Over the past few years, there’s no question that consumer audio has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity that it has not experienced in a long time. Driven by the growing use of streaming media, and the rediscovery of vinyl, people are once again listening to music — whether through modestly priced wireless audio systems and single-piece soundbars or new multichannel formats like Dolby Atmos.
Here we feature a round-up of research covering two-channel and home-theater audio.
Earlier this year Nielsen released its annual music industry statistics which found that overall on-demand music streams grew by approximately 55 percent in 2014 compared to the prior year.
We have seen a corresponding drop in physical music and download music sales. During the Futuresource Audio Renaissance event in October, David Sidebottom of Futuresource said this year will go down as the year in which the scales tipped in favor of streaming media.
“2015 marks the 50/50 point in the shift of global expenditure away from packaged media [CD and vinyl] to digital music,” he said.
One interesting twist in these sales figures is vinyl.
The pro audio industry writer and recording engineer Bobby Owsinski points out in his September newsletter that record sales are up 38 percent over the same period the previous year. Fueling LP sales are millennials, accounting for 54 percent of those sales, according Owsinski. He adds that vinyl now accounts for 9 percent of all physical music sales.
Even so, there is a built-in cap on sales of vinyl because of the format’s limited distribution. Owsinski says most of the 35-and-under crowd that are driving sales are buying records as collectibles and not listening to records because they don’t have the proper playback equipment.
During the height of the recession one of the most adversely affected consumer electronics categories was home theater. Now with two-piece projection systems more affordable than ever, and new technologies such as Dolby Atmos innovating a new way to hear surround sound, multichannel audio in the home is on the comeback trail.
Even so, there's no stopping the simple soundbar, not least because of their shrinking sizes and prices, but also because they are multi-purpose machines. A study released this past summer from The NPD Group finds that consumer gravitate toward these speaker products because not only can they use them for traditional TV and movie content, they can also use them for streaming audio, including music.
NPD’s “Soundbar Ownership and Usage Study” finds 55 percent of consumers use their soundbars for music and other audio-related content, and more than one-third are connecting portable devices to their soundbars for audio playback.
“Soundbars have been around for nearly a decade and we are still seeing significant momentum in the market,” says Ben Arnold, executive director, industry analyst, The NPD Group. “Features like Bluetooth have helped to drive interest, sales and usage, especially among millennial consumers.”
According to NPD, millennials account for 44 percent of all audio hardware spending — a figure has increased by 9 percent over the past year.
Millennial buying might explain the surge in lower-priced audio gear. Quixel Research finds that affordable sub-$200 soundbars are experiencing a double-digit increase in quarter-on-quarter share figures, while more expensive $500-plus product sales have fallen 34 percent in share.
Deirdre Kennedy, senior analyst for Quixel Research/Gap Intelligence, attributes today's trend in lower-cost soundbars to the corresponding trend of higher-priced TVs, namely pricey 4K displays.
She says one reason for the shift to lower-end soundbars “could be the rapid increase in adoption of Ultra HD TVs with a corresponding premium for the high-end technology. Consumers may be delaying the purchase of expensive soundbars or foregoing the purchase entirely in favor of better TVs.”