Audio Divinations for 1998, Part Three
7) "Breakthrough" speaker technologies still don't dent the high-end market.
1997 saw the emergence of some radical, highly publicized new speaker designs. First we were enticed with the Flatland products from NXT, and then the hypersonic wonders from ATC hit the press. But follow-up evaluations, though confirming that the devices make sound, haven't convinced us that they're ready for primetime quite yet. Our prediction is that NXT will get to market once they optimize their products, but we're not sure that ATC will really pull it off.
8) Computer sonics improve at a blistering pace.
If you thought home theater was defocusing tweak audio, just wait till you see what the computer does to it in '98. There are now multiple reasons for the average computer user to want better sound from their PC---if you've played the game Riven on a computer hooked up to a high-end audio system, you know what we mean. Expect the market for upgrading computer sound to evolve rapidly in 1998, driven by the internet, games, DVD-related media, Intel, Microsoft, and 1394 (FireWire).
9) No major high-end audio company mergers.
Unlike just about every other type of high-tech business out there, tweak audio companies would rather die than mate. Of course, there are a few loose A/V enterprises---Harman International comes to mind---but the general approach is still "stay out of my garage." The musical-chairs mania practiced by founders and key employees will continue unabated, however.
10) More consumers begin to purchase audio products online.
It started with CDs, but now expect to see audio hardware doing serious commerce via the internet in 1998. Audio Advisor already reports significant online sales, and the web has become a hot distribution channel for used gear. We don't envision hard-core audiophiles buying speakers this way yet, but a no-risk online offer to try some interconnects or a DVD transport may be just the ticket.