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With speaker sales down, even in the mainstay category of subwoofers, suppliers are looking for ways to boost sales.
According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), speaker dollar sales for the year through October were down in key categories, including subwoofers, by 3.7 percent; flush mount speakers, down 9.6 percent; and component speakers, down 4.3 percent.
On the up side, sales of dual-voice coil subwoofers, over-12 inch woofers and 6-inch models are on the rise. And declines may be lessening, as seen in October, when sales were up in both subwoofers and flush mount speakers, following slight increases in September, according to CEA.
Some suppliers say the mid-end of the market has been hardest hit, agreeing with JL Audio VP marketing Manville Smith. "People are buying more low-end and high-end product so the mid-end is getting sucked out of the market. But when they buy high-end, they buy less. Maybe they buy one premium 12-inch instead of two mid-quality 12-inch [woofers]," he noted.
Directed Electronics, which just re-launched the Orion, PPI and now a/d/s/ brands noted, "It's been the kind of year where everyone's trying to look for the magic pill for what ails them," according to audio product category manager, John Durbin.
Still others predict an industry shakeout. Boston Acoustics national sales manager Dominic Aquilini said, "Some of the retailers are getting smart and consolidating lines. I would predict a lot of consolidating over the next three to five years."
For 2004, many suppliers are hitting hardest where the money seems to be—in dual voice coil subwoofers, flashy "tuner" cosmetics and easy-to-install drivers.
Alpine is adding two new woofers to its "tuner"-aimed Type-S line with open-spoke grills and swivel tweeters. The 6.5-inch SPS-171A and 5-by-7 inch SPS-571A both have a target retail price of $199.
In its high-end Type X line of component speakers, Alpine is adding three new 2-way component systems and a new 6.5-inch midbass kit. All use a ring diaphragm rather than a typical dome configuration for better sound pressure levels and better clarity, said Alpine. New models include a 6.5-inch woofer at $399, a 5.25-inch woofer at $389 and a 4-inch model at $379. The new midbass kit lets users create a custom three-way system at $299.
Blaupunkt is pushing its OverDrive line of thin speakers as a way to simplify installation, particularly in new Hondas, and other cars with shallow mount speaker openings. "There's a very strong trend in 'driveaways.' A consumer comes in and says I want a better audio system, but physically, nothing fits his car," said Tom Breithaupt, engineer and product manager for amplifiers and speakers. He claims OverDrive models drop in without modification. The company is shipping new OverDrive "saucer" woofers in 10 and 12 inches in January at street prices of $279.95 and $299.95.
Pioneer is also stressing thin mount speakers aimed at trucks and SUVs. It will show at CES next month a TS-SW124D 12-inch subwoofer with a symmetrical dual surround, inverted voice coil and spider-less design that is 4 inches deep. Pioneer says the speakers deliver the same bass response as conventional 12-inch subwoofers. Shipping is expected in May.
JVC is revamping its HX step-up speaker series, adding a stronger pure aluminum diaphragm, neo dymium magnets and a square-in voice coil. The line includes JVC's first 6-by-8-inch models and ranges from $59 per pair for a three-way 5¼-inch speaker to $129 for a five-way 6-by-9-inch speaker.
Kenwood is showing two new budget priced subwoofers that feature a new 'Typhoon-type' cone. The cone has large, overlapping radial ribs to improve strength, said the company. It also has a new 'high-roll' surround, stacked magnet assembly and double spider. The 12-inch model KFC-W3009 and the 10-inch KFC-W2509 will have suggested retail prices of $100 and $90, respectively.
MB Quart is introducing next month an entry level subwoofer line called the Discus series. The line shares some of the same technology as the company's higher-end Premium and Reference subwoofers including light weight cast basket, inverted surround, parabolic dust cap and wiring terminal. Discus woofers range from 10 inches to 15 inches at prices from $159 to $199.
Morel is debuting a revamped line with a new Accuset crossover and alignment system and new aluminum die cast chasses. The high-end Elate subwoofers in 5-, 6-, 9- and 10 inches have new magnet systems, woofer suspensions and adjustable crossovers. New component speakers are in the Elate SW, Hybrid Ovation and Dotech MkII lines. The company has also replaced its Millennium series with new Pulse 2-way component systems and its Integral coaxial speakers with Integra Ovation point source models.
Panasonic is making a strong push in speakers with its first "tuner" inspired line called the Hi-Phi series. The grills are designed in the form of a Phi symbol and the drivers have 18 percent more cone space than typical speakers, said the company. This is due to a surround on the back, rather than the front of the speaker to enlarge the cone surface and increase power. The line includes 4-inch to 6-by-9-inch models.
Polk is adding 4-ohm dual voice coil subwoofers to its high end DVC series of Polk/MOMO subwoofers. The models include polypropylene concave "dish" cones in sizes from 8 to 15 inches at prices from $109.95 to $219.95.
Also new are Polk/MOMO components with woven carbon fiber cones, 25mm liquid-cooled silk/polymer composite dome tweeters and cast aluminum baskets. All the speakers come with three-year parts and labor warranties.
Precision Power is showing a new Power Class series with a revamped industrial design. Component speakers have 19mm vapor deposit titanium dome tweeters and new coaxials have built-in tweeter protection. Prices range from $259 to $329 per pair for components and $199 to $269 for coaxials.
Rockford Fosgate redesigned its entire Power series subwoofers and boosted power handling. The new models claim big excursion and anodized aluminum cones. The speaker surrounds have a new taller, narrower shape. The top speakers handle up to 2000 watts, said the company. The Punch line has also been overhauled with new dramatic cosmetics and Lexan injection molding. The line offers both single and dual-voice coils.