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Speaker Docks Maintain Popularity

1/08/2009 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Sales of iPod-docking speaker systems and clock radios have held up better than any other home-audio segment during the economic slowdown, bringing a sigh of relief to the large number of suppliers that invested in product launches here at International CES.

Brands such as iHome and Boston Acoustics are coming to the show with their highest-end models to date, including a Boston Acoustics model with outboard wireless subwoofer. A greater variety of models designated by Apple as Works With iPhone are also turning up. And Sony, iLive and iLuv are launching their first iTunes-tagging tabletop HD Radios.

The products will enter a market that grew at the retail level from January through October 2008 despite shrinking unit and dollar sales of component audio, home theater in a box (HTiB) systems and compact stereo systems, according to The NPD Group, which tracks sales through major brick-and-mortar and online retailers, excluding Wal-Mart. Unit sales of MP3-docking speakers rose 14 percent to 3.3 million units during the 10-month period, although dollar sales rose only 2 percent to $302.2 million. The statistics include iPod-docking clock radios and tabletop radios but exclude iPod-docking compact stereos and HTiBs.

Such products will continue to withstand the recession better than traditional home audio segments, suppliers contend. Docking-speaker sales will likely accelerate once the recession is over, several suppliers added, because of favorable underlying trends that compensate for declining MP3-player sales. For one thing, the total addressable market is far from saturated, they point out. Household penetration of MP3 players, for example, hit 45 percent in January 2008, but MP3-docking speaker system penetration was only 16 percent, Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) consumer surveys show. In addition, the number of multiple-iPod households is growing, in part because consumers buying their second and third models are passing on their old ones to other family members. That, in turn, creates opportunities to sell additional docking speaker systems into a household.

The iPhone phenomenon will also drive docking-speaker sales growth, suppliers said. Owners of battery-hogging iPhones will buy iPhone-compatible speaker systems and Works With iPhone systems to take advantage of their battery-charging capabilities while stored music and video are played back, suppliers explained. iPhone unit sales to U.S. consumers jumped 114 percent in the third quarter of 2008 to 2.4 million from the year-ago quarter, Apple and AT&T statements show.

Although CE suppliers increasingly offer iPod docks with their HTiBs and compact stereo systems, docking-speaker advocates believe their products retain a portability advantage that offers opportunities for docking-speaker sales in homes with an iPod-docking A/V receiver, HTiB or compact stereo. A total of 29 percent of HTiBs sold at retail from January through October came with iPod docks, NPD said.

"This product category continued to grow in 2008 and — though the economy might cut into final results — we see no change to the long-term trend," said Altec Lansing marketing VP Bernice Cramer. "In 2009, we will also see the effect of smartphones like the iPhone, and other technologies like connected portable gaming platforms, expand the category further. This is a vibrant new area (and time) for audio, and we expect continued growth both in the U.S. and globally."

The fact remains that iPod and its brethren have made listening to audio more ubiquitous and popular than ever," she continued. "The echo of this trend … is an opportunity that will stretch ahead of the industry for years."

The short term also looks good for iPod speaker systems despite economic contraction, added Altec president Vicki Marion. "In a downward economy, it is usually the high dollar purchases and luxury purchases that get sacrificed first," she explained. "While people give up travel and evenings out at fine restaurants, they still spend on entertainment at home, so it is better to be in affordable consumer electronics than in high-priced apparel or tourism.

Consumers now consider MP3 players, laptops and multimedia phones as necessities instead of luxuries, she added. "We expect consumers to continue purchasing these necessities at a strong rate and therefore present large growth opportunities over the long term."

By one measure, the strength of docking speaker systems has already turned around the home audio industry. When docking speaker sales are combined with sales of audio components, HTiBs and compact speaker systems, the home-audio industry's factory-level volume in 2008 will exceed the $3.74 billion peak that the industry enjoyed in 2000, according to CEA's mid-2008 forecast. Without docking speakers, home-audio sales would hit only $2.76 billion, down 24 percent from their peak to a level roughly equivalent to what the industry enjoyed in 1986, the midyear forecast shows. The forecasts will likely fall short because of the intervening financial crisis and economic slowdown, but the numbers underscore the category's importance to the audio industry's fortunes.

Retailers have done the math. The frequency with which docking speakers appeared in retailers' ROP newspaper ads and newspaper inserts jumped 17 percent to 26,730 for the 12 months ending September 2008, according to by IFR Monitoring. IFR tracks advertised pricing, promotion and product placements by more than 2,000 retailers in the U.S. and Canada.

For their 2009 ads, retailers here at CES might opt to include products on display from the following suppliers:

Acoustic Research: The Audiovox accessories brand is offering its second iPod speaker system, the $199-suggested AR51000 Blade. It's certified as Works With iPhone. The two-channel, two-way speaker system can be used as a desktop stereo system or used to enhance the sound of a flat-panel TV. It lacks virtual-surround processing. It comes with component-video output for displaying iPod-stored video on the TV, two-way left-right speakers with horn-loaded tweeters, and touch-sensitive buttons. It was scheduled to ship in late 2008 or early 2009.

Boston Acoustics: The brand is expanding its selection of iPod speaker systems up with the $499-suggested i-DS3, which is designated as Works With iPhone. It's packaged with a 6-inch down-firing wireless subwoofer and features interchangeable perforated-metal speaker grilles in different colors. It supports all iPods and comes with dual 3.5-inch full-range drivers and two 0.5-inch tweeters. Dynamic power output is 100 watts. It ships in March in gloss black or gloss white.

In a related introduction, the brand will show the $499 Horizon Trio compact one-piece stereo CD-radio with interchangeable grilles, analog AM/FM reception, MP3 CD playback, slot-load CD drive and a snooze bar that wraps around the chassis. The snooze bar takes the form of a touch-sensitive outer aluminum trim piece.

Coby: Three new iPod speaker systems will include the company's first iPod-docking clock radio and first Works With iPhone-certified system. The latter model is the company's premium model. Additional details were unavailable.

GPX: The Digital Products International brand is launching its first iPod-docking products, including the CI189 Made for iPod clock radio at a suggested $29.99. The single-alarm clock radio features AM/FM a line input, and gradual wake-up to alarm, radio or iPod.

Another iPod-docking clock radio is the $49.99-suggested HI209 with AM/FM radio, MP3 line input, and remote. All ship in the first quarter.

iHome: The SDI brand is stepping up its docking-speaker selection with its highest priced, most powerful model to date. The iP1, priced at a tentative suggested retail of $299, packs 100-watt Class D amplifier into a 6.9-inch by 16.3-inch by 7.9-inch smoked-acrylic chassis featuring two-way biamplified speakers with 4-inch woofers and 1-inch tweeters, BonGiovi Power Station DSP to enhance the quality of compressed music, video output, bass and treble controls, aux input, and a remote that controls iPod/iPhone menu functions.

A battery-powered system, the iP49 travel alarm clock folds flat like a laptop, thanks to the use of NXT's flat-panel speaker technology. It also features BonGiovi DSP and Works With iPhone certification. It has an internal rechargeable lithium-ion battery and 6-watt output. Pricing was unavailable.

Both models expand iHome's selection of Works With iPhone models.

Ship dates for both models were unavailable.

iLive: The Digital Products International brand is launching its first four iPod-docking products to be certified as Works with iPhone, its first iTunes-tagging tabletop HD Radio and its first two iPod speaker systems with wireless speakers.

The iTunes-tagging tabletop radio is the $149-suggested iSP809B with clock-radio functionality and Works With iPhone certification. Another new iPod-docking AM/FM clock radio is the $79-suggested iC609 Intelli Set automatic time setting.

The two iPod desktop speaker systems with wireless speakers are the iS809B and iS819B at a suggested $129 and $149, respectively. The speakers, which use 2.4GHz wireless technology, operate on batteries or, when docked, on AC power. Both feature RF remotes, line input and built-in clocks. The step-up adds AM/FM radio.

Three other Works With iPhone products are the $79-suggested iSP209B AC/DC portable speaker system with carrying case, the $99 iSP389B clock radio and the $99 iCP689B clock radio. The iSP209B is programmable to wake to the iPod or iPhone, and the iSP809B has dual alarms. The iCP689B features Intelli Set automatic time setting, 20 station presets, dual alarm and remote control.

The Made for iPod iS808B AM/FM/clock radio with retractable iPod dock and remote features a dual alarm and has a suggested retail of $69.

The $79-suggested iH319B Made for iPod music system comes with separate speakers, AM/FM radio, CD player with motorized drawer and remote.

Four new portable AC/DC models are the $39-suggested iB109P with AM/FM radio and built-in handle; the $49 iB209B, also with AM/FM and handle; the $59 iB289; and the $79 iB319, which adds CD player and remote.

The company is also launching two new iPod-docking sound bars.

All of the new products will be available through retailers in the spring.

iLuv: Four new docking products, all upgrades of previous models, are the iMM9500 four-disc compact stereo system, the i1166 iPod-docking portable DVD player, the dual-dock iMM183 clock radio and the iTunes-tagging iHD171 tabletop HD Radio.

Pricing was unavailable.

The iHD171 is the company's first HD Radio with iTunes tagging and with Works With iPhone certification. It will replace the current i169 tabletop HD Radio.

The 9500 compact stereo system bears Works With iPhone certification and features AM/FM tuner, embedded dock, four-disc MP3-CD changer, motorized CD door, vertical profile, playback of MP3 files stored on USB drive and SD/MMC memory card, and 2.1-speaker system with 2x10+25-watt amplification at 10 percent THD.

The dual-dock 183 clock radio, which is certified as Works With iPhone, charges two iPods at a time or one iPod and one iPhone at a time. Unlike its predecessor, it adds weatherband radio with NOAA emergency-alert notification and display of up to 10 SAME-alert text messages. It's rated at 2x5 watts at 1 percent THD. Manual time setting is unnecessary because the clock's time syncs with the time of a docked iPod or iPhone.

The iPod-docking i1166 portable DVD player is iPhone-compatible but not certified as Works With iPhone. It displays video from any video-capable iPod on its 9-inch widescreen. A USB slot and SD/MMC slot enable playback of audio, video and picture files stored in the MP3, JPEG, Kodak and MPEG-4 formats. It also plays MP3 CDs and features embedded stereo speakers, onscreen display and A/V output.

Jensen: This brand from Spectra Merchandising is introducing iPod-docking speaker systems that include the $129-suggested JiSS-585 desktop speaker system, which features wireless speaker balls that can be separated up to 100 feet from the base to widen the stereo image. The Made For iPod system features 2x2-watt amplification, line-in jack and remote.

The $99-suggested JiMS-250i speaker system is designated Made for iPod and Works With iPhone. It's also rated at 2x2 watts and adds FM tuner, S-Video output for playing iPod/iPhone videos on a connected TV, clock-radio functions, aux in and full-function remote.

The JiSS-250i is a $69-suggested speaker system that's Made for iPod and Works With iPhone certified.

JVC: Of three new microsize shelf systems, two are the first iPod-docking shelf systems with the ability to display iPod-stored video on a connected TV. One of them is the UX-LP5 with front-mounted pop-out dock, 2x35-watt amplification, iPod video output, MP3/WMA CD playback, two-way speakers and March availability. The step-up UX-GN6 with dock on top features a motion sensor that powers the unit on and off when a hand is waved in front. The CD-equipped, 2x60-way GN6 adds USB Host port for playback of MP3 and WMA music files. Both microsystems ship in March with two-way speakers. Pricing was unavailable.

In new iPod speaker systems, the RA-P51 clock radio features FM tuner, dual alarms, AC/DC operation and remote. Pricing and ship dates were unavailable.

The company's first product to work with the iPhone was the NX-PN7 dual iPod speaker dock launched at 2008's CES, but although it worked with the iPhone, it was not officially certified, a spokesman said.

Kinyo: The company's first iPod-docking speaker system is the MS-04G, a compact, soundbar-style model that's Works With iPhone certified. It features S-Video output and iPod/iPhone bracket that can be rotated to display videos in landscape mode. The 3.94x11.8x8.35-inch system docks via included USB cable with a PC to synchronize iTunes songs. The 2x5-watt amp drives two 2.5-inch full-range drivers. Price and ship date were unavailable at press time.

Memorex: Three new one-piece iPod speaker systems include the brand's first two Works With iPhone models. They are the $79-suggested Mi4290P clock radio with 10-watt amp, FM tuner, wireless remote and separate weekday/weekend alarm settings. The other Works With iPhone model is the $139-suggested Mi9490P, which includes FM and single CD player with 30-watt output.

A $59-suggested travel speaker/clock radio system, which isn't certified as Works With iPhone, is the foldable Mi2290 with battery and AC operation, two full-range speakers and 10 to 12 hours of playback time on batteries.

All three can ship in the first quarter.

Sonoro: The Eklipse AM/FM table radio is the company's first with embedded iPod dock, which sits on top. It comes in high-gloss black or white-lacquered finish with a glowing dial for intuitive control of tuning or volume. It's tentatively scheduled to ship in January at a price that was unavailable.

Sony: New products include the company's first tabletop HD Radio with iPod dock, first iPod-docking clock radio with CD, and a second-generation iPod-docking boombox. The company is also expanding its selection of iPod-docking speaker systems, clock radios and tabletop radios with Works With iPhone certification.

The CD clock radio is the $99-suggested ICF-CD3iP, a Works With iPhone model with slide-out dock tray, AM/FM tuner, automatic time set and automatic daylight savings time set.

Another docking clock radio, the $69-suggested ICF-C7iP, that is certified as Works With iPhone, features AM/FM, and offers automatic time set and automatic daylight savings time. Both clock radios lack video output.

The second-generation docking boom box, the $99-suggested ZS-S4iP, adds Works With iPhone certification, lacks video output, comes with headphone jack and plays for seven hours on six C batteries. Its docking station is protected.

The company's second-generation tabletop HD Radio, the $179-suggested XDRS10HDiP, is the company's first tabletop HD Radio with iPod dock, and it features iTunes tagging and Works With iPhone certification. Features include alarm clock functionality, simulated surround sound, 20 AM and 20 FM presets, input for other-brand MP3 players and a wireless remote.

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