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Bluetooth Speakers Aim To Differentiate

Bluetooth-speaker suppliers are adopting new feature sets and new performance levels to gain the upper hand in a market that continues to grow at a double-digit percentage rate, though at a slower rate than before.

Growth has also prompted suppliers such as Klipsch and JBL to expand their selections, and it has attracted such new entrants as KEF and, via Gibson Brands, Onkyo.

To differentiate their products in an increasingly crowded market, select suppliers are adding such features as longer range, the ability to be continuously immersed in water, and the ability for one Bluetooth source to stream to two or more Bluetooth speakers at a time.

Altec-Lansing, for example, is launching a speaker with 100-foot range and an IP68 rating, meaning it is dust-tight and can be continuously immersed in water, not just for up to 30 minutes like other models designated as waterproof. The speaker is also Alec’s first to let users play the same song through multiple speakers at a time.

Dealers will also find more speakers that pair with more than one Bluetooth source at a time, with JBL expanding its selection, and Altec Lansing showing its first such model. More models are also doubling as mobile-device power packs, with 808, JBL and Altec-Lansing showing such models.

The products enter a market that’s growing more slowly yet still posting double-digit percentage gains at retail, The NPD Group finds. For the 12 months ending October 2015, retail-level dollar sales rose 30 percent to $1.4 billion, down from the year-ago period’s 91 percent growth. Unit sales for the 12 months ending October grew 53 percent to 19.4 million, down from the year-ago 122 percent gain.

Battery-operated Bluetooth speakers continue to account for the vast majority of sales: 92 percent in units sold during the 12 months ending October 2015, up slightly from the year-ago 91 percent.

Bluetooth accounts for a majority of wireless speakers sold, Future Source Consulting said. Bluetooth accounted for 90 percent of 2015’s $2.7 billion in total U.S. retail-level wireless-speaker sales, with another 4 percent of volume coming from dual-technology Bluetooth/Wi-Fi speakers, Future Source said.

The consulting company estimates that 2015’s unit shipments of Bluetooth-only speakers rose an estimated 78 percent to 23.7 million. The company forecasts 2016 unit growth of 22.4 percent. Retail-level dollar sales grew in 2015 by 35.2 percent to $1.89 billion and are forecast to grow 7.1 percent in 2016, Future Source added.

Here’s what dealers will find at the show:

808 Audio: Four portable Bluetooth speakers are due in the spring at $79 to $129. One doubles as a portable device charger, and another features LED lights that change color and pulse to the music. One is a ruggedized water-resistant model.

At a suggested $79, the HEX Light SP300 features built-in LED lights, 360-degree sound dispersion, anodized full metal jacket housing, bass radiator, toggled EQ bass boost, and six-hour rechargeable battery. It will come in three metallic colors.

The $129 HEX LXS SP270 features 4,000mAh lithium battery that charges mobile devices. It features 3-inch active driver, two passive radiators, 20-watt output, bass boost, 10-hour rechargeable battery, and backlit buttons.

The $79 XS Sport SPR100 is IPX5 water-resistant and ruggedized via rubber shock bumper and rubber covers, which seal the front and back cabinets and the aux input and USB port. It features two active speakers, a passive radiator, six-hour battery, and carabineer.

The $99 CANZ XL SP360 is a bigger version of the original “ultra-portable” CANZ with a metal cabinet and built-in handle.

Acoustic Research: Two new Bluetooth speakers on display are the $199-suggested two-way Saratoga and $149 Santa Clara, both of which are outdoor models that double as LED accent lights. The lights also change color and pulse to the beat of the music.

They’re due in the spring.

Two of each model can be paired for use as separate left-right speakers.

The 20-watt Saratoga is IPX4 weather-resistant and features 5-inch midrange, tweeter, bass resonator, and multi-color LED lighting said to be inspired by the Northern Lights.

The $149 two-way Saratoga features a bass resonator, 10-watt output, 12-hour battery, and weather resistance.

Jam Wireless Audio: The HMDX brand’s first three IPX67-rated dust-proof and waterproof Bluetooth speaker can be submerged in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes. One also floats. All are said to be drop-proof, and all ship in the spring.

The line starts with the mono $49-suggested Jam Force Mini with integrated clip, six-hour battery, and speakerphone. The $79 Jam Force adds stereo playback, ability to float, and 8-hour battery. The $119 Jam Force Ultimate adds integrated USB port to charge mobile devices, and 10-hour battery.

JBL: Two JBL speakers are portable models with the ability to be paired with up to three Bluetooth devices simultaneously, as is the case with a current model.

The new models are the clip-on $49 JBL Clip 2 and $149 JBL Charge 3, both of which are the brand’s first portable Bluetooth speakers with IPX7-waterproof rating. They can be immersed in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes.

Through the JBL Connect app, both models can be used as separate left-right speakers to expand stereo separation. The app was launched in September 2015 with the launch of three other speakers.

The ruggedized compact Clip 2 snaps onto a backpack, purse or camera bag via a built-in carabineer. Clip 2 delivers up to eight hours of play time and features hands-free calling with noise-and echo-cancellation.

The JBL Charge 3 provides up to 15 hours of play time with its built-in rechargeable battery. It charges mobile devices via two USB ports. It also doubles as a hands-free speakerphone.

Klipsch: The $149 battery-operated Groove portable speaker, launched in late 2015, will get a companion portable at a step-up price. The new model is part of the Heritage series of speakers with mid-century styling, wood-grain look, metal buttons and switches, and aux in and out.

Another Heritage-series tabletop speaker, which lack battery operation, will combine Bluetooth and DTS Play-Fi wireless multiroom audio technology. It comes with optical input and aptX and AAC over Bluetooth.

In all new Bluetooth speakers, the company said it’s avoiding the use of black plastic common in other suppliers’ lines.

Onkyo: Marketed by Gibson Innovations, Bluetooth speakers with the Onkyo brand will appear. Details were unavailable.

Philips: The portable $169 BT6600, marketed by Gibson Innovations, delivers 360-degree sound via front and rear drivers, features multipair to pair with up to three Bluetooth sources at a time, power bank to charge USB devices, NFC for tap-to-pair functionality, 12-hour battery, and 16-watt output.

With multipair, any smartphone or tablet can take control of the IPX4 splash-proof speaker without one device having to disconnect before the other can connect.

Front and rear passive radiators deepen bass response, DSP optimizes performance, and a built-in mic is available for hands-free speakerphone use. The speaker is available in three colors.