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Audio Trends To Watch At CES

12/20/2010 12:01:00 AM Eastern

NEW YORK – Audio suppliers are headed toward
International CES buoyed by 2010 dollar growth in
key industry segments – from components to iPoddocking
speaker systems — and the companies will be
armed with new products to leverage 2011’s expected
slow-but-steady economic expansion.

At the show, dealers will find a growing
selection of networked audio components
and home theater in a box (HTiB) systems
that stream content from a networked PC,
more HTiBs equipped with 3D Blu-ray players
and 3D-capable HDMI 1.4a inputs, and an expanded
selection of streaming services available through
HTiBs.

In other home theater audio solutions, dealers will
find a greater selection of active soundbars, thanks to
companies entering the market or expanding their selections.

New products that distribute audio wirelessly
throughout the house will also appear, and iPad-docking
speaker systems will also proliferate.

In component audio, sales have been aided and abetted
in part by the growth of ever-thinner TVs, said Yamaha
Electronics president Tom Sumner. “Audio has become a
must to purchase with new TVs just to hear a newscast,
let alone enjoy a music or sporting event,” he said.

Another factor, Sumner said, is pent-up demand caused by consumers having updated their TV, Blu-ray
player or set-top box, only to find their existing A/V receiver
“doesn’t have the connections and features they need
for their new system,” Sumner said. (See p. 8 for more
comments from Sumner and other audio-industry executives
on the state of the component market.)

For her part, Altec Lansing president Vicki Marion forecast
that 2010’s docking-speaker sales would end “with
mid-single-digit gains in unit sales and low positive revenue
based on modest ASP declines.” Next year will be
even better as the economy continues to recover, demand
rises for iPad-docking speaker systems, and the number
of multi-iPod households continues to rise, she and other
suppliers said.

Here’s what to look for in key audio categories at CES:

Electronics components: Audio electronics from
the low to high end will emphasize connectivity to iPods
and iPhones, networked PCs and Internet radio, with networked
A/V receivers coming down in price to an expected
suggested $349 from about $500 to stream music
from the Internet and from a networked PC.

Dealers will also find at least two two-channel receivers
with ability to convert CDs, vinyl records, and cassettes to
compressed MP3 and WMA formats. At least one component-
audio supplier will launch a stereo receiver with
bundled tethered iPod/iPhone dock to join similar products
recently shipped by other suppliers. Those products
include a Rotel stereo receiver with iPod /iPhone USB
connection, Internet radio, and ability to stream music
from a networked PC. For its part, Yamaha recently
shipped three stereo receivers and an integrated amp at
a suggested $329 to $549 with optional wired and wireless
iPod/iPhone docks.

A/V receivers with HDMI inputs compatible with the
Blu-ray 3D format and broadcast 3D formats will continue
to be available at entry-level price points, having started at
$229 in a Pioneer model in 2010.

For its part, Denon will demonstrate its new $599-suggested
N7 networked CD-receiver and a $1,999 AVR-
4311CI AV receiver with Apple AirPlay functionality, enabling
them to stream music, album art and photos from
a networked computer’s iTunes application and from
Apple’s iPod Touches, iPads and iPhones via a home’s
Wi-Fi network. The AirPlay firmware upgrades for these
products and other AVRs N7 and became available in
mid-December.

Speakers: Multiple companies will display their highest
priced in-room speakers to date, and others will bring
technology from their flagship lines to lower priced lines.

Wisdom said it will roll out its highest end in-room
speaker series to date with the launch of two Wisdom
Series line-source planar-magnetic tower speakers at
$30,000 and $40,000 each.

Polk will show its new flagship series of in-room speakers,
the LSi M, which replaces its 10-year-old flagship LSi
series with a ground-up redesign to step up performance
and price points. The series will top out with a four-way
floorstanding tower at a tentative $4,000/pair, up from the
current LSI series’ current top-end $2,500/pair.

Also at the high end, one company will demonstrate
new two-way active DSP speakers, and another will bring
flagship technologies to a new series priced from a suggested
$1,500 to $4,500/pair for left-right speakers.

Also at the show, dealers will find at least one more
supplier, Martin Logan, launching in-wall and in-ceiling
speakers described as “virtually bezel-less.” Another
company will launch its most expensive custom speaker
to date to match the performance of its flagship in-room
speakers.

Internet radio: Multiple companies will turn up at the
show with new tabletop Internet radios, including iPod/
iPhone-docking models and AC/DC models. At least one
new model will sync with like models around the house to
play the same Internet radio stream.