Top Audio Trends To Watch For At CES

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NEW YORK – Soundbars, under-TV speakers, Bluetooth speakers and Wi-Fi multiroom-audio systems will be well-represented among the product introductions at International CES, but new products in traditional component-audio categories won’t be far behind despite their sales struggles.

Dealers that want to roll a seven in Las Vegas might well want to watch out for these seven audio trends at CES:

1 High-resolution audio. The selection of highresolution music downloads and high-res playback devices is growing slowly but steadily. At CES, dealers will find a slew of new high-res component DACs for the home at priced of more than $3,000, more components such as integrated amplifiers with USB audio inputs and high-res decoding, and plenty of new portable USB headphone-amp/DACs with highresolution capabilities priced from $69 to $2,500 or more.

At least one company will show a portable headphone DAC that connects to an iPhone’s Lightning connector to reproduce high-res files. Another will connect to select Android smartphones that support USB audio.

And at least one portable high-res headphone-amp/ DAC will accept a 1TB mSATA drive to turn it into a portable media player.

Separately, at least one company will unveil an aftermarket car-audio head unit that not only decodes 192/24 FLAC files but incorporates a 192/24 DAC to prevent the files from being down-converted to CD quality.

On top of that, new high-res portables and home servers will be on display.

2 Dolby Atmos. The new surround-sound technology, promoted as the biggest advance in surround since the launch of the Blu-ray disc, will be heard all over Vegas onsite, offsite and by invitation. Demos will be conducted by Analog Devices, Atlantic Technology, Definitive Technology, Denon & Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer, Texas Instruments and Yamaha, Dolby Labs said.

Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. and Lionsgate are among the first studios to support Dolby Atmos on Bluray disc, with “The Expendables 3,” “Step Up: All In” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” New Atmos titles coming in 2015 include the “Gravity” Diamond Luxe Edition. Atmos will be “soon” be available through online streaming services, the company added.

Most major home-audio companies have already announced or shipped Atmos-equipped AVRs and preamp processors, and some will likely show new models behind closed doors.

At least one high-end audio brand, Theta Digital, will add its name to the list with the launch of its first A/V processor with Dolby Atmos decoding. It’s configured for Dolby Atmos 11.1.4 playback and is firmware-upgradable to add other 3D audio formats such as Auro-3D.

Theta won’t be the only company with a product that supports Auro-3D. Steinway Lyngdorf will display its new P200 surround processor, which will decode both surround formats and be available in the first quarter at an introductory suggested retail of $18,000.

3 Soundbars, soundbases entrenched. The products are rapidly replacing HTiBs as the video- sound solution of choice, and they’re getting thinner and thinner, though with wireless and wired subwoofers, their sound isn’t thinning out.

At least one model will shrink to a depth of only 1.18 inches, and more will feature stereo Bluetooth with AptX and AAC streaming over Bluetooth.

One company will expand its selection of under-TV speakers to five from three.

More new models will feature wireless multiroomaudio capability to connect to a network of Wi-Fi speakers for whole-house audio, and more will feature HDMI switching at higher price points, eating into demand for A/V receivers, suppliers said.

Soundbar sales will continue to grow at double-digit rates in units and dollars because of consumer demand and the TV-replacement cycle, said Quixel Research, a Gap Intelligence company.

Soundbars improve flat-panel sound, require minimal wiring and space, often enable playback of music from Bluetooth-equipped mobile devices, and can form part of a wireless multiroom-audio system, added Futuresource Consulting.

As a result, Quixel forecasts U.S. factory shipments U.S. unit shipments will rise 37 percent in 2014 for the second year in a row to 5.9 million units and will rise in 2015 by 29 percent, in 2016 by 25.5 percent, and in 2017 by 25 percent to 11.95 million units. Retail-level dollar volume won’t be far behind, rising 34.6 percent in 2014 to $1.46 billion at the retail level, 24.7 percent in 2015, 21.5 percent in 2016, and 21 percent in 2017 to $2.68 billion.

Under-TV soundbases are also on the rise, as HTiB sales plunge at double-digit rates.

4 Wireless Wi-Fi speakers. The market exploded with competitors in 2013 and 2014, and more brands will show their first products at CES, some incorporating DTS’s Play-Fi technology to enable interoperability among different brands of speakers.

At least one company will show its first Play-Fi speakers for the first time, and at least one other company will expand its assortment with products that include an HDMI dongle that plugs into audio components and TVs.

In the U.S., shipments of Wi-Fi speakers, some also offering Bluetooth, will rise 89.2 percent in 2014 to 1.94 million units and will rise another 66 percent in 2015 to 3.22 million units, Futuresource Consulting said.

5 Networked audio components. Whether AVRs, preamp/processors, or two-channel integrated amps, a network connection to stream content from PCs or the cloud is where the opportunity lies in the challenged component-audio market.

At CES, at least one high-end audio company will add networking and USB audio inputs to an integrated stereo amp for the first time, and another highend company will launch its first networked AVRs.

6 Components with USB audio. Whether home DACs, stereo receivers, AVRs, or preamp processors, USB audio inputs will appear in more and more components as music libraries shift to computers, servers, and mobile devices.

More high-end components will appear from multiple suppliers with 24-bit/192kHz asynchronous USB audio inputs to handle high-resolution audio files.

7 No Bluetooth blues. Unit and dollar shipments of Bluetooth speakers continue to surge upward as suppliers find more niches to fill. Multiple suppliers, for example, will unveil waterresistant and water-proof ruggedized speakers for outdoor use, and others will show combination lightbulb-speakers that screw into recessed lighting fixtures in the ceiling.

More Bluetooth speakers that can be used in pairs to deliver a wider stereo soundstage will also appear.

At least one supplier will embed Bluetooth in a compact amplifier to drive passive speakers.

Sales keep on rising because 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.

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