The audio quality from increasingly thin flatscreen TVs may be nothing to shout about but it does present a sales opportunity for retailers whose customers seeking better sonics. Ian Calcutt gets a handle on the soundbar.
As televisions shed their bulk, the sound from ever-slimmer built-in speakers is getting poorer. One solution is the soundbar, which is carving out an increasingly large share of the AV market.
“All customers actually want is good sound from their television,” says Steve Reichert, PR manager for Armour Home. “Fortunately for retailers and soundbar manufacturers alike, this is something modern flatscreen TVs fail to deliver. It’s from this lack of performance from the TV that the ‘soundbar opportunity’ has been created.”
According to GfK UK Retail and Technology report on the soundbar market, in 2011, sales of these products increased by 65% year on year. This growth was second only to tablet computers and coincides with a decline in 5.1 speaker sales.
In the UK, 100,000 soundbar sales are projected for 2012. “With 7 million odd TV sales a year and an estimated 40 million TVs already in UK homes, the potential market is huge,” says John Cameron, Orbitsound’s chief operating officer.
The first major manufacturer on the scene was Yamaha. “The soundbar offers a decent sound package in a relatively small box,” says Chris Wray, product specialist in Yamaha’s AV Division. “For the dealer, if a TV has just been sold, the natural step for high quality sound is the soundbar. A 5.1 package is a lot more difficult to convince people to take.”
Chris Wray adds, “In the case of Yamaha, we only make surround soundbars so you can achieve a surround sound experience in your home without any need for extra wires, speakers, speaker stands or moving furniture around. They’re also very family friendly.”
Soundbars offer various technologies and price points. Yamaha’s lineup, for example, has entry level models using its virtual AirSurround Extreme technology (the YAS101 and YHTS401), while the higher end versions use Intellibeam to bounce sound off walls for a more genuine surround experience (YSP2200, YSP4100 and YSP5100).
“We often get asked does it really work and yes, it absolutely does in almost any situation,” says Chris Wray.
Orbitsound approaches it slightly differently, aiming to create a clearer stereo sound (rather than surround) from any seating position.
“All Orbitsound’s products feature our unique spatial audio technology,” says John Cameron, Orbitsound’s chief operating officer. “This technology generates an infinite sweet spot no matter where users are within the room. The spatial audio technology uses a unique positioning of speakers to help overcome sonic inaccuracies that can be found in traditional left and right channel speakers. Unlike most other soundbars, Orbitsound’s products also feature a built-in iPhone and iPod dock.”
The newest model in the range is the Orbitsound T9, which at just under a foot long is suited to smaller TVs or rooms where space is limited and it joins the slightly longer T12 version.
“In the previous 12 months we also introduced interchangeable coloured front grilles for the T12v3,” says John Cameron. “Users can easily customise it with different colours to fit their living space.”
Orbitsound may also add Bluetooth capability to later models for streaming content wirelessly, especially from tablets and Android phones.
“Of course, we are aware that there are many die-hard audiophiles who are faithful to the 5.1 systems and we are not looking to get into an argument with them, we respect this position,” explains Cameron, “although [we] maintain that in practice 5.1 systems are very rarely set up properly and are far too complicated and bulky for the typical household.”
He adds, “When customers hear Orbitsound’s products they immediately get it. This is my message to retailers, demonstrate our soundbars to customers in your shop and you will see a significant number of add-on sales, and all at a decent margin for the retailer. Independent retailers have some of the best environments to showcase our products to the consumer. We know that independent stores take the time to really explain and demonstrate products to the consumers.”
Outside the box
Q Acoustics and Alphason (both part of the Armour Home group) approach the poor TV-sound problem from another angle.
“Let’s be a bit controversial,” says Armour’s Steve Reichert. “I hope everyone understands that no one actually wants a soundbar. Who could possibly want to see another product, which obviously doesn’t match their TV, cluttering up their wall unit or AV furniture? By not thinking ‘outside the box’ – literally in this case – we are missing an even bigger sales opportunity. Remember, customers want the ‘great big sound’, they just don’t want to see what delivers it.”
He explains, “We solved this by designing ‘invisible soundbars’. The two successful products we’ve released so far both deliver high performance and represent great value.”
The Q Acoustics Q-TV is a 100w amplified speaker system that bolts discreetly to the back of a flatscreen TV and adjusts to fit 32in to 50in sizes.
Meanwhile, Alphason’s Event TV furniture incorporates both amplification and speakers.
“These two products deliver high quality, big sound, while remaining out of sight, in the case of the Q-TV, or completely disguised like the Event cabinet.”