Whatever happened to the pricey home entertainment system and its big, bold speakers?
In ways both large and small, digital music and streaming media have transformed how consumers listen to music and watch movies and television. The rise of platforms such as Apple iTunes, Pandora and Spotify — fueled largely by the ubiquity of tablets and smartphones that serve as portable radio stations and movie theaters — is feeding a burgeoning appetite for Bluetooth and wireless speakers, according to research firm Euromonitor.
Simultaneously, the shift to streaming media has led to another quiet revolution. The home audio system concept — featuring bulky high fidelity (hi-fi) speakers and other assorted equipment that could easily costs thousands of dollars — has been reshaped into something more compact and less expensive. Euromonitor data showed that hi-fi retail volume sales tumbled by 21 percent last year, to 714,000 units.
While there's still a market for traditional sound systems, the landscape is increasingly dominated by wireless technology that powers smaller, portable and cheaper components that give audiophiles more bang for their buck. So how did we get from there to here?
"Technology is really catching up," Santiago Carvajal, director of Bose's SoundTouch division, told CNBC in a recent interview. "Customers can have beautiful speakers without complicated racks and components, and delivers what you always wanted, which is great sounding music."
Bose, which competes with the likes of Sony, Sonos and Beats by Dre, recently rolled out the SoundTouch 10, a wireless speaker that has a retail price of $200 that can be operated from a tablet or smartphone. Although the device is approximately the size of a small book, the SoundTouch's playback abilities can easily fill a room.
Underscoring the growing power of streaming media, the SoundTouch can be operated with a mobile app, and the device itself directly accesses platforms like Spotify, Pandora, SiriusXM and iHeart Radio, among others.
"For this market to really take off it needs to be simple. If there's any complexity involved, the mass consumer will not adopt it," Carvajal said.
Much like the iPod, which endeared itself to the masses with its sleek style and easy functionality, "…technologies have to evolve to develop a new level of simplicity," he added.