Can a lower price and the Grammys save one of 2023’s most controversial products?

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Dyson Zone air-purifying headphones.
Maybe not the best way to sell headphones. Matt Alexander / PA wire

If I had to pick just one gadget as the weirdest and most controversial from the last 18 months, it would be — without hesitation — the Dyson Zone. By blending a set of noise-canceling wireless headphones with an air purification system, Dyson created a product that looks ridiculous even when worn by supermodels.

The problem, aesthetically speaking, is the combination of the gigantic earcups (which contain the purification filters and fan units) and the detachable “visor” (a bizarre label given that it sits well below eye level), which channels filtered air toward your mouth and nose. If the way the Zone looked wasn’t enough to make you question it as a purchase, the price surely would have: When the Dyson Zone went on sale in January 2023, it cost $949.

No one summed up early reactions to the Zone with more vitriol than the New York Post’s Johnny Oleksinski, who wrote, “Only a total moron would drop $1K on Dyson’s air-purifying headphones.” Ouch.

When New York City had one of its worst air quality summers in 2023 due to out-of-control wildfires north of the border, I figured the Dyson Zone would shed some of that mostly-deserved ridicule as would-be buyers began to see the benefits of a head-mounted air purifier.

And while I couldn’t find any sales numbers for the Dyson Zone, several recent shifts in strategy suggest that even the threat of smoke-filled commutes hasn’t added much heat to the Zone’s fire.

First, Dyson has slashed the price of the Zone. From its initial just-shy-of-a-thousand-dollars mark, the base Dyson Zone is now just $690 on Amazon. At this new lower price, the Zone now competes directly with some of the best wireless headphones you can buy, like the Master & Dynamic MW75 and the Bowers & Wilkins Px8.

The Dyson Zone (no visor) lead image from Dyson's website.
The lead image on the Dyson Zone website as of January 2024. Dyson

Second, the company appears to be de-emphasizing the air purification aspect of the Zone. The Internet Archive’s earliest capture of Amazon’s listing for the Zone — from June 1, 2023 — shows the headphones and a detached visor as the lead image. On today's version of that page, the visor has been relegated to accessory status. It’s now one of six images displayed on a slide titled In The Box.

A similar rebranding has happened on Dyson’s own website. In March 2023, the lead slogan was “Pure Audio. Pure Air. Anywhere,” and the lead image showed a woman wearing a visorless Zone next to a smaller image of the same model with the visor, which it refers to as a contact-free visor. By May 2023, the slogan was unchanged, but the lead image was now a man wearing a visorless Zone.

Today, the slogan now reads, “Pure audio. Advanced noise cancellation.” You have to scroll the equivalent of five or six pages before finally seeing a small section dedicated to the visor, which has been renamed “attachable travel visor.”

Now that Dyson has shifted the marketing focus squarely to the Zone’s audio and noise-canceling capabilities, the next obvious step is to change the public’s perception. An endorsement (along with a lot of social media photos) from a celebrity would be time-honored way to accomplish that, which brings us to the third leg in Dyson’s strategy to rehabilitate the Zone’s fortunes.

In a press release issued on January 30, the Recording Academy announced that Dyson is the Official Consumer Headphones Partner of the 66th Annual Grammy Awards, which take place on February 4. The release goes on to say that the Dyson Zone will provide event attendees with a “pure, immersive listening experience throughout the weekend,” and makes no mention of the Zone’s air purification feature.

Reducing the price of the Zone is a smart move. De-emphasizing the awkward visor is smarter still. But the smartest move of all could be getting the (presumably visorless) Zone into the biggest music awards show in the world, where it might have a chance to be photographed while worn by many of today’s most influential music makers.

Will it be enough to change the Dyson Zone’s fortunes? That’s still very much up in the air.