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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.
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