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The New Audio Landscape

Affordable, high-quality sound solutions are a reality

February 6, 2013 By Sean Murphy
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A tale of two technologies: analog audio and digital displays. As is typically the case in any industry, what might signify the best of times for a certain category could represent the worst of times for a different one. With innovation causing the scales to constantly shift, it’s not unusual for one sector to thrive at the expense of another.

The home audio segment of the CE industry certainly faced challenges during the last decade. Most major manufacturers and veteran retailers grew up during a time when analog ruled. That was forever altered when digital AV solutions captured consumers. Portable devices and downloadable content quickly established a foothold and drove down sales and production of physical media.

During this digital revolution, consumers were no longer focused on audio equipment; digital displays dominated and all manner of content was stored on portable devices and PCs. Spending on home audio took a backseat as consumers upgraded their analog televisions and amassed personal libraries of digital media.

But as a new decade began, the flat-panel upgrade cycle had peaked, and audio gradually became an area of interest once again. After making a considerable investment on the home video experience, it made sense that consumers would shift focus to how their entertainment sounded.

In CEA’s recent study, Discovering Motivation and Opportunities Behind Home Audio Upgrades, it is clear that consumer appetite for audio is alive and well. The new generation of audio products is multifunctional and, with the implementation of MP3, Ethernet, HDMI and Airplay, delivers an enhanced in-home listening experience.

Improvements in digital amplifiers, soundbars and receiver capabilities have made “better audio” in the home feasible and affordable. It’s safe to say we have arrived at the best of both worlds for AV enthusiasts: optimal video with suitably robust and affordable audio.

As with many technologies, price remains a key driver for purchasing. Yet research shows consumers indicate they are willing to spend more for products that deliver better quality audio. Online comments, community forums and professional reviews help promote discussion and foster awareness about audio. Hearing is believing. Consumers have confirmed that demos are crucial to the buying process. The industry should consider more targeted in-store demonstrations and road shows, to increase exposure.

Having just returned from the International CES, I can verify that audio will figure prominently in the years ahead. More sophisticated and powerful soundbars are being rolled out in 2013, and they will be included in the TV manufacturers’ display demos. It is encouraging to note that even as TVs become more breathtaking in terms of size, clarity and connectivity, manufacturers are also improving the audio, whether through in-house technology or outside partnerships.


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