Predicting technology trends is something of an imprecise art; a lot of the cool gadgets we see at CES don't ever take off, and at the same time, you never know when a technological breakthrough will come along to disrupt the entire industry.
Saying that, we have noticed a few audio trends taking shape over the last few months, partly thanks to tech and audio get-togethers like CES 2019 and the Bristol Hi-Fi Show.
So, while we can't say for certain which audio trends will take off and which ones will flop, here are our predictions for 2019 in headphones, speakers, and audio gadgets.
The true wireless revolution continues
Wired headphones could well become a thing of the past if the vogue for true wireless earbuds continues to grow at its current rate.
Thanks to aptX HD and Sony's LDAC codec, wireless audio sounds better than ever, and the abandonment of the headphone jack by many flagship smartphones means that more of us than ever are cutting the cord.
Battery life is also getting better all the time, with some models able to go as long as 38 hours between charges.
The true wireless revolution can be partly attributed to the popularity of Apple's AirPods. This year we're expecting to see the launch of the long-awaited Apple AirPods 2, which will likely propel the popularity of true wireless audio even further.
How can we be so sure? The AirPods 2 haven't yet been officially announced by Cook and Co, but thanks to some trademark and Bluetooth SIG filings, we know they're close – and they might be radically different than the AirPods you know and love.
The trademark filings say that the second generation AirPods will be a health and fitness device, in addition to being a pair of true wireless earbuds. That designation is usually reserved for fitness trackers, so it's interesting that Apple is pursuing it for its earbuds and could integrate nicely with what Apple's doing with the Apple Watch.
It's not all about Apple, though. Samsung recently released the Galaxy Buds which can be charged wirelessly, while Audio-Technica showed off two new wireless earbud models at CES 2019.
Even the fashion world has got involved, with French fashion house Louis Vuitton announcing the launch of a 'new' pair of earbuds for the fashion conscious audiophile.
The Louis Vuitton Horizon Earphones feature the famous LV monogram and are set to cost an eye-watering $995 (around £770/AU$1,400).
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At CES 2019, it was all about the immersive audio. Sony announced its 360 Reality Audio, an engaging new music format designed to be streamed over mobile music platforms and played through compatible headphones.
Although Sony already has support from Hi-Res Audio streaming platforms like Tidal and Qobuz, the company has some way to go before 360 Reality Audio will become, well, reality.
This is because music producers will need to start create object-based audio; in the case of 360 Reality Audio, this involves placing every individual instrument and effect within a sphere.
Sony wasn't the first company to look at 360 audio however. At CES 2018 Creative unveiled an ambitious new holography platform called Super XFi that could replicate the soundstage of a full surround sound system in a pair of over-ear headphones.
At this point in time, the technology required a specialized amp designed specifically for the show as well as calibration software only Creative had access to.
One year later Creative returned to CES 2019 with a Super XFi-enabled amp the size of a USB stick and, even more interestingly, a pair of wireless headphones called the Creative SXFI Air that directly integrates the technology.
Immersive audio isn't just relegated to listening to music; Nokia's OZO technology allows you to record spatial audio when recording video using your phone's camera and inbuilt microphone.
This allows you to artificially enhance sounds coming from certain directions, with noise from outside the video frame suppressed, leading to higher quality videos.
When we spoke to Paul Melin, Nokia Technologies’ VP of Digital Media, he told us that “when you playback the sound on headphones, you hear the sounds in the direction that they originally came from.”
Melin says that this can create a “much more immersive sound sphere, especially for gaming”, likening it to “the difference between HD and standard TV.”
Eco-friendly audio gadgets
With big tech companies like Apple pledging to use recycled materials in their manufacturing process, it feels as though the tech world is starting to take the environment seriously.
At Bristol Hi-Fi Show, we saw the Tri-Art Audio S-Series TA-0.5 turntable, which is made from bamboo soaked in hemp and bees wax.
Tri-Art says that its use of the material isn't just to create a natural look, explaining on its website that bamboo is “very stiff, for excellent rigidity with the ability to dampen vibration.”
As well as that, CES 2019 saw House of Marley launch its first smart speaker, which is also made out of natural and recycled materials.
The company, which was founded by Bob Marley's son, uses bamboo, aluminum (easily recycled), and the company's signature Rewind fabric (a combination of organic cotton, hemp and recycled plastic) in its devices.
With the amount we recycle increasing year on year , it's little wonder that the audio tech world is looking to recyclable materials to appeal to a more eco-friendly customer base.
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