Bluetooth Speaker Selection Grows As Sales Soar

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NEW YORK – The Bluetooth-speaker market is growing so rapidly that some suppliers are confident they can successfully tap the high end of the market for portable AC/DC models.

Other suppliers are so confident of the widespread appeal of Bluetooth speakers that they’re targeting the market for AC-only home models, whose sales are growing rapidly though they still account for a small share of overall sales, NPD Group statistics show.

New products are on the way from Soundmatters, Klipsch Group and Kicker. Start-up Wren Sound plans to ship its first AC-only Bluetooth speaker during the week of Nov. 4.

With Bluetooth speakers’ high growth rates, there’s always room for one more supplier, with U.K.-based Damson Audio entering the U.S. market.

The companies are launching products in a U.S. market that grew 497 percent in units in 2012 to 2.2 million at the retail level and grew 351 percent in dollars to $264.2 million, NPD statistics show. For the year to date through August, unit sales were up 379 percent and up in dollars by 213 percent, NPD said.

For the year through September, dollar sales of battery- powered Bluetooth speakers rose 199 percent on a unit-sales gain of 334 percent, NPD said.

Dollar sales of AC-only Bluetooth speakers exhibited extremely high growth rates, going from less than 1 percent of the market to almost 4 percent for the January to September period. On a unit basis, AC-only speaker sales went from less than 2 percent of sales to more than 6 percent of sales, NPD said.

Here’s what companies are bringing to these market segments:

Soundmatters expanded its selection of high-end pocket-size portable Bluetooth speakers to five models with the shipment of its smallest model to date.

The $219-everyday Dash 7, a flat speaker that Soundmatters calls a soundbar, delivers higher output, deeper bass and flatter frequency response than the other stereo Bluetooth speakers in the company’s Foxl portable-speaker series, said marketing VP Lee Adams. The Dash 7 is also 40 percent smaller than the model that used to be the company’s smallest Bluetooth speaker. The new model measures 0.75 inches by 7.5 inches by 2 inches and delivers output of about 90dB, he said.

The Dash 7 is an ideal soundbar complement for use with tablets because it lays flat in front of a tablet and fires up without blocking the tablet’s display, said Adams. With driver quality equivalent to that of an audiophile-grade home hi-fi speaker, the Dash 7 delivers “amazing” omnidirectional sound even if firing up at the ceiling, he said. For more critical listening, consumers use an included case that doubles as a stand to aim the speaker’s two full-range drivers toward the listener.

The Foxl series of portable stereo speakers consists of one non-Bluetooth speaker and five Bluetooth speakers, which range from an everyday $199 to $229.

Klipsch Group, the Voxx-owned company, is expanding its selection of Klipsch Music Center speakers with its lowest- price model to date, the $199 Klipsch Music Center Gig.

The new model, due in stores in early November, is a Bluetooth- only portable AC/DC model that joins two other AC/ DC Bluetooth-only models in the series. They are the $299 Klipsch Music Center KMC1 and $399 Klipsch Music Center KMC3.

The Klipsch Gig is the smallest of the speakers, measuring 3.6 by 7 by 2.1 inches and weighing 1.4 pounds. The system features dual 1-inch full-range drivers, dual 2-inch passive radiators, DSP-based equalization, AptX audio decoding, nearfield communications (NFC) for tap-to-pair functionality, 3.5mm aux in, hands-free speakerphone capability, and international power adapters for AC operation. Its built-in, rechargeable lithium-ion battery delivers 12-hour playback time with default volume and four-hour playback time at maximum volume.

Performance specifications include 77Hz to 20kHz frequency response with “usable” bass down to 64Hz, 96dB SPL at 0.5 meters, and 2x5-watt RMS amplification with 20-watt total peak power. The speaker features a silicone chassis in black or white and perforated metal grille. Optional removable wrap-around bands in a variety of colors will be available on klipsch.com.

Kicker, a division of Stillwater Designs and Audio, has begun shipping its latest tabletop Bluetooth speaker as part of a plan in 2014 to add more Bluetooth speakers covering a broader price range.

The Amphitheater Bluetooth BT2 retails for $299. It joins three other tabletop-audio products, including the $249 Amphitheater BT with Bluetooth and 30-pin Made for iPod/iPhone/iPad dock. The other two models, which lack Bluetooth, consist of a $249 Amphitheater with 30- pin Made for iPod/iPhone/iPad dock and the $149 iK501 with 30-pin Made for iPod/iPhone dock.

All tabletop products are AC-only models, and new tabletop models coming in 2014 will also be AC-only.

The 2014 additions will include more Bluetooth-only speakers as well as Apple-docking speakers equipped with Bluetooth, said John Crisco, product line manager for home and personal audio.

All Amphitheaters are 50-watt models with 5-inch woofers, 0.75-inch tweeters, and square 6x6-inch square passive radiator to deliver frequency response of 24Hz to 20kHZ, +/-3dB. They also feature digital signal processing (DSP) to optimize sound performance.

The Amphitheaters also come with USB port for charging external devices and an auxiliary-input jack for connecting non-Bluetooth devices.

Damson Audio, the U.K. company that entered the U.S. market a few months ago, is selling its AC/ DC Bluetooth speakers on its website and through select retailers. They are the $199 Jet, $229 Oyster and $69 Twist.

The Jet consists of two cylindrical Bluetooth speakers that together deliver stereo but separately deliver mono. It features NFC for tap-to-pair connectivity, battery with up to nine hours of playback time, and 20-watt amps in each speaker.

The $229 Oyster is a single speaker with four amps and four drivers with battery life up to 12 hours. It features wavefield synthesis technology to deliver a wide sweet spot.

The $69 Twist is also cylindrical but uses the resonant surface upon which it is placed to amplify sound. It delivers up to nine hours of playback time on its battery, and two can be daisy-chained to boost volume.

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