The hi-fi industry is on its knees, or so I had thought. That may be true for traditional home stereos; but at a gadget briefing for UK press yesterday I saw more audio stands and stands highlighting audio products than I can recall. The themes: headgear (both headphones and earbuds) and wireless speakers.
As an example, Cygnett was highlighting its noise cancelling headphones and various earbuds, and told me that this is a fast-growing market.
I enjoyed the exotic things more of course, like the Edifier Spinnaker Bluetooth speakers – that little round thing is a wireless remote.
Even more striking are the Opalum wall speakers, like this FLOW.4810 model, with an array of 48 1″ drivers in each active speaker.
You can hang them on your wall like this:
At the other end of the scale, BoomBotix showed its Boombot2 Bluetooth mini attached to the handlebars of a bike; a good way to make yourself unpopular, perhaps, but fun to see.
Canadian speaker company PSB was showing its high-end M4U noise cancelling headphones
I had a quick listen and they sounded good, though it is always hard to tell for sure in a crowded room. Neat feature: a press-button remote on the cable enables an external microphone so you can hear someone talking to you without removing the headphones.
Another company with striking designs was Libratone, showing its Zipp AirPlay portable wireless speakers.
One thing I did not see much of: old-style iPhone / iPod speaker docks that charge while you play. One exhibitor told me that users will think twice about buying docks with physical connectors now that Apple has changed the design and made everything incompatible without an adapter. In any case, wireless is more stylish. Bluetooth seems most favoured, since it is widely compatible; Android is making its mark and Apple-specific devices are becoming less attractive.
Also worth a mention is Urbanista, which showed its stylish headphones and earbuds, though the focus seems more on fashion than sound; like the London earbuds designed, I was told, to look like cuff links.
The home stereo may be dead; but there is still innovation in audio. One factor is that almost any portable device – whether dedicated music player, smartphone or tablet – is capable of producing a high quality signal. Connect to the right headphones or active speakers and the magic begins.