Industry debate: Learning to ride the new audio tech wave

posted on Tuesday, 23rd February 2016 by Steve May

High Res Audio  Streaming 

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According to the market analysts at GfK, an enormous 66 per cent of all home audio sales now come from multiroom audio systems, Bluetooth speakers, connected audio products and, of course, soundbars. While conventional Hi-Fi and AV sales struggle, this new wave of music products are booming thanks to lifestyle appeal and convenience.

Industry watcher Futuresource even suggests we’re going through an audio renaissance. Bluetooth speakers alone, it predicts, will exhibit a volume growth of 68 per cent this year. Existing wireless speakers owners are already looking to upgrade to higher quality, higher spec featured products.

So what’s the best way for custom installers and hi-fi specialists to tap into this new mainstream?  Inside CI quizzed the industry’s movers and shakers.  

Given the rapidly changing audio landscape, should the custom installer sell convenience or performance?

Katy Bradshaw, Trade Marketing Manager, Meridian Audio: “You should never shy away from selling performance audio, as part of the custom Install experience. The CI industry prides itself on being at the forefront of innovation and providing the best experience for its clients. Audio should be no different and as an industry we must move away from ‘good enough’. We want the sound quality to be ‘the best it can be’ and this implies high resolution audio. As a CI business it makes sense to educate clients about better solutions.”

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According to Futuresource, 80 of the 86 million home audio devices sold worldwide last year offered wireless streaming, while the global soundbars business is worth $2.4 billion at trade. The next gen audio market has clearly gone mainstream. Is it too late for CI?

Phil Hansen, The Clarity Alliance: “The streaming phenomenon still provides a great opportunity for hi-fi retailers to show their skills and passion off to music lovers and, more importantly, the perfect chance to welcome new customers into the shops. Manufacturers are coming out with more and more one box solutions that provide great sound quality and the streaming/network audio aspect that people want. And then of course there’s the turntable market - it certainly shows no signs of slowing down!” 

Dawn Stockell, Head of Brand LGE UK: “While a broad mix of retailers now offer a range of connected audio products, it’s those with the ability to properly demonstrate the benefits and sound quality of these premium products that are thriving.”

“Advice? Promote lifestyle features. Our HS8 soundbar address a common complaint from consumers that dialogue is often lost when watching movies. An I.A SOUND mode interprets exactly what the audience is watching and automatically adjusts the audio output to match the content.” 

“Versatile and portable devices are also becoming a key trend. The ability to move a speaker around the house, but also have it function as a rear surround is re-defining the role of traditional speakers. Consumers who are investing in higher priced connected speakers are able to see the value in their purchase as they can use it in a multitude of different scenarios.”

David Mugford, UK Sales Manager, Onkyo Pioneer: “What certain players in the CE industry really need to do now is to stop succumbing to the constant temptation to portray High-Res Audio as something proprietary. That just confuses the hell out of consumers and encourages them to stick with what they already know. That doesn’t help anybody.”

Onkyo -TX-RZ800-with -HDCP-2main
There's a growing number of High Res Audio sources. Onkyo & Pioneer Innovations run OnkyoMusic. The high-res audio download service, which opened for business in Japan in 2005, has now expanded to several key territories in the rest of the world - including the UK. How's HRA performing?

Mugford, Onkyo Pioneer: “We’ve seen a steady, if not dramatic, increase in interest in the format. Our latest RZ-series AVRs happily handle DSD 5.6 MHz, FLAC 192 kHz/24-bit while our Network CD player (the C-N7050) also handles including 5.6 MHz DSD and 192/24 FLAC and WAV, as well as traditional silver frisbees!”

Mike Van Velzen, TEAC, European Brand Manager: “It still comes as a surprise to some people that all four of our current lines of mini hi-fi separates are High-Res audio capable, with even the palm-sized, entry-level 101 Reference series offering 192kHz/24-bit playback! The next rung up (301 Reference) brings DSD and 192kHz/32-bit while the Reference 501 delivers DSD 2.8/5.6MHz file native playback and 384kHz/32-bit PCM audio playback.The flagship Reference 503 Series components bring even more to the hi-res party, namely 11.2Mhz DSD playback and the ability to convert lower quality signals to 12.2MHz DSD and 384kHz PCM, an industry first that’s set to grab some headlines in the months to come.

Tom Harrold, Marketing Manager EMEA, Audio-Technica: “On paper, it’s clear to see that high-resolution audio playback creates a significantly more accurate reproduction of the source material. If that scientific basis can be coupled with an enjoyable listening experience then there seems to be little argument against choosing high-resolution. Of course, there’s also the extremely important job of educating consumers on choosing high-resolution all the way down the signal chain whether that be high resolution audio files at source, a high-resolution player, amplifier or headphones.”

Audio -technica

Sony was an early advocate of High-Res audio, and recently joined the multiroom market, integrating both into its AV receiver offering. A sensible strategy?

EricKingdom, Product Specialist, Sony: “If people can enjoy AV in a way that they may have only previously been able to enjoy with a certain famous multiroom brand, it might make them think a lot more about what an AV receiver can deliver…”

In addition to announcing its first turntable product in a decade, Technics is introducing its G30 series, comprising SU-G30 network amplifier and SA-G30 music server. The former features a newly developed power supply that employs a hybrid architecture to minimise noise, while the latter uses bit perfect ripping technology to avoid the possibility of reading errors during normal CD playback...

Michiko Ogawa, Director of Technics: “We're looking for new ways to provide emotionally engaging experiences for all music. The way people have enjoyed music has diversified in recent years. We aim to provide the types of products that can deliver optimum listening experiences. We have also striven to reduce jitter and noise when distributing the signal over the network…”

Technics Server

So is audio now just as important a CI proposition as automation and control?

Steve Simper, MD of Alltrade: “Definitely. Multiroom audio and video integration projects with some home automation can now be completed by installers from £15k-£20k - packed with features and functionality, as well as offering good margin on both the products and the install service.”

Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology specialist who also writes for T3TechRadarHome Cinema Choice, Trusted Reviews and The Luxe Review.

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