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Custom Speaker Suppliers Eye New Niches During Downturn

INDIANAPOLIS — Custom-installed speakers have been among the hardest hit product categories during the housing-industry downturn, but select suppliers are coming to the CEDIA Expo to target niches that they consider underserved or haven’t aggressively targeted before.

Dana Innovations marketing director Simon Wehr, for example, sees sales rising in non-traditional market segments such as outdoor TVs and outdoor speaker systems. “We know that many home owners are reallocating their dedicated home-theater budget to elaborate outdoor kitchens and entertaining areas, so as an industry why would we be content with installing the same old rock speakers or weatherproof cabinet speakers as we have done in the past?”

Many dealers, he noted, are now selling $10,000 to $50,000 “serious outdoor entertainment systems” instead of $1,000 to $2,000 rock or outdoor-cabinet speakers, he said.

Pendant-style indoor speakers are another niche getting attention at the Expo from at least one supplier, Phase Technology, and value-priced in-wall subs are getting attention from Proficient as a way to step consumers up to in-wall subs.

Also at the show, multiple suppliers are unveiling trimless custom speakers, including Earthquake Sound, Monitor Audio, Golden Ear Technology and Revel.

Here’s what dealers will find:

Earthquake Sound: The company is unveiling the Edgeless series of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers with low-profile, frameless design to reduce their visibility when installed. The grilles protrude less than 0.16 inches from the wall or ceiling. Prices range from $325/pair to $459/pair.

The company is also showing a $550 XJ-300FR bridgeable two-channel amp, which can be wall-mounted or rack-mounted to drive in-room, outdoor or installed speakers.

For gamers, the $595 Shell Shoxx is a bass-shaker system with shaking mechanism that clamps onto the base of any office chair.

Golden Ear Technology: The company plans to show an expanded selection of Invisa custom-install speakers, all with magnetically attached flat micro-perf grilles that hide their flange to make the speakers virtually invisible.

The newest model is the $499-each Invisa MPX multipolar in-wall/in-ceiling speaker, a two-way model said to combine the advantages of a direct-radiating speaker with the spaciousness and dispersion of bipolar speakers. As a result, they can be used as front-main speakers and surround speakers in a home theater as well as in multi-room-audio applications, said founder Sandy Gross. Wide dispersion is delivered by two 5-inch woofers, both of which feature wide-dispersion characteristics that are further enhanced by canting one woofer left and the other right. It comes with rectangular grille and optional round grille.

The MPX, shipping in January, will join the in-ceiling $499 HTR 7000 in-ceiling reference home-theater speaker, intended mainly for use as a left, center and right speakers in a home theater, said Gross. It can also be used as a surround speaker or multi-room-audio speaker, he added.

Shown in prototype form at International CES, the HTR 7000 features 10-inch round grille with 7-inch bass/midrange driver angled at 28 degrees towards the listening position to deliver what the company called “free-standing-speaker-quality performance.” It also features a pivoting tweeter that can be angled more than 28 degrees to reach listeners who are sitting farther back than other listeners.

The HTR 7000 ships in December.

Two more Invisa speakers, also shown in prototype form at CES, are the $249 Invisa 525 and $299 Invisa 650, due to ship in September with round grille and optional square grille.

KEF: The speaker company will come to the Expo for the first time with what it calls a “full assortment” of inceiling and in-wall speakers that include round, square and rectangular models. “This is really the first time KEF has an organized assortment of [custom installatiom] speakers,” a spokesman said.

The Q and C series models feature two-way designs, ultra thin bezel and low profile for a less-obtrusive appearance, magnetically mounted speaker grilles, and special grille treatments for use in humid environments.

Monitor Audio: The British speaker maker, marketed by Kevro, is coming to the show with an expanded line of trim-less, low-profile in-ceiling and in-wall speakers, the first of which were unveiled early this year. All feature paintable magnetic-mount low-profile grilles for unobtrusive installs, and all are splash- and humidityproof for installation in shower rooms or pool areas.

The new 100, 200 and 300 series of custom speakers represent a revision of the previous 100-, 200- and 300-series speakers, adding trimless grilles. They also deliver higher performance than a limited, previously trim-less CWT series.

Seventeen SKUs priced from $200 to $800 ship in September. They consist of two- and three-way models with 6.5- and 8-inch woofers. They include two inceiling models intended with switchable bipole/dipole modes for surround-sound channels. The selection also features single-speaker stereo models with two independently pivoting tweeters are also included

The 100 series consists of two-way models with pivoting C-CAM gold-dome tweeter. At the top end, the 300 series three-way models features pivoting mid/ tweeter module consisting of a 4-inch midrange and 1-inch gold-dome tweeter.

Phase Technology: The company is launching its first pendant speakers, which hang from a ceiling, look like pendant lights, and are often used in commercial applications. Sister company Sound Tube also offers pendant speakers. Both companies are owned by MSE Audio.

Phase’s HS series of pendant speakers consists of 3-, 4-, 6-, and 8-inch models promoted as being economical. They deliver wide off-axis performance via increased high-frequency dispersion, and they can be hung via a cable or direct conduit. Features include ceramic input terminal, built-in thermal fuse hanging and safety cables, transformer and tap switch, and cover plate with weather-resistant rubber plug.

Proficient Audio: The SpeakerCraft division is expanding its selection of value-priced custom-installed subwoofers with two in-wall models and an in-ceiling model.

They’re designed to help installers step customers up to a sub or opt for two subs in a room. All can be mated with the $460 Proficient M3 180-watt mono amp with built-in crossover.

The $625-suggested in-wall IWS82 sits at the top of the line and features dual 8-inch long-excursion drivers, a power handling capacity of 200 watts, and frequency response of 30 to 120Hz.

The $500 in-wall IWS100 subwoofer features inverted- motor design with ferrite magnet that drives a 10-inch high-excursion treated paper-cone woofer. Frequency response is 36Hz to 150Hz.

The $375 in-ceiling ICS10 features 10-inch longexcursion graphite composite diaphragm with a ferrite magnet motor. It handles up to 175 watts and delivers frequency response of 30 to 120Hz. With an installed depth of 6.5 inches, it fits any ceiling cavity.

All three ship in September.

Revel: The Harman luxury group brand is relaunching its 3, 5, 7 and 8 series of custom speakers by adding a new mounting mechanism that accommodates drywall and other wall materials of up to 2 inches in depth. The revised series ship in October.

The brand is also launching a new 2 series of custom speakers. The 2 series, shipping in January, also features the new mounting mechanism.

Prices for the 2 series range from $175 to $300 each. The 3 series ranges from $250 to $350 each. The topend 9 series ranges from $1,350 to $1,750 each.

Models in all of the series feature zero-bezel magnetic paintable grilles to minimize visibility. The in-ceiling models come with both round and square grilles to match ceiling fixtures and lighting.

The new speakers’ dome tweeters operate in conjunction with a waveguide to deliver smooth, even coverage over a wider listening area and a more seamless blend between the tweeter and the woofer, the company said. The woofers use aluminum cones to provide detailed and dynamic midrange reproduction, Revel added.

Sonance: The Dana Innovations brand is expanding its selection of 70-volt Sonance Landscape series (SLS) that do double duty as in-door commercial speakers, and it’s adding a new Sonance 8-ohm outdoor audio system to reach a more accessible price point.

Sunfire: The brand is expanding its in-wall subwoofer selection to two models with the launch of the $1,700-suggested HRSIW8, which joins the $4,100 SubRosa.

The new HRSIW8 is an in-wall version of the company’s HRS8 subwoofer and comes with external 520-watt amp. The SubRosa in-wall sub comes with 2,700-watt amp. Both feature patented StillBass anti-shake technology.