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Boston Acoustics Tunes Up Product, Marketing Plans

Boston Acoustics will turn over most of its non-custom product line between now and early next year to broaden the brand’s appeal and tap into consumers’ changed lifestyles and audio listening habits.

The launch of about 50 new speakers, speaker packages, tabletop radios and promised new categories represent the largest launch of in-room speakers and other non-custom products in the brand’s history, said Eli Harary, Boston’s worldwide senior VP/GM. The products, starting with the Horizon series of molded-cabinet in-room speakers, will be the first products whose development began after the acquisition of Boston Acoustics 22 months ago by D&M Holdings, owner of Denon, Marantz, McIntosh and Snell.

The new strategy was outlined here during a recent press briefing at company offices, where the company had also been outlining its strategy to invited dealers.

The Horizon series, due in September and October, is promoted as delivering a playful industrial design with a “youthful” attitude, thanks to most models’ backward-curving front baffles and to grilles available in optional colors. On the sales floor, the design and colors will catch the attention of consumers uninterested in “black-box” style speakers and perhaps attract consumers who are not shopping for component speakers at all, the company said.

The Horizon series also includes the brand’s first home theater speaker packages in two years and the brand’s first wireless subwoofer. Horizon tabletop radios with optional color grilles will be unveiled at International CES.

Also due from Boston is an amplified stereo-speaker bar with wireless subwoofer. The speaker bar, which also features optional grille colors, is positioned as an accessory to flat-panel TVs, and the SKU is targeted for display in retailers’ TV departments to expand the customer base for speakers. (See bottom of p. 50 for Horizon product details.)

The Horizon series is accompanied by the SoundWare molded-cabinet two-way speaker cube, which lacks optional grilles but is available in seven colors; features cabinets that can be painted for further customization; and offers an angled back that allows for multiple placement options, including on a shelf, on a wall, in a corner, where the ceiling and wall meet, or outside under the eaves.

Horizon’s shapes and colors will tap into consumers’ desires for personalization and self-expression and expand speakers’ customer base, Harary contended. He called it time for the audio industry to begin paying attention to consumers’ demands for “hip-smart” design and personal expression, and he contended that it’s not enough for a speaker company to continue developing “slightly better-sounding products” without attracting new customers to the category.

The Horizon launch represents a dramatic expansion of Boston’s use of molded cabinets. The Horizon models are also the industry’s first component speakers with grilles in optional colors, and they represent a dramatic departure from the square-box designs that dominated Boston’s selection before last year’s launch of the high-end wood-cabinet E series priced up to $2,500 each, Harary also said.

The choices of grille colors were based on an analysis of interior-design color trends. Eight color grilles will be available at launch, followed by around eight more in the first quarter of 2008. Optional grilles will be sold by dealers and through Boston’s Web site.

At International CES, the brand plans a step-up Vista series that will include molded- and wood-cabinet in-room speakers, speaker packages, tabletop radios and new product categories that the company declined to identify. A majority of Vista speakers will also feature grilles in optional colors, and the series will project a youthful attitude like the Horizon series, Harary said.

In the spring, the brand plans “a slight refresh” in its custom line and will add a “significant” number of SKUs by fall 2008, Harary added. Custom accounts for more than half of Boston’s volume, he noted.

The company stopped production of it VR, CR and MR series of in-room speakers, which accounted for about 15 SKUs when enclosures in different finishes are factored in.

With the Horizon introductions, D&M’s intent is to build on Boston’s “enduring values” of build quality, high performance and product innovation while attracting a broader audience “whose rules for performance and value” have changed over the years, Harary explained.

At one time, for speaker buyers, “it only mattered how it sounded,” Harary explained, but now “good sound is expected,” and fewer people choose speakers after making A-B comparisons. Calling it time for the audio industry to pay attention to new consumer values, Harary said new products going forward will feature “hip-smart industrial design,” allow for personal expression, and take advantage of a trend in which home entertainment, particularly in-home music listening, is now “more about shared experiences.” Consumers, he explained, “don’t listen to music in solitude anymore.” Now, he said “families watch movies or play games together.”

As a result, new Boston products will be “equal parts performance, personal expression and shared experience” that will blend art and science, he said.