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Industry Opinion: Where Does the Audio Market Go from Here? (4/7/2012)
By Yasmin Hashmi, HiddenWires
Audio dealers are finding things tough, and during economically challenging times, it is all too easy to fall into a race to the bottom. Is it true that there is dwindling business to be done, or should the trade be looking further afield? We asked a number of leading lights where they see most potential for growth in audio products or services. Here are their replies:
Matt Dodd, Education Chair, CEDIA
For me it has to be cloud-based services. As we are experiencing quicker broadband connections into homes we are starting to see cloud-based media becoming more available within the home. By streamlining products within the home to work closely with services available from the cloud there will be even more access to even more content from even more devices!
David Rodarte, President and CEO, NuVo Technologies
We've already seen incredible growth in recent years in the wireless and IP arenas of home audio, and I do not see that slowing down in the future. Using wireless and networking technologies allows for broader content variety, with incredible ease and convenience, and that simplicity and immediate access to so much content is exactly what the modern listener wants, and now expects. This expectation is paired with another established trend: music-lovers are more aware than ever of quality in relation to the content itself, seeking less compression for more pristine reproduction.
So the question for the audio industry has become 'How steady, how fast, and with how high a fidelity, can our technologies introduce the songs users love from the internet or from a friend's Bluetooth-enabled phone, into an audio device or system?' The answer is, "Very." The speed, reliability, and quality of the newer wireless audio components are impressive, and I believe will mean substantial and continued growth within the audio portion of custom electronics.
Steve Olszewski, Vice President, Stealth Acoustics
As I travel the world talking to dealers about what kind of products they like, I hear common themes regarding how we, as a speaker manufacturer, can help dealers grow and prosper, especially in economically difficult times. 'Quality sells' is one theme I hear a lot about our products. Also, 'There's money at the top', which refers to the fact that wealthy buyers are still around and spending on products that exemplify their status (but without being ostentatious). Subtle extravagance is where the money is, and speaker manufacturers and their dealers that play to that mindset will lead the pack.
This means going beyond traditional 'architectural' speakers to ones that fit perfectly with the listening and aesthetic goals of the well-heeled buyer. These could be free-standers as a statement of art, customisable on-walls that can become art, or totally invisible speakers. 'Normal' just doesn't cut it anymore; you have to be unique and position yourself as more than just a purveyor of off-the-shelf products. You have to add value and that can come from differentiation in the products you offer, or by doing the real work of installation to create a result. In short - offer unique products that require customisation or installation. Look for manufacturers that embrace those qualities to grow your business. With this approach, you minimise the impact of 'show rooming' and Internet commoditisation, whilst other dealers ask 'What happened to my business?'
James Luce, Brand Manager, Acoustic Energy
In these difficult trading conditions many customers are asking to knock cost out of projects rather asking to put real value and quality in, and that makes the sector challenging for manufacturers and installers alike. Using low-cost speakers, installers know the job will not live up to sound quality expectations and there is precious little margin for manufacturers.
The CI loudspeaker market remains tough but there are notable bright points. Better quality and higher value in-wall and in-ceiling models are still essential in quality installs, active speakers are gaining popularity fast and we have seen great business with our outdoor loudspeakers.
Thankfully well-known speaker brands remain strong at the mid-price and higher end of the install loudspeaker market. Products that are easy to install, offer innovative features and deliver audiophile performance are key strengths for major brands. In real terms, better quality speakers don't add a huge amount as a percentage of the overall job cost, so it is well worth the investment for a better end result.
Active freestanding speakers and outdoor IP-rated designs are two nicely growing markets that bring a little cheer to the speaker sector overall. Active designs are great for remote rooms a long way from the amp-stack and are frequently being used as PC loudspeakers as a stand-alone product. In the outdoor sector, both retailers and installers have really got behind our Extreme product range, so there is clearly a growing market in adding an al-fresco angle to your domestic installs as well offering IP-rated speakers to pubs, clubs, sports centres and schools.
Roger Batchelor, Product Marketing Consultant, D&M Audiovisual
Excluding the massive opportunities for those involved in the headphone market, in my view the most potential for growth is in two key areas:
The poor/average sound quality from the vast majority of flatpanel TVs offers the most potential. Whether it is a sound bar, 2.1, 5.1 or a full 11.2 surround system, there is plenty of scope for future sales and installation.
Also, it is still early days, but there are all sorts of possibilities to promote even better sound for iDevices and other portable products, and then for 'computer audio' in its guises. Of course, many companies have been offering neat solutions for some time, but there are still plenty of possibilities for better sound and improved usability to attract new customers.
Ajay Maisuria, Sales Director, Your Smart Home
The majority of the population by now has some sort of portable music device with compressed music, and accepts the questionable sound quality. So this is the time for the true Hi-Fi dealer to shine. It's time to educate the masses as to how good their music can sound through a good quality pair of speakers and why they should consider an upgrade.
Speakers are relatively cheap these days, although if you want a really high-end setup, there is plenty to choose from. But anyone who wants to listen to good music will undoubtedly need good speakers, and there are plenty out there.
The next time someone walks into your store why not start by demonstrating a pair of speakers before anything else? I'm sure some of you have been doing this for many years already, but if you're not, it's well worth a try. Let the consumer hear the difference between acceptable and amazing sound quality, as most of your new consumers may not have heard how good a professionally-setup audio system can sound.
Going back to basics and making a conscious effort to win back the new generation of music listeners and at the same time offering products that integrate with their iDevices is the way forward in integrating traditional and new technologies.
Phillip Pini, Systems Design Engineer, Crestron UK
The focus on amplification and matrixes is on the shift from analogue to digital. Digital amplification introduces a much smoother sound with more control of EQ and provides the end user with greater control over each pair of speakers and the environment in which they are installed. This results in cooler operational temperatures and less power draw, so it is more environmentally friendly and ultimately cheaper to run.
There are even greater gains in output power - more than double in the case of Crestron's Sonnex range - expansion is easier and greater than before, and with no more phono loops from amp to amp, all that is required is a single CAT5 from main unit to each expander.
I would also say that the integration of audio services such as Spotify will be an important aspect for growth. Manufacturers must focus on the integration and adoption of new services in order to keep up with market trends, whilst being cautious not to take on too many and over complicating their offering.
Yasmin Hashmi is the Editor of HiddenWires magazine. Additional comments on this issue can be found at the HiddenWires LinkedIn Group where you can also participate in the discussion.
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