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Panasonic Fills In 2013 Audio Details

New York — Panasonic filled in the remaining details of its 2013 home audio lineup by announcing prices on a trio of wireless NE-series tabletop speakers, unveiling a new high-power “mini” system with DJ-size speakers, and pricing a Bluetooth speaker with tablet stand.

The company also said it is adding a fifth soundbar to its 2013 lineup to test a feature/price ratio, and it outlined a strategy of offering select HTiBs and tabletop audio products on an exclusive basis to select retailers because those categories are struggling in the U.S.

Details of the company’s four other soundbars and three tabletop CD music systems were announced last month.

In the new NE (Network Era) series of single-chassis tabletop wireless speakers, which just began shipping, two speakers are the company’s first wireless speakers to incorporate Apple AirPlay, DLNA and stereo Bluetooth in one chassis. They lack built-in Wi-Fi, a spokesman said. Their opening-price companion offers only Bluetooth.

All three NE speakers are bar-shaped, wall-mountable models featuring two-way speakers with 3.13-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter, 40-watt output, Bluetooth Re-Master to restore high frequencies lost during Bluetooth transmission, bamboo-fiber woofer cones to reduce weight and reduce distortion, and DSP to cancel out sound reflections emanating from the speaker baffle.

Starting the NE lineup is a Bluetooth-only speaker, the SC-NE1 at an expected everyday $199. At $299, the SC-NE3 adds AirPlay and DLNA, and the $449 SC-NE5 adds a separate wirelessly connected vertical-loading CD player with Lightning dock and Made for iPad/iPhone/iPad USB port.

All three models can be used with Panasonic’s free music-streaming app for iOS and Android mobile devices. On the mobile devices, the app lists all available Bluetooth, DLNA or AirPlay speakers from Panasonic and sends music wirelessly to them.

Separately, the company plans June shipments of the $199 AC-only SC-NP10 Bluetooth speaker, a flat desktop 2.1-channel model with kickstand to prop up a tablet. It features nearfield communication (NFC) technology, which lets users tap an NFC-enabled smartphone to pair and play music. It also has Bluetooth Re-Master, two USB charging ports, an aux input and DSP to cancel out sound reflections emanating from the speaker baffle.

In adding to its 2013 lineup of four previously announced soundbars at $179 to $399, the company is adding a fifth model in limited quantities as a test through regional retailers. The $229 HTB-170 delivers the same performance and all of the same features as the $199 HTB-70 but adds a single HDMI 1.4a input and 1.4a output to go with one optical audio input. In contrast, the inputs of the $199 HTB-70 consist of an optical audio input and an analog stereo input.

Features common to both 2.1-channel soundbars include Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 decoding,  virtual surround processing, dialog-level control, clear dialog mode, auto gain control, ability to be oriented for wall or TV-stand placement, and a built-in sensor that detects the bar’s orientation to change response to deliver the best sound. On a stand, it can be placed flat or pointed up at 30- and 80-degree angles.

In high-power mini systems, the company unveiled two models shipping in July, one of which is an oversize 2,300-watt RMS model whose predecessor posted successes in such niches as bars and rent-to-own retailers, said home entertainment product manager Troy Livingston. The “extra large” $1,199 SC-MAX650 features a pair of four-way DJ-size speakers, each incorporating 12-inch woofer, and a larger-than-component-size CD-receiver, which sits horizontally and features FM tuner, USB port to support MP3 playback from USB drives, and aux in. The system features illumination that flashes to the beat. It doesn’t offer DJ features.

Its smaller brother is the $379 1,400-watt SC-AKX75 with two three-way speakers, outboard 10-inch “super woofer,” and center console that is narrower and taller than the one in the SC-MAX650.

In targeting select audio products for exclusive sale through select retailers, Panasonic is selling the $149 SC-HC38 micro system and the $349 SC-BTT195 3D HTiB to Best Buy, and Walmart is getting a derivative of the BTT-195. The wall-mountable HC38 micro system features motorized sliding door that covers the vertical CD mechanism and a Lightning-docked iPod/iPhone. It also features Made For Pod/iPhone/iPad USB.

Panasonic is carrying over all of its 2012 HTiBs, which include two DVD models at $149 and $199 and three Blu-ray models at $$299, $349 and $499. All prices are the same as before, but the $349 model has been repriced from $399.

In forecasting home-theater audio sales in 2013, Panasonic said it expects flat industrywide unit sales of 3.6 million, comprising DVD and Blu-ray HTiBs, receiver-based HTiBs, and soundbars. That compares with 2009 unit sales of 3.47 million, 2010’s 3.6 million, 2011’s 3.72 million and 2012’s 3.6 million.

The only growth segment will be in soundbars, whose unit sales are forecast to grow 22 percent in 2013 to 2.5 million, following a 2012 increase of 2.05 million. Blu-ray HTiB sales will drop 25 percent in 2013 to 580,000, units, following a 25 percent drop in 2012. Unit sales of DVD HTiBs will drop 40 percent in 2013 to 240,000, following a 37 percent decline in 2012.

Receiver-based HTiBs will drop 24 percent in 2013 to 280,000 units, following a 20 percent drop in 2012.