Industry Watch: April 2014

N.E.A.R. Returns to the Outdoor Speaker Market

New England Audio Resource (N.E.A.R., which was originally called New England Audio Research) was founded in 1988 by Bill Kieltyka. Interestingly, the company purchased a lot of the transducer tooling from Rudy Bozak, and its line was always based, as with Bozak, on aluminum cone woofers and tweeters. (For a period of time, I designed the networks for the entire N.E.A.R. line of two-channel and home-theater speakers).

The company also originally held the patent for a magnetic fluid technology that replaced the ubiquitous cloth spider to supply compliance to woofers. (Sony is now using this technique in some of its current speaker line ups, following the patent’s expiration.)

Bogen Communications acquired N.E.A.R. in 1997. Bogen kept the name going for a couple of years, but it ultimately closed the company and kept Kieltyka as an employee.

Although the N.E.A.R. name has been absent from the market for more than 14 years, Bogen is bringing it back with a new line of outdoor loudspeaker products.

N.E.A.R.’s first residential lineup in years includes the LB4, the LB5, the LB6, and the LB8, which are all full-range bracket-mount speakers. They will be available in white and black. The lineup also includes the IG 5, the IG 6, and the IG 8, which are full-range speakers designed to be placed on the ground or partially buried. An eighth speaker, the IGS 12 band-pass subwoofer, is also designed to be partially buried. The speakers can be driven by the NEAR 6XL amplifier, which delivers 2 × 600-W output into either 70-V or 8-Ω loads.

In the 8-Ω versions, the bracket-mount LB4, LB5, LB6, and LB8 cost $279, $499, $579, and $679 each, respectively. The 70-V versions for large homes and yards cost $319, $539, $619, and $719 each, respectively. The in- and on-ground IG5, IG6, and IG8 speakers can be used in 8-Ω and 70-V installs and cost $619, $779, and $859, respectively. The partial-buried IGS12 band-pass subwoofer ($1,599) drives either 8-Ω or multi-tap 70-V install. The beehive-shaped IG and IGS models will be available in a terra cotta color.

The speakers and subwoofer can be driven by the 2 × 600-W 6XL amplifier ($1,599) with selectable high- and low-pass crossovers and a low-frequency contour to extend bass performance below 40 Hz. A summing circuit enables stereo material to be combined into both channels.

All four LB speakers feature a patent-pending lever bracket for a tool-free final installation, the company said. The four two-way models use metal-cone spiderless woofers and 1” aluminum inverted-dome tweeters. The coaxial driver arrangement of the LB6 and LB8 and the close proximity of the woofer and tweeter in the LB4 and LB5 provide consistent dispersion for horizontal and vertical placement, according to the company.

The on- and in-ground IG speakers also feature metal cone spiderless drivers, which N.E.A.R. said can operate under water. But the company also adopted a domed woofer design in these models to shed water that may otherwise collect in a cone. The design also improves audio linearity, the company said.

A water-shedding grille prevents moisture from entering “under all but the most extreme conditions,” the company added. The frame of the coaxial-driver assembly also directs away any water that may find its way in, N.E.A.R. added.

The IGS12 subwoofer features a 12” metal cone spiderless driver whose output fires through three horizontal slots about a third of the way from the enclosure’s top. The slots should be located just above ground level when the enclosure is buried. The openings are covered by a stainless grille and hydrophobic fabric.

 


RadioShack Plans Several Store Closings

According to various industry sources and the Wall Street Journal, RadioShack may be about to close about 11% of its stores. The chain is in the midst of a nearly year-long turnaround effort that includes updates of the company’s stores, product assortment, and brand image.

The iconic retailer lost $112 million in the third quarter, its seventh consecutive loss, as it jettisoned unproductive products, and secured $835 million in new financing in December. RadioShack operates about 4,300 stores in the US and 270 in Mexico. Another 1,000 franchised locations are run by independent dealers in the US and franchise operators abroad.

 


B&W Launches New Opening-Price Series

Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) recently unveiled a new opening-price series of in-room loudspeakers that incorporate technology from the company’s higher end lines to improve performance. The 600 series, which began shipping in March, includes the floor-standing 683 ($1,650/ pair), the smaller floor-standing 684 ($1,150/ pair), and the 685 ($700/pair), which can be placed on a stand or a bookshelf. The series also includes the 686 bookshelf ($550/pair), which is the most compact speaker in the series. The HTM61 center channel costs $750 each and the HTM62 center channel costs $450 each. All six models will join a trio of 600-series subwoofers, which will be available in black ash finish.

New technology used in the series includes double-dome tweeters derived from the company’s CM10 speaker. The tweeter features two separate aluminum domes, the second with its center portion cut out. The second dome is glued to the first dome’s rear face to deliver lightness and rigidity.

A new tweeter-decoupling design developed for the 600 series uses a gel ring to physically separate the double-dome tweeters from the cabinet. This prevents resonances from transferring between the baffle and tweeter. The design boosts clarity and delivers “outstanding imaging and dispersion,” according to B&W. The company also added the anti-resonance plugs for mid/bass drivers, used in B&W’s PM-1 speaker, which, again according to B&W delivers smoother response and lower distortion when driven hard.

Another new technology developed specifically for the new 600 series is a dual-layer aluminum bass driver, which features an aluminum bass cone reinforced with a second layer of aluminum around its periphery to deliver more effective damping and a higher break-up frequency to reduce distortion. The dual-layer aluminum design appears in the top floor-standing model.

 


The Bluetooth Speaker Craze Continues

The Bluetooth speaker craze shows no end in sight, which means that more people are listening to music on their smartphones. Here are some of the latest product releases in this category.

MB Quart—Car audio brand MB Quart (acquired by Maxxsonics in 2005) is getting into the portable audio market with the launch of four battery-powered Bluetooth speakers that cost $59 to $199. All products in this new line will be available in April in multiple colors. They feature battery lives ranging from 5 to 12 h. All will come with USB-charging capabilities, hands-free speakerphone capabilities, voice confirmation, and Bluetooth AVRCP to control basic music playback functions on Bluetooth-connected mobile devices.

The QUBOne ($59) features a single driver, a built-in microphone for hands-free calling, and two bottoms, to enable the unit to be placed on its side and keep the controls accessible. The rest have dual drivers but are mono.

The QUBTwo ($99) adds Bluetooth’s secure simple pairing profile, noise-canceling microphone, shock-resistant rubber housing, 8-h battery, and an input jack. The QUBThree ($149) includes a 10-h battery and tethering loop.

The QUBFour ($199) includes a 12-h battery and efficient neodymium magnets that, coupled with an amplifier that operates at a higher voltage, delivers louder sound with deeper bass. The QUBFour also contains dual-source Bluetooth technology to enable two mobile devices to be paired simultaneously to one speaker, making it easier to switch between two mobile devices for music playback. The speaker also includes a 110-V adapter. Apple mobile devices display the speaker’s battery status.

Bose—Bose released the SoundLink III, its latest portable Bluetooth speaker. The third-generation SoundLink Bluetooth speaker features longer battery life, higher output, and a new industrial design.

The $299 model extends playback time of its rechargeable lithium-ion battery by 30%, now lasting up to 14 h. The new model lacks its predecessor’s integrated bi-fold nylon cover, which doubled as a stand that angled the speaker. The new model stands upright on a flat surface. An optional $34 accessory cover is available in gray, blue, green, orange, and pink. The Bluetooth LED signal lights are also new and said to make pairing and switching Bluetooth devices easier. The SoundLink III stores the six most recently used Bluetooth devices in its memory making it unnecessary to pair a previously paired device.

The speaker also features a new DSP algorithm and improved electronics to play louder through four neodymium-magnet drivers and dual-opposing passive radiators, according to Bose. The industrial design has a fingerprint-resistant wraparound metal grille, rounded edges, and a silicone button panel on top to protect it against dirt and dust. The SoundLink III retains an auxiliary input, a microUSB for software updates, and an AC wall charger.

This speaker joins a smaller SoundLink Mini Bluetooth speaker ($199). The first SoundLink was introduced in 2011 and updated in 2012.

bēm wireless—Bluetooth-speaker supplier bēm wireless is launching the Wireless Speaker Band, which is a Bluetooth speaker that’s worn on the wrist and doubles as a hands-free speakerphone. The Speaker Band ($49) incorporates a speaker, a microphone, a spoken audio caller ID, an answer button, and compatibility with most voice-recognition apps. For music playback, it features play, pause, skip, and reverse buttons. Its rechargeable battery delivers up to 6 h of talk time. The device is promoted as a safer alternative to searching through a purse or pocket for a phone, especially if the phone owner is driving. The speaker band is available in six colors: black, white, blue, red, gray, and green. bēm, founded in 2012, manufactures portable Bluetooth speakers, including a boombox-style speaker with an integrated carrying handle.

Pyle Audio—Pyle Audio recently released a shower-friendly portable Bluetooth speaker/speakerphone. The Gator Sound waterproof speaker and speakerphone is a lightweight, waterproof unit with a hook for hanging on a shower head, a built-in microphone for hands-free calling, and a push-button control to connect to any Bluetooth-enabled device. It features a rechargeable lithium battery, a USB charging cable, enhanced bass production, and available in blue, white, or black ($49.99).

 


Majority of Soundbar Sales Below $500

GfK Group, the German market research giant, performed a year-long study of soundbar retail print ads and found advertised prices varied greatly throughout 2013. GfK was founded in 1934 by Professor Wilhelm Vershofen as a Nuremberg, Germany-based scientific institute, “Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung.” It was the birth of institutional market research in Germany.

With its recent study, the research firm noted that 89% of the soundbars advertised were priced around $500; however, as the year progressed, the focus shifted to lower-priced soundbars. In the early part of 2013, 50% of the advertising focused on sub-$300 models. This trend increased with the sub-$300 products comprising 70% of all soundbar advertising, according to GfK.

 


NRF Reports Expect Rise in Retail Sales

Retail sales are projected to rise 4.1% this year, which is somewhat improved over 3.7% gains in 2013. According to a report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF), continued economic growth and an expanding labor market and housing sector will help stoke consumer confidence and expenditures.

NRF’s published data forecasts a real gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 2.6% to 3%, the fastest in three years, and a decrease in the unemployment rate to near 6.5% or lower by December.

In 2014, retailers will be investing in faster fulfillment, mobile payment, in-store mobile marketing, and “name your own price” shopping tools. The sales projection includes most traditional retail categories (e.g., discounters, department stores, grocery stores, specialty stores, auto parts and accessories stores, and non-store categories). The sales projection excludes sales at automotive dealers, gas stations, and restaurants.

Industry Watch: February 2014

New President Heads MartinLogan, Paradigm, and Anthem

Rocco Melchione recently accepted the position of president/CEO for the Paradigm, MartinLogan, and Anthem brands. He replaces Tim Valters, who held that title for the last four years. Melchione has more than 20 years of experience at the senior executive level in global manufacturing and sales, the company said. His experience includes global supply-chain management, process improvement, and quality practices,

Melchione also had a leadership role in the expansion of a global division of Panasonic and helped integrate Baldwin Piano into Gibson Guitar Corp. as a Gibson subsidiary, the company added. Senior management teams for all three brands report directly to him.

ShoreView Industries, the parent company for the three brands, ShoreView Industries, owns 100% of MartinLogan and more than 50% of Paradigm Electronics, which includes the Paradigm and Anthem brands. The remaining percentage of Paradigm Electronics is owned by Scott Bagby, one of the company’s founding partners. Despite the change, the company said it will continue to focus on its specialty audio retailing.

 

 


 

Fujitsu Ten’s Eclipse Brand Returns to CE

Fujitsu Ten’s Eclipse brand, which left the car audio aftermarket in 2010 after 21 years, is making a US comeback in the home-audio market (see Photo 1). The Japanese company displayed its current range of stand-mounted, tapered, sphere-shaped home speakers ($490/pair to $11,200/pair) at the 2014 International CES (January 7–10 in Las Vegas, NV).

Fujitsu Ten Eclipse

Fujitsu Ten’s Eclipse brand now offers the TD-M1 speakers
($1,300/pair) with Wi-Fi, AirPlay, AirPlay Direct, DLNA, USB B to connect to a PC/Mac, USB A to connect to an iPhone/iPod touch, and a 192-kHz/24-bit DAC.

Fujitsu Ten also introduced a pair of high-end powered subwoofers—the TD725SW MK2 ($7,000) and the TD520SW ($4,500)—and a wireless Airplay speaker. The AirPlay speaker, shaped like the company’s other tapered spherical speakers, is called the TD-M1 ($1,300/pair). The new products ship in February 2014. The company’s current speakers became available in January 2014.

The new audio Eclipse brand entered the home speaker market in Japan in 2001 and has expanded its line to Asia and Europe. Although the brand was briefly in the US some years ago, the Eclipse home audio brand is ready to “properly” enter the US home market in February 2014. Both subwoofers are said to combine power and speed. They use two small-diameter drivers in a back-to-back configuration linked by an aluminum bar. The configuration combines small-diameter driver speed with large-diameter driver power.

Both subwoofers feature Class-D amplifiers, a low-pass filter bypass, an IR remote, and a selector to switch between 5.1- or 2.1-channel inputs. They deliver 500 W and 250 W, respectively, of nominal output with 1% total harmonic distortion (THD). The playback range is 20–150 Hz and 25–150 Hz, respectively. The larger model measures 21.5” × 19.7” × 20.6”.

The AirPlay speaker, which also features time-domain technology, comes with Wi-Fi, AirPlay, AirPlay Direct, DLNA, USB B to connect to a PC/Mac, USB A to connect to an iPhone/iPod touch, and a 192-kHz/24-bit DAC. An iPhone app is available for remote control of power, volume, and input switching.

The DAC provides users the option to remove the oversampling filter during the playback process. Oversampling filters remove noise that occurs when digital sound is converted into analog. The speaker’s oversampling-free mode removes the oversampling filter for enhanced clarity, the company noted.

The speaker features a Class-D amplifier, touch-sensor controls, and a speaker-angle adjustment, which enables users to choose different angles (0°–20°) with a single touch to optimize imaging for a given listening location.

A 3.5-mm input enables connection to TVs and other devices. The speaker measures 6.1” × 8.6” × 9.5” and features ring 3” drivers, a 70-Hz-to-30-kHz frequency response, and 20-W nominal output at 1% THD.

 


 

Atlantic Technology Adds Bluetooth to Its Powered H-PAS Soundbar

While Atlantic Technology (AT) has lowered the price of its PowerBar from $799 to $699, the big news is that the PowerBar now includes Bluetooth capability. The included Bluetooth receiver features nearfield communications (NFC) for tap-to-connect functionality and streams the aptX codec over Bluetooth. The Bluetooth 4.0 receiver connects to the soundbar via the bar’s analog audio input.
The AT product stands out because of its unique H-PAS technology that delivers bass to 47 Hz at “theater-level sound pressure levels (SPLs).” Typical soundbars usually have 150-to-200-Hz capabilities. The H-PAS also improves dialog clarity because of the low woofer excursion that produces less bass distortion. The AT PowerBar also incorporates DSP with Dolby Digital and DTS to deliver a two-to-five-channel experience.

One More Take

“One more take.”

Remember that joke? The producer in the recording studio says to the band: “Not bad, fellas. Let’s do one more take, this time with more emphasis on tone, harmony, melody, rhythm, composition, lyrics, musicianship, tempo, and originality.”

Maybe it’s time for the audio industry to try “one more take.”

During last year’s 135th Audio Engineering Society (AES) Convention in New York, it was apparent that the audio engineering community unites several generations. Also, the younger but much more technically perceptive generation is fascinated by the achievements of those who had the “privilege” of working in the big studios and doing audio production for live concerts, or during great broadcast moments from the 1960s, the 1970s, and the 1980s.

The younger generations have learned to value the tools and what they can do with them. They even value the “good old analog” electronics, essentially by using plug-in emulations of the real things inside Pro Tools or Logic. Yet, this generation also encodes studio recordings to MP3s.

From one content format to another, the music industry continually re-released its content in physical media until the Super Audio CD (SACD) and the Blu-ray disc (on video) formats appeared. And that was it. Suddenly, the Internet, mobile devices, and digital files changed everything. With that change came the MP3, the iPod, iTunes, and mobile networks. This accelerated the demise of physical media, on which the entire music industry had become over-dependent.

Meanwhile, technology continues to evolve. Even though SACD is dead and gone, the key developments remain valid and high-resolution audio is still a logical proposition. But is it well understood by the “plug-in” generation? A very faint sign of hope emits from the enthusiasm detected at events such as the AES conventions and the NAMM shows.

With new 64-bit processors and OSes becoming the norm, large bandwith networks available everywhere, and memory and storage increasing faster than consumers’ actual needs, it seems the industry is ripe for another go at quality.

As our contributing author Gary Galo noted in his impressions of the 135th AES Convention, it seems consumers are rediscovering the virtues of high-resolution sound and finding compressed formats such as MP3 unacceptable. But at the same time, mobile platforms and wireless networks have created new consumer behaviors. People are increasingly listening to music via headphones, soundbars, and portable wireless loudspeakers. Therefore, we need a new approach to address that changing landscape, and it’s not going to be with $20,000 home stereo (or multichannel) systems.

If downloading high-resolution audio files is practical and inspires a new group of record companies to reinvest in high-quality content production, it is clear that 1-bit DSD recordings could also breathe new life into studios, the pro audio industry in general, and even many high-end audio brands.

And it is at forums such as the Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim, CA—where those same generations again meet with producers and musicians—that the conscience needs to be raised. Not at the Venetian Hotel demo rooms in Las Vegas, NV. The signs are still fragile, the economic environment remains unstable, and the market trends are uncertain, but it all seems to be aligning for a “new take” in the audio industry.

João Martins
Editor-in-Chief

Industry Watch: October

CEDIA 2013 Manufacturers’ Excellence Awards

The Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA) has announced the 2013 Manufacturers’ Excellence Awards finalists. Thirty-one product finalists were named in the Best New Product category and two product finalists were named in the Sustainable Lifestyle Product Innovation category. The award winners were announced at a press conference on Friday, September 27, at the 2013 CEDIA EXPO.

In addition, winners were also recognized at the annual Electronic Lifestyles Awards Celebration on Saturday, September 28. Both events occurred after this issue was printed. Winners will be announced in Voice Coil’s November issue. The loudspeaker-related finalists included:

  • Core Brands (CEDIA founding member)—Niles Cynema Soundfield In-Wall Soundbar (see Photo 1)

    Photo 1: Niles Cynema’s Soundfield in-wall soundbar received the CEDIA Manufacturers’ Excellence Award

    Photo 1: Niles Cynema’s Soundfield in-wall soundbar received the CEDIA Manufacturers’ Excellence Award

  • Sonance (CEDIA founding member)—Sonarray SR1 System outdoor speaker system (see Photo 2)

    Photo 2: Sonance’s Sonarray outdoor system also received the CEDIA Manufacturers’ Excellence Award.

    Photo 2: Sonance’s Sonarray outdoor system also received the CEDIA Manufacturers’ Excellence Award.

  • Sonance—SLS High Output outdoor speaker system
  • Sonance—Visual Performance VP66 In-Wall Speaker

 


CEDIA Benchmarking Surveys

If you manufacture loudspeaker products for the custom install market, it is important to stay informed with the installer network. CEDIA has released key findings from its 2013 Benchmarking Surveys, which evaluate the performance and the state of home technology professional companies for 2012 and reports on 2013 expectations.

The results conclude that home technology professional companies continue to experience moderate growth, focusing on operational efficiencies (historically, one of the largest prohibitors of profitability) and are ready to bring in additional staff to accommodate a growing workload.

The 2012 survey participants expected a revenue increase of 12% from 2011. The 2013 participants reported a 10% actual increase and an 18% expected increase in 2013.

The median number of employees stayed flat from 2010, 2011, and 2012 with six employees per company (full- and part-time), while revenue per employee rose from $135,000 in 2011 to $145,950 in 2012. However, participants indicated they will increase their staff by 14% in 2013.

In 2012, there was a stronger commitment to operational efficiencies with 80% of the participants reporting that they focused on standardizing operational practices in 2012 for increased profitability. This was the most applied tactic out of the 10 presented.

Of the participants offering recurring monthly revenue services, the percentage of companies offering remote network monitoring and diagnostic services continues on a strong positive trend (e.g., 16% in 2011, 32% in 2012, and 41% in 2013).

The survey report, compiled by Profit Planning Group, provides detailed benchmarks, best practices, and trend analysis based on data collected from home technology professional companies. All the survey participants received a customized report comparing their companies to similar-size companies, the industry median, and the most profitable industry companies. This custom report also included a suggested action plan for increasing profitability and trend analysis for participants of more than one year. The estimated value of this custom analysis is $2,500.

For the first time, CEDIA is also offering free condensed versions of the reports to all CEDIA members as a membership benefit. The full survey reports are available for purchase through the CEDIA Marketplace at the following rates:

  • 2013 CEDIA Benchmarking Survey—Finance, Project Management, & Marketing: $700 for members/$1,200 for non-members
  • 2013 CEDIA Benchmarking Survey—Staffing, Benefits, & Compensation: $300 for members/$800 for non-members

For more information about the CEDIA Benchmarking Surveys and member report access, visit www.cedia.net/benchmarking or e-mail research@cedia.org.

 


First Annual TWICE VIP Awards

The nominations were submitted, the voting took place, and the selections were made for TWICE magazine’s first-ever products awards—the TWICE VIP (Very Important Product) Awards.

Retailers and distributors voted online for the TWICE VIPs, honoring the products that have made the biggest differences in their businesses.

Retailers and distributors voted on products in specific categories based on product features, product design, and consumer value. The eligible products retailed in the US, or were scheduled to be sold at retail, from fall 2012 to spring 2013.

The categories included:

  • Accessories: gaming peripherals, HDMI cables, headphones less than $300, headphones more than $300, health and fitness technology products, mounting accessories, power and charging devices, projector screens, smartphone accessories, and tablet accessories
  • Camcorders: action video camcorders
  • Cameras: DSLRs (interchangeable lens) and point-and-shoot cameras
  • Car: connectivity to mobile device for in-dash head units, remote security/convenience system controlled from a smartphone, and car speakers
  • Computers and Tablets: tablets and laptops
  • Home Audio: A/V receivers $699 or less, A/V receivers more than $699, iPod/iPhone docking speakers, portable wireless speakers, soundbars at $499 or less, and soundbars more than $499
  • Major Appliances: bottom-mount refrigerators and high-efficiency (HE) washers
  • Video and TVs: big-screen flat-panel TVs (42” to 55”), big-screen flat-panel TVs (58” and larger), streaming IPTV set-top devices, and home-theater projectors

Loudspeaker-related winners were:

  • Headphones More Than $300: Polk UltraFocus 8000
  • Headphones Less Than $300: Skullcandy Crusher
  • Soundbars $499 or Less: Harman International JBL Cinema SB200
  • Car Speakers: Pioneer Electronics TS-A1605C 6.5” Component Speaker
  • Soundbars at More Than $499: Samsung Electronics HW-F750 2.1-Channel (see Photo 3)

    Photo 3: Samsung’s  HW-F870 soundbar received a Twice VIP award.

    Photo 3: Samsung’s HW-F870 soundbar received a Twice VIP award.

 


Klipsch History

Loudspeaker engineer Jim Hunter wears many “hats” at Klipsch, among them is company historian. Keeping the historical records of Paul Klipsch is important for Klipsch, and to the rest of us. Paul Klipsch was an important pioneer in the loudspeaker industry and knowing the “rest of the story” is fascinating. To that end, Hunter (who gave a great presentation on Klipsch history at the 2013 ALMA Symposium) has recently updated Paul Klipsch’s historical information on the Klipsch website (www.klipsch.com/founder).

 


Advanced Audio Systems Engineer Joins MISCO

Photo 4: Engineer Richard Field joins MISCO.

Photo 4: Engineer Richard Field joins MISCO.

Richard Field has joined MISCO, a US-based global manufacturer of speakers and audio systems, as a design engineer (see Photo 4). Field has a BS from Southern Illinois University in audio electronics. His loudspeaker engineering career spans more than 25 years. He was an automotive transducer specialist for Harman. He also designed transducers, loudspeakers, and active systems for Klipsch. One of Field’s noteworthy designs was the award-winning Klipsch ProMedia series of personal audio systems. Field also spent three years at Loudspeaker Component designing cones, tools, and processes.

“Richard’s love of loudspeakers shows in his long list of successful and profitable designs,” said Dan Digre, MISCO’s general manager. “[This] makes him a perfect fit for our seasoned engineering team. Richard had the good fortune to work directly with audio engineering luminaries such as John Eargle and Richard Small. And he has vast experience interacting with manufacturing facilities around the world. We’re really looking forward to working with Richard and everything he brings to the MISCO engineering team.”

 


Onkyo’s Active Soundbar

Onkyo has launched its first active soundbar and TV-speaker base. The new products join a 2.1-speaker home theater system in the Envision Cinema product series, which are designed to deliver home-theater audio with simple setup (see Photo 5).

Photo 5: Onkyo received the TWICE VIP award for its LS-B50 soundbar.

Photo 5: Onkyo received the TWICE VIP award for its LS-B50 soundbar.

The LS-B50 soundbar and wireless subwoofer has a $699 suggested retail price. The LS-B50 also doubles as a music system and will “talk” to Bluetooth and USB ports, which play audio from smartphones, tablets, and mass-storage devices. This soundbar features Dolby Digital 5.1 decoding, one optical input, one coaxial input, and one analog input.

As with the Onkyo Envision series’ $499 LS3100 2.1-speaker system, the LS-B50 is preprogrammed with the IR codes of nine major TV brands so it can be controlled from a TV remote. However, it is also equipped with its own remote. The LS-B50 also features a six-channel amplifier and proprietary AuraSphere DSP, which according to Onkyo, expands the traditional audio sweet spot from directly in front of the TV to the entire room. The technology manages equalization and sound pressure levels (SPL) in real time to create a “realistic 3-D immersion field” from PCM stereo and Dolby Digital audio sources, the company added.

The LS-B50 soundbar features six 2.75” diameter full-range drivers, two 1.19” diameter ring-radiator tweeters, and wireless 6.5” subwoofer. Three sound modes optimize playback of different audio content. The News mode cleans up and projects dialog more intelligibly. The Movie mode enhances the movie soundtracks’ impact. The Music mode delivers more balanced sound across the frequency range. The output is 40 W into 4 Ω. It comes with a wall-mounting kit and IR flashers for flexible placement options.

 


Sony’s 7.1-Channel Soundbar

Sony has launched the HT-ST7, a new “high-end” $1,299 soundbar (see Photo 6). The 7.1-channel HT-ST7 soundbar, which does not carry the Sony ES high-performance series designation, is now sold at Sony Stores and electronics retailers nationwide (e.g., Best Buy).

The product, engineered in collaboration with sound engineers at Sony Pictures Studios, features an aluminum chassis that incorporates Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoders, nine independent speaker drivers, seven amplifier channels, three HDMI inputs, an HDMI output with audio return channel, three S/PDIF digital audio inputs, one analog-audio input, magnetic-fluid speakers, S-Master digital amplifiers, and S-Force Pro Front-Surround technology. The HT-ST7 also features built-in wireless Bluetooth and supports AAC and aptX streaming over Bluetooth. The soundbar’s nearfield communication (NFC) technology enables users to tap their mobile Bluetooth devices to establish Bluetooth connections and stream music.

 


Vizio Launches Three New Soundbars

Vizio has added three more soundbars, the S2929w, the S3820w, and the S3821w, with built-in Bluetooth to its 2013 lineup. The three new soundbars are in addition to the two models shipped earlier this year at suggested prices of $249 and $329. All the soundbars are wall mountable.

The $79 S2920w shipped in September and the $119 S3820w and the $179 S3821w were available in August. The $79 model is sized for 32” TVs. the other two soundbars are sized for 42” TVs. The two step-up models currently shipping are designed for 47” TVs.

Among the three new models, all but the S2920w feature Dolby Digital decoding. All three soundbars feature DTS TruVolume, DTS TruSurround technology, optical and coaxial digital inputs, and an analog RCA input. The S3821w model includes a wireless outboard 6” subwoofer. The S2920w delivers 95-dB SPL and 90-Hz bass response. The S3820w raises the output to 98 dB and deepens bass response to 65 Hz. The S3821w model delivers 100-dB SPL and 50-Hz bass response. All the soundbars share a design inspired by Vizio’s near-borderless M-Series Razor LED smart TVs.

Vizio’s top-end $329 S4251w is a 5.1 system that includes wireless surround speakers and a wireless subwoofer. Vizio uses its online social community, Vizio Fandemonium, to promote the products and give its fans exclusive access to a custom Pandora station and a chance to win a DTS-equipped soundbar.

 


CEA Consumer Confidence Study

Consumer confidence in the overall economy improved slightly, while sentiment toward technology spending remained flat in July, according to the latest figures from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). The CEA’s Index of Consumer Expectations (ICE), which measures consumer expectations about the broader economy, increased 2.3 points in July to reach 167.8. The ICE remains 5.1 points lower than in July of 2012. The CEA Index of Consumer Technology Expectations (ICTE), which measures consumer expectations about technology spending, decreased 0.3 points in July to 86.2. However, the ICTE is 2.9 points higher than the July average over the last three years.

The CEA Indexes comprise the ICE and ICTE and are updated on a monthly basis through consumer surveys. New data is released on the fourth Tuesday of each month. CEA has been tracking index data since January 2007. To find current and past indexes, charts, methodology, and future release dates, visit CEAindexes.org.

Industry Watch: August

By Vance Dickason

Jade Design Acquires Bob Carver Brand

Photo 1: Dan Laufman, of Jade Design, is shown with Bob Carver. Jade Design recently acquired the Bob Carver brand.

Jade Design, the parent company of Emotiva, Emotiva Pro, and Sherbourn, has finalized its acquisition of the Bob Carver brand and all its assets, including intellectual properties and exclusive design services (see Photo 1). Under the terms of the agreement, Jade Design will move the Bob Carver line’s manufacturing to Jade’s Franklin, TN, facilities, which will be expanded to accommodate the increased work. Jade will also manufacture future Emotiva and Sherbourn products.

Jade Design will implement a sales structure similar to the Sherbourn brand. This sales model focuses on direct-to-consumer sales with a companion dealer discount program. The company has also found ways to streamline Bob Carver’s operation and will pass along those cost savings to consumers. Jade is also working on a stereo preamplifier, another stereo tube amp, a smaller pair of monoblock amps, and, in the long term, a tube-based DAC.


ALMA Issues a Call for Papers

The Association of Loudspeaker Manufacturing & Acoustics (ALMA) International has issued a “Call for Papers” for the 2014 Winter Symposium, “Suppliers Unchained: Maximizing Value from Your Acoustic Component Sources,” to be held at The Tuscany Suites & Casino in Las Vegas, NV, January 4–5, 2014. This symposium will focus on loudspeaker component suppliers (e.g., spiders, cones, baskets, voice coils, magnets, etc.). Additionally, a review of ALMA standards and test and measurement technologies will focus on cost-effective quality control and standardization. This year, there will be a one-day break between the Winter Symposium and the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which runs January 7–10.

Papers, tutorials, seminars, and exhibits will demonstrate how the coordination and application of standards and measurements can achieve cost-effective quality control from suppliers worldwide. Papers, tutorials, and seminar topics are welcome. Abstracts will be evaluated on the basis of their overall quality and relevance to the symposium’s theme, value to the industry, and practical feasibility. Papers and tutorials are scheduled to last 30 min.

The ALMA Winter Symposium will be co-chaired by Mark Beach of Dyne Analytics and Peter Andrews of Materion Electrofusion. Contact Beach (mark@dyneanalytics.com) or Andrews (peter.andrews@materion.com) to discuss the program. The submissions closing date is October 15, 2013. Presenters must supply copies of their presentations in electronic format by December 15, 2013. Submissions should be e-mailed to management@almainternational.org. Visit www.almainternational.org for more information.


Shapiro Responds to Obama’s Patent Proposals

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), made the following statement in response to President Barack Obama’s five executive orders and seven legislative suggestions aimed at curbing the influence of “patent trolls”:

“President Obama’s decisive action against Patent Assertion Entities (also known as patent trolls), is on the side of innovation and job creation and against the spineless parasites of society who ruin American businesses. Obama’s strong action specifically directs the Patent and Trademark Office to determine the ultimate corporate owner when patents are filed and allows the court greater discretion in awarding attorney fees for spurious patent litigation. The President also urges Congress to pursue legislative approaches to curbing patent trolls, including protection from end users and “loser pays” fee shifting.

“The President’s actions are appropriate and necessary given the rise in threats of lawsuits and actual suits against millions of American businesses who have done nothing wrong other than use common web tools or try to create and sell products incorporating common technology. Businesses ranging from the smallest startup to the largest Fortune 500 companies are suffering from the enormous waste that the threat of litigation and actual litigation are causing. Each one of these threats must be taken seriously by a company. The cost of fighting these suits comes directly off a company’s bottom line and requires time and resources to be taken away from research and the hiring of Americans.

“Patent troll litigation now dominates all patent litigation. Additionally, they are often brought by overseas investors and law firms who extort businesses that calculate that it is cheaper to settle rather than to pursue the six- or seven-figure costs against defending a patent claim. I applaud President Obama for today’s strong and decisive action against patent trolls, and also Congress as it is currently considering several bills to stop this extortion racket that is jeopardizing the health of American business.”


Triad Speakers Expands Soundbar Line

Photo 2: Triad Speaker’s OnWall MiniSat 3.0 soundbar provides a high-performance front speaker solution.

Triad Speakers, one of the few remaining US loudspeaker manufacturers that builds its own enclosures, expanded its passive soundbar lineup with the addition of a three-channel on-wall model to its MiniSat series (see Photo 2). The MiniSat Series already included a three-channel passive in-room soundbar and a three-channel in-wall soundbar.

The OnWall MiniSat 3.0 is less than 3” deep and available in widths up to 82”. Pricing for different finishes starts at a suggested $1,100 and $1,500, respectively. This soundbar features three 4” proprietary fiber-blended paper-cone drivers and three 1” cloth-dome tweeters. The organic fibers in the midrange/woofers are said to increase stiffness with lower mass to deliver greater accuracy and lower distortion.

The OnWall MiniSat 3.0 is Triad’s 11th soundbar, including its 3.0 models with three channels, 2.0 models with two channels, and 1.0 models with one channel. For its gloss finishes, Triad uses a proprietary EcoGloss process that uses multiple layers of water-based paint and hand polishing, adding four to five man-hours to the build process.


Soundcast Offers Its First Bluetooth Speaker

Soundcast Systems, a wireless speaker manufacturer, is entering a new market with the launch of its first Bluetooth speaker, an outdoor model called Melody. Priced at a $449, shipments started in July but the product will be on allocation until August. This product launch follows the June shipment of a BlueCast Bluetooth receiver adapter as an option for the company’s battery-operated outdoor speakers, which use proprietary 2.4-GHz wireless technology to stream music from a PC or a tabletop iPod/iPhone dock up to 300’ away.

The new Melody Bluetooth speaker is an all-weather splash-proof speaker that streams the AAC and AptX codecs over Bluetooth to improve sound quality. The weather- and UV-resistant cylindrical speaker features a built-in carrying handle, four 3” full-range drivers, and four passive bass radiators in a 360° array. It also includes 20-h built-in lithium-ion rechargeable battery and Bluetooth AVRCP, which enables the speaker’s keypad controls to remotely control the play/pause and track up/down functions of a Bluetooth-connected tablet or smartphone whether the device is playing stored music or music from Internet music apps.

The speaker includes an AC adapter, a 12-V car adapter, a MicroUSB for charging, and auxiliary input. Weighing 9 lb, Melody measures 9” in diameter and is 9.5” high. Soundcast also offers wireless transmitters and receivers for use with subwoofers and surround speakers.

Industry Watch: July

Thiel Audio’s New CS1.7

Photo 1: Thiel Audio CS1.7

Thiel Audio recently launched its first new product since the company was acquired last year by a Nashville, TN-based equity company. The product, designed prior to the acquisition, is the company’s new CS1.7 two-way tower design priced at $3,999. The speaker uses 1” MDF on all walls except the front baffle, which is 2” thick (see Photo 1).


Photo 2: Niles Audio Cynema Soundfield

Niles Audio Offers New Soundbars

Niles Audio recently launched a new series of horizontal in-wall soundbars (see Photo 2). The Cynema Soundfield systems are the first of this specific type of product to be offered in consumer electronics. The four systems comprise one passive model and three active models in 48”, 55”, and 65” widths. The passive CSF-48P model costs $1,195, and the active models (the CSF-48A, the CSF-55A, and the CSF-65A) cost $1,599, $1,749, and $1,999, respectively. All of them are left-center-right (LCR)-type soundbars.

The Cynema soundbars’ modular design accommodates in-wall installation without having to cut wall studs to make room for the speaker. Instead, installers mount a horizontal rail onto the wall studs, and then snap the speaker and amplifier modules into the rail. Installers move the modules left or right through an opening in the wall to position them between the studs and align the speaker modules with a wall-mount TV.

The powered models include a separate low-voltage power supply that mounts to a stud next to a wall outlet or behind the display. The low-voltage power supply eliminates the need to run new high-voltage wiring in the wall, eliminating the need for a licensed electrician. The powered models come with 3 × 30-W preamp/amplifier with Dolby Digital processing. The module turns on via IR remote or via an audio-signal-sensing input that turns the soundbar on when its audio input senses audio signal. The in-wall soundbars also integrate with whole-house distributed-audio systems and connect wirelessly to Niles subwoofers.


Photo 3: Mike Detmer

Detmer Launches New Company

Industry veteran Mike “Sparky” Detmer, former president of Niles Audio, has launched a new company offering strategic planning and business-optimization services to manufacturers, distributors, and dealers in the technology-integration and consumer electronics industries (see Photo 3). His new company, Mike Detmer Business Solutions, offers business-optimization services (e.g., business planning, sales-force optimization, training, marketing coordination and budgeting, product management, portfolio planning, and demand planning and coordination).

For more information, visit mikedetmer.com, e-mail mdetmer@mikedetmer.com, or call (305) 798-8510.


MISCO Partners with Digital Audio Labs

MISCO (Minneapolis Speaker Company) recently partnered with Digital Audio Labs (DAL). MISCO and DAL share two key passions: creating great sound systems and meeting customer needs by delivering the exact sound they want. MISCO and DAL complement each other, effectively anchoring the middle and end of the signal chain. DAL is the expert in amplification and digital audio processing. MISCO’s expertise is in loudspeaker design and manufacturing to fit the specific audio needs of a variety of industries, including pro-sound, home audio, musical instruments, medical, aerospace, and military.

Like MISCO, DAL brings its own long track record of innovation to the partnership. DAL rolled out its first audio interface in the late 1980s, when digital audio was still in its infancy. It went on to develop audio interfaces (e.g., CardD and CardDeluxe—the standard in broadcast and measurement markets). Today, DAL provides expertise in digital signal processing, A/D and D/A conversion, amplification, and manufacturing.

Photo 4: Misco PowerShape 2.1

DAL’s most interesting new product related to the MISCO partnership is the PowerShape line of integrated Class-D amplifiers. The key benefit of PowerShape amps are their simplicity—integrating input, signal processing, mixing, and amplification into one box. PowerShape currently comes in two models. PowerShape 2.1 is a cost-effective solution for small-to-midsize installations such as classrooms and corporate conference rooms (see Photo 4). It features digital or analog inputs, stereo or 2.1 output, along with DSP and mixing controls that include gain, five-band EQ, compression, and crossover. It’s easily configurable over Ethernet, USB, or RS-232.

PowerShape 8 is the “audio workhorse,” designed for medium-to-large installations with multiple speakers or zones. It features 12 inputs with DSP on all channels, a 12 × 10 matrix mixer, four-band EQ, compression, and crossover. It also delivers eight, crystal-clear 50-W Class-D output channels.

Photo 5: Misco product concept

Working with digital audio enables DAL to shape the sound audio engineers and OEMs want to achieve, a job that’s completed in the analog realm by pairing DAL electronics with the right MISCO speakers. DAL calls its proprietary DSP algorithms “building blocks” in the signal chain. These algorithms give the customer finely tuned control over parameters (e.g., EQ, compression, and crossover). Now, it’s easy for individual engineers to easily customize, control, and adjust the signal chain to get their desired sound or effect. By working together, MISCO is now able to offer complete, stock, and customized audio systems for gaming, kiosks, digital signage, medical applications and a list of other commercial and industrial sound applications (see Photo 5). For more information about turnkey systems using DAL electronics and MISCO speakers, contact MISCO President Dan Degre at (612) 825-1010 or visit www.miscospeakers.com.


Audit Confirms CEA Show Statistics

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) said an independent audit confirmed that 152,759 people attended the show in Las Vegas, NV, in January, 2013. Also, a record 36,206 international industry professionals from 150 countries attended the show. The 2013 CES featured 3,282 exhibitors, including a record number of startup companies, located on more than 1.92 million net square feet of exhibit space.

The Veris audit confirmed that 43% of 2013 CES attendees were senior-level executives. Presidents, CEOs, and business owners made up 15% of attendees. Nearly one-third of all attendees are the final decision makers when it comes to new product purchases or partnerships with other companies, with 84% of them identified as having buying decision influence. More than 11,000 attendees represented companies with more than $500 million in total annual sales. More than 13,000 retail-buying organizations, 8,000 manufacturers, and nearly 6,000 engineering/research and development companies came to the 2013 CES. Additionally, more than 32,000 professionals from the content development and entertainment industry were in attendance, as part of the Entertainment Matters program, providing entertainment executives the chance to experience the latest devices, technologies, and platforms that will broadcast content to the consumer.


Congress Considers Patent Legislation

Given the increase in patent lawsuits being filed against inventors and manufacturers, the US Senate is considering new patent legislation. Gary Shapiro, CEA president and CEO, released the following the introduction of the proposed Patent Quality Improvement Act of 2013:

“We applaud Senator [Charles E.] Schumer for introducing legislation that promises to make it easier for companies to fight back against frivolous lawsuits by so-called Patent Assertion Entities (PAEs or patent trolls). Patent litigation abuse has reached a crisis level—innovators, businesses of all sizes, and even individual end users are being targeted by firms that do not produce anything, but simply exist to bring lawsuits. In effect, trolls have hijacked our patent system—they now account for the majority of patent litigation in the US, at the cost of tens of billions of dollars to our economy and to American consumers. By enabling defendants to seek review of a patent’s validity, the bill creates a quick cost-effective alternative to litigation. Without having to face the immediate potential of millions of dollars in legal fees, companies targeted by trolls will face less pressure to pay money to resolve frivolous lawsuits. In combination with other measures like the SHIELD Act, the Patent Quality Improvement Act will help drive patent trolls back under the bridge and allow our innovative economy to move forward.”


SuperCube2000 Recall

Definitive Technology has voluntarily recalled its SuperCube2000 powered subwoofers built in September 2012 because of a potential shock hazard, according to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announcement. About 900 units with serial numbers containing the characters 0912HB are covered by the recall. According to the CPSC, Definitive has received two reports of consumers who were shocked while handling the unit. For its part, Definitive said on its website that in some units built last September, “an improperly installed internal lead could cause 120-V current at the connections on the back panel of the subwoofer, potentially causing an electric shock if the connecter is touched while the unit is powered.” Definitive recommends that consumers who bought a SuperCube2000 after November 1, 2012, unplug the subwoofer AC cord at the wall, check the serial number, and immediately discontinue the use of any SuperCube2000 subwoofers with the letters “HB” in the serial number. The Chinese-made subwoofer was sold at electronics stores nationwide and online at Best Buy and Amazon between November 2012 and January 2013 for about $600.


Home Technology Market Remains Stable

The home technology market’s overall growth remained consistent from 2011 to 2012, demonstrating its strong, stable foothold, according to new findings in the 11th Annual State of the Builder Technology Market Study released today by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). Technology installations in new homes reached or exceeded 2008 levels, providing more evidence that the market for built-in home technologies is recovering. Structured wiring remains the most common installed technology (70%), followed by monitored security (44%), and home theater pre-wire systems (27%)

Home technologies have become valuable marketing tools for new homes. Builders say marketing these technologies is important; close to half of builders surveyed (49%) said they find it much more or somewhat more important to market these technologies today. Builders increasingly work with home technology experts, including electricians, security installers, custom installers, and electronic systems contractors. Builders reported that they were most satisfied with electrical (79%), security installer (77%), system integration (75%), and electronic system (66%) contractors. The primary factors driving builder decisions to work with installation service providers remain price (80%), reputation (75%), completeness of offerings (73%), and prior experience (71%).

Overall, builders report installing popular technologies like structured wiring and monitored security in remolding projects. Small builders (42%) saw a greater revenue portion from remodeling efforts in comparison to luxury homebuilders and local builders. The study also finds that almost all (92%) new homes are equipped with broadband cable, up 36% from 2002. With greater broadband access, the report notes that in 2012, one in four newly built homes (23%) have a dedicated home theater room as opposed to one in 10 in 2010.

The 11th Annual State of the Builder Technology Market Study comes as CEA and HGTV announced their partnership, building the first-ever high-tech home in Jacksonville Beach, FL. Using CEA’s TechHome Rating System (THRS), HGTV built the Smart Home 2013 to meet the THRS’s gold specifications for technology infrastructure. The gold rating provides a whole-house network that distributes audio, video, data, telephone, television, home automation, and security signals into multiple rooms. VC