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LAS VEGAS -Speaker manufacturers are reaping the benefits of a DVD-inspired renaissance in home theater audio, the popularity of less intrusive designs, and an expanding economy that's stepping up demand for step-up models.
Speaker sales, several suppliers contend, have been growing at double-digit rates in units and dollars for at least two years.
"Speaker manufacturers are all starting to get the message," said Len Safhay, marketing director for Adcom, which distributes KEF in the United States. "People are no longer willing to put up with unattractive big boxes. People want smaller footprints, interesting shapes and on-wall alternatives to in-walls that are aesthetically pleasing. Many people are in the market for speakers for cosmetic reasons. People are into the aesthetics of their homes-the rugs, furnishings, renovations-and speakers are a part of that."
For that reason, Polk marketing manager Paul DiComo said, home theater sub/sat systems are doing "terrific," and even sales of big speakers are "very good ... DVD turned it around. The last thing like this was the introduction of CD. Formats drive our business."
At the same time, said Boston Acoustics marketing VP Martin Harding, consumers have been increasingly willing to step up. "People seem to be getting the good stuff. Our more expensive products, such as the VRm speakers, are raking a larger share of our business without impacting sales of existing products."
The VRm series includes two bookshelf models at $799 per pair and $999 per pair.
The step-up trend has also appeared in custom channels. Citing installer demand for step-up bookshelf speakers, Definitive Technology introduced what are probably the industry's first bookshelf models with built-in powered subwoofer.
Another factor driving up sales is the growing willingness by consumers to replace all of their speakers in one fell swoop rather than add a center channel or surrounds to their existing stereo speaker pair, said Boston's Harding.
"People are buying speaker systems," he said. "The a la carte business in our distribution [specialty chains and independents] is becoming less important. People aren't adding speakers to their stereo speakers. They're getting all new speakers."
With these trends in mind, companies such as KEF plan to unveil at CES prepackaged home theater speaker systems with small satellites, slimmed-down towers, and step-up towers with built-in powered subwoofers. New architectural speakers will also be unveiled.
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