Home Audio: What's Coming At CES 2012

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Home audio dealers will find plenty of new products to audition at next month’s International CES, where suppliers will offer up a growing selection of products with Apple AirPlay and stereo Bluetooth to connect to hand-held music sources.

Dealers will also find a growing selection of soundbars, 2.1-speaker home theater in a box (HTiB) system with virtual surround, iPad-docking speaker systems, and networked tabletop speakers.

The selection of high-end audio components with modernized connectivity features such as iPod USB ports and stereo Bluetooth options will also grow.

Here’s a segment-by-segment look at some of the top audio developments expected at CES:

Docking tabletop speakers:

Some dockingspeaker suppliers will add Apple’s wireless AirPlay technology for the first time to spur repeat and step-up sales of iPod-docking speaker systems, and other suppliers will add stereo Bluetooth and microUSB charging ports to expand the total addressable market to owners of Android and Black- Berry smartphones.

At least five well-known brands will launch their first tabletop AirPlay speakers (Pure Audio, Acoustic Research, Sherwood and McIntosh), and other companies will expand their selection.

In the growing Bluetooth-speaker segment, at least five well-know companies will launch their first models, several others will expand their selection, and at least one more supplier will join Philips in pairing stereo Bluetooth with a charging MicroUSB port in a speaker system to dock, play and charge Android smartphones.

Dealers will also find a growing selection of iPad-docking speakers systems, with some suppliers expanding their selection and others entering the market.

Active soundbars:

At least three well-known brands will expand their selections, at least one company will add AirPlay to a soundbar, and at least one company will incorporate streaming audio and video services in its model.

More soundbars from well-known will also incorporate Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 decoders to improve the sound quality of the virtual surround sound that they deliver.

Soundbars proved their value in 2011 as consumers snapped them up to improve the sound quality of their thin TVs or look for virtual-surround solutions that yield less clutter than more traditional home theater in a box (HTiB) solutions.

Home theater systems:

The success of soundbar systems with virtual surround processing could be influencing more suppliers to reduce the number of speakers in multispeaker HTiB systems to 2.1 from 5.1 or more.

In 2.1 speaker systems with virtual surround, at least three well-known brands will serve up their first models while a current supplier will update its model. These products will incorporate Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 decoders.

In more traditional 5.1- and 7.1-speaker HTiBs, Apple’s AirPlay technology will turn up for the first time, stereo Bluetooth will expand to more models, and video switching will appear in more models, including HDMI 1.4a switching.

HTiBs equipped with integrated 3D Blu-ray players will fall to a suggested $299 in one supplier’s line, and at least one HTiB supplier will incorporate an audio technology said to make sound leap out from a 3D TV screen in sync with the 3D image appearing on screen.

Audio components:

Suppliers of traditional audio components are updating their lines with more models featuring connectivity to new music sources.

McIntosh, for example, will show its first component — a home theater preamp/processor – with Apple AirPlay. It’s also the brand’s first component with DLNA certification to stream content from a PC.

Another component supplier will add frontpanel USB input for iPod/iPhone/iPad and other MP3 players for the first time to an A/V receiver, which will also be the company’s first AVR with stereo Bluetooth option.

For its part, Mark Levinson will unveil its first three components with USB ports to accept PC audio, music files stored on USB sticks, and audio from connected Apple mobile devices.

In other show developments:

• One supplier will launch networked wireless speakers that use PCs, iPhones and Android phones as Wi-Fi music sources to create a wireless multizone audio system. The smartphones also operate as system controllers.

• Behringer, a major player in the pro audio market for 22 years, will enter the consumer market under the Eurosound brand with 50 products, including docking speakers, sound bars, mics, karaoke equipment, portable PA systems and more.


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