Audio gear topping many U.S. Christmas gift lists

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Listen up, Santa.

Headphones, speakers and other audio gear are topping the holiday gift lists of many Americans.

Audio equipment is among the top-selling electronics gifts this holiday season, accounting for 13 percent of the $8 billion in consumer electronics sales between Nov. 24 and Dec. 7, according to research firm The NPD Group in Port Washington.

Headphone sales rose 14 percent. Sales of sound bars, long, thin speakers that create surround sound, grew 80 percent. And wireless speaker sales nearly quadrupled.

The trend is being driven in part by the economy. Audio gear, which can range from $10 for ear buds to thousands of dollars for a home theater system, is being considered by some an affordable luxury during a still shaky economy.

Americans also have spent the last several years buying tablets, smartphones and TVs. Now, many are looking for ways to squeeze better sound from those gadgets.

"It stands to reason that people at some point want a better audio experience than the ear buds you get in the box," said Ben Arnold, NPD's director of industry analysis.

The trend this season is a continuation of an audio craze that started last year. That's when Beats by Dr. Dre, oversize headphones that come in different colors and run about $200 per pair, became the "it" holiday gift.

Beats doesn't give sales figures. But the company said it grew its share of the market for headphones over $99 from 71 percent last year to 78 percent this year.

Some competitors also have upped their sound game. This year, stores and analysts say Bowers Wilkins, Bose, Jawbone and JBL all are among those offering more products, colors and stylish designs.

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At the same time, prices have fallen for some audio gear. For instance, the average selling price for wireless speakers dropped 33 percent to $73 this year compared with last year, according to NPD. And Best Buy, Amazon and other stores have offered deep discounts on some audio gear.

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