By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Consumers are demanding increasingly upscale iPod-docking speaker systems as they replace their old shelf systems or make second-time purchases, said retailers who are experimenting with ever-higher price tags.
J&R Music World, for example, is preparing to sell the $800-everyday Roth Alfie, and Datavision of New York plans to offer Bowers & Wilkins's Zeppelin at $599. For its part, Ultimate Electronics of Thornton, Colo., has been selling the $399 Bose SoundDock and is now "researching a few pieces above $399" because of the SoundDock's sales performance, said merchandising director Tim Hevers.
The $299 price tag became popular about a year ago at Ultimate, and then $300-plus models began selling well in the fourth quarter, Hevers said. He credited the trend to two groups of buyers: those who purchased low-end docking speakers and are stepping up and people who want to replace their CD-based shelf systems.
"The market's been saturated with iPod users, and everything is now replacement," Hevers said. "We're seeing the growth of better quality audio becoming more prevalent. If you look at the download market, more lossless CD quality downloads are coming in, and people want equipment that can play it."
Greg Williams, Bowers business development director, likened the shift to the "old days of audio when everyone bought a $59 turntable and a $10 cartridge and realized if they bought better equipment, they'd get better sound. It started an audio revolution."
Retailers are not yet proclaiming a revolution, but they are surprised at the high prices that consumers are willing to pay.
"The more expensive product seems to be selling," said J&R buyer Patti Drake. "When Bose made the SoundDock, nobody thought people would buy it because it was $400, but people did. I think as people start to replace their big home stereos," they are looking at higher priced items.
Vann's of Missoula, Mont., carries the $399 SoundDock, and buyer Dax Kuehn said suppliers are offering him even higher-end speaker docks, but he is not yet buying them. Most of the iPod-docking speaker market is characterized by price compression, he said. "There's a lot of excess inventory now," and suppliers are offering deals, he added.
The $800 Roth Alfie, due this month, is a tabletop iPod-docking station that delivers 40-watt RMS power and a CD/DVD player and can "play your burned MP3s, dock with the iPod, stream iPod video to the TV, and is fully compatible with the iPod Touch, Classic and Nano," said Mark Baranowski, marketing coordinator for Roth's U.S. distributor, American Audio & Video. The Alfie is also designated as Compatible with iPhone, so it automatically goes into airplane mode when docked.
The Alfie also has a built-in down-firing subwoofer, alarm clock, aux-in and touch-sensitive controls on the top of the unit as well as a remote control.
B&W recently opened up distribution on its $599 Zeppelin to all of its retailers after selling the Zeppelin exclusively through Apple retailers and www.apple.com beginning in September. The pricey system was instantly popular through Apple and went into back-order temporarily after launch, the company said.
The Zeppelin is a one-piece, polished-stainless-steel system with three-way speakers and biamplification. It's almost 2 feet wide and features tapered ends that house the midrange and tweeter drivers. It has a center-mounted 5-inch subwoofer with twin rear-firing ports for bass extension and a 50-watt amplifier, plus a 2 X25 watt amplifier for the tweeter/midrange pairs.
DPI, formerly GPX, is offering its highest-priced iPod-docking system to date at a suggested $399 for the iLive iT818B home theater sound bar. The unit has a motorized iPod drawer and a slot-load AM/FM/DVD. It streams both audio and video from most iPods and works with the iPhone in airplane mode. It has SRS TruSurround HD4 virtual 5.1-channel surround sound and ships in April.
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