Speakers remained a relatively flat category this year, with continued growth in the subcategories of subwoofers and components. However, suppliers say brighter days may be on the horizon once DVD Audio gains popularity.
While it is uncertain whether DVD Audio will create a strong demand for center-channel speakers, high-end suppliers say it is almost sure to boost sales in high-performance speakers overall.
Only one company, Panasonic, is currently shipping DVD Car Audio, with other brands expected to follow in 2001 when more software is available.
"I think all of us are working on center-channel speakers," said Chris Dragon, JBL and Infinity director of brand marketing. "The hardest thing with a center channel for the car is how to integrate it into the car. This has been executed in vents, or cut holes in the dash or custom consoles. Every speaker specialist manufacturer is striving to come up with an easily installed center channel."
At Boston Acoustics, marketing VP Martin Hardin said his company is exploring the market, and "like many companies, we are investigating if there is enough of a market to bring out center speakers."
"In-car surround sound will not really take off, in our opinion, until DVD Audio appears," added Hardin. "We're not seeing huge sales for center speakers for the piece that is out there, and we won't bring out more in car 5.1 products until the market is more developed. But we believe we're right at the beginning of a 5.1 trend."
Suppliers seem confident, however, that DVD Audio will eventually have a positive impact on high-end speaker sales. Kove Audio president Gary Kovner, for example, said it will have the same "huge" impact that home theater has had on home speakers.
MB Quart president Keith Lehmann said it will be up to the dealer to demonstrate DVD Audio from a top-down selling approach.
"DVD Audio will immediately beg the question, 'What is the big difference between conventional CD and DVD Audio,'and the best answer a dealer can have is to demo it with their higher-end loudspeakers and electronics," Lehmann maintained. "If they don't, and they use the lower-end equipment, they are missing out on a grand opportunity to sell top down, and they are not doing the customer any favors."
Panasonic has already debuted two component speakers that it claims are specifically designed for DVD Audio. Called the CJ-SPS137 and CJ-SPS177, they feature a microcellular foam cone for fast response and aluminum die-cast frames to reduce unwanted resonance. Both speakers have a separate leaf tweeter, which combines a voice coil into the diaphragm.
The CJ-SPS137 includes two 5.25-inch woofers and the CJ-SPS177 uses two 6.5-inch units. Both have a maximum handling of 130 watts and 4-ohm impedance, and suggested retail prices are $449.99 and $499.99, respectively.
For first-half 2001, however, speaker suppliers are concentrating on the more mundane task of gaining share in a tight market by delivering more performance for the dollar.
Boston Acoustics is bringing out its first low-cost component systems line; JBL will branch out into the marine market and show Plus One cone technology; and Infinity will offer its home speaker technology in a redesigned Kappa series. Cerwin Vega is also launching a new line, and Kove and CDT are showing new coaxial/triaxial-type designs.
Boston Acoustics will debut at CES two new speaker lines, including its first lower-priced component systems line-called the FS series-and a new FX coaxial speaker line that replaces the CX series.
The FS series includes three systems, starting at $219 (vs. $300 in the previous line). All models feature real crossovers and 0.75-inch tweeters, said Harding, noting, "We feel there's a market down at that price point, and a lot of our retailers are selling products generally from the Japanese in that range. So now we are able to offer them a Boston product at a similar price."
Boston Acoustics'new FX coaxial line adds all-rubber surrounds, larger magnets and new baskets at similar prices to the old CX line. It has nine models ranging from the 3.5-inch (FX3) to the three-way, 6 x 9-inch (FX93) at suggested retail prices from $79.95 to $139.95.
Cerwin Vega is debuting the Intense Technology series, which includes a line of subwoofers and a separate line of competition components and multi-element systems.
The new subwoofers are designed for small, sealed enclosures without sacrificing low-end output performance. They all have 4-ohm impedance and are available in 8, 10, 12 and 15 inches.
Cerwin Vega's subwoofers feature a Kevlar and Crystalline Oxide Fiber composite cone that is infused with glass particles and then treated with a polypropylene coating. Other features include die-cast aluminum frame and handcrafted oversized voice coils.
Power-handling capability ranges from 200 watts RMS for the 8-inch subwoofer to 400 watts RMS in the 15-inch at suggested retail prices from $189.95 to $299.95 each, respectively.
The component and systems Intense Technology line features new materials such as woven crystal-fiber laminated Nomex honeycomb midwoofer cones for high efficiency and lower distortion. Three of the models have die-cast aluminum frames, and the systems use Pure Titanium 1-inch dome tweeters and high-power 18dB/octave passive crossovers.
The line has four systems that range in price from $369.95 for the IT-4.02 (with a pair of 4-inch midwoofers) to the IT-702E (with a pair of 165mm European DIN-standard midwoofers
and nickel-plate frame) at $429.95.
CDT Audio will show at CES its Phase Perfect three-way reference-class speaker system. It uses a cast-magnesium 6.5 midbass and 4-inch driver, and either 0.75- or 1-inch silk dome tweeters.
The drivers are blended by a four-piece, high-slope, time-aligned crossover network that uses CDT's 60 dB per octave crossover technology. This crossover is also designed for easy installation as it is split into two small units for the left side and two small units for the right.
The model HD-642ST will retail for $509 per pair with the 0.75-inch silk tweeter and $579 per pair with the 1-inch silk tweeter.
CDT is also showing four new Braxial speakers, which are essentially coaxial speakers mounted together by a special bracket that is able to strategically aim the tweeter for better imaging and sound-staging.
The Braxial line uses compound curvature, carbon-treated cones with stainless-steel top and bottom plate, gold-plated terminals, real butyl-rubber surrounds and flat spiders. The line includes three tweeter choices: a 0.75-inch silk softdome tweeter, a 1-inch silk softdome, or a 1-inch metal dome tweeter. They also use the 60 dB Crossover.
Prices range from $259 for the CL5XB with 5.25-inch driver to $369 for the HD-63 with 6.5 inch driver.
JBL, meanwhile, will enter the marine market for the first time with two 6.5-inch speakers: the dual-cone MS610 at $89.95 per pair and the coaxial MS620 at $119.95 per pair. JBL is pursuing the new area, Dragon said, because "this is a growing category. We've had great success in this market on the Infinity side, and retailers have been asking us to develop JBL product."
For the first time, JBL will offer the Plus One woofer cone design, which debuted last year in the Infinity Reference series. With Plus One technology, the cone basket is tooled so that it is up to 30 percent larger that typical cones in the same hole size, the company said.
The technology will appear in a revamped Grand Touring line of multi-element speakers, components and component systems.
Dragon said the new Grand Touring series also features 1-inch edge-driven dome tweeters that are home hi-fi-quality tweeters with full 1-inch voice coils for a 1-inch dome tweeter vs. the typical 0.5-inch voice coil on a typical W dome tweeter. This results in improved power handling and smoother transitions between midrange and tweeter, he said.
The Grand Touring series ranges from 3-inch speakers at a suggested retail price of $89.95 per pair to a 6 x 9-inch three-way at $149.95 a pair. Shipping is expected in spring 2001.
Infinity will launch at CES a new line of Kappa speakers that use the same ceramic-metal matrix diaphragms for the midwoofer and tweeters as it uses in its home product lineup. The new Kappa line ships in spring 2001, starting at $119.95 per pair up to $349 for a6-inch component system with two crossovers, two tweeters and two midwoofers.
Infinity is also expanding the Kappa Perfect line to include a 5.25-inch component system called The Perfect 5.2. It includes a pair of 5.25-inch tweeters and a pair of passive crossovers at a suggested retail price of $529.95 for the system.
Kove Audio will release a midtweeter with a separate midrange and tweeter that are mounted in a single point source. Called the KMG MT40, it has a sealed-back midrange unit with a toroid-shaped diaphragm controlled by a 2.75-inch moving voice coil. A silk soft dome tweeter with 1-inch aluminum voice coil is mounted inside the midrange diaphragm, with a mounting depth of only 1.5 inches.
The KMG MT 40 is rated at 150 watts RMS and will ship this month at a suggested retail price of $179.95 each.
Kove is also releasing its first speakers and amplifiers under the Hart brand. New subwoofers will fall under the Cardio line and consist of 10- and 12-inch models with steel-alloy frames with rear-vent cooling. The 12-inch model handles up to 200 watts RMS. Suggested retail prices are $79.95 for the 10-inch model and $99.95 for the 12-inch.
Kove's new Hart amplifiers include a five-model lineup capped by the top-of-the-line HT 800, which has a built-in fully variable high- and low-pass electronic crossover with a 12dB continuously adjustable bass boost feature. The HT 800 is 2-ohm stable and has a power rating of 800 watts peak, 200 watts x 2 and 400 watts bridged. Suggested retail price is $379.
Panasonic also recently began shipping two component subwoofers with polypropylene injected cones, aluminum die-cast frames and four-layer voice coils. They include the 10-inch CJ-HD25 at 450 watts (22Hz-3kHz; 90dB/W/m sensitivity) and the 12-inch CJ-HD30 with 500-watt maximum input (18Hz-3kHz; 90dB/W/m sensitivity) at suggested retail prices of $209.99 and $229.99, respectively.