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SECTIONS / REAL SOUND

Hi Fi Industry At A Crossroads As Receiver Sales Slump 42%

By David Richards + TWICE | Tuesday | 14/01/2014

The audio industry is at a crossroads with wireless audio and new digital technology set to separate the traditional Hi Fi brands from new upstarts.

Brands like Samsung are now moving into the premium end of the Hi Fi market with the Korean Company currently investing in a brand new audio and premium sound development centre in Los Angeles, what they believe is that audio will be all about high quality sound that is wrapped around software and a new generation of technology that is able to deliver significantly improved quality along with information about the content.   

As new audio technology emerges traditional Hi Fi manufacturers are now faced with significant technological obstacles and a consumer whose sole understanding of music is a digital download attendees at a recent CES forum heard.

 At the recent CES show Twice Magazine held a panel discussion that was attended by several retailers including several from Australia and the USA also in attendance was executives from manufacturers, music labels and artists who are desperate to find a way push high-resolution audio. 

What traditional Hi Fi manufacturer's claims that there is a world beyond compressed MP3. According to Michael Henrikson the CEO of Qualifi who distributes the Marantz, Denon & Jamo brands in Australia receiver sales have fallen by 42% during the past three years.

What the traditional Hi Fi industry is trying to do is entice the mass market to upgrade their audio components so they can experience sound as it was meant to be heard however the general opinion among attendees at the event claim it's going to be a struggle.

Although the panellists tried to put on a brave face, the first portion of the discussion was given to multiple incompatible formats, firmware updates, dealing with Windows audio drivers as well as WAV, Flac, ALAC and PCM files. 
At that point, Owen Kwon, iRiver business development VP, said people shouldn't be arguing whether one codec is superior to another but just tell consumers higher-quality downloads are available so they can have a better music experience.

Sony product marketing manager Aaron Levine and Onkyo USA national marketing and product manager Paul Wasek enthusiastically agreed, both stating simplicity was the key, and educating consumers and retailers was important to the category. 

Wasek likened the current state of affairs to the early days of the digital-TV transition when people in the industry debated terms like HD-ready and HD-capable for months. He noted high-res audio was in a similar state of affairs with competing nomenclature. Wasek said the industry had to come together with the proper terms, no matter if it was "high-res audio ready, high-res audio capable since it would make it easier for retailers to marry content and devices together."

AudioQuest development VP Steve Silberman got everyone's attention when he said the fledgling effort to push high-res audio was like going from the Earth to the moon "without inventing the airplane . there are all these steps in between." He noted that iTunes arrived in 2001 and the dealers who embraced it are "outliers - they're few and far between." 

He made the analogy that high-end audio buffs are like the tip of the tail of a dog, but this dog has no master and no leash. "So you've got all these consumers living a certain way. Over a billion people every month go to YouTube, and out of that, 330 million watch music and concerts. There are over 600 million active iTunes accounts. In order to sell them high-resolution audio, we have to go where they live." Retailers have to start with the computer and work from there. 

Levine pointed out that consumers have been downloading MP3 files for more than 10 years and they need to know there's a world beyond decidedly low-fidelity music, and education was the key. His company unveiled a series of high-res products at CES, including speakers and headphones. Sony is working with its retailers to educate them to the benefits and potential opportunities.

Given the challenges, all of the panellists, including Michal Jurewicz, president of Mytek Digital, and David Steven, managing director of dCS, were optimistic, with iRiver's Kwon stating 2014 will be the year for high-res audio.

AudioQuest's Silberman said the industry could easily change at a moment's notice if iTunes or Amazon decided to offer high-resolution downloads. "Right now consumers are downloading a version of the Thomas Edison wax cylinder, and at some point it's going to shift."

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