2015 International CES: Home Audio Market Movements

January 15 2015, 07:00
“This year it is evident that audio hardware has regained its cool at International CES,” says Jack Wetherill, Senior Market Analyst at Futuresource Consulting, “and it’s not just headphones that have street credibility, we’ve seen that pioneering design allied to innovative technology - such as the Wireless Speaker and Audio Association’s high end wireless systems spec in the case of Klipsch - can generate a lot of excitement.”
Photo courtesy of CEA - www.cesweb.org

Multi-Room Audio
There was a show focus on wireless multi-room audio (MRA), which Futuresource defines as a system of speakers that can interact with each other to create a seamless audio experience within a home. These systems can play the same music throughout the home or may have the option to zone rooms and play different music. Throughout 2014, Sonos continued to be the biggest player in the market, although there have been competitive offerings from a number of brands which includes Bose, Samsung, Panasonic, LG, Philips, Denon and others.

Wireless multi-room audio can be segmented into two categories: proprietary and open. Proprietary systems, where speakers can work seamlessly only when they are from the same brand, currently dominate sales with Sonos leading the charge for this type of system. Open systems such as those offered by Qualcomm's AllPlay platform, the DTS Play-Fi platform and Imagination Technologies' Caskeid technology allow any speaker based on this technology to work in sync. The vast majority of these systems have launched within the last 12 months and so the market is not only getting crowded, but more confusing for consumers.

Among others, new products have been announced by Sony and Supertooth - both proprietary systems - and House of Marley and Monster, based on AllPlay.

“We believe this plethora of launches is good for raising awareness of MRA, but the diverse and often incompatible technologies involved will begin to reduce down to a few proprietary systems such as Sonos, although the majority will be based upon an open standard, offering Bluetooth as well as Wi-Fi,” says Wetherill.

Futuresource estimates that 4.2 million MRA units were shipped globally in 2014, on track to rise by 43% this year. 

High Resolution Audio
Looking to high resolution audio, the format has been in the pipeline for a while and was much discussed at last year’s International CES. However, a standard logo has now been agreed and introduced to guide consumers who need education in this potentially confusing area.

Many brands have introduced hi-res devices, some of the prominent ones being the Technics range of high-end loudspeakers and amplifiers, and Audio Technica headphones. The most prominent though is Sony, which has introduced a comprehensive range of products from headphones to multi-room speakers, soundbars and hi-res audio players.

“In the mobile space there is limited support for on-the-go consumers,” says Wetherill. “Smartphones require an integrated DAC to process hi-res audio and some phone models already have this, but it is not marketed even if available on device - a lost opportunity for the hi-res market.

“Currently, less than 5% of wireless speakers sell with hi-res support, although approximately two thirds of AV receivers incorporate hi-res audio as they suit the audiophile and the feature is comparatively cheap to build into relatively expensive AVRs.”

MQA is also worth a mention - Master Quality Authenticated - which was launched at International CES by high-end audio experts Meridian. This paves the way for hi-res streaming without loss in audio quality, an important innovation in times when the consumer’s dependence on streaming music is growing.

“Neil Young - one of the few artists promoting hi-res audio - was in Vegas and the industry needs more influencers to talk about hi-res audio,” says Wetherill. 
Harman CEO, Dinesh Paliwal, met with Neil Young at the CES 2015 to discuss solutions to offer
the Pono Music catalog and lossless HD quality playback in vehicles. - Source Harman
“While we acknowledge there is some skepticism in the industry surrounding hi-res audio and previous attempts at higher resolution have failed to tempt people away from MP3, we believe that hi-res will find its place, although it will be more for the audiophile than a mass market phenomenon. It will be the ultimate test of whether consumers are willing to pay for quality while still enjoying the huge benefits and flexibility that MP3 has brought, when so many have bemoaned the compressed nature of MP3.”
related items