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Key Audio Trends to Expect in 2020

Audio Market Analysis and Commentary

13 Nov 2019 - The world of audio is in ascendance, with renewed consumer interest and a groundswell of technological innovation from couch to car. As 2020 looms, the growth curve continues to track upwards, and a new report from Futuresource Consulting reveals the key trends that are expected to shape the audio market next year.

Quantity and Quality Combined

The decades-long rise of portable digital audio has not only made audio content accessible everywhere, it has focused on convenience over quality. Yet, the widespread success of lossy formats like MP3, OGG and AAC, may start to feel the squeeze as audio manufacturers and streaming services begin to use quality as a differentiator in an increasingly competitive landscape. Futuresource expects the increased use of high-quality lossless formats such as FLAC, as they begin to move mainstream.

“Although high resolution audio streaming has been available for years from the likes of Tidal and Qobuz, uptake has been low,” says Alexandre Jornod, Market Analyst at Futuresource Consulting. “However, Amazon’s recent launch of a high-quality audio streaming service may represent a watershed moment for Hi-Res Audio. With over 50 million songs in CD quality and millions in Hi-Res, Amazon Music HD could be the beginning of a high-quality audio land grab. Combine this with its launch of the Echo Studio smart speaker, designed to play HD content, the internet giant could steal a march on the competition. Look out for responses from Apple and its newly rebranded Apple Digital Masters, and Spotify, which previously rejected the idea, though it may have a change of heart in 2020.

“In the mobile arena, new wireless codecs and innovative file reducing technologies are poised to play a central role in delivering high-quality audio content to smartphones and wireless headsets. The launch of Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive and Sony’s LDAC Bluetooth codecs now allow Bluetooth devices to play higher audio quality files. Coupled with cheaper mobile data and increased speeds due to 5G rollout, high quality audio content consumption could soon become a mass market reality.”

Automotive Accelerates at Last

While the automotive industry has been historically slow to embrace the latest consumer electronics innovations, due to long design and product lifecycles, significant innovations are now primed and ready to disrupt in-car audio.

“Car manufacturers are shifting from being suppliers of products to being suppliers of experiences,” says Jornod. “They are integrating more technologies, whether aimed at providing services and information, improving the driving experience or enhancing passenger entertainment. As with mobile, 5G connectivity will substantially improve car connectivity by increasing the speed and stability of connections and allowing the implementation of multiple innovations and developments. As streaming services pervade the car, radio will need to fight back with its own innovations or lose its lucrative foothold.”

Improvements in connectivity will also open the gates to next generation voice assistants, using hybrid processing. This will combine the benefits of on-board processing, speed and consistent coverage, with the breadth and scale of cloud processing. Watch out for improvements in on-chip processing that will enable advanced conversational abilities, in contrast to the limited commands handled by the on-board processing fitted to cars since the 1980s.

Tech Companies Muscle in on Headphones

As voice has pervaded the home with smart speakers, a similar trend is emerging in the headphones market, and is on track to reach critical mass in 2020. Tech companies have invested heavily in virtual assistants on-the-move, through in-ear true wireless headphones, with Apple among the first to market in late 2016.

Furthermore, the recent launch of Amazon’s, Google’s and Apple’s next generation of true wireless earbuds, as well as the introduction of wake words enabling hands-free access to virtual assistants, is likely to help establish the big three at the forefront of this strategic segment, predicted to account for 43% of global headphone shipments in 2023.

These are just some of the ways that the consumer audio landscape will change in 2020 and beyond. The findings above are taken from our ongoing audio analysis. For more information, please contact Leon Morris via leon.morris@futuresource-hq.com

About Us

Here at Futuresource Consulting we deliver specialist research and consulting services, providing market forecasts and intelligence reports. Since the 1980s we have supported a range of industry sectors, which has grown to include: CE, Broadcast, Entertainment Content, EdTech and many more.