High End Audio’s Differentiation Problem

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I spent a few hours this weekend visiting the TAVES Consumer Electronics Show. It’s Canada’s version of CES. Like Canada, it’s humble. It’s a little bit strange of a show- there are speaker companies tailored to the high end audiophile consumer and then there’s a mishmash of vinyl resellers and artists, with the occasional high end TV dealer.

However, the focus of the show was primarily to feature listening suites for speaker companies. I’ve come across these at a number of shows — CEDIA, IFA, CES, Infocomm, and other shows and after awhile, they all blend into one another. These systems are designed for watching movies in theaters or having listening sessions — maybe with some scotch or bourbon.

I admit that I am not a connoisseur of audio products. To me, it either sounds loud or dull and there are few gradients in between. However, interacting with audiophiles, they will tell you the purity of the gold in the audio cables, or the direction of the woodgrain. This seems like throwback to a time when an album would come out and you’d invite your friends over to sit around and listen to the whole record from start to finish. I could only imagine how agonizing this could be and how it unnecessarily drove people to drugs and alcohol just to get through these session.

Interestingly, high end audio is not the best candidate for voice interaction. The target market for these products is much older than the average consumer and wants to go to these products as a retreat — to slow down. The reviewing of the music that they want to listen to adds to the anticipation and enjoyment. Being able to say “Play the Beatles” and have it play instantly on $10,000 setup is not as enjoyable to them as looking up Sergeant Pepper from a shelf of LPs.

The problem for these companies will be in the attracting the next generation of audiophiles. Even after listening to a dozen or so companies’ product, reason no longer a clear factor in the decision making. It’s about brand, maybe loyalty from a parent who listened to a certain speaker, maybe cost. The real way that these companies can survive to a new generation is to break away from the pack in one or more ways:

  • Unique form factor
  • Celebrity endorsement
  • Unique listening experience
  • Size (extremely small or large)
  • Ease of use
  • Extreme luxury (e.g. leviathan skin speakers)
  • Interactivity (here’s the plug for voice interaction)

With these, audiophile-focused speaker makers can increase the odds of their survival over the next five years as many more speaker brands come to market.

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Independent daily thoughts on all things future, voice technologies and AI. More at http://linkedin.com/in/grebler

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