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Trends in Hi-Fi and audio – Now and in the future

Trends in Hi-Fi and audio- This article discussed in detail the trends of Hi-Fi audio currently and what it could be in the future.
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Trends in Hi-Fi and audio: in last year’s trends article on audio and hi-fi you will not find anything about factories in Asia that had to close, logistics chains that came to a standstill or shops that had to work at half speed (or even temporarily close the door). So we had not foreseen that big trend. 2020 turned out to be a tough and difficult year for everyone, we shouldn’t tell you that. But despite everything, there were points of light. Many brands and stores have told us that many consumers have found their way to better audio products. Televisions also sold well. Maybe because all that sitting at home encouraged listening to music and binge-watching TV series? Some people may have noticed for the first time that the sound from that little Bluetooth speaker in the kitchen was really bad. Let’s hope we all learn from this period that quality is important.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea if the industry were to use a little more ‘sustainability’ as an asset. It may well be a point to which there is now more sensitivity. A plus with audio products and hi-fi is that those products last a very long time. Then why not play this out? There are people who do decades with a few speakers. That is in stark contrast to smartphones, printers and many other electronic devices, which, despite sometimes sky-high price tags, have become almost disposable products. In that sense, hi-fi is really green.

Trends in Hi-Fi and audio – Food for class D enthusiasts

Many new amplifiers of all types appeared this year. But when we talk about the buzz level, an introduction is head and shoulders above it: Purifi’s EigenTakt enhancement. This is partly due to good marketing and the background of this class D technology. After all, one of the inventors is the Belgian Bruno Putzeys, who can count on a lot of respect thanks to excellent audio products and a no-nonsense style. His previous invention, nCore, is featured in a range of acclaimed amplifiers from multiple brands, including NAD and Marantz. The new EigenTakt modules represent the next step in Putzeys’ fight against distortion and are, according to some, the ultimate proof that Class D is in no way inferior to other amplifier technologies. It did NAD – which was the first to get started with the technology – no harm. Both the M33 like the C 298 have been extremely well received. In 2021 you can expect even more excitement around Purifi. The EigenTakt modules will pop up at more brands, there will probably be reactions from other angles and Purifi itself is working on active speakers.

Trends in Hi-Fi and audio – HDMI

Until recently, ‘HDMI’ was a term that was only used in conversations around TVs. In the hi-fi world you hardly found a device with such a connection. This reflected the implicit belief among many that listening to music could not be combined with better TV sound. It took a long time, but in the end the industry realized that for a certain group of consumers this dichotomy does not exist. For them, there must be an audio solution in the living room that plays music and takes care of TV sound. They then bought a soundbar. Part of the hi-fi industry looked at it and grumbled about how the general public no longer has an appreciation for sound quality. Of course, that is not a way to entice people you hope will buy your products. We will immediately add that some brands always saw it differently. A Linn or Naim, for example, has been offering HDMI inputs on stereo products for years.

Fortunately, that view of living room sound is disappearing from the industry. More and more high-quality stereo amplifiers with HDMI inputs are appearing. This brings some technical challenges (HDMI is not an ideal carrier for digital audio), but Arcam with its SA-30, Denon with the DRA-800H, Sonos with the Amp and NAD with the M33 put stereo music playback first and offer a good TV sound experience. Because that is also something that we have noticed in countless tests: although surround is still the ultimate in films, ‘real’ stereo from two separate speakers is also quite nice.

Trends in Hi-Fi and audio – eARC

Speaking of HDMI, this year also saw the introduction of HDMI 2.1 devices and a move to eARC. This is the successor to HDMI-ARC or Audio Return Channel. It is the technology that ensures that the sound from your TV (for example from the Netflix app) ‘flows back’ to the audio device via the HDMI cable. It works in conjunction with HDMI-CEC, the standard that regulates how TVs and audio devices talk to each other, for example when you change the volume with your TV remote.

HDMI-ARC usually worked, but there were always some instances where it just didn’t work as it should. Sometimes the connection was lost, the synchronization of the sound with the image went wrong or the audio device did not switch on together with the television, that kind of thing. eARC promises to solve all those problems. In addition, it can also carry the lossless versions of Dolby Atmos and DTS: X.

HDMI 2.1 is especially relevant for gamers at the moment. They were spoiled this year with the PS5 and Xbox One X (well, if they could find one). Consoles are sometimes forgotten when it comes to sound, but these devices contain groundbreaking audio technology for 3D sound. Wondering if this will also make gamers think about real surround setups. Headsets are extremely popular with that group, but CoD: Warfare or Cyberpunk 2077 on a surround setup is a lot more powerful.

Streaming continues to grow

Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube Music are more popular than ever. But what about the audio gear side? There was a time when manufacturers tried to develop their own app that integrated services. But that is a difficult task. In addition, there are users who prefer to use a certain streaming technology, such as AirPlay. There is no easy solution, nor is there a good choice. The way out seems to be supporting multiple general streaming options (AirPlay 2 and Chromecast) in addition to possibly its own app and Roon. Bluetooth acts as a fallback option, albeit at the expense of sound quality. The benefit of AirPlay 2 and Chromecast is that manufacturers also immediately enable voice control and multiroom use.

The power of Roon

Without a doubt, Roon is an audiophile thing. Without detracting from the great quality and experience of this music software, but: only convincing music lovers pay an annual amount of 150 euros plus a subscription to Tidal or Qobuz to play their songs. But that certainly does not mean that you as an audio manufacturer can ignore Roon. Roon’s ‘power’ was strikingly demonstrated over the past year when the software company lost patience with certain audio brands. More specifically, with the manufacturers who do want to stick Roon Ready on their products, but do not want to obtain the necessary certification. This certification indicates that Roon has tested the device and that it is one hundred percent compatible with the software. That is why Roon decided to make devices without certification that were purchased after 20 September 2020 no longer operable from the software (if you used the device before that date, it continued to work). In this way the company wanted to encourage manufacturers to complete lengthy certification applications. That seemed to work well. Both in the run-up to the deadline and shortly afterwards, various manufacturers quickly took the necessary steps to obtain their certification. There were even a number of products that had appeared in Roon as ‘non-certified’ for more than a year. Problem solved, it seems. And it is clear who is boss.

Are events done?

Not every music lover is concerned about the events taking place in the hi-fi world. However, they do play an important role, both the large international fairs and the local events with which dealers give people the opportunity to listen to new products. You should not underestimate the importance of such local shows in stores. In many niches, even with large purchases, you cannot really try out the product in advance. Maybe you can do a tour around the bike shop beforehand on that expensive sports bike and you can usually only really try out that expensive TV at home, but that is usually it. In the hi-fi world it is customary that there are times when you can listen extensively to equipment and speakers of many hundreds and thousands of euros. Many shops also do their very best to make such a show interesting and fun. It remains a sales moment, but by the standards of the large, fast retail, it is more relaxed and relaxed. It is difficult to imagine that this will really change, those shows in stores are just too important for that. Although smart traders will supplement those physical events with an online component.

But what about major international shows? The top hifi are the High End in Munich and the Audio Video Show in Warsaw, and in the CI market ISE. But those three are still relatively modest compared to the gigantic exchanges that are IFA, Mobile World Congress and CES. The investment to be there is enormous for a company. Large A brands sometimes spend up to a million euros for a stand. Will they continue to do that after 2020 and the forced switch to virtual events? It remains to be seen as coffee grounds, but there was already a trend among the largest brands to focus on their own events to present large products. Following in the footsteps of Apple, which decided to ignore stock exchanges almost two decades ago. So there is a real chance that the big, general shows will have a hard time or have to downscale.

This danger seems somewhat smaller at the more specialized fairs. The investment to be there is smaller (but the companies that exist have smaller budgets, though) and organizing your own events is more expensive. High End Munich or ISE is also an internal target for many audio companies: “Product X must be ready by then!”. These fairs also play a crucial commercial role. Importers explore the field as they search for another brand, prototypes are shown to insiders, manufacturers talk to their distributors about what they need and what’s coming, and more.

What then do we think is the answer to the question: “Are events done?”. To begin with, we certainly hope not. And local shows don’t die either. But in the case of a single major one (such as CES), the answer will be “maybe” anyway.