Sony's Ultra-Affordable CS Speaker Line

What You Can Expect from This Inexpensive Model

Sony Speakers. Brent Butterworth

At a press event at Sony’s Rancho Bernardo, California (San Diego area) headquarters, the company announced the first update to its low-priced core speaker line. Sony representatives weren’t shy about admitting that they’re going after a piece of the “inexpensive yet surprisingly good-sounding speaker” market now dominated by Andrew Jones-designed Pioneer products such as the acclaimed SP-BS22LR. The Sony speakers are more expensive than the Pioneers, although they are larger and look more capable.

The line comprises four models, detailed below.

SS-CS3 tower speaker: two 5.25-inch woofers, 1-inch tweeter, 0.5-inch supertweeter

SS-CS5 minispeaker: 5.25-inch woofer, 1-inch tweeter, 0.5-inch supertweeter

SS-CS8 center speaker: two 4-inch woofers, 1-inch tweeter

SS-CS9 subwoofer: 10-inch woofer, 115-watt Class AB amplifier

The SS-CS3 tower and SS-CS5 minispeaker are noteworthy for their supertweeters, which are intended to reproduce the extended high-frequency (treble) content found in the high-resolution music downloads Sony is pushing. Sony rates the supertweeters' high-frequency response at 50 kHz, far above the commonly accepted limit of human hearing at 20 kHz. Whether or not you can actually detect these ultrasonic frequencies in any meaningful way remains a matter of debate among audio experts, but the supertweeters may have beneficial effects by reducing phase shift at high frequencies.

Sony showed a PowerPoint slide that detailed how the company’s engineers controlled vibration within the CS-series speakers’ cabinets. Speaker cabinet vibration doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but its effects are easy to hear. They often show up as bloating in the upper bass/lower midrange area, and often show up as resonances in the midrange, too.

In fact, I would say that cabinet vibrations are one of the two main reasons why so many affordable speakers sound bad. (The other reason? Overly simplified crossover circuits designed with low cost primarily in mind.)

To control these vibrations, Sony’s engineers measured the vibration in each part of the enclosure, then reinforced these areas to minimize the vibration. It’s a much more targeted and scientific technique than the “throw in a little bit of bracing (or none) and hope for the best” approach sometimes seen with inexpensive speakers. It also allowed the engineers to apply only as much extra bracing as needed, thus reducing materials and shipping cost.

In a brief demo at the event, the CS-series speakers sounded quite good. When I hear demos of inexpensive speakers, I always move my head to either side and up and down, so I can gauge how broadly and evenly the speaker disperses sound. Most inexpensive speakers flunk this test badly. Because of their primitive crossover circuits, they filter little or none of the treble out of the woofer, and because of the woofer’s large size, it tends to “beam” higher frequencies at you rather than broadly dispersing them through the room.

Thus the speaker sounds a lot different even if you just move your head a couple of feet.

As I moved my head around, I was encouraged to hear barely any change in the sound of the SS-CS3 towers, which suggests that Sony didn’t cheap out too much on the crossovers. The sound overall was natural and fairly dynamic, although the listening level wasn’t loud enough to hear what these speakers can really do. 

Sony also announced a couple of interesting A/V receivers, which Home Theater Expert Robert Silva details.