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Sony steps into high-end home audio, marks move away from mass market

Sony will be launching two new sets of speakers in Australia targeting the high-end audio market, challenging long-standing specialist audiophile brands like Bowers and Wilkins, Linn, Dali and Dynaudio.

Sony's SS-AR1 stereo audophile speakers.

With its SS-AR1 stereo and ES series surround speakers, showcased at an event in Sydney yesterday, Sony will release a home audio offering that complements its premium quality, premium price televisions and home theatre components.

The announcement of Sony's 4K BRAVIA TV in September marked the start of Sony's Australian concerted push into the upper end of the television and home cinema market, with the company's pared-down 2012 TV range also showing an emphasis on high-end, relatively expensive models like the BRAVIA HX850.

This home audio launch underscores Sony's move back into expensive and aspirational products, leaving behind the competitive low-cost, low-margin portion of the digital home market being targeted by Korean and Chinese-made brands like LG, Kogan, Hisense and TCL.

Product demonstrations ranged from AR stereo speakers in an "pure audio" audiophile-targeted live music-driven setting, to ES surround speakers, BRAVIA XBR900 4K TV and DA5800ES receiver in a "4K home cinema solution" setup.

The SS-AR1 floorstanding stereo speakers demonstrated at the event will be released in Australia -- they are already available in the US, UK, Japan, and Germany -- but do not yet have an official Australian price tag or prospective release date. Ken Hatanaka, Sony Australia's deputy marketing manager for home entertainment products told PC World that the speakers were available in the United States for around $27,000 per pair.

The SS-AR1 speakers were demonstrated with an extremely high-end Japanese-made stereo amplifier and SACD player from Accuphase, showing Sony's targeting of the no-cost-spared audiophile market.

Similarly, Sony's surround-sound ES series speakers do not yet have a price for the Australian market, but will target the same high-end buyer with considerable disposable income. The surround sound system comprises of SS-NA2ES floor-standing stereo speakers, SS-NA5ES and SS-NA8ES bookshelf surround and centre speakers, and SA-NA9ES subwoofer. A single SS-NA2ES speaker costs approximately 170,000 Yen in Japan -- around $2000 after a direct conversion to Australian dollars. ES series speakers will be available in Australia in December this year, online, from Sony retail stores and specialist audio dealers.

The ES speakers were demonstrated alongside a BRAVIA XBR900, BDP-S790 Blu-ray player and DA5800ES A/V receiver -- all products from Sony that are compatible with 4K 'Ultra HD' video. With the ES speakers added to the company's collection, Sony is able to offer a product at every stage of the home cinema setup -- audio and video source, A/V processing, video display, and audio reproduction -- to suit high-end, cash-rich buyers.

This most recent announcement comes as Sony continues to reposition its business worldwide, cutting costs in loss-making areas and focusing its efforts on profitable areas like gaming, digital imaging, and investing in new markets that provide better return on investment.


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