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Multiroom Audio Systems Poised for Growth

Since the introduction of connected music systems, the market, in general, has struggled to generate momentum.

These connected music systems include Internet-connected A/V receivers, shelf audio systems, Internet radios, connected smartphone docks and multiroom audio systems. Adoption rates for any type of connected music system are flat, holding at just under one-fourth (24 percent) of all U.S. broadband households in Q4 2015. Moreover, the percentage of broadband households purchasing a new connected music system declined from 6 percent in 2013 to 4 percent in 2014 and to 2 percent in 2015. Bose, LG and Samsung lead the brands of connected music systems purchased in 2015.

Flat adoption of connected music systems in general may be influenced by overall declines in adoption of traditional audio components, such as A/V receivers. However, multiroom audio systems, a submarket of all connected music systems, are poised to experience significant growth in the next few years due to several factors:

* system cost reductions from eliminating “bridge” devices by embedding connectivity directly into the speakers;

*improved mobile apps that enable room-by-room customization and access to the burgeoning number of streaming services;

*more open in-home streaming technologies that support CD-quality or better wireless streaming;

*consumer upgrades of home routers that deliver higher and more reliable download speeds, which in turn eliminate the buffering and interruptions caused by Bluetooth-delivered audio; and

the entry of lower-priced product offerings.

Sonos pioneered multiroom wireless audio and remains the dominant market leader for whole-home wireless audio systems. The company’s original vision that all speakers should be smart and wirelessly connected to the Internet has provided the foundation for this growing segment. Additionally, its solid market position was achieved not only by being the first to market, but by offering easy system setup, an early move from the device to a mobile app for control, the most extensive list of streaming partners — including Apple Music announced in late 2015 — and sound quality that consumers have recognized. In late 2015, Sonos also introduced a redesigned Play:5 speaker with TruePlay technology, an auto equalizer system that optimizes audio for specific room properties by utilizing the microphone built into iPhones and iPads. TruePlay has been subsequently rolled out with Play:1 and Play:3 speakers.

Some competitors, such as Denon Heos, have mirrored the Sonos proprietary mesh network technology. Increasingly, however, audio device makers are responding to consumer demand for open platforms that provide maximum flexibility for integrating a variety of brands and wireless technologies. The latest product offerings from Samsung, Bose, Polk, Wren and Definitive Technology, for example, offer various combinations of wireless technologies. Specifically, Sony recently introduced a line of wireless speakers that deliver a multiroom experience via the Sony Song Pal app. The system offers audio streaming through Google Cast, AirPlay and Spotify Connect.

The mobile app experience has become central to the management of multiroom audio as consumers opt for a centralized, easy-to-use control center for mobile-driven experiences. Ease of use now includes simple system setup; support for a variety of content services; consistent and efficient content search engines; and a clean, user-friendly app experience. Some apps deliver a unified search process for content on streaming services, such as Sonos, while others maintain more of the user experience served up by the streaming service partner. This is the approach of DTS’s Play-Fi.

Where many early multiroom systems required bridge components between the router and the speakers, most now have embedded connectivity directly into the speaker. Power-boosting transmitters are offered to extend Wi-Fi range for larger homes and outdoor use.

In addition to delivering whole home audio where a single music stream is distributed throughout the home, systems will vary in the number of channels supported. Each channel translates into the number of discrete content streams that can be sent to rooms within the home where the media, volume and tone can be individually controlled. The multiroom audio market is largely segmented by the various streaming technologies, by audio resolution quality, by compatibility with other devices, and by the various streaming services supported.

Consumer demand for audio devices connected to the Internet is energizing the mobile and home audio markets. The growing percentage of wireless speakers, headphones and ear buds purchased annually reflects a strong consumer preference for bringing the wireless mobile experience into the home.