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Aftermarket Aftermath

LAS VEGAS – Car audio suppliers delved deeper into emerging niches at International CES, where they also unveiled plenty of head units that connect to smartphones via HDMI, USB or Bluetooth.

Niches included products for all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and utility vehicles (UTVs, or side-by-sides). Another niche capturing supplier attention was the market for vehicle-specific systems, which are designed as drop-in replacements for the factory systems of specific vehicle models, mainly specific pickup models.

The first aftermarket high-resolution audio products also appeared.

Here are the top developments in car audio:

CarPlay/Android Auto: Three companies unveiled the first in-dash aftermarket head units that will appeal to households owning a mix of iPhones and Android smartphones. Pioneer, Kenwood and Parrot head units incorporate both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay technology.

The heads’ in-dash touchscreens display a driverfriendly UI that controls key apps on USB-connected Android and Apple smartphones. Apps include a phone’s music library, navigation apps, and select music-streaming apps.

HDMI: Also with smartphone connectivity in mind, more head units turned up with HDMI inputs to mirror the displays of later model iPhones and Android phones. More models also feature Bluetooth HID to deliver head-unit control of all Android smartphone apps and Bluetooth SPP to control select iPhone apps.

Bluetooth amps: You hardly ever heard about them before, but they were everywhere this year: rugged water-resistant Bluetooth amps targeted to owners of boats, motorcycles, ATVs and UTVs. The products add Bluetooth sources and high power to existing sound systems. Brands included Kenwood, Dual, Phoenix Gold, Soundstream, MTX, Powerbass, Boss Audio and Massive Audio. MTX showed a Bluetooth-equipped overhead speaker system with amplification.

Kicker and Helix displayed Bluetooth amps for car sound systems.

Vehicle-specific sound systems: Alpine expanded its Restyle program to replace the factory radios and displays of additional full-size pickups with a 9-inch navigation system bundled with dash kits and connections to factory infotainment systems. Alpine also extended Restyle to include its first direct-fit amplifier/speaker package.

JBL launched its first direct-fit system to add speakers, amplifier and subwoofer to a factory head. And Blaupunkt’s first vehicle-specific head for the U.S., intended for select 2003 and later Volkswagens, features built-in CAN databus interface to retain factory features.

High-res audio: High-res playback went from the home and portable audio segments to the car, where Sony unveiled the industry’s first in-dash high-res head unit, which features native DSD playback, and Audison showed two hideaway components to add high-resolution audio playback to any vehicle’s sound system. High-res could also come to factory systems. Harman promised to work with Neil Young’s Pono Music company to bring high-res playback to OEM sound systems.