CES 2005: Sony Updates Qualia Statement SACD System for U.S. и European Markets

CES 2005: As I noted in my CES Press Day report, Sony’s Qualia group introduced a new version of the Qualia 007 SACD playback system at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. The introduction was part of an expansion of the Qualia product line into speciality audio dealers in the U.S. and European markets later this year. Unfortunately the Qualia display was an “invitation only” area limited to the media and invited dealers, and interviews with the Qualia team were also strictly limited so most attendees at CES were unable to see and learn about this new product.

Qualia is Sony’s line of premiere products created by the top designers in each of their product areas. It gives these designers an opportunity to develop and bring to market cutting edge products that combine unique, state of the art technology with unique design.

Of particular interest to Super Audio CD and High Resolution Audio fans are the new Qualia 007 SACD Playback System and the Qualia 010 Stereo Headphones. Both products were created based on inspirations and designs from Sony’s SACD Design Team in Japan according to Qualia representatives at the show.

The Qualia 007 SACD Playback System
The Qualia 007 is said to be “the dream of the SACD Design Group” in Japan. The goal of the 007 is to deliver the “extended frequency range of Super Audio CD” in a no compromise product. The 007 is a 2 Channel SACD playback system although I’m told that a Surround Sound edition is something that may be considered at a future date for the Qualia series.

The Qualia 007 System includes an SACD player and a built-in 32 bit S-Master digital amplifier along with a pair of matching Stereo speakers. The S-Master digital amp provides the Qualia 007 with 75 watts per channel. The 007 also features two lasers with one lens which is said to optimize playback for SACD, Audio CD and CD-R and CD-RW discs.

On the back of the 007 you will find 4 speaker output jacks (positive and negative for each Stereo channel). The 007 rear panel also provides a set of Stereo input jacks for another Stereo component to be connected to and played back through the Qualia 007’s integrated amplifier and speakers.

The speakers of the Qualia 007 are described as featuring “a 1-inch Extended Definition (ED) tweeter with carbon composite diaphragm capable of reproducing high frequencies up to 70kHz. The Aramid Fiber Woofer diaphragm material is light, strong and rigid for quick response, high accuracy and low signal distortion. Additionally the curved speaker enclosure (made from Japanese maple using a bentwood technique) is designed to reduce standing waves.”

An Upgraded Edition
Some of you may be familiar with the Qualia 007 system that is available in black in the Japanese market. The Qualia 007 model in black that was shown at CES features both an improved amplifier and upgraded speakers when compared to the model available in Japan.

The 007 In Operation
When you first see the Qualia 007, it looks very stylish and futuristic – I’d describe it as B&O Meets the Jetsons. The staff from Qualia tell me that this is intentional – the 007 is designed to offer not only excellent audio performance as a “statement player” (similar to Sony’s first SACD player, the SCD-1 which featured a unqiue sliding loading mechanism) but also a design that is both “cool” and has a “Wow factor”.

This extends to the operation of the player as well. To play a disc, the clear plastic window opens and the listener places a disc on the 007’s platter. Next, the player’s clear enclosure closes to protect the disc. At that point, three “pistons” slowly rise from the drawer to center, level and position the disc for playback. Next, the player arm comes out and starts to spin the disc and the music begins. The Qualia folks refer to this as the player’s “ballet”.

For the demonstration at CES, the Qualia folks used selections from Marga Gomez’ recent Multichannel SACD on Chesky Records entitled Cantos de Agua Dulce (Chesky SACD-285). This is an album of South American folk music with a jazz flavor that has excellent detail. The playback on the Qualia 007 was excellent and made a nice case for the design and quality of the 007 system.

Qualia 010 Headphones
On display next to the 007 were the Qualia 010 Stereo Headphones. According to the Qualia spokesman, the 010 headphones were designed at the request of the SACD Design Team to provide an extended frequency set of headphones that would provide “very linear and accurate playback” of SACD discs. The headphones feature drivers that have a frequency response of 5hz out to 120 kHz along with a magnesium and carbon frame.

Buyers of the 010 headphones are asked to select the color of the drivers and type of headband and are then measured for their own pair of the headphones. The measurements of the buyer’s head size and ear position are then sent to the factory in Japan where a custom made set of headphones are created and shipped within 3 to 4 weeks after purchase, making the set of 010 headphones truly personal.

To demo the headphones, Qualia had a copy of Yo Yo Ma’s “Solo” SACD on hand. My impression of the sound from the headphones was a very smooth and rich sound with a very rich soundfield. I’d also say that the headphones are very comfortable and would be wearable for extended periods. One wonders if the measuring and custom production process would make a purchased set even more so!

Availability and Pricing
The new Qualia 007 SACD Playback System will be offered to customers in the U.S. and Europe starting in February. The new edition of the Qualia 007 will be available as a complete system for $12,500 or without the pair of matching speakers for $10,000.

The Qualia 010 Stereo Headphones are available from Qualia today. The price on the headphones is $2,600.

Expanding the Distribution of Qualia Products
Today the availability of Qualia products in the U.S. market is very limited. You can see and purchase Qualia products at the two Qualia showrooms in the U.S. located at the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas or at the Qualia New York Store at 550 Madison Avenue. The other option today is to call the Qualia Concierge at 1-877-QUALIA3 and order from that service.

Recognizing the need to broaden the availability of the Qualia line, Sony’s Qualia group was at CES to introduce High End Audio and Video dealers to the product line and to begin the process of qualifying and signing up a new “network of premium dealers” for these products. According to the Sony Qualia group representatives I interviewed on Saturday at CES, they hope to have somewhere between 100 to 200 Qualia dealers in place over the next year for these unique products.

From the quality of performance and unique design I saw at CES, I don’t think they will have any problems getting dealers to carry this line. They are very impressive products indeed.