Can Skyrocketing Subwoofer $s Continue To Fly?

By Amy Gilroy On Dec 17 2001 - 8:00am

Subwoofer and component speakers continue to be the bright spot of the car speaker market with subwoofer dollar sales climbing 21 percent in year-to-date sales through October, and component systems up 14 percent, according to CEA statistics.

Some suppliers however are concerned that subwoofers, which have traditionally been a cash cow for the industry, will suffer a decline in margins as "buy one for $99, get one free" promotions become more common. Other suppliers, including Pioneer, Rockford Fosgate and Stillwater Designs say any price pressure will be restricted to the low end of the subwoofer market.

"I think the ASPs in the category will drop due to the promotions but I think it will be in promotional prices only," said Pioneer VP product planning Keith Burnett. "There are still a lot of customers out there that want a good quality product and are willing to spend the extra money to get the sound quality. This is just a promotion to drive additional foot traffic to the retailers."

Similarly, Rex Whitehead, director of product planning for Rockford Fosgate noted, "There's been a major resurgence in higher-end subwoofers over the last 18 months. Our upper-end models are extremely strong. The two-for-one promotions are not the prettiest scene, but I don't see it being a big drag down on pricing. "

Blaupunkt's Tom Breighthaupt, senior engineer and product manager for amps and speakers, noted, "It's not that every person on earth will buy a $40 speaker but there's a strong concert that this will put pressure on the mid- to high-priced products."

In product trends, suppliers continue to push the envelope in increased power handling and improved installation flexibility. And many continue to focus on flashy designs aimed at the youth market. Or as MTX claims, "Getting more SPL in a small box is the main goal, more so than in past years," technical communications manager Manny Kitagawa said.

This is true of Blaupunkt's new "saucer" subwoofer, called the OverDrive, which debuts at CES. It requires half the mounting depth of typical subwoofers, allowing a 12-inch subwoofer to fit in a door without compromising sound, said Blaupunkt. The company used aerospace wing building techniques to achieve the new shallow mounting, added a spokesman. The line includes 10-inch and 12-inch models with single voice coils and 12-inch and 15-inch dual voice coil models. The ODws 1000 and ODws 1200 single voice coil models will have suggested retail prices of $179 and $199 and the ODwd 1200 and ODwd 1500 will carry prices of $249 and $299.

In new speaker designs, Blaupunkt is also introducing a line of transparent speakers that feature transparent baskets so enthusiasts can backlight the speaker causing the entire speaker, including the frame, to glow said the company. The line ranges from coaxials to subwoofers at prices from $39.95 to $99.95. Also in new designs, Kicker will expand its square subwoofer concept with several new models.

Pushing raw power this year is MTX which is debuting a "musical" version of the 56 pound, 15-inch SPL subwoofer it introduced last year.

The new model RFL152M delivers 4,000 watts of total power. Like the SPL version, the 298 ounce motor structure of the 152M is held together with 5/16-inch bolts, but the new version is designed for clarity of musical reproduction, rather than just "loud" sound.

MTX is also showing a new cooling system in its Thunder series subwoofers. Instead of using a "vented pole piece" design, the company inserted small vented grilles around the voice coil between the motor structure and the spider to draw air away from the voice coil, and allow better power handling. The system is called Spider Plateau Venting.

In addition, the company moved away from the colored polypropylene cone in favor of a new aluminum cone. The three new Thunder series include the 4000, 6000 and 8000. They will ship in the first quarter at prices ranging from approximately $80 to $350.

Other suppliers at CES are also pushing high power and catchy designs. Here are some early glimpses of the new speakers lines debuting in Las Vegas:

Alpine is debuting its first line of Type R speakers to match its Type R subwoofers. The mid-priced line will consist of two sets of component speakers and four coaxial models. All have cast aluminum baskets and aluminum coated polypropylene cones. All come with a swivel tweeter, even in the coaxial versions. The new line is expected to ship in February or March at approximate suggested retail prices from $170 to $260.

Coustic is showing a new CF subwoofer series that uses carbon fiber cones. Available in 10-inch and 12-inch models in single or dual 4 ohm voice coils, the speakers feature a yellow cast aluminum basket. Carbon fiber was selected for the cones because it is a very stiff material but lightweight for good power handling with low distortion, according to the company.

JL Audio will show at CES new subwoofers in the mid- to high-price range and a new line of TR coaxial and component speakers which have been re-engineered and redesigned.

Panasonic is debuting a full line of new DVD-ready speakers that have a broader frequency response to accommodate the greater highs that DVD can reproduce — from 5Hz to 44kHz for DVD Video. The company's flagship speakers have frequency ranges up to 80Hz and a step-down series offers up to 50kHz.

Six new DVD-ready models, delivering up to 50kHz, will be available in the new Panasonic DC line along with two new models, also rated up to 50kHz, in the SS line. The new models include a redesigned injection molded tweeter to achieve the 50kHz response, said Panasonic.

Also Panasonic is debuting a flagship DVD-ready CJ-DVD177 cast aluminum speaker with gold binding post and home audio grade components. It has a newly designed round leaf tweeter that uses a flat membrane and supports up to 80kHz.

Also new from Panasonic are HD subwoofers designed for small box enclosures. The new 10-inch model, the CJ-HD252, is designed for a .5-cubic-foot box and the 12-inch CJ-HD302 performs in a .8-cubic-foot enclosure. The new HD series ships in March at prices beginning at $100.

In addition to its REV line of stylized speakers designed for the "tuner" market (see TWICE, Nov. 12) Pioneer is showing a new TS-A series with new cosmetics and increased power handling. The line also uses a new Pearl Poly-Carbon tweeter.

Xtant is showing a new line of subwoofers that also use the Spider Plateau Venting system (see MTX, above) for cooling. The models also contain a hot-pressed Nomex spider and a steel basket, front plate and yoke.

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