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Kenwood Prepares CD-R, Plasma, Stylish Systems

Kenwood used its first national dealer show in six years to announce plans to enter the CD-R/RW market in September, announce its intent to market plasma monitors, and unveil new $550-$650 audio systems said to deliver the style, performance and ease of use of systems priced at more than $1,000.

Also during the event, Kenwood USA president Joe Richter told TWICE that:

• Shipments of Kenwood’s first Divx player are likely to slip into next year because the company hasn’t concluded negotiations with Matsushita for a Divx chipset. “Our intent was to do it this fall, but I seriously doubt we’ll make the window this year,” Richter said.

• MP3 is “a product category we need to participate in,” but “nothing is in our immediate plans.”

• Because final DVD Forum decisions on encryption and watermarking are pending, the company isn’t certain whether Kenwood’s first universal DVD-Audio/Video player will ship late this year or early next. Richter did point out, however, that pricing would be about $1,000 or “a little more.”

• “I see us providing a SACD/DVD-Audio/Video player” at an undetermined future date, but “I’ve seen absolutely nothing in our plans for a Super Audio CD-only player.”

In detailing other product plans, Richter said Kenwood’s first CD-R recorder will be a dual-well model that uses Philips-sourced transports and will sell at an expected everyday $599. The product will tap into dual-well demand that Philips, the sole marketer of a dual-well audio CD-R/RW recorder, hasn’t been able to keep up with. In fact, Philips audio VP Andy Mintz told TWICE recently that although Philips has caught up with demand for its three single-well CD-recorders, supplies of its $599 dual-deck model will be back-ordered through the summer. At CES, the company said it hoped to catch up with demand sometime in the second quarter.

Kenwood’s decision to market CD-R/RW this year was unexpected because late last year, Richter said the company “had no plans at all” for CD-R in 1999. Kenwood changed course, he said, because “the business took off faster than we thought” and because of growing dealer demand, particularly for a dual-well model. Kenwood showed a CD-R/RW mockup, but the real thing will feature 96kHz/24-bit DACs, 2x dubbing, direct digital inputs and outputs, and a Philips-sourced transport with Kenwood-made electronics.

As part of its repositioning as a solutions supplier, Richter said, Kenwood demonstrated an NTSC-capable 42-inch 16:9 plasma monitor sourced from Fujitsu, and the company talked up plans for an HDTV-capable Fujitsu model whose native display wasn’t known. Although ship dates will depend on dealer response, Richter said, “We’re serving notice that it’s a business we want to pursue as part of an overall [home theater] solution.”

Kenwood’s new Allura and Axis shelf systems, said national marketing manager Jim Arvanitis, were designed in the spirit of “making music easier to use, live with, and more fun,” and he claimed it would help expand the market rather than siphon off sales of other audio products by giving people a new reason to enter the market. Allura is targeted to the decor-minded, particularly females, new households, and young couples.

Axis systems, on the other hand, are targeted to lovers of music and “techno-gadgets,” particularly males and executives, the company said.

The Allura system, available with two-way speakers or with a sub/sat option, is a one-chassis design with curved front face, color options, and an InView two-way universal preprogrammed LCD IR remote controller docks onto the unit’s front panel, which features a cursor-controlled menu system and changes its display depending on the function selected. Allura also features single CD, cassette, Dolby Virtual Surround, and FTC-standard 2×100-watt amplifier at an expected everyday price of $550. It ships in August, followed in September by a $650 sub/sat version rated at 2×30+1×80 watts.

In July, the microcomponent-based Axis system ships at an expected everyday $600 and features components that can be stacked horizontally or placed vertically side-by-side, thanks in part to menu-based LCD displays that automatically reorient themselves horizontally or vertically.

The Axis system consists of a CD-receiver and wood-accented two-way speakers. An optional MD-recorder at $400 and cassette recorder at $250 will also be available. It’s Kenwood’s first U.S. product with HDCD decoding, and it features Class A operation up to 7.5 watts per channel.