Soundbars As Plentiful As Bars On The Strip - Twice

Soundbars As Plentiful As Bars On The Strip

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LAS VEGAS – Soundbars at International CES are as plentiful as bars on the Las Vegas Strip, and every year, conventioneers stumble across more bars of both types.

At CES, multiple companies are expanding their soundbar selections, including Samsung, LG, Naxa and Maxell. And at least one high-end audio supplier, Arcam, is unveiling its first model.

Under-TV speaker bases are also more plentiful, with PSB Audio unveiling its first under-TV speaker and LG expanding its selection.

Also at the show, dealers will find:

--more soundbars that integrate with a wireless multiroom-audio system, with Samsung expanding its selection and LG showing its first three such bars, joining Sonos and Definitive Technology in the segment.

• more wireless multiroom-audio speakers that can be pressed into service as wireless surround speakers for soundbars that also connect to a wireless-audio network. LG is offering its first, and Samsung is expanding its selection.

• an expanded selection of curved soundbars from Samsung to match its curved TVs

• more soundbars with HDMI inputs and outputs.

• Philips and Samsung soundbars with wireless subwoofers that can be placed vertically or, for under-couch placement, horizontally; and

• a Philips soundbar with detachable speakers that can be turned into discrete surround speakers via Bluetooth connection to the bar.

Panasonic is not introducing new soundbars or under- TV speakers but will carry over existing models, a spokesperson said.

In contrast, HTiB systems will be harder to find than sober people on the strip at 3 a.m. Samsung and LG, for instance, will trim their selections in light of doubledigit HTiB sales declines. And Philips is launching two home theater systems that essentially are HTiBs without Blu-ray.

Suppliers are stepping up their soundbar and sound base presences as sales continue to soar at doubledigit percentage rates.

Futuresource Consulting estimates U.S. soundbar shipments rose 44 percent in 2014 to 5.54 million and will rise 23 percent in 2015 to 6.83 million. Retail-level dollar volume rose an estimated 38 percent in 2014 to $1.32 billion and is forecast to rise 16 percent in 2015 to $1.54 billion.

“TV brands continue to dominate as they gain share by bundling TV sales with soundbars,” a spokesman noted.

For its part, Quixel Research forecasts U.S. factory shipments will rise 37 percent in 2014 for the second year in a row to 5.9 million units and will rise in 2015 by 29 percent, in 2016 by 25.5 percent, and in 2017 by 25 percent to 11.95 million units. Retail-level dollar volume won’t be far behind, rising 34.6 percent in 2014 to $1.46 billion, 24.7 percent in 2015, 21.5 percent in 2016, and 21 percent in 2017 to $2.68 billion.

Quixel also finds the share of soundbars with wireless (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or both) and HDMI connections is rising.

The percentage of units shipped in 2014’s third quarter with wireless rose to 93 percent from the year-ago 68 percent, and the share of models with HDMI rose to 26 percent in the third quarter from the year-ago 24 percent.

Here’s what you’ll find in speaker bases and soundbars:

Arcam: The company contends it packed the functionality and performance of an A/V receiver into its $1,500 Solo soundbar and optional $800 wireless Solo sub. They ship in mid January. The 100-watt three-way aluminum bar and 300-watt 10- inch wireless sub are said to deliver audiophile quality.

The bar incorporates Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD decoding, four HDMI 1.4 inputs and one HDMI output with 4K passthrough and audio return channel, Bluetooth streaming from mobile devices with AptX, Bluetooth streaming to headphones, coax and optical inputs, tweeters angled out by 5 degrees to widen dispersion, microphone for auto setup and equalization, iOS and Android app control, and remote.

The bar packs two 1-inch tweeters, two 4-inch midranges, and two 4-inch bass drivers.

The HDMI connections pass through 4K up to 30Hz at 4:4:4 color space and 4K up to 60Hz 4:2:0. The company said it is unaware of any soundbar that passes through the latter.

LG: The soundbar selection goes to six from four, the HTiB selection goes to two from four, and three soundbars get Flow wireless-multiroom-audio technology.

Monitor Audio: Through importer Kevro International, the company is launching its first two passive soundbars.

The three-channel soundbars are the SB-2, designed for use with 50- to 60-inch TVs, and the SB-3, which is custom-built for screen sizes exceeding 60 inches. Both models feature three separate driver arrays for left, center, and right channels. The $750-suggested SB-2 measures 5.7 inches by 43.6 by 3.5 inches, and the $900 SB-3 measures 5.7 by 51.5 by 3.5 inches.

Naxa: The company is expanding its assortment of soundbars with the $89 42-inch slim NHS-2008 with subwoofer. It features Bluetooth 2.1 with NFC pairing, USB and SD Card slots, FM tuner with 20 station presets, optical input, 3.5mm aux in, blue LCD display, 50-watt RMS/300-watt maximum output, and AC/DC power.

Maxell: The company’s latest two under-TV speakers will join three current models at the end of the first quarter. Both the $229-suggested Sound Deck SSD-HPK, with built-in subwoofer, and the $299 SSD-WS6.5, with wireless subwoofer, are the company’s first under- TV speakers with included wireless headphones.

The headphones use non-Bluetooth 2.4GHz technology to communicate with a removable dongle, which can be plugged into computers to listen to computer audio. Both speakers also feature Bluetooth to play music from Bluetooth-equipped mobile devices and laptops. Both also match the width of 42-inch TVs but can support TVs up to 65 inches and up to 110 pounds. Both also switch between a minijack input, RCA input, optical input and Bluetooth.

Other features common to both are SRS Wow HD technology, which broadens the soundstage and boosts bass, and four full-range drivers each powered by 10-watt amps. The drivers at the farthest edges of the bar are angled out to widen the sound stage.

The SSD-HPK also features built-in 30-watt subwoofer in its chassis. The step-up model adds separate 100-watt 6.5-inch subwoofer that’s slim enough to fit under a couch.

The current three Sound Decks range from $129 to $299, two with built-in Bluetooth.

Polaroid: The brand is launching six active soundbars, all with Bluetooth 4.0, five with USB input to play WAV files, four with 2.1-channel playback, four with two HDMI inputs, four with one HDMI output with audio return channel, and four with Dolby Digital 5.1 decoding, DTS TruVolume, and DTS TruSurround, which delivers a broad sweet spot, elevated sound image, dialog enhancement, an expanded soundfield, and other benefits.

PSB: The speaker brand’s first powered under-TV speaker is the $599-MAP Alpha VS21 VisionSound, an active three-way speaker with subwoofer output in a non-resonant MDF enclosure with black ash wood-grain finish. It ships in January and measures 3.4 inches by 21.3 inches by 13 inches.

The six-amplifier, six-driver 100-watt RMS speaker incorporates Dolby Digital decoding and one optical, one coaxial, and one analog input. Key features include Bluetooth with AptX, dialog mode to improve voice intelligibility, and WideSound processing to expand the image. WideSound and dialog mode can be used simultaneously.

The speaker also incorporates Dolby Late Night, which for late-night listening reduces the level of sudden loud sounds and raises the level of soft sounds so they can be more readily heard.

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