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Audio’s Transition Will Be In CES Limelight

Scores of home audio products on display at January’s CES will demonstrate the industry’s embrace of new music sources and recognition of change in consumer’s in-home music-listening habits.

Suppliers will acknowledge that music listening in the home is a mobile rather than stationary experience for most people, who want music to follow them as they roam from room to room. And with greater frequency, the music they enjoy is coming not from a CD or analog-FM station but from the PC, Internet radio, HD Radio, satellite radio, memory cards, USB drives, and MP3 players, mainly iPods.

As a result, dealers heading to Las Vegas will find:

  • More suppliers offering digital media adapters (DMAs), which stream music to stereo systems from a networked PC and directly from the Web.
  • More wireless and Ethernet-based multiroom audio systems. One company will launch a multizone wireless music system whose music source is a PC or Internet radio. High-end component-speaker maker Thiel will launch its first networked-audio system, which uses a hub to distribute music from connected legacy sources and from networked PCs to in-room speakers throughout the house via Ethernet cables and via other network pipes yet to be disclosed.
  • More stereo systems and HTiBs that connect to music-laden USB drives, SD memory cards, and Bluetooth-equipped MP3-cellphones. One company will show its first HTiBs with Bluetooth, and at least one supplier will join Sony in offering Bluetooth-connectivity options for A/V receivers.
  • A growing selection of iPod-docking amplified speaker systems, clock radios, tabletop radios, minisystems, and home-theater-in-a-box (HTiB) systems. At least one supplier will add docks to almost every one of its HTiBs and compact stereo systems; another will launches its first iPod-docking HTiBs, and another will almost double its selection of iPod-docking tabletop radios and stereo systems to 30.

The market is already crowded, however, with U.S. retailers having advertised 279 different models of iPod-docking speaker systems and tabletop/clock radios under 93 different brands during the 12 months ending October 2007, IFR Monitoring data shows.

  • New entrants in the tabletop radio market, particularly in the tabletop HD Radio market. At least five new brands will enter the HD tabletop-radio market at CES. Other companies will expand their selection of analog and digital models.
  • A greater selection of tabletop HD Radios with iPod docks. Some will feature iTunes tagging, which makes it easier for consumers download music from the iTunes store after they’ve discovered it on the radio. The first iTunes-tagging tabletop models, available since late 2007 by Polk and JBL, will be joined by models from at least three more home brands and by two car audio brands.
  • At least two more companies offering component HD Radio tuners for adding to any existing stereo system. Both will be entry-level models at about $100.
  • More companies offering passive and active “surround bars.” These deliver a multichannel sound field from a single horizontal speaker designed to match flat-panel display cosmetics. Some feature amplification, digital processing, speakers, and even DVD player in the bar, while others feature an outboard player/controller and others consist simply of multiple passive speakers that use passive technology to create a virtual-surround experience. At least two companies will expand their selection, and at least three other companies will enter for the first time.

Also at the show, dealers will find:

  • a growing selection of amplified speaker system designed to dock with Microsoft’s Zune portable music players;
  • new tabletop speaker systems that dock with XM plug-and-play tuners;
  • the first table radios with slots to dock with XM Minituners;
  • at least two suppliers dropping XM-ready HTiBs;
  • Denon and McIntosh with their first HD Radio modules, which plug into select high-and audio components;
  • what could be the first portable HD Radio product, an AC/DC tabletop radio;
  • an iPod speaker system with dual iPod docks; and
  • and an iPod-docking home DVD player and an iPod-docking digital picture frame, from separate companies.