Monday, May 14, 2007

The RIAA and a Polk in the i-Sonic

I attended a demonstration of the new i-Sonic digital entertainment center from Polk Audio this past Friday. The i-Sonic is the result of some very forward-thinking on Polk's part. Recognising that today's customers want simplicity and compactness, they've created sort of a Swiss Army knife tabletop radio.

The i-Sonic plays both CDs and DVDs, so you can hook it up to a small TV and have a self-contained entertainment system. It also has an AM and FM radio with an HD Radio tuner. It comes XM Satellite Radio Ready, so once you plug in an XM tuner, you'll see the info displayed on the i-Sonic. It also has auxiliary input so you can, according to their literature, plug in a SIRIUS Satellite Radio unit, or connect an iPod or other portable digital music player.

The system also has four speakers, one at each corner that project overlapping soundfields so that even if you're listening off-center, you'll hear both channels. And the thing has a bass port in it to reenforce the lows. It's a pretty remarkable device, but that's not the true purpose of this post.

The purpose is to reflect on something the Polk representative said. He said the i-Sonic represented Polk Audio's shift from a high-end stereo speaker company to a digital entertainment company.

Let's look at that again. Polk Audio, who have been building audiophile-grade speakers since 1972, is moving to a different aspect of the home audio market. With the onslaught of the iPod, stereo component sales have gone into decline. Polk is taking their audio expertise and using it to serve their customers where they've moved to -- not where they've been.

And here's another lesson for the RIAA.

Polk didn't lobby Congress to create laws to force customers to buy component audio again.
They didn't sue Apple or Creative for making devices that killed their business.
They didn't blindly go on as before, building beautiful speaker cabinets that sold fewer and fewer units each year.

No. Polk looked at shift in the buying patterns of the public and decided move with the market. And rather than scold their customers for no longer buying stereo components, Polk's decided to deliver the compact digital systems the customer wants -- and to make those the best-sounding systems they possibly can.

The RIAA isn't just not listening to their customers -- they're steadfastly clinging to an outmoded business model when other companies around them are changing and thriving as a result. Polk Audio is doing what's necessary to ensure its survival. The RIAA has chosen a different course.

- Ralph

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