Music anywhere and everywhere

Equipment is disappearing into walls, ceilings and our mobile devices

FORT WAYNE NEWSPAPERS And example of speakers mounted in the wall.
FORT WAYNE NEWSPAPERS Roger Plaugher at Classic Stereo explains the continuing appeal of larger theater rooms, despite a decline in sales, especially during sports seasons, like the National Football League season that kicks into high gear today or the Summer Olympics that just wrapped up.
METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION For homeowners with plenty of space, the dream still lives of a true theater space in which to watch television and movies with top-notch speakers visible as part of the décor, but as technology advances not every home needs to devote space to these uses.

With nothing more than a tap from his fingertip to his phone, Roger Plaugher gets the music going.

It’s a country tune, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where it’s coming from at first. Then Plaugher motions up to the ceiling, where there’s a speaker blended into the tiles above. Then he points his head over to a wall, where a row of more speakers, painted white, are built into the panels next to a television.

“Everything is being built in now,” he says, looking around a showroom at Classic Stereo off Clinton Street, where Plaugher is a manager.

Welcome to the new world of home sound systems, once ruled by bulky high fidelity speakers, turntables, compact discs and a bevy of other equipment that could cost thousands of dollars and take a doctorate to operate but is now being transformed due to digital streaming and the demand for less visible products.

Consumers want their audio systems to be a part of their homes nowadays, with a spike in the sales of wireless speakers which can be mobile as well as speakers that are built into the walls and ceilings, especially in newer homes.

And the move to digital is making it so music or television can blare from everywhere in the home — there’s no need change out CDs, even from those 200 to 300 CD changers which were big for years and years.

Now, people just tap their phone or tablet to change a song.

“Even radio stations are digital,” says Plaugher. “You know what you don’t hear anymore? No more pops and fuzz and static. Those things are gone.”

Soon those 8-foot tall speakers which were shown off, many times proudly, as part of state-of-the-art home sound systems in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s might be a thing of the past as well.

Plaugher says while there is some demand for that type of equipment when putting in a home theater, sales have dropped. “People don’t want them. They want their speakers to be invisible,” he says. That’s backed by data from the research firm Euromonitor, which found that hi-fi retail sales of those types of speakers dropped 21 percent last year.

Consumers are increasingly going for wireless technology which, ultimately, can be cheaper.

“Technology is really catching up,” Santiago Carvajal, director of the speaker maker Bose’s SoundTech division, told CNBC in a recent interview. “Customers can have beautiful speakers without complicated racks and components, and delivers what you always wanted, which is great sounding music.”

One area of the home many consumers are targeting for audio options may be a little surprising: the outside.

According to Plaugher, in the past two years his company has seen a marked increase in people wanting sound systems for outside their home, with speakers throughout their yard or grounds — mainly invisible, of course — but always ready to play music or provide audio for whatever is on television.

“Generally, some people come in with plans, like the landscape architecture, and we go there to see what they have to work with,” Plaugher said. “And they want everything to disappear, to not be seen.”

Televisions built for the outside can even withstand winter temperatures, though many are made to be easily moved inside for the season if need be. And many of the customers looking to put such sound systems outside their homes seem to be empty-nesters in their 50s or 60s, who may be downsizing their home due to children being out of the house but want to upscale their audio, according to Plaugher.

Plus, it’s fun to do some outdoor entertainment.

“Who wants to be stuck inside,” Plaugher said.

Still, the home theater is not entirely obsolete. Some consumers who are into vinyl records still love the giant hi-fi speakers and are apt to by a turntable if needed. Some still like the retro feel. There are still others who really want the theater atmosphere inside their home.

And there always seems to be an itch to upgrade sound systems when sports seasons begin.

Today is the first big round of regular season games for the National Football League, but Plaugher said his shop already saw a spike in sales centering around the Olympics, where people came to get televisions, speakers and anything that would make the games feel more like they were happening in their living room.

“Oh yeah, we get people coming in for that,” Plaugher said.

No matter the changes — from huge speakers to small wireless ones, from equipment sprawled across the room to gadgets built into walls so as to be unseen, or even from records to CDs to streaming devices — people will come in to get the best sound they can.

And there’s no telling what’s coming next.

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