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Audio Suppliers Singing 'Bluetooth Christmas'

11/17/2013 07:00:00 PM Eastern

NEW YORK — Wherever Elvis is now, he must be singing “Bluetooth Christmas” with a large backup band of CE suppliers.

Strong gains in Bluetooth-speaker sales have prompted new entrants into the market and prompted suppliers to segment the market to target specific niches.

Newcomers include Favi Entertainment, a supplier of projectors and digital media devices. Another newcomer is IK Multimedia, a supplier of affordable music production tools, and U.K.-based startup Damson Audio (see TWICE, Nov. 4, p. 48). Headphone maker Skullcandy also launched its first Bluetooth speaker.

New niches include water-resistant AC/DC models, with Braven launching its second such model and Skullcandy launching a model. For its part, IK Multimedia launched a speaker with musician-targeted features.

A handful of AC-only Bluetooth speakers have begun to appear for in-home use to target the performance market, given their ability to deliver higher power and incorporate a wider range of audio-enhancement technologies compared to most portable AC/DC Bluetooth speakers. Harman Kardon is launching its first such speaker, following recent introductions by Wren Sound and Kicker (see TWICE, Nov. 4, p. 48).

In what could be an industry first, U.K.-based startup Damson Audio plans during International CES in January to launch Bluetooth speakers with automatic room equalization. Some will be AC/DC speakers, and others will be AC-only. Some will also incorporate Wi- Fi for use as part of a wireless multi-room, multizone audio system.

Many of the new products incorporate nearfield communications (NFC) for tap-to-pair functionality, and some include AptX to improve upon Bluetooth’s native sound quality.

Here’s what the companies announced:

Beats Electronics introduced a super-sized version of its Pill Bluetooth speaker last week, known as the Pill XL. It also updated the original Pill, added new wireless headphones and debuted its first speaker accessories.

Braven expanded its selection of portable AC/DC Bluetooth speakers again with the launch of the $169 Braven 710, which becomes the company’s first Bluetooth speaker with NFC, second with IPX5 water resistance, and fourth with AptX decoding.

The company’s Bluetooth lineup spans the price range from a suggested $89 to $299.

The new model is made from aircraft-grade aluminum available in three colors. Two 710 speakers can be used as separate left and right speakers. It also comes with built-in noise-canceling speakerphone, ability to charge USB devices, more than 12 hours of Bluetooth playback time, 33-foot Bluetooth range, and 3.5mm line-in and aux port.

The 710 joins the $179-suggested BRV-1, which is the only other IPX5-rated speaker in the lineup, and three other AptX-equipped models from $169 to $299.

Damson Audio, the U.K.-based start-up with offices in Boulder, Colo., has rolled out three AC/DC Bluetooth speakers at $69 to $229 through its website and about 300 retailers.

For its next act, the company plans at International CES to launch one more Bluetooth-only AC/DC speaker and three speakers incorporating both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to create a multi-room, multi-zone wireless-audio system. All will feature automatic equalization to tailor response to the environment in which they are playing.

One of the three Bluetooth/Wi-Fi speakers will be a soundbar with HDMI switching.

Favi Entertainment is expanding into personal audio with two AC/DC Bluetooth speakers, both with NFC.

The $79 Boomerang and $59 Boomerang Mini, due in stores in mid-December, are single-chassis stereo speakers with a crescent shape that expands and contracts to grip tablets and smartphones.

The Mini is meant for phones and adjusts to fit a phone positioned in portrait or landscape mode. The other speaker is designed for tablets positioned in portrait or landscape mode.

The speakers also let users adjust the mobile’ device’s viewing angle when the speaker and device are placed on a flat surface.

The models feature built-in speakerphone, 10-hour built-in lithium-ion battery and color options.

The Boomerang delivers 2x6-watt output, and the Boomerang Mini delivers 2x4-watt output.

Geneva Labs, a high-end audio company, is expanding its AC-only Bluetooth speaker selection with three new models, which join the company’s first Bluetooth speaker unveiled in May. The new $599 Model M Wireless features FM stereo, alarm clock, four class AB amps and LED display. The real-wood cabinet is available in four pianogloss finishes.

The $1,199Model L Wireless is a Bluetooth-equipped one-piece stereo system with CD, FM, 180-watt amplification, and optional $199 floor stand. It’s available in four real-wood lacquer finishes. The one-piece $2,299 Model XL Wireless also features CD, FM, and optional $199 floor stand, but it adds aptX streaming over Bluetooth, higher power, and three-way design that includes two 1-inch tweeters, two 5.25-inch woofers and two 8-inch subwoofers. It’s available in piano-gloss real-wood cabinets in four finishes.

Harman Kardon launched the AC-only Nova Wireless system, which joins two new Harman Kardon AC/DC Bluetooth speakers unveiled in September.

The new system, priced at a suggested $299, consists of two left-right two-way speakers with transparent spherical enclosures. The system doubles as a speaker system for TVs, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV and the like via its analog and optical digital inputs. The Bluetooth pair features NFC, 2x20-watt amplification, bi-amplification, 1.25-inch tweeter, 2.5-inch midrange/woofer and passive radiator to extend bass response.

The system is said to deliver 70Hz to 20kHz frequency response and use Harman DSP to improve imaging and sound-stage depth.

The brand’s AC/DC Bluetooth speakers include the flat, square Esquire at $249 with NFC. It’s targeted to the business traveler. The brand’s other AC/DC Bluetooth speaker, the $499 Onyx, is a spherical tabletop speaker that also has Bluetooth, AirPlay, Wi-Fi, DLNA and NFC.

IK Multimedia entered the Bluetooth speaker market with the AC/DC iLoud, which is positioned as the first wireless portable speaker designed for musicians.

The $299, 40-watt RMS speaker lets musicians connect a guitar, other musical instrument, or dynamic microphone to mix vocals or the instrument’s sound with mobile-device-stored music for practicing or performing. Users can also run an app like IK’s VocaLive for real-time vocal effects and recording.

The speaker became available last week in musical-instrument stores such as Guitar Center, Sam Ash, Sweetwater and Musician’s Friend and in some CE stores, including BestBuy.com, Amazon, MacMall and B&H Photo Video.

Panasonic expanded its selection of portable Bluetooth speakers with the launch of the $199-suggested SC-NA10 and $299-suggested SCNA30. The compact speakers offer 20 hours of playback time on their rechargeable batteries.

The two new stereo models join other Bluetooth-only speakers, including the portable AC/DC $99 SC-NT10D, $199 AC-only SC-NP10 with tablet stand, and AC-only 199 AC-only SC-NE1.

The new models are available on Panasonic’s website and will be available soon at other online retailers and, in the spring, on store shelves, a spokesperson said.

Both models feature NFC for tap-to-pair functionality, 3.5 mm aux in and XBS Master sound processing, said to improve clarity and accuracy.

The SC-NA30 features two front 2-inch full-range drivers and two passive bass radiators. The SC-NA10 features two 1.6-inch front speakers and one passive bass radiator.

Both double as hands-free speakerphones, and both feature USB port to charge mobile devices.

Skullcandy’s newest portable Bluetooth speaker is the $149 Air Raid, a ruggedized model that’s water-resistant and features stainless-steel faceplate and removable silicone covering. It comes with two 50mm drivers and delivers 88dB SPL. The battery lasts for 14 hours at medium volume.