Earlier this year, Senior Market Analyst, Alexandre Jornod joined Dolby Atmos and Cinemo on a webinar that focused on the future of in-car audio and experiences. In his segment, Alexandre shone a light on why we are currently experiencing one of the most exhilarating times for the automotive audio industry.
The automotive industry is experiencing one of the most prolific transformations of its long history. As the shift towards electric and autonomous mobility operates, significant developments within the automotive audio market place the industry at a truly exciting moment in time.
Similarly, consumers have also facilitated a change in the audio market. Since the pandemic, we have witnessed a huge shift towards premium audio products. Consumers having more money to spend during lockdown has led to the purchase of more expensive products across the consumer audio space, including headphones, wireless speakers, HiFi speakers and soundbars.
This increased access to higher quality audio at home has driven a growing demand for improvements elsewhere too. What this means for the automotive industry is that consumers are now expecting more from the sound system in their cars.
“Historically, the best sound systems often available to people was in their car,” says Alexandre. “However, now that more people have access to higher quality audio products at home, there is additional pressure on automotive manufacturers to offer unique listening experiences in their cars.”
While compressed audio formats have been the norm since the advent of the streaming era, the market has evolved rapidly in the past years, notably with Amazon and Apple Music beginning to offer lossless content (audio content that is not compressed) to their subscribers.
“Across our consumer research, better audio quality was the most requested feature that consumers said they wish to add to their streaming service,” says Alexandre. “In an increasingly competitive market, it has become more difficult for streaming services to differentiate, especially as they all offer a similar content catalogue. As a result, the quality of the user’s listening experience is progressively becoming a differentiator for streaming platforms.”
In that respect, streaming services have also started to invest heavily in spatial audio – and more specifically, Dolby Atmos. The reason behind this is that streaming services are aware that it can sometimes be more difficult for consumers to hear the difference between a song in lossless and the same song in a compressed format, especially for an untrained hear - and with mass-market equipment. With Spatial Audio, the listening experience is noticeably different, which makes it more easily perceptible for a mainstream audience.
Equally, now that Amazon and Apple have changed their business models – to offer this content without extra costs – that’s over 110 million subscribers who can listen to content in spatial audio, as well as lossless.
“The great thing about Dolby Atmos specifically is that content and hardware are finally coming together,” says Alexandre. “Especially with Apple heavily investing in and promoting Dolby Atmos within its own ecosystem. In about two years, we’ve seen some huge changes in the consumer market, which means that the mass market can now finally engage with high-quality content.”
Looking to the automotive industry once more, alongside the important changes we are witnessing in terms of the shift to electric and the wider adoption of autonomous driving, we are also seeing that cars are becoming quieter, notably thanks to improved soundproofing, and even noise-cancelling technologies on some models. The wider adoption of driving aids such as adaptive cruise control and semi-autonomous driving technologies also means that drivers are able to be more relaxed while driving, as their car is doing most of the heavy lifting.
“This, coupled with improved audio quality – alongside with content being more accessible – gives drivers additional opportunities to enjoy high-quality audio in their car,” says Alexandre. “This is only going to get stronger, with more consumers going electric and the development of autonomous vehicles.”
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of new technologies and improvements that increase audio quality as well as the feeling of immersion in cars. For example, we have seen new kinds of speaker placements in the headliner for instance, and even sometimes speakers in headrests, which aim to create the most immersive audio experience.
In the same way, one of the biggest shifts we’ve seen is the wider adoption of DSP technology – which has become the backbone of most high-end systems. DSP alludes to a significantly improved audio experience, but also brings new methods of personalisation too.
“The great news is that consumers are also getting excited about in-car audio,” says Alexandre. “And more than ever, the quality of the sound system in a car plays a key role in purchasing decisions.”
We are already seeing the signs of a very exciting future for in-car experiences. With larger screens and more immersive sound systems – coupled with better content – change is already evident. In addition, new kinds of in-car audio systems are already emerging, such as 4D sound systems with in-seat vibrations to deliver a multi-sensory experience, which are set to become an exciting new development for the in-car audio industry.
With more consumers making the shift to electric cars, charging is also becoming a key part of the ownership. This provides another opportunity for consumers to fully experience audio in their cars and for the auto industry to deliver enhanced entertainment experiences. We’ve seen people watching Netflix, for example, or playing video games. Their vehicles are becoming an extension of their living rooms.
In turn, this provides us with a glimpse into the future – what our world could look like when cars become fully autonomous. Consumers will be able to relax and give their full attention to entertainment, while being driven by their cars. Audio will play a pivotal role in this, which we find hugely exciting.
We are now seeing both consumers and manufacturers preparing for a new era of entertainment – and it’s happening behind the wheel.
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