It’s all done without wires… At this year’s IFA, Audio-Technica launched its new premium wireless Bluetooth ATH-AR5BT headphones (pictured) and expanded its CKR range with three wireless Bluetooth models – the ATH-CKR75BT, ATH-CKR55BT and ATH-CKR35BT. Sean Hannam spoke to Audio-Technica Europe’s marketing manager for consumer audio, Alistair Orr, and sounded him out about the latest trends in headphones and turntables and how it’s working with its retailers
Q: The last time we spoke was 12 months ago – at IFA 2016. How’s business a year on?
Alistair Orr: We’ve seen growth in our turntables and accessories categories – more than we thought would happen. It’s been a very strong year for our headphone business – off the back of our turntable presence and the greater brand equity that we’ve achieved in the UK.
In our headphone range, there’s been a shift to Bluetooth. We only bring out headphones when we’re confident about the sound quality, which is why we’ve perhaps been slower to the Bluetooth headphone market than others have. It shows our confidence in the wireless offering that we’ve got.
Q: Is the high-resolution audio message getting through to consumers?
AO: We’ve heard strong things from our merchandising agencies – the demand for hi-res audio compatibility is growing.
Customers need to have an experience in-store that shows them why it’s worth the investment. We’ve seen a shift to premium portable headphones.
Q: One of the big trends at IFA this year was smart speakers. Will these products help to boost the wireless headphone market?
AO: I think it may happen to a degree. It’s increasing the adoption rate of wireless audio, which can only benefit the adoption of wireless headphones. I think it’s about confidence.
In-store it’s good to demonstrate our Bluetooth AT-LP60 turntable with our Bluetooth headphones.
Q: Wireless in-ear headphones were also one of the big trends at IFA….
AO: Sport and the trend for fitness has really helped the shift to wireless in-ear, but people also appreciate the sound step-up and the isolation from using over-ear headphones.
Personally, I think there’s a requirement for customers to have a range of headphones for multiple applications. It’s personal preference, but wireless in-ear is a heavy requirement – you can see it across the board from other manufacturers. There’s an investment in the wireless in-ear form factor.
‘Customers need to have an experience in-store that shows them why it’s worth investing in hi-res’
Q: Earlier this year, you launched the more affordable AT-LP3 turntable, which retails for £199. The vinyl revival is obviously helping your business…
AO: Yes and when combined with the fantastic What Hi-Fi? five-star review… To be honest it caught us by surprise slightly. We knew it was a great turntable, but we didn’t know how it would be accepted in the marketplace. It has got a number of advanced features, particularly the switchable moving magnet and moving coil.
We’re seeing an increase in the amount of space given to the [turntable] category by some of our key accounts. There’s a level of confidence that this resurgence will continue.
Obviously there are customers who are trying to get into vinyl for the collecting aspect, but we’re seeing there’s a willingness to step up from the entry-level market.
We were founded in 1962 – we’ve always been in the market and we have no intention of leaving it. We’re trying to grow with the customer base that are already into analogue, but also those new customers who want to try it out and stick with it.
Our VM series of cartridges and our range of accessories, including record brushes, are starting to be picked up to a greater degree by retailers. Those retailers are realising there’s a greater need for replacement styli and for people to experiment with the sound of different types of cartridge.
Q: Do you work with independent retailers?
AO: We’ve always had a strong independent base – particularly with the hi-fi/audiophile perception that we have.
Q: How are you working with retailers to display your products in-store?
AO: We’re probably doing more than Audio-Technica has ever done in the UK – we’re working with merchandisers to ensure that training is happening with certain key accounts. It’s important for us to select accounts that we see as a correct fit for the brand.