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Revamped, Repositioned Speakers Debut At CES

Retailers found revamped and repositioned speaker lines at CES, as well as a little more optimism, from a variety of speaker companies.

For the 10 months ending last October, speaker sales were down at the factory level by 8 percent to $342 million, CEA statistics show. But sales were picking up heading into the fourth quarter. October sales rose 40 percent to $45 million compared to October 1998 sales, and executives at companies such as Definitive Technology and Pioneer saw growth continuing through the remainder of the year.

"Fourth-quarter sales were very strong in speakers," said Definitive president Sandy Gross. Strong demand for DVD, HDTV and HD-ready sets pulled speaker sales in their wake, he said. And for the year, the speaker industry may have grown by single digits in units and dollars.

Other factors, including product improvements and mainstream DVD prices, also contributed to the speaker turnaround, suppliers said.

"The quality level that you can achieve with reasonably priced speakers that are easy to integrate into a home has fueled growth in speaker sales," said Gross. "Better sounding, better looking speakers at a reasonable price are giving consumers the impetus to change speakers."

"Most speaker improvements," he contended, "have occurred in the past five years."

Another trend supporting the market is the mainstreaming of home theater. "DVD is going totally mass market," he added, "and it will interest people more in higher end home theater products."

In fact, Pioneer marketing VP Matt Dever said many consumers are "pleasantly surprised" to find DVD players at $299 and are more open to buy receivers and speakers with the money left over in their budget.

For consumers looking to use up the unused portion of their budget, suppliers at CES unveiled speakers that included powered towers, low-profile on-wall speakers, all-weather models, center channels with powered subs, and DSP-equipped speakers. And brands such as Jensen, Infinity, and Mordaunt-Short showed revamped lines.

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