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Posted by Loudspeaker Industry Sourcebook on 08/03/2016

The Future of Mobile Audio

The Future of Mobile Audio

By
Barry Vogel
(Alma International, Association Manager)

When I was 10 years old I got my first portable AM transistor radio. A Viscount 12 transistor “pocket” radio. It went everywhere I went. I even snuck it into school. I love music. This incredible, tiny 9-V powered box enabled me to take my music with me no matter where I went. I was hooked! Thinking back, I chuckle at how badly it actually sounded. Little did I know where my love of music and the ability to take it with me would lead—more than 40 years in the consumer electronics industry with 36 of those years in Mobile Audio.

Mobile audio was originally a narrow definition of the car audio industry. Today, the car audio industry has more or less relinquished exclusive use of the “mobile audio” moniker. Today, “mobile audio” is an exploding universe of technologies and conveniences. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, near-field communications, high-resolution wireless protocols, more efficient power sources, and DSP-controlled microspeakers barely scratch the surface of what is currently forming the mobile landscape.

It is an exciting time in electroacoustics. There are some who call it a “mature” industry. Polite terms describe it as “boring” and not “much going on.” I could not disagree more. The basic science of electroacoustics has remained relatively constant. The implementation, materials, and the way the signal interacts with the transducer is evolving at a dizzying rate allowing tiny, efficient transducers to perform amazing acoustical magic. The really exciting part? We haven’t even scratched the surface of the possibilities yet. With the wireless audio industry on track to exceed $38.5 billion by 2022, “The Future of Mobile Audio” is bright indeed.

Figures 1–4 provide a good representation of where we are as an industry, and where we are going. Figure 1 shows the more traditional loudspeaker market is relatively flat, but stable. Non-branded audio is experiencing modest growth, while branded audio is quite flat.


Figure 1: The more traditional loudspeaker market is relatively flat, but stable. Non-branded audio is experiencing modest growth, while branded audio is quite flat.


Figure 2 shows the growth rate for connected audio devices continues to grow. Figure 3 shows the wireless audio market will continue to grow exponentially through the year 2020. Figure 4 shows the growth rates for premium automotive audio products from 2008 to 2017.

While traditional car audio is no longer the center of the Mobile Audio universe, there are reasons for optimism as the highest growth rates are in premium branded systems. Renewed interest in “sound quality” and improved resolution of electronic media has sparked consumer interest in upgraded sound in vehicles. So far the growth is heavily centered in the OEM sector.


Figure 2: It comes as no surprise that the growth rate in connected audio devices is dynamic and still accelerating as more and more people from a varied array of demographics are embracing connected technology in all aspects of life.



Figure 3: The melding of analog transducers and digital electronics will continue to be a major driver in market growth as consumers embrace quality audio wherever desired, without the wires.


I asked the Board of Directors of the Association of Loudspeaker Manufacturing & Acoustics (ALMA) International to share their views on “The Future of Mobile Audio.” The ALMA Board has a mix of engineering, sales, and management knowledge that can bring a diverse set of perspectives to this article.


Figure 4: While traditional car audio is no longer the center of the Mobile Audio universe, there are reasons for optimism as the highest growth rates are in premium branded systems. Renewed interest in “sound quality” and improved resolution of electronic media has sparked consumer interest in upgraded sound in vehicles. So far the growth is heavily centered in the OEM sector.


Jerry McNutt, Eminence Loudspeaker

Mobile Audio…….Head’n Down a New Road. When I hear Mobile Audio, I used to think car audio. Hey, I am a product of the ‘80’s car stereo wars, so “Mobile Audio” takes me down that old road to many a great memories of wiring an amplifier in a friend’s car, installing some new dash speakers, or even installing a then unheard of reserve power capacitor bank in the trunk of a competition car…….ah, the good old daze….and I do mean daze. It was a time of sound on the go, tickets for disturbing the peace, and a lot of fast learning……it flew by.

These days, Mobile Audio means a lot more to me. Yes, it still means car stereo, but also so much more—ear buds, headphones, in-ear monitors, MP3 players, and high-resolution audio players. Also, cell phones and tablet computers come to mind. All ways that folks take music with them and enjoy it. Transducers that stick on walls or sit on desks to make them into “speakers” also come to mind along with wearable speakers. These days, folks demand that their music be portable, personal, and easy to use.    

I think Mobile Audio is alive and well, it just moves around differently than it used to. I heard a familiar thump, thump, thump coming down the street the other day and I looked to see what car it was coming from. It was a motorcycle with subwoofers in the saddle bags; the rider looked at me and smiled. That is what it is all about.

Jacob Soendergaard, Head acoustics

The future of audio holds a great deal of promise. As consumers, I think we realize it too. We’re in the midst of an acoustic revolution. Everybody is more concerned with the acoustic space they’re in than ever before. Think about how automotive companies are spending their advertising (and research) dollars: Bluetooth hands-free connection, multi-speaker sound systems, immerse sound—oh, and the engine note is fantastic too. High-end appliances are being marketed as quiet enough to not interrupt dinner conversations or providing movies in the living room (and yes, some of them still clean the dishes).

Architects are paying more attention to the acoustic properties of the spaces—either directly through dimensional design or by active systems. Examples of how audio products are becoming lifestyle products and vice versa are countless—and encouraging. Jinsop Lee made a convincing argument, at a TED talk in 2013, to design for all the senses, thereby making products that much more appealing. If it smells, feels, tastes, looks, and sounds delightful, chances are you will truly enjoy the product.

In many ways, I see parallels to the slow decline and phasing out of smoking in public spaces and social consciousness. Noise is aggressively being attacked by designers, architects, and engineers with the end goal being not being complete silence, rather a pleasing sonic environment for all.

For those in the loudspeaker industry, that obviously opens a lot of possibilities for product or knowledge exchange with new and growing markets. That’s a big reason to be hopeful. In the grand scheme of things, audio and acoustic know-how sits with a very small group of individuals. The audio world is evolving to a more mobile, individual, and instantaneous environment. It’ll be exciting to see how that space is occupied 5 to 10 years from now.

Reggie Alphin, Globe Composites

In today’s evolution of technology, many industries have seen the transition from bigger to smaller and slower to faster. The audio industry is no different. As with computing, we in the sound industry have seen a movement to mobile audio. Whether it be in hand, in car, or in ear, the movement is upon us to make it better and smaller. The innovation must come from materials and processes to keep up with the growing trend.

This is why ALMA International has decided to focus on “The Future of Mobile Audio” for our upcoming ALMA International Symposium & Expo (AISE) 2017 show. This focus will bring industry experts together to discuss how we can stay abreast of information and technology to move the industry ahead of the growing trends so that we can help improve the sound of music in a mobile society. Please mark the date on your calendars to be a part of the information exchange at the AISE 2017. AISE will take place on January 3-4, 2017 in Las Vegas, NV. Just before International CES 2017.

Final Thoughts

Predicting the future is a favorite pastime for many of us. The science behind the electrodynamic transducer has remained essentially unchanged since 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell put it in the first telephone. There have been many technological and material improvements to be sure, but the electromechanical driver works on the same basic concepts as the original. New technologies and continuing development in existing technologies promise that the art and science of sound reproduction may eventually transcend the way we listen to audio in the future. From my perspective, I believe the future of mobile audio is dynamic and exciting, and I can’t wait to hear what the next generation of innovations will bring to the industry. LIS