5G and smart speakers to bolster connected audio market in 2023


Consumers like what they hear when it comes to the latest audio technologies, reports Steve May.

When it comes to connected audio, you ain’t seen nothing yet! According to industry analyst Futuresource Consulting, the market will continue to expand in 2023, as 5G improves internet connections and enhances the consumer listening experience.

The stand-mounted Q Active 200

The smart speaker is now the most popular home audio product. The latest Futuresource market survey reveals 40 per cent (of those surveyed) owned at least one, with Amazon dominating. Over 60 per cent of smart speaker owners have at least one Alexa device.

Buyers are also pivoting towards higher quality audio, in the form of lossless and spatial audio, both promoted by Apple Music and Amazon. This could in turn foster a taste for high-end Hi-Fi, says Futuresource. Industry experts agree.

“It may not feel like it in the current economic climate, but market commentators are predicting continuing growth for the Wireless Audio Device market, more than doubling in size between 2021 and 2026,” Alex Munro, Brand Director at Q-Acoustics, tells ERT.

This boom is being driven by the ever-increasing focus on smartphones as a source of entertainment, he says, and the sheer convenience of wireless technology.

“People are buying for convenience, escaping from the requirement of connecting cables and connectors – but in any market, there is always an upmarket quest for audio and design excellence and that is our focus. Q Acoustics greatly prefers reproducing music and TV sound in full stereo, with at least two discrete speakers, and we want to offer as many high-resolution product options as we can to the end user!”

The Q-Acoustics E120

So what hardware would Mr Munro highlight to retailers looking to energise sales of audio products in 2023?

“When it comes to premium wireless systems for their home, the custom install option is often overlooked, especially when renovating,” he says, offering his brand’s in-wall Bluetooth wireless system, the E120, as an easy-to-install option. “Its discreet, zero clutter design will appeal to many homeowners looking for even more convenience.”

But it would be a mistake for retailers to just focus on streaming music, he cautions. “An increase in TV watching habits means these systems need to deliver superior TV sound and act as a reliable soundbar replacement too.”

Q Acoustics actually offers two high-performance wi-fi-enabled active speakers – the stand-mounted Q Active 200 and floor standing Q Active 400. Both allow connection to a TV, along with a host of other analogue and digital sources, and both feature BMR drivers able to disperse sound 180 degrees. Wherever you sit, you’ll always be in the sweet spot.

Roger Batchelor, UK Product Specialist at Sound United, parent of Denon and Marantz, predicts dealers can expect improved apps and voice control over the next year, to complement advancements in music streaming quality, in particular high-resolution audio. “The result will be a faster, more free-flowing user experience, and these will continue to evolve and develop going forward,” he says.

The floor-standing Q Active 400

Mr Batchelor promises even greater focus on Denon wireless speakers that use the Heos Networking platform in 2023. The kit won’t break the bank either, with prices for Denon Home speakers starting from around £219.

“Consumers need to see they are getting value so it’s important to offer wireless systems that have different functions without compromising on performance and meet several lifestyle scenarios,” says Mr Munro.

“Systems like the Q-Acoustics M20 HD Bluetooth powered speakers, where the amplifier is built-in, provide a convenient first step on the hi-fi ladder, as well as a main system when space is at a premium. It delivers stunning wireless high-res stereo audio for music, movies and gaming and can be perched on a shelf, desktop or speaker stands.”

According to Futuresource, the headphone market is currently split between True Wireless and wired in-ear models. The two styles have the highest ownership rate, with 31 per cent per camp.

So has their success eroded the traditional hi-fi separates market? Mr Munro doesn’t believe so.

“There is a small amount of overlap, but we see them as two separate markets,” he says. “Most of the headphone usage is mobile, when people are travelling or exercising. When they get home and relax they want to remove their headphones, settle down and connect their smartphone or tablet to a home sound system.”