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Yamaha Plans To Expand Soundbars, Headphones, Tabletop Audio

10/03/2011 04:29:15 PM Eastern
Purchase, N.Y. - Yamaha will expand its selection of active soundbars, headphones and iPod/iPhone-docking tabletop audio systems at January's International CES, Yamaha Electronics president Tom Sumner told TWICE.

 Yamaha Electronics president Tom Sumner outlined some of his 2012 product plans.
In headphones, the company launched its first model about 1.5 years ago and has since expanded the selection to five models, including four ear buds priced from $29 to $149 and a $149 pair of over-ear headphones, which come with multiple tip options to ensure a tight fit that is as effective in blocking noise as earbuds with active noise cancellation, he said.

In headphones, Yamaha will focus on delivering "high quality" rather than delivering endorsements from major artists, he added.

The headphone business overall "is great," Sumner said, noting that headphone sales growth has attracted new headphone vendors to the market.

Sumner spoke with TWICE here at a one-on-one meeting in which he also said Yamaha will go to CES with an expanded selection of high-end active Digital Sound Projector soundbars, which currently consists of three models priced from a suggested $999 to $2,199. They deliver a "true" 7.1-channel sound field by creating focused beams of direct and wall-reflected sound waves, he said.

The company also plans next year to expand its selection of lower priced active soundbars, and it might show new models at CES, Sumner said. That line, currently consisting of two models at a suggested $299 and $599, uses proprietary Air Surround Xtreme technology, which uses phase changes and equalization to create virtual 7.1-channel surround, he said.

Even though the retail-level component-audio sales (electronics and speakers) have been flat in dollars and up slightly in units so far this year, Sumner said, soundbar sales have risen 50 percent in dollars so far this year following a triple-digit percentage gain in 2010. He attributed the gains in large part to the sale of flat-panel TVs whose sound quality has thinned as such as their profiles.

In part for the same reason, A/V receiver dollar and unit sales are also up this year at the retail level, though at a low single-digit percentage rate, he said. A desire to update existing A/V receivers with HDMI, networking and other connectivity options, however, is also driving A/V receiver sales, he said.

In iPod/iPhone-docking tabletop music systems, Yamaha will further expand its already wide selection with "a couple of new looks," Sumner said. The company already offers six docking mini systems with separate stereo speakers at a suggested $279 to $1,499 and seven single-chassis "desktop" docking speaker systems, some with CD, at a suggested $149 to $449. But "there's plenty of room to innovate," Sumner said.

 A case in point is a new docking speaker shipping next month, he said. The two-way mono PDX-11, the company's first AC/DC docking speaker, is ruggedized and water-resistant for outdoor use and looks almost like a hand-held spotlight. The $99-suggested device will be available to current Yamaha current dealers but will be opened up to types of retailers not currently in the company's dealer base, Sumner said. The new types could include dealers such as Target and department-store web sites, he said.

For 2012, Sumner declined to say whether Yamaha would add Apple's AirPlay music-streaming technology to its home audio products. He did say, however, that the company wanted to integrate AirPlay this year but was held back by the challenge of integrating an AirPlay-equipped BridgeCo-developed networking chip into its products. BridgeCo is the only chip maker authorized by Apple to offer AirPlay in networking chips, and integrating the chip into products in a way that provides stable performance without dropouts is challenging, he said.

Though expanding its docking-speaker line, the company has no plans in 2012 to offer a dedicated tabletop Bluetooth speaker, which would stream music in stereo from handheld devices equipped with stereo Bluetooth.  The company offered one a few years ago and dropped it, he noted.
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