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CES Review: The Audio Revival, Connectivity and Emerging Technologies

by David Mercer | Jan 16, 2015

One of the key trends at CES 2015 was the widespread renewed interest in audio. After 15 years or so of “digital” (ie online) music in the form, primarily, of convenient but low grade MP3 downloadsand streamed services, it seems that industry majors are finally ready to persuade a new generation of music fans that high quality audio is worth investing in (both time and money).

One element of this revival is the “let’s get Sonos” strategy, which was apparent in numerous demonstrations and launches of a variety of whole home audio systems and technologies. There was a general feeling that Sonos has had things its own way for far too long and is ripe for attack now that connected technologies can deliver an equivalent experience (or close to) at much lower price points.

Samsung went as far as saying that it plans to become the “most innovative audio company in the world”, which, given the number of active specialists in this sector, will take some doing, even for a company of Samsung’s scale and financial might. LG also threw its hat into the next generation audio ring with its MusicFlow offer, while connected audio technology platforms from Qualcomm (AllPlay) and DTS (Play-Fi) could become important new multi-device connected audio platforms. Sony’s strategy is focused on enabling content and services with support for music in high-resolution audio formats.

I was treated to several audio demonstrations at CES which suggested that are many miles ahead on the audio technology roadmap. In terms of sound quality little could beat French specialist Devialet’s new Phantom speakers. The company is adopting a vertical retail strategy and claims strong success from its early store opening in Paris.

I was also interested in directional and noise cancelling technologies, which could become important in the digital home as a supplement to whole home connected audio systems. Harman was demonstrating combined directional/noise cancelling within the automotive environment and confirmed that they would be exploring its potential in the home. I also heard a demonstration of the <<A>> personal directional speaker from French developer AkousticArts (see image). The technology was effective in confining audio perception within the beam, although extraneous noise was still apparent. If it could be combined with noise cancelling this could be a valuable consumer application within a whole home audio environment, so that the science fiction vision of different audio streams following individual users comes closer to reality.

 CES Review: The Audio Revival, Connectivity and Emerging Technologies

Finally, there was good news for anyone involved in audio services and technologies from a recent survey carried out by CSR (recently acquired by Qualcomm). 90% of respondents (from the US, Germany, UK, China and Japan) said they liked music so much that it was either “part of who I am” or “important to me”. The other 10% said they liked music, even though it wasn’t important to them. The sample was somewhat self-defining, since only people who listened to music at least once a week were included in the survey. But it is still an interesting reflection of the strong role that music plays in many people’s lives. Technology vendors will be working hard over the next few years to persuade those people that their love for music justifies a higher investment in the audio experience.
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