Industry Watch: April 2014

March 31 2014, 09:30

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.

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