How the Pandemic Has Accelerated Demand for Premium Audio Products

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By Alexandre Jornod
Futuresource Consulting

Over recent years, the audio market has witnessed a progressive shift to more premium products. Case in point with headphones and models such as the Apple AirPods Pro, along with the Sony WH-1000XM series, which have helped democratizing higher audio quality to the mass-market. This trend, which can be seen across most audio product categories, including wireless speakers and sound bars, took another turn in 2020.

Consumers homebound due to the COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique opportunity for premium audio product demand to thrive. With movies and music consumption playing a central role in entertaining consumers during lockdown, having good audio quality at home has never been as important. In the sound bar segment, consumers trying to replicate a cinema experience at home, with notably premium sound bars fitted with Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, has driven demand for models costing $1,000+. In line with this, shipments have risen significantly, up 32% year-on-year in the period Q1-Q3 2020, according to Futuresource’s Home Audio report. People spending less on out-of-home activities such as going on holiday or eating out has freed up discretionary income to spend on high-end audio products. 2020 was a year where consumers who always wanted to invest in products such as a nice pair of speakers, a high-end amplifier or a turntable could justify this purchase, which ultimately drove average selling prices up across many audio product categories.

Record-high demand has also been seen for luxury audio products costing over $5,000 in 2020. The surge in vinyl consumption during lockdown has triggered a strong interest for luxury turntables, especially as wealthy individuals had more funds available to spend on ultra high-end turntables that can easily cost over $20,000. The recently published Luxury Audio Report from Futuresource notably highlights that consumer spend on turntables costing over $5,000 was set to witness an impressive growth of 15% in 2020.

Another strong testament to this shift to premium devices is Apple venturing into high-end headphones with the AirPods Max, which retails at $549. It demonstrates that Apple is confident that consumers are increasingly willing to pay for high-quality sound, but also for products using exquisite materials and integrating more tech features.

While 2020 provided exceptional circumstances, the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to have a long-term impact on consumers’ lifestyles, notably with remote working set to become more common, and with commutes and business travel also expected to reduce. The post-COVID world is likely to be more home focused, creating more opportunities for consumers to listen to music and watch movies at home, which will ultimately place a stronger emphasis on the quality of home audio products. Futuresource consequently anticipates this trend to drive long-term growth for high-end audio products, especially as consumers who have experienced high audio quality are usually more likely to upgrade to perfect their listening experience or access the latest tech features.