Audio suppliers at International CES, here, continued to update two-channel music systems to make them relevant in a world where people increasingly use a PC to listen to stored music files or stream music from Internet radio stations.
It looks like they've succeeded.
Shelf system sales rose in 2004 for the first time after three consecutive years of decline, according to CEA statistics. Factory-level dollar volume rose 23 percent to an estimated $900 million on unit-sales growth of 15.4% to 7.06 million, though they're still well below their peak of $1.78 billion in 2000.
At CES, dealers found new system that they hope will keep the momentum going. More systems, for example, stream music from PCs, play CDs encoded with compressed-music files, and incorporate DVD players, in some cases with virtual surround technology.
the industry's first shelf system with HDD and ability to stream different songs wirelessly and simultaneously to multiple amplified tabletop clients. Philips's six-zone Wireless Music Center retails for a suggested $999 with one wireless client (see TWICE, Jan.6, p. 18).
an RCA shelf system that transfers compressed-music files to a bundled flash-memory headphone portable.
multiple JVC shelf systems with PC connections.
and Yamaha's first system with DVD-Video player.
Here are details of select suppliers' plans:
Boston Acoustics: The company's MicroSystem CD is a one-piece tabletop radio-CD player that's 4.5 inches by 14 inches by 8.5 inches and is said to deliver component-quality audio. At a suggested $499, with optional $240 powered subwoofer, the device is the company's first one-piece tabletop audio system with CD and stereo speakers. It uses DSP to enhance audio performance. Features include slot-load CD mechanism with playback of MP3/WMA CDs, controls on top, a flip-open door to hide the remote, front-panel input jack for MP3 portables, two independent alarms, two inputs on back and subwoofer output. It's available.
GPX:Five new shelf systems from a suggested $39.99 to $99.99 will join an expanded selection of undercabinet entertainment systems. The shelf-system selection tops out with a model that plays WMA- and MP3-encoded CDs and features digital tuning.
The number of undercabinet systems goes to five SKUs from two, including a LCD-TV/DVD model with analog cable tuner, 7-inch 16:9 LCD display, and playback of MP3/WMA CDs at a suggested $399.99. The four other models, priced from a suggested $14.99 to $79.99, include the $79.99 KCCD6815DT stereo CD player with AM/FM/TV/weatherband audio, kitchen clock timer and dual alarms.
JVC: In launching four new shelf systems, JVC expanded its selection of microsystems with sake-soaked wood-cone speakers to two. Three systems are the company's first with PC connections to reproduce music stored on a PC in the same room. Two come with USB port; the other uses built-in wireless to talk to an included Wireless PC Link adapter, which connects to the USB port of a PC.
The number of shelf systems with DVD-A/V player and proprietary 3D-Phonic virtual surround technology went to three, down from four. 3D-Phonic replicates a 5.1-channel soundfield through two speakers.
Two microsystems with wood-cone speakers and DVD-AV player are the EX-D5 and EX-D1. Both play MP3, WMA and JPEG-encoded CDs and feature progressive-scan output. The former adds Wireless PC link for in-room streaming from a PC.
The HX-D7 minisystem features five-disc DVD-A/V changer, 3D-Phonic, subwoofer, USB input, and playback of MP3, WMA and JPEG discs. The five-disc HX-C6 minisystem offers the same features excluding DVD-A/V playback.
In 2004, JVC launched its first shelf systems with DVD.
Panasonic: The company talked up three new Nitrix series CD minisystems at a suggested $129-$199. They'll be joined by a third-generation DVD-A/V microsystem at a suggested $249. Like the current model, it features five-disc changer, two speakers and virtual surround technology to deliver 5.1-channel sound from two speakers. It's designed for people wanting a small surround system for the bedroom. Three other new CD microsystems will be priced at $99 to $199.
RCA: The company could be the first to bundle an MP3 portable with a two-channel shelf system, which is designed to rip CDs and transfer MP3 files to the portable. It's designed for first-time MP3-portable buyers who might be intimidated by PCs.
The RS 2052 shelf system, due in June at a suggested $199, features five-disc CD changer and USB 2.0 connection to the included 128MB Lyra flash-memory player. It also transfers music to other RCA Lyra portables. Entire discs or individual tracks can be ripped and transferred in real time. The shelf system also plays MP3/WMA discs.
Sharp: The $169-suggested XL-MP150 microsystem features five-tray CD changer, MP3- and WMA-CD playback with meta data display, single full-logic cassette deck, 220 watts, and speakers studded with blue LEDs that flash to the beat of the music. It's due in the spring.
Yamaha:The company's first shelf system with DVD-Video player is the two-chassis MCR-E600, part of the PianoCraft series of systems with high-gloss black finishes used on Yamaha pianos. Due in April at a suggested $549, it features 2x20-watt receiver with subwoofer output. The CD/DVD player ouputs PAL and NTSC video. It plays Picture CDs, MP3-CDs, JPEG CDs, and DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW discs.