I MANAGED TO catch up with Adam Shaw-Cotterill, Cambridge Audio’s Director of International Sales, when he was in Auckland recently. Adam is a font of useful information because he’s so plugged into international AV trends, and deeply clued up on what’s coming up from companies like, well… Cambridge Audio. He’s not at liberty to disclose everything that’s in the pipeline but I did manage to get him to answer a few questions for our readers:
Witchdoctor: The last time we spoke (that information can be found here), internet radio and wireless streaming were just starting to become prevalent in the AV world. Would you say that streaming has now become a dominant factor when it comes to the design of entry to mid-level hi-fi gear?
Adam Shaw-Cotterill: Certainly! Streaming and digital inputs are now the must have features on pretty much any two channel or AV equipment. Like all other hi-fi companies, we have seen a drop in CD player sales in recent years, but an explosion in streaming sales (which grew some 400 percent last year for us). Internet radio is still a tough one to answer: we know that all the choice in the world is out there, and we know there are a lot of users, but very few people seem to admit to using it. My personal take is that many people do not consider internet radio to be a suitably high quality source for use with good hi-fi. They may be right, they may be wrong, but some people seem to discount it without trying
WD: Cambridge Audio was at the forefront of bringing network streaming to hi-fi components. Is the company’s, and the market’s focus slowly shifting from component based systems to stand-alone wireless speaker systems like the Minx Air 200?
A S-C: Not at all, we are merely widening our range, rather than changing our focus. We see strong demand for good quality separates in the future, because that level of customisation and the choice in system creation and upgradeability is simply not present in a one-box system. That said, I do believe that much of the entry level hi-fi market has been taken by one-box systems, Airplay speakers, etc. In the past, a first system would be an amplifier, CD player, and speakers. Now, it might simply be a Minx Air 100, or B&W Zeppelin! Hi-fi companies must adapt to changing tastes to stay relevant in the market, but we must also continue to keep consumers informed of the different quality levels that are available to them, in order that they might make an informed decision.
A S-C: Many many years of hard work, excellent relationships with Chinese manufacturing partners, and selling many thousands of units, to allow us to take advantages of economies of scale. There are some hi-fi companies that make a flagship range that is more for news and PR than to actually sell. The 851 series are designed to be sold and played, to be listened to and loved. Consequently, we set these at a price that would generate a lot of interest and business. Our philosophy has always been about giving the best quality sound at every price point. If we can’t make something that offers both amazing sound and great value, we simply don’t make it.
WD: How long until the 851 pre/power combination is released?
A S-C: Watch for news at the Munich show in May….
WD: Will we ever see a high-end range above the 85x series?
A S-C: That’s a tricky one. It rather goes back to the answer to your third question: we could make something amazing, but could we do it at a level that would sell enough, to allow us to reach the price point that we would need to be at to satisfy our own ethics? Anyone can make an insane system, and sell only three a year for crazy money, but that’s not our way of doing things. I am sure we could make something like that work, but we already have a long waiting list of new projects we want to start, simply because no matter how much we increase the size of our engineering team, our ambitions and product ranges grow faster still!
WD: Looking into Cambridge Audio’s crystal ball, what’s the next hot trend in hi-fi?
A S-C: Well, the analogue source is pretty much dead, so we are moving towards fully digital systems. At that point, a source can also be a hub, and a pre-amplifier, just as we do with our Stream Magic 6. It may sound strange, but I would like to see more in the way of power amplifiers in the future. Anything with source and amplification integrated is, by its very nature, limited. Allowing the control and source selection to move out of the amplifier, and into the source/hub is a logical step for the industry, and would also make active speakers much more sensible and attractive.
On a more populist note, I see integration and app control being the key feature for future systems. If you can use your phone or tablet as a remote, to control the entire system, and also use it as a remote, then why would you use the front panel or an IR remote to do anything. So perhaps the answer is anonymous black boxes that are entirely controlled by phones and tablets…
WD: Is CD dying? How long until Cambridge Audio (and the wider industry) does away with CD players and moves to a computer audio only model?
A S-C: CD has certainly declined, but it remains a relevant format. Since the CD was launched in 1982, we have seen over 30 billion commercial discs, and over 100 billion blank discs enter the market. Our sales of entry-level CD players remain very strong today. While some other companies may choose to move away from CD, we are aware that there are many customers who still want to play back their collection as they always have, and who, for reasons of their own, are not yet ready to move to hard disc storage or streaming for their source. There are many millions of such people in the world, and that’s a big enough market for us to continue to operate in. ASHLEY KRAMER