Industry & Product News
Chord Electronics Ultima Amplifier Technology Expands with Ultima 2 and Ultima 3 Mono Power Amplifiers
Three decades in development, John Franks' next-generation Ultima amplifier technology filters down into two new mono power amplifiers, the Ultima 2 and the Ultima 3, part of Chord Electronics' ongoing 30th-anniversary celebrations. First unveiled in October 2018, the new Ultima amplifier topology, to date exclusive to the range-topping £30,000 Ultima power amp, is now more affordable than ever, with the two new mono power amps sharing the same Chord Electronics DNA .    Read More

Futuresource Market Report Highlights New Exciting Opportunities for Hearables
Futuresource Consulting has recently published its Hearables Market Report, reviewing the market size, competitive landscape, technology drivers, and future trends in this new product category. Simon Forrest, Principal Technology Analyst at Futuresource discusses new monetization opportunities in the untethered hearable segment and those resulting from the new "over the counter" hearing aid category, opening up the sector to many new entrants not least the mainstream headphones companies .    Read More

New Mark Levinson 5000 Series Integrated Amplifiers and Integrated Streaming SACD Player and DAC
Harman introduced the latest products from its Luxury Audio Group at the High End 2019 show in Munich, Germnay. Following a repositioning of the division, announced at the end of 2018, Harman is now focused on launching new products. In the Mark Levinson brand, Harman introduced two integrated amplifiers from the Mark Levinson 5000 series, the Nº5805 and the Nº5802. And in a world premiere, Mark Levinson revealed the Nº5101 integrated player, streamer and DAC .    Read More

Harman's Luxury Audio Division Introduces Flagship Lexicon SL-1 High-End Adaptive Speaker
During the 2019 High End Show in Munich, Germany, Harman promoted a special event to signal the opening of its first experience store in Europe and the introduction of multiple new products from its Luxury Audio brands. Among the surprises, Harman unveiled the new controllable Lexicon SoundSteer SL-1 loudspeaker system, using 66 drivers arranged in a 360-degree configuration, and 46 discrete amplifier channels with a music output of 1,300 W. Truly, a smart speaker on steroids, the SL-1 combines all the latest innovations in advanced beam steering technology .    Read More

Voice Algorithm Software Ecosystem Expected to Increase Significantly  
The massive growth in the voice assistant market has created a vibrant ecosystem and significant opportunities for hardware and software developers. Total voice software unit shipments are expected to increase significantly to 2024, according to SAR Insight & Consulting. The firm's latest report forecasts a larger increase in voice software, especially within home devices such as smart speakers, soundbars, smart TVs, and smart appliances. And this is mainly due to the explosion in digital assistant features being added to these devices .    Read More

Warwick Acoustics Introduces APERIO Flagship Electrostatic Headphone System
Warwick Acoustics, the company behind the multi-award-winning Sonoma Model One electrostatic headphones has launched the APERIO, its new flagship integrated headphone system. Launched at the 2019 High End show in Munich, Germany, the APERIO headphone system introduces the unique Balanced-Drive High Precision Electrostatic Laminate (BD-HPEL), which takes Warwick's original HPEL to a whole new level, complemented with a completely new electronics unit where nothing is missing. The entire system costs US $24,000 but sounds like a million dollars .    Read More

Melco Introduces Intelligent Music Library in Collaboration with SongKong
Responding to the frustrations of many owners of digital music libraries to find and quickly play music in large and varied music collections, Melco introduced a new powerful music search/metadata software incorporating MinimServer's Intelligent Browsing with SongKong metadata within Melco hardware. The solution, introduced at the 2019 High End show in Munich, Germany breaks free from the constraints of the physical CD that was used to rip music into Melco's servers, now offering metadata integration matching users' search and intentions .    Read More

Naim Introduces Much Improved 2nd Generation Mu-so Integrated Music Streaming System
Naim Audio has launched the second generation of its Mu-so wireless music system. Mu-so 2nd Generation evolves the iconic styling of its predecessor, combining dramatically improved performance, features, and functionalities under the already familiar luxury aluminum casing design. From high-resolution streaming to AirPlay 2 support, from multiroom music to TV sound with room compensation, the British hi-fi specialist updates in all aspects this unique all-in-one wireless system .    Read More

Editor's Desk
J. Martins

High End 2019 First Impressions
And State of Home Audio Market

The 2019 High End show, promoted by the High End Society in Munich, Germany, was again a great event. This year stronger than ever, the show was vibrant, attendance was high, and there was a welcome change in the exhibitor's profile, with more companies finally occupying much-deserved demonstration rooms and new brands taking up some of the premium spaces. In the four exhibition halls, on the main level, we could find many new exhibitors, showing a greater diversity of products, more consumer-friendly and technology oriented, with the sold-out show area now offering more and more examples of great products and brands and no space for fill-in exhibits or car audio demonstrations.

The first day of every High End show is dedicated exclusively to the press and trading partners and it is one of the busiest days.

We also noticed that more companies exhibiting in the main halls have opted to use the booth space with closed demonstration rooms, which in turn opens more opportunities for acoustic treatment, accessories, and peripheral companies to spread their products in more places - which means that with very few exceptions, they don't need to take a dedicated booth. So, less cable brands, and more speakers, almost no DIY, vintage, or small boutique exhibits, and more high-end headphone and electronics companies taking booths. Overall positive, even though there will be a few visitors who disagree.

The visitor's profile for the show continues to evolve, this year more business oriented, at least in the first two days (Thursday and Friday), and with a larger public participation over the weekend. There is probably a price to pay for the show's success, with more brands and international companies cueing up to take an exhibition space, resulting in some companies moving to the concurrent Hifideluxe show, at the nearby Marriot hotel (which continues to thrive). 

During its traditional press conference, the High End Society promised to do everything it can to address the increasing requests for space at the Munich M.O.C. complex, looking at future opportunities in the building across the street, which is under renovation to also become an event center. Good perspectives ahead for the organization.

And as we noted, we felt the presence of more business-oriented visitors. During all four days, we could meet a lot of audio industry executives from companies not exhibiting directly. They all had their products - drivers, components, or technologies - represented by actual exhibitors. And of course, all over Munich there were invitation-only demos, meetings, presentations, receptions, and so forth, oriented toward the distribution channel and clients.

NAD Electronics, the acclaimed high-fidelity audio brand, will be the first international brand to incorporate and launch Purifi's new patent-pending Class-D technology into its product family.

Almost a month ago, audioXpress reported about the new Danish company Purifi Audio, which made its debut during the High End show days. Effectively, before the show was open to the public, Purifi made headlines with the first announcement of a licensing agreement for its patent-pending Class-D technology to NAD Electronics. And I am certain that in the next few months there will be many similar announcements from the company created by Bruno Putzeys, Lars Risbo, and Peter Lyngdorf, since Purifi was a permanent talk of the show. audioXpress was invited for a demonstration and to meet the Purifi Audio team, and we will soon report about our conversation and what we've learned from both the company's amplifier and speaker technology projects.

Another off-site visit we did was to attend a demo of the amazing Bayz Audio's Bay Radial Speakers (BRS). Zoltan Bay was once again demonstrating his Courante omnidirectional full-range speaker, designed in cooperation with Danesian Audio, combining Zoltan's radial tweeter with SB Acoustics Satori low-frequency drivers and connected to BayZ Audio's own amplifiers. This year, the company introduced an even larger version, the new flagship Counterpoint, side by side with the Courante. The experience was once again mind-blowing since it completely made the speakers disappear, perfectly translating the presence of the recorded instruments actually in the room. The Counterpoint takes the experience to a whole other level, offering even greater dynamics and will certainly be suitable for larger rooms. I am certain that anyone who has the opportunity to listen to either of these speakers will agree that this is something very special. I just hope that more companies will also be inspired to explore the enormous potential of the BRS tweeter technology.

We visited once again Zoltan Bay's demonstration room in the separate Hifideluxe show to hear the latest Counterpoint flagship speaker using a larger SBR radial tweeter.

And, the High End 2019 show offered plenty of other great sounding rooms, and I would like to highlight the presentations of the two new PMC fact signature speakers, which I found surprisingly good, even after listening to the incredibly great presentation of Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue," remixed for Dolby Atmos and reproduced using PMC's original fact fenestria flagship speakers and a battery of Wafer 2 immersive audio speakers. For me, the PMC room was the highlight of the Munich show, and the two new fact signature speakers just another demonstration (as if it was needed) that this British company totally masters the art of sound reproduction, either targeting professional recording studios or the high-end consumer.

On the headphone side, the "best of show" was totally the APERIO flagship integrated headphone system from Warwick Acoustics. Using the unique Balanced-Drive High Precision Electrostatic Laminate (BD-HPEL) complemented with a completely new electronics unit where nothing is missing, the entire system costs US $24,000 but sounds like a million dollars.

There were plenty of other great new speakers and great sound rooms at the show, but I will leave that to a more comprehensive coverage that we will continue to make available on the audioXpress website and the dedicated show report that we will publish in the magazine.

This year Focal celebrates its 40th anniversary. The French brand has developed some exceptional products introduced during the Munich show, including very limited editions and great new speaker finishes.

For now, I thought I should highlight some key market indicators that were released by the High End Society for this show, resulting from recent research commissioned to the market research firm GfK. It is not often that we have access to specific market research focusing on the home audio segment, and even if this research was focused on Germany - a sophisticated, diverse, and mature market - I think it makes it interesting enough.

According to GfK, the German audio market continues to grow significantly in sales value, with the trend expected to continue in 2019. Sales of general audio equipment in Germany have grown above 5% annually since 2017, and over the past 12 months, have grown almost 2%. Online sales are increasing, representing now around 35%.

Wireless and, in most cases Bluetooth-based solutions, as well as equipment that enables users to connect with other devices are particularly popular. The study reveals that, with a revenue of 531 million Euros, headphones have a pretty high share of sales across all the audio product groups tracked. While classic Bluetooth over-ear headphones are still very popular with consumers, headphones that are particularly suitable for use during sport are also in high demand. In fact, products of this kind made up almost 10% of all headphone sales, and true wireless devices are very well received by consumers due to their convenience. GfK estimates true wireless to account already for a 52% share in the in-ear category. 755,000 units were sold from March 2018 to April 2019, with an average retail price of around 150 euros ($180 US).

GfK also confirmed that wireless speakers and multiroom products continue to experience positive growth in sales volume in Germany, reaching 316 million euros (April 2018 to March 2019). Sales in this segment have grown 15% compared to the previous year. About 802,000 soundbar-type devices have been sold in Germany, increasing 17.4% compared to the same period of the previous year.

The very high-end audio segment of the market continues to do quite well with companies introducing new models every year.

In a previous dedicated consumer electronics study, released during CES 2019, GfK confirmed that the global market continues to grow, with the year 2018 ending with a 6% increase in sales and a sales total around €138 Euros (or approximately $165 billion USD). And GfK predicts a growth of around 4% for 2019, with all regions of the globe continuing to grow, influenced by an increasing trend for premium and higher quality technological devices.

Total global revenue for headphones and mobile stereo headsets increased by almost 40% in 2018 to around €14 billion. More than half of the revenue was generated by devices with Bluetooth technology, including true wireless headphones, which already are generating a larger share of revenue than noise-canceling headphones, and are generating more than 20% increase in the average price.

Portable, wireless loudspeakers are also growing and represented almost €5 billion in global sales in 2018, while the trend in 2019 includes the launch of new premium wireless models. More importantly, GfK confirms, wireless multiroom speakers and soundbars are conquering a large share of the home audio market, even before voice control and smart home integration becomes a key driver globally - certainly a trend to note already in 2019.

The soundbar is one of the fastest growing speaker categories and where value is outperforming volume sales.

These finding are confirmed from similar research by Futuresource Consulting in its "Global Home Audio Tracking Report," which confirms specifically that home audio equipment shipments continue to climb, growing globally by nearly 20% year-on-year. According to Futuresource, home audio shipments reached nearly 59 million units in Q4, achieving a value of $6.8 billion in the quarter, and continuing to trend positive. Of course, speakers with integrated voice assistants are the fastest growing category, with smart speaker shipments increasing by 78.7% year-on-year, and soundbars achieving 6.3% volume growth, the only category to see value outperform volume, up 11.3% year-on-year.

Unfortunately, no market research firm focuses on specific data for the high-end home audio segment and while I was walking the aisles of the show I was thinking about how big the market actually is. While many companies that I have asked confirmed that they continue to see steady demand for most top-of-the-range products (> $20,000) and I learned that global sales overall in the luxury segment continue to grow in value and volume, there is no way of knowing how the market and technology trends are affecting the category. In general, both speaker driver and finished product manufacturers seem to agree that high-fidelity and really high-end audio is a very conservative market and that sales continue to be pretty consistent and unaffected by mainstream consumer electronics trends. Since sales of loudspeaker drivers in the segment continues to be pretty healthy, I can only deduct that the demise of some brands is matched by the success of others.
R&D Stories
The Genesis of the ZYLIA ZM-1 and Next-Generation Audio Recording
By  Piotr Szczechowiak
This article is an interesting testimony from Piotr Szczechowiak, co-founder and COO at Zylia, a startup company from Poland, which is getting noticed for its ZM-1 spherical microphone array. The ZM-1 records and separates each instrument and vocals into a separate track using an innovative and patented recording sound-source separation technology, combining dedicated software and cloud processing. The ZM-1 is also generating growing interest for its potential use in spatial audio production, gaming audio, virtual reality, and even audio measurement and conferencing applications. Since the market introduction, Zylia announced a series of software releases that significantly expand its potential uses, including an Ambisonics Converter and source localization software. Szczechowiak explains how Zylia got there. This article was published in audioXpress, January 2019 .   Read the Full Article Now Available Here

Voice  Coil Spotlight
New Stratified Stream Port Technology from Quest Engines
By Elario Dalmas II (Quest Engines)
In this Voice Coil Spotlight article, Elario Dalmas II (Quest Engines) details how his company's Stratified Stream Ports can improve vented box systems. Quest Engines has developed an innovative patent-pending speaker port technology that allows for new visual and sonic aesthetics in the design of vented box speaker systems, using see-through ports. This new port technology functions using circular wave guides to passively inject air pressure waves generated in the speaker enclosure into the port area. The wave guides direct the air pressure waves into a resonant port with two open ends. This article was originally published in Voice Coil, March 2019 .   Check it out here!

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