Mixer consoles, devices that blend together multiple sound sources, continue to experience a customer shift towards low-end products, cannibalizing the mid-range market. That’s one of the key takeaways from a new report released by Futuresource Consulting's pro audio team.
“As the march of technology continues, low-end mixer consoles have evolved into highly advanced pieces of equipment,” said Reid Rasmussen, associate consultant at Futuresource. “They far out-class and outperform their predecessors of just five years ago. Today, low-end consoles can provide much of what a mid-range console used to deliver, compelling buyers to purchase low-end solutions to meet their mid-range needs.”
Futuresource research shows that suppliers and channels alike have been taken by surprise by the strength of the market's low-end. Many remain unsure of the nature of certain segments buying the hundreds of thousands of units shipped.
Mixer Market Still Posting Profits
Despite this mid-range squeeze-out, the total market remains buoyant, valued at $724 million last year and on track to deliver a value growth of 5.3 percent CAGR, according to the Futuresource report. Verticals explored in the report are touring and rental, portable sound, broadcast and studio, installed leisure, and installed commercial.
“Looking to the high end of the market, we’re seeing a lot of saturation,” said Rasmussen. “Here, it’s mostly about replacements and upgrades, though there are still opportunities within broadcast, touring, concerts, and large events.”
Analogue Giving Way to Digital
The highest price point at which analogue consoles can be sold has always been limited by the low-end at which digital consoles are priced. With digital console prices falling, the market for analogue consoles continues to shrink. End users replacing their existing analogue equipment with digital is of course another factor contributing to accelerated growth at the low-end of the market.
As new products have been introduced, they've revolutionized the mixer console market, with Behringer's X32 a strong example of a product that has redefined customer expectations for an entire market. When launched a little over five years ago, its fully featured 32-channel 16-bus specification, with a range of built-in effects and a comprehensive list of features, set new expectations for what can be provided at a relatively low price point.
“Fast forward to 2018 and our channel research shows that customers expect new console products to do far more for less,” said Rasmussen, “delivering more features, more plug-ins, effects built-in rather than outboard, more input and output channels, DSP included, and more busses. All at the same price or for less.
“With potential new market entrants looking to make quick advances and gain market share, the future landscape will be peppered with challenges and potential disruptions.”
Mixing on Glass
As technology progresses, professional mixing is heading towards tablets and smartphones. Termed "mixing on glass", these software-based mixers are opening up a new avenue of competition, with vendors like Slate Media Technology and Waves blazing a trail in this niche market. However, mixing on glass doesn’t depend on software alone, there is still a need for physical input and output capabilities, and an opportunity for existing vendors to move into this market as it gains momentum.
“As with other elements of the audio market, mixer consoles are taking a financial hit from the pervasiveness of video,” said Rasmussen. “When audio products compete for budget dollars with video, more often than not, video prevails. Combine this with stiff competition and heightened customer expectations, mixer brands need to play it smart and keep their cool in what, despite the odds, continues to be a profitable sector of the audio industry.”