Wireless audio grows, while hi-fi suffers

Audio hardware sales continued to outpace the wider consumer electronics market, growing 28 per cent in Q4, new figures have revealed.

Global sales in the fourth quarter grew year on year to $10.2 billion (£8.1bn), according to data from research company Futuresource Consulting.

“This resounding Q4 performance underscores a record-breaking year for audio hardware sales, clearly demonstrating how recent advances in the market are really connecting with consumers,” said Rasika D’Souza, a senior market analyst at Futuresource.

Growth in the home audio (33 per cent) and headphones (24 per cent) categories was also found to be pushing the market forward, with continued growth forecast in 2017.

According to Futuresource, smartphone uptake and the popularity of music streaming services are continuing to drive this market growth, as well as being boosted by the launch of Amazon’s Echo and Dot in more countries, the US launch of Google Home and widespread consumer adoption of wireless headphones.

“Our Q4 figures show that Echo and Dot sales are surging forward, accounting for around 30 per cent of wireless speaker sales in the US and seizing 34 per cent of the category’s sales in the UK,” said Zlata Jelisejeva, research analyst at Futuresource. “Additionally, Apple’s decision to remove the 3.5mm headphone jack accelerated wireless headphone sales and boosted the wider market, with wireless representing 49 per cent of US headphone sales in Q4.”

In the wireless speaker category, Amazon moved up from fifth position in Q1-Q3 2016 to become the number-two brand in Q4 for the number of units shipped worldwide.

The wireless speaker segment remained highly concentrated, with a few top brands accounting for nearly half of all unit sales.

However, despite strong overall performance from the sector, a number of sub-categories are beginning to shrink or rapidly slow down. Hi-fi systems, loudspeakers, separates and soundbars were among the losers in 2016, although audio growth elsewhere is eclipsing this downturn.

“As the world of audio revolves and consumers make their increasingly discerning choices, new technologies, software, content and fashion trends all play their part in the performance,” added Ms D’Souza. “The world is changing. Ten years ago, the audio market was dominated by vendors from Japan and Philips, whereas now we see the likes of Bose, Beats (Apple), Harman and Sonos, as well as Sony, jostling for position among the leading five. Watch out for key developments in voice personal assistant (VPA) speakers and wireless – and true wireless – headphones as the market surges forward. The winners will be the brands that continue to delight and deliver.”