Every February, the statisticians at GfK total up the amount of consumer electronics sold in the previous year. Recently, these annual briefings have been grim reading for those of us in the hi-fi industry, seeing much of what we hold dear disappear into a world of smartphones. But this year, for once, things are very different. While huge growth is not on the map, neither are marked downturns.
Although consumer confidence is up for the first time since the start of the Credit Crunch, many sectors of the consumer electronics world have seen significant falls in sales. Some of this is due to replacement cycles: Those who bought their flatscreen TV in the last decade are still some years from upgrading (although sales of 50"+ flat TVs were increasing, price erosion means they cost less than a 32" TV of five years ago). But some is down to potentially irreversible trends in buying habits: the compact camera market has dropped by almost 75% in four years, thanks to its functionality being almost totally handed over to smartphones.
In contrast, audio is holding its own, in terms of volume and value. Amplifiers (as distinct from home theatre receivers) are selling more, and the turntable market is virtually twice what it was a year ago. Meanwhile the headphone world has awoken from its 2013 slumbers and is back to rude health once more. And then there are network audio devices, sales of which have increased significantly. Although much of this increased market can be placed firmly at the door of one brand (Sonos), more upmarket devices from Linn and Naim have begun to make their mark, too.
In truth, the overall audio market is proving extremely static, meaning growth in some sectors of audio comes at the expense of drops in other sectors. But, at a time where almost everything else with a plug or batteries is looking a little shaky, 'static' is good. Almost.
The world of digital audio has perhaps most significantly changed in recent years. While CD is not to be counted out yet, there are a plethora of different forms of post-CD digital audio springing up, which is why we have decided to dedicate our next issue to trying to decode the latest in digital audio technology. If you still think Tidal is a washing powder and Spotify is a treatment for acne, look out for issue 122!
2015 is certainly looking good for the two lucky winners of our most recent competitions. Congratulations go to Peter Wilmott of Northamptonshire, UK, who wins the excellent Audiodesksysteme Vinyl Cleaner and to Jan Moravec from Prague in the Czech Republic, who wins the outstanding Peachtree Audio Nova220SE.