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Flat-Out Growth In Custom, Plasma-Friendly Speakers

In a component-speaker market whose sales are flat to down, flat speakers with flat response just might be the way to slow the decline — if the definition of flat speaker is broadened to include flush-mounted in-wall and in-ceiling speakers.

Market research statistics point to growth in custom-installed speakers and flat speakers, which cosmetically complement increasingly popular flat-panel video displays. Sensing the trend, multiple suppliers here at the CEDIA Expo launched their first flat speakers, which can be hung on the wall or placed on stands next to flat-panel plasma and LCD video displays. Other suppliers here paid more attention to custom-installed speakers, whether mounted in the wall, in the ceiling or outdoors.

Companies here showing their first flat speakers designed for flat-panel displays include Advent, Atlantic Technology, Boston Acoustics, Canton and Niles. One of Boston’s models will be a single-enclosure speaker that delivers all three front channels.

In custom-installed speakers, Infinity broadened its assortments, and Klipsch’s biggest-ever product introduction focused exclusively on custom speakers. (See p. 32 and p. 35 for details of speakers at the Expo.)

In other speaker developments:

• Screen Research of Mission Viejo, Calif., unveiled an acoustically transparent, motorized retractable screen with integrated left, center and right speakers that rise and lower with it.

• Car audio supplier JL Audio showed its first home speakers, a pair of subwoofers with DSP to compensate for room-acoustics problems.

The catalyst for these developments is growth in sales of custom speakers and flat enclosed speakers, market research shows. In one report, NPD Intelect found that dealer-level sales of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers grew 21.6 percent to $87.8 million for the 12 months ending March. NPD based its numbers on actual point-of-sale data from 150 of the largest brick-and-mortar and online retailers, excluding custom-only dealers that lack retail stores.

In a separate report, CEA found that flat-panel video displays are helping drive sales of on-wall and in-wall speakers. The report, based on a May 2004 CEA survey of 3,287 households, found that 2 percent of households own a flat-panel TV (plasma or LCD) and that 20 percent of those households mount their flat-panel TV on a wall or ceiling. Another 7 percent built it into a wall.

Among flat-panel households, 58 percent connected the display to separate speakers, CEA found, and of those, 21 percent installed the speakers in the wall. Another 23 percent had the speakers “suspended by wall brackets.”