Companies are alive with sound of music

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Companies are alive with sound of music

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Left: LG Electronics’ Bluetooth speaker PJ9. Right: 1. Harman subsidiary Mark Levinson’s all-in-one player No. 519, 2. Astell & Kern’s Bluetooth device XB10, 3. Devialet’s amplifier D-Premier, 4. Sony’s Signature Series [EACH COMPANY]

Speakers are seeing a grand comeback to the consumer electronics market as major companies worldwide are preparing to unveil speakers with various functions at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) next week in Las Vegas. Apart from rising popularity among general consumers, speakers are now a significant item for companies to demonstrate their competence in new technologies such as artificial intelligence.

LG Electronics announced on Sunday to unveil at CES a speaker that floats in the air. The model PJ9 is composed of a cylinder-shaped woofer station, which releases low-frequency sound, and a small round Bluetooth speaker that floats 3 centimeters (1.2 inches) above the platform on a magnetic field.

“The floating speaker rotates and sends sound in every direction,” said an LG spokesperson. “Another advantage is that it is free of bumpy noises made by the speaker while playing loud music.”

Samsung Electronics will present a new sound bar.

The company’s Audio Lab, opened in 2014 at Silicon Valley, already showcased new omnidirectional speakers at last year’s CES, and showed off the sound bar HW-K950, which reproduces 3-D sound, at this year’s.

The American audio company Harman, which Samsung Electronics plans to acquire next year, will enter the upcoming exhibit with products by its affiliates Harman Kardon, Mark Levinson and JBL.

Sony’s plan for the CES is to boost promotion of its high-resolution audio (HRA) brand, Signature Series, released last month.

Until recently, speakers were forgotten in the consumer electronics market, partly due to the proliferation of MP3 audio files, which withered the public’s interest in stereo systems. As a result, electronics companies turned to television, starting a war on screen size and high-definition that went on for two decades.

During that time, technology for home television evolved from standard definition through high-definition to ultra-high definition, while audio sound technology fell behind in development.

Another reason for the heated competition in sound quality is based on the companies’ judgement that development for image definition has reached its limit.

In other words, it has developed to a point where improvements are now hardly noticeable with the human eye. This prompted companies to turn their focus to strengthening the audio sector.

“In the current game, where everybody releases high-definition products, the key to differentiating electronics will inevitably move to high-quality sound,” said Oh Hyun-oh, CEO of the audio tech start-up, Gaudio Lab.

The market for home audio devices is expected to grow thanks to the increase of consumers sensitive to sound quality. The U.K.-based firm Futuresource Consulting forecast global home audio sales to grow 52 percent from this year’s 67.6 million units to 102.9 million by 2018.

More consumers are looking for HRA devices capable of playing FLAC and ALAC files, larger in size but better in terms of sound compared to MP3s, which are digitally compressed and therefore suffer from quality loss.

“Consumers who used to select televisions by video definition are now making comparisons based on audio functions, asking whether the speaker is capable of producing high-quality sound,” said Lee Do-young, PR manager of Sony Korea. “HRA products were once considered premium, but they are increasingly becoming more popular amongst the general public.”

Another aspect fueling the competition for audio is its compatibility with information technology such as artificial intelligence and smart cars. The major U.S. IT companies Google and Amazon already presented speaker-based AI products, Google Home and Echo, that play music and controls home devices upon the user’s vocal command.

Samsung Electronics’ acquisition of Harman and Naver’s investment last month in French audio tech company Devialet are also part of this trend.

Apart from hardware, there are signs that audio content is rising as a business field.

Naver’s CEO appointee Han Seong-sook said in a recent press conference that the company will invest “30 billion won ($25 million) in the next three years to develop audio content.”

Examples include conversational cookbooks that respond to users’ questions and audio books that find certain phrases upon the user’s request.


BY LIM MI-JIN, SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]

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