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Soundbar, Sound Base Sales, Selection Soar

LAS VEGAS – Soundbar sales continued to post strong growth in unit and dollar sales in 2013 because of growing consumer demand for simple solutions and a growing selection of options, including more step-up options.

The growth, however, is coming at the expense of lower-priced A/V receivers, compact 5.1 speaker packages and HTiBs, suppliers said.

Quixel Research found that factory-level soundbar sales rose 69 percent to 3.14 million in 2012, and it forecast growth of 37 percent in 2013, 34 percent in 2014, and 29 percent in 2015. Dollar volume grew 82 percent in 2012 to $658.1 million and was forecast to grow 74 percent in 2013, 24 percent in 2014, and 25 percent in 2015 to $1.78 billion.

Dealers attending International CES will find a growing selection of soundbars at a variety of price points to leverage future growth. Companies such as Philips are expanding their selection, and Denon is showing its first.

New models include speaker bases, a soundbar variant that is placed under a TV rather than in front. Their selection will grow at International CES, with Maxell expanding its selection and LG and Philips showing their first Blu-ray-equipped under-TV speakers, which will also include streaming services.

Under-TV sound bases, said Scott Ramirez, Toshiba product marketing and development VP, provide a “nicer cosmetic look than soundbars used with TVs placed on tables. “Soundbars are really great when you have a TV mounted on a wall,” he said.

Also at the show, a growing selection of traditional bar-style soundbars will offer Bluetooth, streaming of Internet-based audio and video services, and HDMI switching. At least one more model that doubles as a networked Wi-Fi speaker will also appear. And at least one supplier, Philips, will expand its selection.

“Soundbars continue to grow dramatically, and average selling prices are trending up,” said Robert Goedken, general manger of Yamaha Corp. of America’s A/V division. “Growth may have come down a little in 2013, but the outlook on the industry in 2014 is still very good. The basic drivers for soundbar sales are poor TV sound and the acceptance of the ease of use and the simplicity of design.”

Many consumers, he added, are using soundbars as HTiB replacements, “but there is still a customer for the home-theater experience.” The HTiB category, however, “is still a large category and satisfies many consumers’ needs.”

Russ Johnston, Pioneer Americas marketing and corporate communications executive VP, agreed that soundbars are cannibalizing some HTiB sales. “This phenomenon has already taken place and will continue to pressure HTiB’s future,” he said. “More simplistic system configuration and aesthetic value have driven consumers to the soundbar category.”

Soundbars are also hurting entry-level AVR sales, Johnston said.

They have also affected sales of compact 5.1 speaker packages because “they offer minimization of complexity and setup,” added Mark Casavant, Klipsch Group global product development senior VP.

In a related matter, Vizio found through its own research that consumers are willing to spend 10 percent to 20 percent of the price of their HDTV for a soundbar, said Jason Wehner, Vizio’s audio product manage-mentdirector.

For these consumers, dealers will find the following soundbars:

Damson Audio is coming to CES to diversify from Bluetooth-equipped speakers into networked Wi-Fi speakers that also incorporate Bluetooth. One of three new Wi-Fi speakers is a networked, Bluetooth-equipped home-theater soundbar. All could be the industry’s first Bluetooth or Wi-Fi speakers with automatic room equalization.

The soundbar, priced at a suggested $449, can be used along with the company’s two new Bluetooth/Wi-Fi speakers to create a multizone wireless audio network.

It features 7.1-channel PCM playback, two HDMI inputs, HDMI output with audio return channel, two subwoofers, side-firing 3kHz to 5kHz drivers to widen the sound stage, and wavefield synthesis to deliver a roomwide sweet spot, the company said.

Denon’s first soundbar is the $599-suggested DHT-S514 with wireless subwoofer, Bluetooth and AptX streaming over Bluetooth. Additional details were unavailable.

Maxell is discontinuing an existing soundbar and launching three under- TV speaker bases, which it calls soundbars.

The soundbar lineup starts with the $149-suggested SSB-2, a 2.1-channel system rated at 2×10 watts plus 1×30 watts RMS with 1 percent THD at 1kHz. It features 3.5mm and RCA aux inputs, touch-sensor buttons, remote, and a size said to be ideal for use with TVs up to 42 inches.

The $179 2.1-channel SSB-3, also designed for TVs up to 42 inches, adds Bluetooth, SRS Wow HD audio-enhancement technology, an optical input, four front speakers instead of two, and higher power of 4×10 watts plus 1×30 watts.

For TVs up to 50 inches, the $249 SSB-4 is also a 2.1 system but adds HDMI switching, higher power, dual woofers, USB charging port, LED display, five preset EQ modes, learning remote and wood cabinet. It features three HDMI inputs, HDMI output, coaxial and optical inputs, and power output of 4×15 watts plus 2×50 watts. It also features SRS Wow HD 3D technology.

Philips is showing its first two under- TV speakers, one with Blu-ray player and streaming services, and expanding its soundbar selection.

Sharp is adding nearfield communications (NFC) to a Bluetooth-equipped soundbar for the first time.

Toshiba entered the soundbar business in 2012 and is coming to the show with two soundbars and a new under- TV speaker. The company’s first under- TV speaker appeared in 2013.

One bar and the base are the company’s first with NFC for one-tap pairing with mobile devices for music streaming. All new models feature HDMI switching.

Pricing and ship dates were not available.

The SBX4250S soundbar, designed for 40- to 50-inch TVs, comes with Bluetooth, wireless subwoofer, two HDMI inputs, one HDMI output, SRS Surround for virtual surround, optical audio inputs, mini-plug input and a remote. Power output is rated at 2×75 watts plus 1×150 watts. It’s designed to cosmetically match Toshiba’s 2014 bigscreen televisions with gun-metal finish.

The SBX5065 soundbar, designed for 50- to 65-inch TVs, offers the same features but adds NFC.

The ABX3250 Audio Base offers the same features as the SBX5065, including HDMI switching, power output, wireless subwoofer, Bluetooth and NFC, but it sits under 32-, 40- and 50- inch TVs. It features three-side metal grille and high-gloss top.

Vizio is unveiling its second active soundbar with companion wireless subwoofer and wireless surround speakers. The S5451W takes the recently shipped 54-inch-wide $299-suggested S5430W 3.0-channel soundbar and adds a wireless transmitter, wireless subwoofer and wireless surround speakers to deliver a discrete 5.1-channel soundfield. It will ship in the first quarter. Pricing was unavailable.

The new model represents the company’s third-generation soundbar with wireless sub and surrounds. It joins a current model similarly equipped.

The subwoofer/surround enhancement consists of a powered sub with built-in three-channel amp to drive the subwoofer and two full-range speakers connected via RCA-terminated speaker cable. Eight meters of speaker cable per side are included in the box along with other connectivity cable.

The main soundbar cabinet features 3.0- speaker system, a pair of passive radiators, AptX codec streaming over Bluetooth, and a dual-core CSR MAP X processor delivering almost 1,200 MIPS per core, essentially “putting a competent A/V receiver inside,” said Jason Wehner, audio product management director.

The soundbar has audio switching via optical and coaxial digital inputs and an HDMI 1.4a input. It is also equipped with HDMI output with audio return channel.

The soundbar also incorporates Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 decoding and DTS’s dialog-enhancement technology.

The device can be programmed to respond to volume, mute and turn-on commands from a user’s TV remote. It will power off automatically after 15 minutes of inactivity.