone 7 and AirPods, headphones
Mark Neuling | CNBC
Apple iPhone 7 and AirPods, headphones

Jon Erensen, research director at technology advisory firm Gartner, believes catering to both wired and wireless markets is a smart approach, especially because Bluetooth devices tend to come with some sticker shock.

"I don't think you want to bet against wireless," he said, "but you want to position your product line so that you can take advantage of either scenario."

Electronics giant Sony is doing just that. The Japanese company offers simple wired earbuds for as little as $10 alongside its newest noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones for a far pricier $399.

Dunja LaRosa, director and head of mobile audio at Sony, said the majority of the company's market right now comes from wired solutions. Over the last few years, though, wireless and Bluetooth devices have been growing.

"We estimate that market will go to strong double digits in the next year," she said. "Apple's announcement reinforces that."