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Amplifier sales are down but not out, according to suppliers who expect a slight decline in amp sales for 2002 with pockets of growth in four-channel and mono amps this year.
Amplifier sales tumbled about 10 percent last year, according to NPDTechworld, Port Washington, N.Y., after an 11 percent gain in 2000. Suppliers attribute some of last year's fall off to an overall decline in spending due to Sept. 11. But others say the category has suffered from a lack of innovation recently, and is waiting for exciting products that will bring consumers back into the stores.
"Like speakers, there hasn't been a lot of true innovation — the motors are so solid and good, so sometimes you focus on the cosmetics. Or what gets built is the biggest amp and now the customer has been there and done that," said Brian Carlsness, national sales manager for Rockford Fosgate.
Some industry members say the increase in onboard amplifier power in head units is also cutting into amp sales.
"We used to sell tons of small amps years ago — 25 watt per channel models," said Dan Hodgson, senior VP merchandising for Crutchfield, Charlottesville, Va., noting, "And now, with head units claiming 60 watts peak, its hard to sell a low powered amp. The interest is more towards high power, like 100 watts per channel or more. I believe that based on what we saw at the end of the first quarter, the category will shrink throughout the year."
Alpine said the impact on low-powered amplifiers is "slight," according to VP marketing Stephen Witt while Rockford agreed the market is trending away from lower powered amplifiers. Sony said its line steers away from low powered models, starting at 75 watts by 4.
"We've seen some shift from lower priced to mid-priced amps," Carlsness said, although he disputes the claim that an onboard head unit amp is sufficient to drive a good four-speaker system. "We obviously do a lot of testing and we're seeing a lot of head units boasting 45 watts per channel that have no more power than 8 to 10 watts. So it's a little bit out of hand and it confuses a lot of consumers and even some of the salespeople." (See story on amp ratings, right).
Alpine said that multichannel amplifiers may also detract from overall sales because the installation uses fewer amps. "There is a shift in the market to more simplified systems which is resulting in some lower total unit sales. However we are seeing strong indications already that amplifier sales are increasing since December and that is driven by the youth consumer desiring subwoofer systems and the industry delivering more competitive subwoofer amplifiers."
A couple of suppliers say they are already beginning to address the lack of innovation in the market, with the use of digital vs. analog signal processing. (See TWICE, Dec. 17, 2001, p. 86) With onboard DSP, amplifiers do not necessarily require DA conversion, creating a more direct sound path, resulting in better sound quality, say suppliers.
Alpine, the only supplier currently offering the feature, says its amp sales are up 25 percent this year and Rockford Fosgate, which announced a new Type RF amp line with DSP, says its pre-book orders are very strong. "It's been the best amplifier launch we ever had. We've never pre-booked as many amps — even lower priced amps — in our history," said Rockford's Carlsness. The Type RF line ranges in price from $499 to $1199.
Sony and Kenwood also said their amp sales were growing with Sony claiming it had double-digit growth with its XM 1502SX last year, based on the model's power/value equation.
Rockford Fosgate said it is also seeing an increase in four channel amplifier sales as consumers opt to purchase a four-channel amp to drive the front and rear speakers and then a separate amp for the subwoofer.
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