Sony's Ultra-Affordable CS-Series Speakers

What you can expect from these inexpensive models

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 Sony is going after a piece of the inexpensive yet surprisingly good-sounding speaker market now dominated by the competition, such as Andrew Jones-designed Pioneer products (for example, the acclaimed SP-BS22LR).

Sony Core Series (CS) Home Theater Speakers for 2014

Breaking Down the Speakers

The CS line of Sony speakers is more expensive than those made by Pioneer. However, the Sony speakers are larger and look more capable. The Sony CS speaker line comprises four models, as detailed below. Together, these models make up a traditional 5.1 speaker system, each sporting the Sony High-Res Audio logo.

  • SS-CS3 tower speaker: Features two 5.25-inch woofers, a 1-inch tweeter, and a 0.5-inch super tweeter.
  • SS-CS5 mini speaker: Features a 5.25-inch woofer, a 1-inch tweeter, and a 0.5-inch super tweeter.
  • SS-CS8 center speaker: Features two 4-inch woofers and a 1-inch tweeter.
  • SS-CS9 subwoofer: Features a 10-inch woofer and a 115-watt Class AB amplifier.

Running the Numbers

The SS-CS3 tower speaker and the SS-CS5 mini speaker are noteworthy for their super tweeters, which reproduce the extended high-frequency (treble) content found in high-resolution music downloads (particularly the ones Sony happens to be pushing in tandem with its High-Res Audio).

Sony rates the super tweeters' high-frequency response at 50 kHz, which is above the commonly accepted limit of human hearing at 20 kHz. Whether you can detect these ultrasonic frequencies in any meaningful way remains a matter of debate among audio experts. That being said, the super tweeters may have added beneficial effects by reducing phase shift at high frequencies.

Sony-SS-CS5 front
Brent Butterworth

Sony engineers have managed to control vibration within the CS-series speakers' cabinets (bass reflex enclosures). Speaker cabinet vibration may not seem like a big deal to some, but its effects are pronounced and easy to hear.

Cabinet vibration often shows up as bloating in the upper bass or lower midrange area. It often shows up as resonances throughout the entire midrange, too. Cabinet vibrations are one of the two main reasons why some affordable speakers sound bad. The other reason is the simplified crossover circuits designed with cheap or low-cost electronics and components in mind.

The Tech Behind the CS-Series

To control the vibrations in the CS-series speaker line, Sony's engineers carefully measured the vibrations in each part of each enclosure. Then, they reinforced these affected areas to minimize the vibrations.

This method is a more targeted and scientific technique than the "throw in extra bracing (or none) wherever and hope for the best" approach that is often seen or done with inexpensive speakers. This method allowed the engineers to apply only as much extra bracing as needed, thus reducing the total amount of materials used, which reduces shipping costs.

A display showcasing the Sony CS-series line of speakers

In a brief demo at the event, the CS-series speakers sounded quite good. When we hear demos of inexpensive speakers, we always move our heads to either side and then up and down. This allows us to better gauge how broadly and evenly the speaker disperses sound.

Most inexpensive speakers tend to flunk this test. Because of primitive crossover circuits, inexpensive speakers filter little or none of the treble out of the woofer. And, because of the woofer's large size, this tends to beam higher frequencies directly at you rather than broadly dispersing frequencies throughout the room. This is why inexpensive speakers can sound different, even if all you do is move your head a few feet to the right or left.

Strong Options

As we moved our heads around and shuffled positions, we were encouraged by Sony's presentation. We barely heard any changes in the sound output by the SS-CS3 tower speaker, SS-CS5 mini speaker, and SS-CS8 center speaker, which suggested that Sony didn't cheap out too much on the crossovers.

The sound overall was natural, clear, and fairly dynamic. The only aspect we felt like we missed out on was that the listening level wasn't loud enough to hear what these speakers can really do. Sometimes you just have to crank it up to see where the limits go.

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