Sony hits play button on new Super Audio

Idei aims for 'quality' market instead of masses

NEW YORK — As consumers hungrily download music from the Internet, Sony Corp. moved in the other direction Tuesday when it unveiled a costly player and trio of components for its new Super Audio CDs.

In addition to the Internet, Super Audio will also compete with DVD audio in an increasingly crowded electronics marketplace.

Sony prexy and CEO Nobuyuki Idei acknowledged that the costly Super Audio systems are designed for a small group of pure audiophiles willing to fork out many thousands of dollars for a wider range and clarity of sound. “We know it is not a big market,” Idei said at a presentation, but it’s a “quality” market where Sony expects to make a profit.

Buyers will certainly be scarce unless the price dips. The new top-of-the-line Super Audio player, out this month, costs $5,000, while a slightly less sophisticated model will debut in October for $3,500. Dedicated speakers cost $8,000 each and an amp runs $6,000. As Super Audio rolls out, a Sony spokesman said the equipment is likely to come down in price, but stressed that it’s not meant to compete with the traditional CD market.

Sony plans to offer 40 titles this fall in Super Audio format, including Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, Mariah Carey and a range of classical offerings. Super Audio CDs are expected to cost about $25 each.

“The thinking is that this is a class, not a mass product. It’s aimed toward the upper-end of the music-enthusiast market, however small that might be. Once it’s established there, the feeling is it will become more acceptable to a larger audience,” the spokesman said.

No recording capability

Super Audio system has a few other drawbacks. It has no recording capability and isn’t compatible with what will become its biggest competitor, DVD audio discs — the next-generation discs that are supposed to replace CDs.

DVD players are expected to cost between $1,000 and $2,500, and discs about $20. Business is expected to be so big that Sony Music is planning to sell them too, along with all the other big music companies.

One advantage Super Audio has over DVD is that its discs can be played on a regular CD player and traditional CDs work on a Super Audio player.