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Bluetooth Speakers: Up, Up And Away

LAS VEGAS – Unit and dollar shipments of Bluetooth speakers continue to fly upward at a dizzying pace as suppliers find new niches to fill with water-resistant ruggedized speakers to combination lightbulb-speakers that screw into the ceiling.

Consumers are also buying more than one speaker to fit a variety of applications, marketers said.

Futuresource found U.S. unit shipments of Bluetooth speakers rising 52 percent in 2014 to 8.86 million, and it forecasts 21.9 percent growth in 2015 to 10.8 million units.

For its part, The NPD Group found retail-level dollar sales rising 90 percent for the 12 months ending October 2014, with unit sales up 122 percent during that period.

For 2015, the growth trend “has to come down,” said Toshi Hokari, TDK Life On Record’s executive director of product management and marketing. But he still expects double-digit percentage gains. “Unlike other categories that have saturated, I do not think we will see that yet in 2015 because consumers are buying more than one Bluetooth speaker to meet varying needs,” he explained.

That said, Hokari sees ASPs continuing to fall. “Bose has introduced a $129 product, something one did not see from that brand in the past,” he said. “There are also many more unbranded products at sub-$50 price point that are flooding the market.”

Indeed, lower price points dominate the market, NPD said, in large part because of the growth of home Wi-Fi speakers.

“The growth rate in $299-plus is lagging the rest of the market by a lot and as such, the share of $299-plus has fallen,” said NPD executive director Ben Arnold. “In actual dollars, $299-plus has grown by just half a million dollars [at retail for the 12 months ending October 2014], and unit growth has turned negative.”

One reason is “a lot of activity from premium brands in the $150 to $199 price range,” which he said has become the new Bluetooth premium price band. Sales above $200 are “being challenged by the entrée of multiroom Wi-Fi speakers from Sonos, Samsung and Bose.” The premium Bluetooth market is being challenged on one side by premium brands and several “good enough” products at $150 to $199, and on the other side by the growing crop of network-connected, Wi-Fi speakers, many of which offer multi-room,” he said.

For the 12 months ending October 2014, dollar sales of Bluetooth speakers priced less than $299 have surged 94 percent, while dollar sales of speakers priced above that rose only 2 percent, NPD said. The share of sales held by speakers less than $299 rose to 98 percent during that time, up from the year-ago 95 percent.

For these reasons, products less than $299 are dominating introductions here, and many are targeting new configurations that could help expand the addressable market.

“We continue to see high demand for weatherproof since many people want to bring the products everywhere,” said TDK’s Hokari. “I see more and more brands tapping into this sub-category.”

Conversely, he noted, iPod/iPhone-docking speakers “are disappearing fast.” Unlike an MP3 player, he explained, “people do not want to have their phones docked. They want the phones on them to take calls, text, etc.”

Here at International CES, suppliers are keeping the momentum going with an expanded selection of water-resistant and ruggedized speakers and a growing selection of in-ceiling lightbulb speakers.

Water-resistant models are on display by Nyne, TDK Life On Record, Acoustic Research, First Alert and Maxell.

Two companies – iHome and House of Marley – are showing their first IPX7-rated speakers, which can be immersed in up to 3 meters of water for up to 30 minutes.

Ion is launching its first lightbulb speakers, and Griffin is embedding Bluetooth into a stereo amplifier. Bluetooth is even turning up in an Ion turntable, which streams vinyl records to Bluetooth speakers.

Check out TWICE’s Bluetooth-speaker shopping list (right) for detailed information on new products.