Bringing the live event to your living room

No matter what your taste in music, movies, or sound, the goal of every speaker is always the same: to recreate the ambience and excitement of the original performance. However, recreating every type of musical performance-from a world-famous rock band performing in a sports arena to a folk artist playing in an intimate coffeehouse-is a task very few speakers can accomplish.

Reproducing the natural sound of every different instrument, every different type of music, every different performer, and every different venue is exactly the goal Sony's engineers set when they designed the new Sony ES-series speakers. The ES-series was inspired by Sony's SS-AR1 and SS-AR2 speakers, acclaimed by audiophiles and critics around the world for their incredible fidelity and unmatched craftsmanship.

Yet the ES-series speakers are not merely more-affordable versions of the AR-series. In fact, the ES-series employs design concepts and driver arrays all its own-all in the pursuit of bringing the live music experience into your living room.

Meticulously crafted inside and out

One of the reasons for extraordinary sound quality of the SS-AR1 and SS-AR2 is the way the enclosures of the speakers are built, each one hand-made by a team of Japan's finest woodworking artisans. Sony engineers knew that compromising on this construction quality would compromise the performance of the ES series, so they chose to build the ES series using the same methods, the same facility, and the same craftsmen who build the AR series.

Like the AR series tower speakers, the new SA-NA2ES ES-series speaker exhibits a precision and perfection few other speakers can match. While almost all other speakers are built on automated production lines with little or no human involvement, every single ES-series speaker is subject to repeated close examination, assuring that no flaw makes its way out of the workshop.

The I-Array: an innovative concept for high-frequency reproduction

Glance at the top of the SA-NA2ES tower speaker, and you'll see an innovative technology exclusive to the ES-series: I-Array, a unique network of tweeters that was created to help the SA-NA2ES produce a broader, more enveloping soundstage-and a more faithful representation of a live music event.

The I-Array emerged because there's no such thing as a perfect tweeter. Choosing a tweeter of a single size requires a compromise, as we'll see below. With the SA-2NES, there is no compromise.

Larger tweeters can reproduce audio frequencies down into the upper midrange, and can thus blend smoothly with a midrange driver or a woofer. However, at the highest treble frequencies, larger tweeters tend to focus sound in a tight beam. This effect can degrade stereo imaging and reduce the natural ambience of a speaker, because most musical instruments do not focus sound in a tight beam.

Smaller tweeters disperse high frequencies more broadly than larger tweeters do, but cannot reproduce upper-midrange frequencies well. Thus, it can be difficult to achieve a smooth blend between a small tweeter and a midrange driver or a woofer.

The I-Array technology achieves the best of both types of tweeters because it uses both: a single 25mm (1-inch) soft-dome tweeter mounted in a vertical array between two 19mm (0.75-inch) soft-dome supertweeters. At upper midrange and lower treble frequencies, the 25mm tweeter assures a smooth blend between the I-Array and the midrange driver or woofer. At higher frequencies, the two 19mm supertweeters assure the broadest possible dispersion, the most natural stereo soundstage, and the most faithful reproduction of the original live event.

Through careful tuning, Sony engineers make the I-Array work like the single, perfect tweeter that speaker designers have always sought but never before achieved. Its broad, natural dispersion extends to 45 kHz, high enough to reproduce the subtlest details of the high-resolution digital audio formats preferred by audiophiles. The SA-NA2ES even reproduces the most delicate overtones of percussion, violins, guitars, and wind instruments, as clearly as you would hear them if you were sitting in the third row at Carnegie Hall or one of the front tables at the Village Vanguard.

Natural materials for the most musical sound

When considering speakers, audio enthusiasts often focus on the drivers. But the speaker enclosure itself is just as important. The air pressures generated inside a speaker enclosure are considerable, and the vibrations intense. This energy will degrade the sound if it finds its way through the enclosure and radiates into the room, making it readily apparent that the listener is hearing an audio system rather than a live performance.

One of the reasons the AR-series speakers earned so much praise was because Sony's innovative materials and methods effectively eliminated unwanted radiation of sound into the listening room. This is why Sony chose to build the ES-series in essentially the same way.

The secret behind these speakers' innovative construction? The use of Scandinavian birch for the enclosures. Scandinavian birch is renowned for its acoustical properties. It is extraordinarily sturdy, yet has a natural resonance consistent with the tonality and presence of fine acoustical musical instruments. The entire enclosure is constructed from Scandinavian birch, right down to the extensive interior bracing that stiffens the speakers' front, back, and sides.

In comparison, almost all other speakers are made from medium-density fiberboard (MDF). MDF is an excellent choice for building low-priced speakers because it is denser and generally less resonant than other low-cost materials such as plastic. However, MDF is an artificial material that does not possess the long, strengthening fibers of real wood panels, or the natural, musical tonality of the Scandinavian birch panels used in the ES-series speakers. The solidity of the SS-NA2ES is evident in its substantial mass. Even though this speaker stands a fairly modest 900mm (35.4 inches) high, each one weighs a surprising 32 kg (70.5 pounds).

Every driver treated with care

While the SA-NA2ES may appear to be a single enclosure, it's actually composed of multiple sub-enclosures. The two 165mm (6.5-inch) aluminum-cone woofers are acoustically separated from the 130mm (5.25-inch) midrange driver, which is in turn acoustically separated from the tweeters in the I-Array. The reason for this complex internal construction is that for optimum performance, each driver must reside in an acoustical chamber tuned specifically to suit its performance characteristics.

Just as vital is the need to isolate the various drivers from each other. For example, the intense pressures generated by a woofer, if not properly controlled and absorbed, can affect the performance of a midrange driver, much as the loud, low-frequency sound of a nearby engine interferes with the sound of conversation.

The result is a speaker with remarkably rich and natural tonal characteristics at every frequency of sound. Whether the SA-NA2ES is reproducing a flute playing a pianissimo passage in a chamber music piece, or a kick drum furiously pounded by a heavy metal drummer, the timbre and dynamics will be accurate and lifelike.