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Flat-Out Growth In Custom,Plasma-Friendly Speakers

Indianapolis — In a component-speaker market whose sales are flat to down, flat speakers with flat response just might be the way to slow the decline — if the definition of flat speaker is broadened to include flush-mounted in-wall and in-ceiling speakers.

Market research statistics point to growth in custom-installed speakers and flat speakers, which cosmetically complement increasingly popular flat-panel video displays. Sensing the trend, multiple suppliers here at the CEDIA Expo launched their first flat speakers, which can be hung on the wall or placed on stands next to flat-panel plasma and LCD video displays. Other suppliers here paid more attention to custom-installed speakers, whether mounted in the wall, in the ceiling or outdoors.

Companies showing their first flat speakers designed for flat-panel displays included Advent, Atlantic Technology, Boston Acoustics, Canton, and Niles. One of Boston’s models is a single-enclosure speaker that delivers all three front channels.

In custom-installed speakers, Infinity and NuVo broadened their assortments, and Klipsch’s biggest-ever product introduction focused exclusively on custom speakers.

In other speaker developments:

·Screen Research of Mission Viejo, Calif., unveiled an acoustically transparent, motorized retractable screen with integrated left, center, and right speakers that rise and lower with it.

·Car audio supplier JL Audio showed its first home speakers, a pair of subwoofers with DSP to compensate for room-acoustics problems.

·And speaker supplier NHT diversified into distributed-A/V electronics.

The catalyst for these developments is growth in sales of custom speakers and flat enclosed speakers, market research shows. In one report, NPD Intelect found that dealer-level sales of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers grew 21.6 percent to $87.8 million for the 12 months ending March. NPD based its numbers on actual point-of-sale data from 150 of the largest brick-and-mortar and online retailers, excluding custom-only dealers that lack retail stores.

In a separate report, CEA found that flat-panel video displays are helping to drive sales of on-wall and in-wall speakers. The report, based on a May 2004 CEA survey of 3,287 households, found that 2 percent of households own a flat-panel TV (plasma or LCD) and that 20 percent of those households mount their flat-panel TV on a wall or ceiling. Another 7 percent built it into a wall.

Among flat-panel households, 58 percent connected the display to separate speakers, CEA found, and of those, 21 percent installed the speakers in the wall. Another 23 percent had the speakers “suspended by wall brackets.”

Here’s what select suppliers showed:

Acoustic Research: A dozen new products include three towers. Five bookshelf speakers, two center channels, a home theater speaker package, and the brand’s first HTiB.

The ARHC55 5.1 speaker package retails for a suggested $399. The ARDVR5 HTiB includes receiver and five-disc DVD changer at a suggested $399. The towers are priced at $249 to $699 each. The bookshelf models range up to $349 per pair.

Advent: The brand’s first speaker package for use with flat-panel displays is the $599-suggested APL1, which features slim enclosures that can be wall or pedestal-mounted.

The six-SKU Heritage series of bookshelf and tower speakers and a center channel feature slim profile, compact footprint and wood-grain finish. Towers are a suggested $199 each. The center channel is $99.

Also new: the brand’s first HTiB system, the $349-suggested AVR50 with five-disc DVD-Audio/Video changer, video up-conversion and 5×50-watt amplification.

Atlantic Technology: The company plans November shipments of its first two speakers intended for use with flat-panel video displays. They are the FS-3200LR, intended for left and right channels at a suggested $900 a pair, and the center-channel FS-3200C at $500 each. The two-way speakers are timbre-matched to Atlantic’s surround speakers and are available with optional floor stands.

A rear-panel boundary-compensation switch adjusts response to offset the sound colorations created when speakers are mounted on a wall or placed on a shelf. A three-way high-frequency adjustment compensates for the coloration that can be caused by rooms with lots of reflective or absorptive surfaces.

The heavily braced MDF cabinets will be available in metallic silver or satin black.

BostonAcoustics: The company’s first speakers intended for use with flat-panel displays consists of five P4 series speakers, including one single-enclosure model that delivers all three front channels.

Also new: a second-generation Bravo II on-wall multipurpose speaker and the company’s first HTiB system, unveiled last September and recently shipping.

The P400 three-channel, single-enclosure speaker, due in September at a suggested $1,500, incorporates three 4.5-inch bass drivers, three 4.25-inch passive radiators and three aluminum-dome tweeters, one set for each of the three channels. The extruded-aluminum enclosure measures 5.63 by 40 by 3.94-inches. It can be mounted on the wall, set on top of a rear-projection TV via its supplied foot, or placed on a credenza with optional stand. It can be angled up or down by 15 degrees and share a flat-panel TV’s swivel bracket so it can turn with the TV.

The four single-channel P4 speakers are designed for flat-panel displays whose screen sizes are 26 inches or more, 42+, 50+, and 60+. Each can be used as a left-, right- or center-channel speaker. They come with the same mounting options as the P400 at $400, $600, $800 and $1,000 each.

The $250-each Bravo II is a quarter-cylinder wedge-shaped speaker with a 4-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter. It can be placed vertically in corners, horizontally against ceilings and elsewhere on walls. Compared to its predecessor, it has been slightly restyled to resemble the new P series, adds a perforated metal grille instead of cloth, and is available in silver or black and white.

Canton: The company’s first two speakers designed for use alongside flat-panel displays include one wall-mountable model, the $800-each CD 360F. It’s 23.5-inches-wide, 4-inches deep, and designed for horizontal or vertical mounting. The $2,000/pair CD 300 floor-standing tower is 48x5x6-inches.

Both are 2.5-way models featuring extruded-aluminum enclosures. They’re available.

Definitive Technology: The company’s first powered in-wall subwoofer ships in October at less than $1,500 with outboard 2×300-watt amp to deliver bass down to 16Hz. The IWSub10/10 uses technology derived from the company’s SuperCube enclosed subwoofers to deliver high performance in a moderate-size enclosure that’s 14.2 by 19.63 by 3.8 and fits in standard 4-inch-deep walls in new construction or existing construction, the company said. The nonresonant, sealed medite enclosure incorporates 10-inch active driver and same-size infrasonic passive radiator. The amp features volume control and fully adjustable phase and crossover controls.

Elac Electroacoustic: Plasma-friendly speakers and home theater speaker packages were be among the products displayed by Elac importer Trian Electronics of Waunakee, Wisc. The $369-each Cinema 24 CM 2.5-way speaker features 24 by 4 by 3.4-inch extruded-aluminum enclosure, horizontal or vertical mounting options, supplied wall brackets and optional glass base. A matching subwoofer is $510.

The speaker packages are the $1,269 Cinema XL Set II 5.1-channel system, a $1419 6.1-channel version, and $1,569 7.1-channel version. All satellites and center channel feature extruded-aluminum compact enclosures.

Infinity: The brand is expanding its TS (Total Solutions) series of home theater speaker packages with the first TS package for flat-panel displays, and it’s extending its architectural-speaker presence into entry-level models.

The new TS package, dubbed the TSS-4000, consists of a three-way satellite at a suggested $549 each, a three-way center channel at $549 each, and the $1,249 12-inch powered 400-watt subwoofer that compensates for room acoustics problems. The satellites and center channel can be flush-mounted with an optional kit. The satellites come with shelf stands, and the center channel has a base for set-top or shelf-top installation. Optional floor stands are available for the satellites. They ship in November.

In tapping new opening-price points for architectural speakers, Infinity plans to show the entry-level CS series of five SKUs retailing at $149 to $179 each, including a $179 dual-tweeter, single-woofer model for delivering stereo from a single speaker. The high-sensitivity models feature pivoting tweeter.

JBL: The brand is tapping separate market segments with two new home-theater speaker packages at a suggested $49 and $349, respectively, and the $80,000 Synthesis-series Hercules Junior THX Ultra-certified home theater audio system.

The Synthesis series starts at $40,000 and tops out with the $120,000 Hercules.

Junior is a 7.1-channel system consisting of three front speakers, two subwoofers, six multipolar in-wall surround speakers, a three-zone surround processor/preamp, digital equalizer with 83-band digital parametric EQ to correct room-acoustics problems, two seven-channel power amps, and two bridgeable stereo amps.

Jensen: The Champion series of tower, bookshelf and center-channel speakers were displayed alongside the brands’ first two HTiB systems. Pricing of the five-SKU Champion series was unavailable.

The JHT 350 HTiB includes progressive-scan DVD player at a suggested $149. It plays MP3 CDs, DVD+R and DVD-R and features 350 watts of peak power. The JHT 140 delivers less power at a price that hasn’t been determined.

JL Audio: Gotham and Fathom are the name of two powered subwoofers that mark the car audio company’s entry into the home market. Both models feature Automatic Room Optimization (ARO) and will ship in the first quarter. Additional home speakers are planned at an unannounced date.

Klipsch: In its biggest introduction ever, the company is overhauling its architectural speaker selection with 31 new models and four installation kits, all due in late summer and fall.

Highlights include in-ceiling models with the company’s first-ever aimable woofer/tweeter combos and a broadened selection of in-wall models with pivoting or rotating horn tweeters.

Many in-wall models feature a Tractrix horn tweeter that pivots and can be removed and remounted 90 degrees for horizontal or vertical mounting. Some in-walls feature pivoting Tractrix horns to direct high-frequency sound to listeners. Among in-ceiling speakers, many new models feature tweeter/woofer combinations that can be aimed at the listening position. Other in-ceiling models feature rotating Tractrix horn tweeters for horizontal and vertical mounting.

The in-wall and in-ceiling models feature two-screw mounting process to simplify installation.

Among new indoor/outdoor speakers, Klispch is offering an outdoor subwoofer and its first wide-coverage models, featuring a woofer flanked by two horn tweeters.

Mirage: The Audio Products company will expand its Omnipolar technology to in-ceiling and outdoor speakers for the first time and introduce the smallest Omnipolar speaker. Omnipolar technology’s 360-degree dispersion pattern is designed to widen the soundstage and the sweet spot.

The indoor/outdoor model, the Oasis Omni 5 at $399 a pair, is a two-way speaker that pairs a 5.5-inch woofer with a 5-inch passive radiator, which is molded in one piece to the enclosure to deliver low bass in a sealed enclosure.

The Omnipolar mini speakers are called Nanosats and are available individually at $125 each or in a package with a matching subwoofer at $800. The 5.8 by 4.2 by 4.3-inch Nanosats feature 2.34-inch woofer and 0.75-inch tweeter. The subwoofer features 100-watt subwoofer.

Details of the in-ceiling model were unavailable.

Monster Cable: The company is rolling out its M Design program to custom installers. The merchandising program features three elegant-looking speaker lines and cosmetically matched credenzas that hide Monster’s amps and subwoofers and other manufacturers’ equipment. The top speaker and furniture series, called Eleganza, includes three plasma-TV “picture frames” embedded with drivers in a line-array configuration on the left, top and right.

The Centra series also features speakers, credenzas and speaker-embedded plasma frames that cost about 30 percent less but still features line-array speakers. The opening-price series is called Cinerama.

Recommended Eleganza systems range from $4,999 to $49,199. Recommended Centra systems are priced from $4,499 to $28,449, and recommended Cinerama systems are priced from $14,499 to $21,699. All prices exclude display, source components, and surround processor.

Niles: A revamped series of indoor/outdoor speakers, two new powered subwoofers and the brand’s first on-wall speakers for use with flat-panel displays took center stage.

The on-wall PHD speakers consists of three models priced from $450 to $900 each and size for flat-panel displays with screen sizes of 30 or more inches, 42 or more, and 60 or more. They feature extruded-aluminum chassis, integrated wall mounts, and optional table- and floor-mount stands. The two tallest models feature a tweeter/midrange pod that pivots left and right and, for horizontal mounting, rotates 90 degrees. The company’s Cone-Forward” design uses a speaker basket molded into the baffle up to the baffle’s edges to reduce diffraction.

The revamped indoor/outdoor series consists of 8 models, each available in black or white, with a better-best choice in each of three sizes and two models with stereo inputs. Suggested prices range $229 to $649 per pair, while the stereo-input models are at $249 and $439. They feature an enhanced version of the company’s integrated woofers-baffle technology, which delivers more cone area and thus greater bass output.

The indoor/outdoor and wall-hanging speakers ship in January.

The two new powered subs are the company’s first with digital amplifiers. The SW1000 packs 1,000 watts into a 12x12x130inch box. The SW3000 delivers 300 watts.

NuVo: The new step-up Accent Plus 2 architectural speakers feature Kevlar cones and pivoting tweeters and complements the Accent Plus I series, which tops out at $299 a pair.

Polk: The new RM series of four home-theater speaker packages use the company’s first slim, shallow speakers designed specifically to complement flat-panel and thin-DLP displays.

Four systems priced from a suggested $899 to $2,499 and feature slime-line subwoofers and extruded-aluminum satellites that can be wall-, shelf-, or stand-mounted. Three come with wall brackets that allow for 15 degrees of lateral movement. Two are sold with stands for table-top mounting.

Two systems shipped in August, and the other two ship in November.

Sonance: The company’s improved Symphony architectural- speaker line and a new THX Select-certified Cinema Select in-wall speaker line, replacing the Cinema .5 line, were displayed. Details were unavailable.

Snell: A new in-wall, an external subwoofer amp for passive in-wall subs, and three speakers upgraded to become THX Ultra 2-certified were displayed.

The in-wall two-way AMC725, designed to sonically match Series 7 enclosed speakers, features a sealed aluminum enclosure, pivoting tweeter waveguide, and small footprint. It ships in the fourth quarter at a suggested$750 each.

The external subwoofer is the $600-suggested SPA200, intended for use with the AMC Sub 10 and Sub 88 in-wall subwoofers with switchable phase and EQ switches. It comes with 12-volt and music-sensing turn-on circuit. It ships in the fourth quarter.

The speakers upgraded to THX Ultra 2 are the in-wall AMC2000THX, XA 60THX tower monitor, and XA55THX dedicated center channel. They join four current Ultra2 models: an in-cabinet model, a dipole in-wall, a dipole on-wall, and a sub.

The three new models ship in the fourth quarter at respective suggested retails of $1,300, $1,700, and $2,000 each.

Thiel: Four SmartSub powered subwoofers are designed to mate with a SmartSub Integrator, whose microprocessor automatically calculates the subwoofers’ ideal crossover frequency, level and phase after the user enters main-speaker information. An augment mode boosts low-bass output by enabling the subwoofer and main speakers to deliver duplicate low-bass information. The Integrator preserves stereo bass when two subwoofers are used.

The $4,000-suggested Integrator can be used with four different SmartSubs, which deliver 10Hz bass. Each sub can be adjusted without using microphones to eliminate room interaction problems, the company said. Three feature 1,000-watt switching-mode amp, and one features a 500-watt switching amp. Prices range from $2,900 to $8,900.

Two passive crossover options are available for integrating the subs with existing Thiel main speakers. A two-channel and five channel models at $350 and $500, respectively, match up with main Thiel speakers’ natural bass roll off, extending system response to below 20Hz.

Yamaha: The company demonstrated a near-final prototype of its single-speaker surround system, called Soundbeam. The wall- hanging speaker delivers a five-channel soundfield from 6-inch-tall cabinet whose width matches that of a 50-inch plasma TV. It contains 52 1-inch full-range drivers and two 4-inch full-range drivers, onboard digital amplification, and DSP. Sound is bounced off the walls to reflect surround channels toward the listeners. It might be available by the end of the year at a price expected to be far below a $40,000 single-speaker surround system from Pioneer.