It is JBL’s 75th anniversary, and not even pandemic-related chip shortages and shipping delays can halt their celebration — just maybe spread it out a little longer. We spoke with Jim Garrett, senior director of product strategy and planning at HARMAN Luxury Audio, about the team’s recent spate of new product announcements, when they will get into dealers’ hands, and what else is planned for this milestone year.
RESI: Once again, HARMAN Luxury Audio announced a number of new products this year at the ExPLORE event. Those all had ship dates starting around now. Is that still the case — are they on schedule to ship?
JIM GARRETT: We are ahead of the game in terms of production. We’ve got the two flagship JBL Synthesis pieces— SCL-1 loudspeaker and SSW-1 subwoofer — and then the in-ceiling SCL-5 and SCL-8, as well as the SCL-6 and SCL-7 in-wall loudspeakers already, arriving to the regions. The JBL L100 Classic 75 anniversary loudspeaker starts production on time in a few weeks and the JBL SA750 integrated amplifier follows a few weeks later.
How has HARMAN been able to mitigate the pandemic-created supply-chain issues?
As noted above, many of our products are starting production ahead of schedule. Our engineering and product teams have great relationships with our suppliers and we have all been working closely together during the lockdowns around the globe. That has kept things moving along at a brisk pace.
While it doesn’t really affect our JBL luxury audio passive loudspeakers, I’m sure you’ve heard that there are chip shortages on the electronics side, many of which are due to the AKM factory fire in Japan. Our team was able to pivot quickly and re-engineer the SA750 integrated amplifier to eliminate any dependency on those chips and keep us on schedule.
Overall, Harman’s purchasing power helps us of course, and our supply chain team has a good grip on things that are happening and making sure we’ve got enough components to keep things moving along. From a production standpoint, we’re in pretty good shape, but the transit capacity issues related to port congestion and container supply are still something we are dealing with like everyone else.
Are you far behind in terms of dealer demand?
When all of us were looking at the events unfolding before us back in March and April of 2020, the smart thing certainly seemed to be to dial back supplier orders and forecasting. No one wanted to have a bunch of inventory showing up in the Fall when it appeared like we were heading into the unknown with the economy struggling and many businesses being closed. So then you had that rubber band effect of catching up to the demand once it picked up. But despite those issues, we still had significant growth last year, and the challenge is just keeping up with the demand because it is more than we expected it to be. I think we’d like to have higher levels of stock than what we have on hand right now, but we’re doing all right in keeping up with the business.
What has the dealer reaction been to the new product announcements at ExPLORE?
We had eight Luxury Audio products that we talked about at the show, with the main focus on the JBL L100 Classic 75 anniversary loudspeaker and the SA750 integrated amp – two products that we developed specifically to mark the 75th anniversary of the JBL brand. The response that we had on the loudspeaker and the integrated amp was over the moon; so much excitement and buzz around those products. We announced that there were only going to be 750 pairs of the L100 Classic 75 speaker made, and they’re basically all presold to the dealers now.
The integrated amp was a surprise to a lot of people, and there really isn’t anything like it on the market. The retro design is very compelling with the machined knobs and levers on the front and the beautiful teak wood side panels. Inside, it has everything that everyone wants, including a high-res DAC, wireless streaming audio via Google Chromecast and Apple Airplay 2, and Dirac Live room calibration.
The new JBL Synthesis announcements were some of the products that came out of Dealer Council sessions that we did last year. The new in-wall and ceiling speakers really helps us grow the business on the lower end, and expand to new price points we haven’t been in before. On the upper end, the flagship models are going into some of the most capable systems available anywhere at any price. Long story short, everybody’s pretty excited!
How have the dealers taken to the JBL Synthesis Certified System program launched late last year?
That hasn’t officially rolled out yet — a casualty of the pandemic year — but the plan is there and it is likely going to be rolled out in the Spring.
In conjunction with the Certified Systems program, we are working on an all new JBL Synthesis website that will showcase the brand concept of components designed and engineered to work together as a system in combination with calibration to our in-room target performance curve. Consumers looking to find the best immersive audio experience will be able to see examples of installations and then connect with an integrator that can make it a reality for them. Dealers with systems meeting the criteria for Certified System and Certified Elite System status will be highlighted on the website.
What else is HARMAN hearing from its dealers in terms of client demand?
With everyone stuck at home for such a long time, we’ve seen a definite shift toward people upgrading their home systems, both for music and movies. Plenty of people are remodeling their kitchens and bathrooms right now, too. They’ve come to realize the value of making improvements now that they are spending so much time in those spaces— it’s the same way with AV systems. You can’t go to the movie theater or a concert right now, so you want to bring that experience to your home.
One interesting trend that we are seeing is the opportunity for loudspeakers that can be completely hidden by paint or wallpaper without the need for a traditional grille on the wall or ceiling. Everyone is trying to improve the aesthetics of their home because we’ve been staring at the same four walls for the last year. That invisible category is an unknown for a lot of people — they just don’t know that it exists. We’ve been exposing a lot of people to the concept of getting great sound from a hidden solution with our JBL Conceal Series invisible loudspeakers.
What other plans does HARMAN have to celebrate JBL’s 75th anniversary?
ExPLORE was just the kickoff. We’ve got events and activities planned all throughout the year. For us on the Luxury Audio team, we’ve got some really exciting JBL products that we will be launching later this year. The next one will actually be announced in just a few weeks. This brand is such an important part of audio history and 75 years is a major milestone achievement. With all of the great products coming out and the year-long celebration already well underway, it’s a very exciting time for the JBL brand.