At Futuresource Consulting’s flagship event Audio Collaborative, conversations on the future of audio were abundant. One panel, chaired by Guy Hammett (Head of Home Audio at Futuresource), explored this in detail. Titled ‘The Next Big Thing in Audio’, panellists Julien Bergere (Bang & Olufsen), Sarah Yule (KEF), Rob France (Dolby Atmos), and Marcos Simón (Audioscenic) set to work discussing which technologies developers are focusing on, and importantly, which resonate most consumers.
Hammett wasted no time posing the big question to the panellists. He shared that a macro trend Futuresource is witnessing across its own research is a focus on improved consumer experience, whether that’s new technologies breaking into the market or existing technologies providing better quality audio.
“We’re in an audio-first world at the moment,” began Yule. “Social media channels like Instagram, which were once so visual-led, are now reliant on sound.” She mentioned TikTok as another obvious example of how powerful music can be in connecting people – the cultural significance of audio is painted over every area of society.
“There’s always been the argument of: does the general consumer truly understand what better quality audio is? And I think they do now,” said Yule. Consumers are demanding that more and more. The future for me is about harnessing and enabling more people to access high-fidelity audio.”
“The key is to experience it,” chimed Julien Bergere, Global Portfolio Planning Director at Bang & Olufsen. “It’s important for us as an industry to make sure there are places – hence the importance of good quality, physical retail – to experience this new quality.”
This isn’t just reserved for headphones, but the entire audio spectrum. For home audio, Marcos Simón emphasised the need for both spatial sound and practicality – with both serving to amplify the user experience. He used Apple as a perfect example. So many companies have been pushing spatial audio over the last few years, but when Apple put the technology into earbuds, the technology became extensive. How did they do it?
“Usability”, said Simón. Airpods are convenient – you open the box, put them in your ears, and they work. “That’s extremely powerful for consumers,” he continued. “Home audio system providers need to work towards this – to provide an excellent user experience and immersive audio that works straight out of the box.”
All panellists agreed that educating consumers on quality is paramount. “We can talk about audio as much as we like, but seeing someone experiencing great audio – the smile that comes on their face, the emotion that’s present – it’s the best way of conveying value,” said France.
Of course, some settings lend themselves to demos more than others. Where retail environments prove tricky to demonstrate the nuances between soundbars, for example, a cinema or an automotive is a great place to demonstrate audio subtleties.
This is a telling reason why audio in the car keeps cropping up. Yule mentioned KEF audio’s and Dolby Atmos’ recent work on Lotus’ first all-electric hyper SUV. Because cars are enclosed and shielded from the outside world, they make a perfect environment for demos. That’s why investments are rolling in.
Yule also pointed out that while there are so many technologies that can elevate audio, there’s also simply “good old-fashioned engineering”. For in-car audio, so much of the work comes down to “acoustics design and physics, rather than chips and ICs”. Plus, there’s the fact that there are more speakers in cars than in most home theatre systems. To get high-quality audio to more people, the car is the place to start.
France also discussed personalisation versus the communal experience. So many areas of audio are becoming personalised; for example, dialogue controls and headphones that are more tuned to your own listening environment. Gaming has always been incredibly personal, but this is now changing. Gigs are being held in Fortnite, and the advent of the metaverse will bring more opportunities for new, shared audio experiences. “The audio experiences in gaming are rapidly changing,” said France.
As time goes on, gaming will play an increasingly significant role in home audio. This is due to the emergence of the metaverse and the exciting immersive experiences it promises to offer. In a way, these changes bring us closer to how audio has always been used – as a form of communication and shared experience. Community inevitably enhances our experience of audio. “Think of some of your favourite concerts you’ve ever been to,” says Yule. “Would it have been the same if it was only you standing there?”
Audio Collaborative is Futuresource Consulting’s annual flagship event. In 2023, we’ll continue to explore the boundaries of audio, diving into the various technologies and trends at the frontiers of the industry. We’ll be gathering leaders from the world’s most beloved audio companies to discuss what’s next for audio – as well as look back at how far we’ve come.
Register your interest as a speaker, sponsor or attendee and join us at one of the most valuable dedicated audio events in London.
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