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Wireless Speaker Market Making More Noise

NEW YORK — Wireless-audio competition shows no signs of abating.

Bluetooth-speaker maker Braven is developing its first wireless multiroom-audio speakers, Sound United launched a campaign to promote its Polk and Definitive Technology wireless multiroom-audio speakers, and Sonos is enhancing its Wi-Fi speaker system’s feature set.

Meantime, a Chinese lighting company is bringing Bluetooth lightbulb/speakers to market.

The companies see potential in a wireless-speaker market whose worldwide unit sales (for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi models combined) are forecast to grow by 76 percent in 2014, Futuresource Consulting said. U.S. household penetration is forecast to hit 17 percent by year’s end, the company added.

Worldwide compound annual growth between 2012 and 2016 is forecast at 72 percent, the company added.

Sales are driven largely by high ownership rates of smartphones, which hit a 75 percent North American personal penetration rate, growing to a forecast 101 percent in 2018, Futuresource said.

A total of 54 percent of smartphone users listen to music on their phone, based on a Futuresource survey of consumers in the U.S., U.K., Germany and France. Of those, 64 percent play their smartphone-stored music to other devices, the company said.

Though Wi-Fi speaker sales are surging, some suppliers question whether so many entrants will be able to compete without dramatic price drops as they go head-to-head with market leader Sonos. That company this year launched an aggressive TV advertising campaign that started with a Super Bowl add and has continued with prime time ads and ads on the Saturday Night Live TV show.

Here’s what select companies plan to do to capture their share of growth:

Braven: The company plans early-2015 availability of its first wireless multiroom-audio speaker system, which is built on CSR’s VibeHub platform. The company, which markets Bluetooth speakers, will display the system at International CES.

VibeHub can be used to build wireless speakers, wireless audio adapters, and networked audio amplifiers that simultaneously pull audio content from multiple sources, including computers, digital media servers, and mobile devices. The platform then distributes audio around the house via a home Wi-Fi or Ethernet network with low latency. The platform accommodates inputs using Bluetooth with AptX coding, Wi-Fi and Ethernet. It also accommodates S/PDIF and analog inputs to send music from legacy sources around the house. A Bluetooth stream to a hub/speaker can be handed off to a home network for playback on multiple speakers at a time, as can a legacy source connected via analog or S/PDIF input.

Multiple sources can be streamed simultaneously to different speakers throughout the house.

The Braven products include a Vibe Station, or all-inone hub/speaker. Vibe Replay speakers are designed for use in additional rooms and for use as portable Bluetooth speakers. Vibe Link is an adapter that adds VibeHub wireless streaming to legacy audio systems and enables wireless distribution to Vibe Replay speakers. All of the products are controlled from Vibe apps for iOS, Android and Windows devices. The apps let users set up a mobile network, manage devices, control music sources and create zones or groups of speaker on the same network to stream different content to different speakers.

Pricing and features haven’t been finalized.

Sonos: The Sonos 5.2 software, available in beta, improves the sound staging of the Sonos Playbar soundbar, which incorporates Sonos wireless multiroom-audio technology. It also updates Playbar EQ and volume balance to deliver more immersive, natural sound, the company said.

The update also enables multi-account music service support so different family members with different cloudmusic accounts can play their music

The software update also accelerates time from selecting a song to hearing it, and from an Android phone lock screen, users are now able to play, pause, and skip tracks in an instant.

The app also searches across sources for songs, now including songs stored on the smartphone running the Sonos control app.

The beta is available for Android devices, Macs and PCs.

Sound United: The company launched a multimilliondollar campaign to promote the first wireless multiroomaudio speakers from audio brands Polk and Definitive Technology.

The campaign stresses the two brand’s legacies in audio design and engineering expertise and the convenience and sound quality of the brands’ first wireless multiroom speakers. The campaign lasts for 10 weeks and consists of online video ads, Internet radio ads, and out-of-home ads, plus additional local consumer promotion via retail and other consumer events.

Sixty-second video ads will appear on the Polk and DefTech websites, and 30-second versions will appear other sites.

Definitive Technology’s campaign theme, “What Obsession Sounds Like,” is designed to demonstrate the brand’s pursuit of “flawless, uncompromising and superior music” through its wireless music system. The campaign includes appearances by DefTech brand ambassador John Legend in online video ads, including one in which he appears live in different rooms of a house to demonstrate speakers that deliver life-like sound.

Polk’s “Festivals” campaign expands on the brand’s passion for music and shows how Polk can transform a home into “the ultimate music festival,” the company said.

Also as part of the campaign, Polk and Definitive Technology created dedicated landing pages on their websites for consumers to view videos, learn more about system features, and stay up to date on developments in the product category. On its site, Polk also created a “digital concert poster generator” that consumers can use to create customized home music-festival promotional materials. Consumers can upload personal photos from social media, create personalized messages, and choose color palettes and visual styles. A poster contest launches later in the fall.

The campaign will be supported by launch partners Magnolia, Amazon and Crutchfield.

Sound United shipped its Polk and DefTech PlayFi-based speakers in early October.