MUSIC lovers do not typically go to the opera to buy a speaker. But at the Palais Garnier in Paris they now can: Devialet, a local maker of high-end speakers, on November 29th opened a store in the 19th-century music venue to sell its most sophisticated product, called Phantom. Looking like a dinosaur egg, this supercomputer for sound (priced at $3,000) is considered one of the best wireless speakers available. It also comes with a dedicated streaming service for live performances, including some at the Palais Garnier.
This Phantom at the opera is the latest example of how digital technology is transforming speakers, headsets and other audio devices. Once mostly tethered to hi-fi systems, they are now wireless, increasingly intelligent and capable of supporting other services. As a result, the industry’s economics are changing.
Only a few years ago the audio industry was highly fragmented, says Simon Bryant of Futuresource, a market-research firm. Hundreds of brands offered their wares, both premium and basic, often with identical components. As with other device businesses, the industry was a “vertical” one: if speakers used any software at all, it was specific to the product.
All this started to change with the advent of smartphones, which made music more portable by connecting music-streaming services such as Spotify with wireless speakers. Smartphones have also given a boost to headphones, which are becoming ever more versatile, with features now ranging from cancelling out ambient noise to real-time translation.
These new possibilities have proved hugely popular: the global market for audio devices has rocketed in recent years. According to Futuresource, only about 200,000 wireless speakers were sold in 2009; this year the number is expected to be 70m. Headphones have been on a similar tear.
Smartspeakers, which were pioneered in 2015 by Amazon with the Echo, will be even more disruptive. Nearly 24m of these devices, essentially voice-controlled remote controls for everything from music to lights, will be sold worldwide in 2017, estimates Strategy Analytics, another market researcher—a number it expects to quadruple by 2022. Once households have one, they buy more to spread them throughout their homes (apparently nearly a tenth now live in bathrooms).
Source： the Economist