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Consumers Demand Better Sound Quality from their Tech

Audio Consumer Market Insights and Commentary

Music and audio technology continue to play central roles in the lives of consumers, with smart and wireless speakers, headphones and soundbars all vying for attention. And while consumers are buying into audio tech, they are also looking to the future and craving products with superior audio quality. That is according to a new Audio Tech Lifestyles consumer survey from Futuresource Consulting, carried out during June 2020, which explores the behaviours, purchase motivators and future intentions of more than 10,000 consumers across the USA, UK, Germany, Japan and China. This includes how lockdown may have influenced consumer behaviour and existing technology requirements.

Sound quality is a Rising Concern for Smart Speaker Users

When it comes to smart speakers, music continues to dominate smart speaker usage in a similar way as in 2019. However, the research found that older demographics also engage a lot with their smart speaker to get news and weather updates. Above all, what really stood out from the findings was the expectations respondents had around their chosen smart speaker, especially in relation to sound quality.

“More than half of smart speaker owners that we interviewed said they want better sound quality,” says Alexandre Jornod, Market Analyst at Futuresource Consulting. “A similar number also told us they would be willing to pay more for it. That’s an interesting consumer manoeuvre in a market that has been dominated by affordable smart speakers from market leaders Amazon and Google.”

Privacy concerns however continue to hold back smart speaker uptake, with a sizeable share of respondents not willing to consider a smart speaker for this reason, especially amongst older demographics. Their main concerns are related to how tech companies collect and use the data from smart speakers but also the apprehension of being listened to by these companies.

Streaming is No Stranger to the Rise in Audio Quality Expectation

The quest for high quality audio has also filtered through into streaming services, with over 40% of streaming service users saying that they want better audio quality, and more than half of them willing to pay up to an additional $3 per month to get it.

“These new findings are very much in tune with the current developments happening within the streaming market, especially following the launch of Amazon HD,” says Jornod.

Another interesting finding from the research related to streaming is on podcasts and their impact on music consumption. “Contrary to what we could have thought, podcasts don’t seem to be cannibalising music consumption, with over 80% of podcast listeners saying that they consume the same amount or more music as a result of listening to podcasts,” says Jornod.

Headphone Users Seek Out Premium Features

Headphones and especially true wireless devices are now more than just music listening devices - a trend that reflects what consumers expect from their headphones. Despite high sound quality being by far the most expected by respondents, premium features such as noise cancellation or microphone call quality also ranked high in importance.

“The impact of lockdown is likely to have influenced these findings, especially for microphone quality, which has become an important part of how consumers interact with these devices, notably when calling friends and family or during work meetings,” says Jornod.

With the domination of tech brands within the true wireless segment, especially in the case of Apple, how much room is left for traditional audio brands? Amongst respondents considering to buy true-wireless headphones, over half confirmed that they are likely to purchase the same brand as their smartphone, with this share even stronger amongst iOS users and younger demographics as they trust that it will work better with their devices and offer additional features. Despite Apple being the most considered brand for true wireless headphones in most markets, audio brands such as Bose, Beats and Sony also ranked near the top.

Soundbars Used for More Than Just Watching TV

With regards to soundbar usage, the research found that an important number of soundbar owners, in addition to using their device to watch TV and movies, also use it to listen to audio content even when their TV is turned off.

“With their prime spot placement under the TV and their decent sound quality, soundbars are becoming more than just devices to watch TV or movies; they are increasingly used as standard wireless speakers, especially amongst millennials,” says Jornod.

A Changing Audio Retail Landscape

As world governments begin to slowly relax social isolation and lockdown measures associated with COVID-19, people’s approaches to retail are changing. Around a third of those surveyed are planning to return to physical stores to buy their audio products, while another third has become accustomed to buying online during lockdown and will continue to buy this way once lockdown has lifted. The remaining quarter of respondents were already purchasing their audio products online before lockdown and have no intention of changing their behaviour.

For more information on the Futuresource Audio Tech Lifestyles consumer survey, contact Leon Morris via

Date Published:

Alexandre Jornod

About the author

Alexandre Jornod

Alexandre is the lead analyst for the music market. He is notably responsible for researching and reporting on the developments in the music streaming market. Alex is also involved in projects within the audio sector, with a focus on the luxury market as well as on high-resolution and immersive audio technologies.

Prior to Futuresource, Alexandre has worked in the music industry, leading the relationships with streaming services at a record label and a distribution company. He holds a Bachelor in Sound Engineering as well as an MA in Music Business Management and MSc in Management.

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