Sony SS-AR2 loudspeaker Page 2
As I mentioned in my September 2011 review of Musical Fidelity's AMS100 amplifier, I use, as a reference for midrange purity, a 1998 recital by the late mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, accompanied by pianist Roger Vignoles (CD, Wigmore Hall Live 0013). The SS-AR2s sounded superbly natural with this album; Lieberson's rich, creamy-toned performance of the aria "E Viva Ancora," from Handel's opera Ariodante, was uncolored, with apparently unlimited dynamic expression.
Nor was the SS-AR2's superlatively natural way with voices restricted to those of women. Not only was there a lack of coloration to the voices; the separation between the carefully layered vocal lines in my recording of Cantus singing Edie Hill's "A True Heart Is Waiting," from the male choir's There Lies the Home (CD, Cantus CTS-1206), was exquisite. It had been a privilege to record this work with the composer attending the sessions; I had worked hard, using three pairs of microphones, to create the three-dimensional picture that the Sonys effortlessly re-created in my listening room.
With pink noise, the SS-AR2 sounded smooth on the tweeter axis, though with slightly exaggerated levels in the low treble and lower midrange. This balance seemed relatively consistent whether I listened above or below the tweeter axis. The 1/3-octave warble tones on Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2) were reproduced with full weight down to the 32Hz band, and the 25Hz warble was audible at a reduced level. Only the 20Hz tone was altogether inaudiblebut I could also hear no wind noise from the lower port, which loads the woofers. On the half-stepspaced toneburst track on Editor's Choice, the tones spoke relatively cleanly for a ported design, with very little extraneous noise.
The Sony offered clean, extended low-bass frequencies with what sounds like an acoustic bass guitar in Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Stones in the Road," from her Party Doll and Other Favorites (Apple Lossless file ripped from CD, Columbia CK 68751), sounding surprisingly weighty but well defined. And oh, the magic the Sony lent that characteristic sob in Carpenter's voice in this album's title track. And no matter how much I love Nat King Cole's original of "Nature Boy," Benson owned this song on the Sonys.
However, there did seem to be a little too much energy in the lower midrange. Depending on the amplifier in usemore so with the Lamm M1.2 Reference or Classé CT-M600 monoblocks, less so with the Devialet D-Premier integratedthis warmth emphasized the mellow top octaves, and gave too much weight to the bass "doo-wop" voices in my 2008 in-concert recording of Cantus performing Curtis Mayfield's "It's Alright" on their Out of the Box (24/44.1 master file for the limited-edition CD, Cantus CTS-103). This was the first close-miked, multitrack recording I'd done of the choiras well as recording the voices, I was supplying a feed to the front-of-house sound systemand I'd added equalization to the bass voices to make them sound appropriately powerful through as many speakers as I had access to during the mixing and mastering sessions. But listening to these files through the SS-AR2s, I now wished I'd used a fraction of a dB less upper-bass boost. Similarly, the late David Ackles's reedy baritone in "His Name Is Andrew," from David Ackles (Apple Lossless file ripped from CD, Elektra), was reproduced with more body than I was used to, as were the timpani in this track.
Paradoxically, while the SS-AR2s had not thrown as tightly defined a central image of dual-mono pink noise as have the finest time-slicing speakers I've heard, individual acoustic objects within the stereo imaging sounded both well differentiated from one another and palpably real. I didn't get the feeling that loud objects were crowding out low-level ones, even at high levels. The solo voices in Out of the Box, particularly the tenors, get extremely loud at times, but the Sonys dealt with this without obscuring the backing voices or the traces of ambience surrounding the occasional backing instruments, such as Lee Blaske's accordion or Dave Hagedorn's battery of percussion instruments.
When I interviewed him, the SS-AR2's designer had emphasized the importance of dynamic linearity, and I did tend to play the Sonys louder than I'd expected toor, more important, louder than other members of my family had anticipated. (I believe that listeners set playback level by turning up the volume until the sound starts to become strained, then backing off the volume control a little.) But at more sensible levels, the wealth of recorded detail was not diminished.
As I finish writing this review, I'm listening to the Beach Boys' The Smile Sessions (24/88.2 Apple Lossless files transcoded from FLAC, Capitol/HDtracks). Hearing "Surf's Up," released in 1971 on the Brother/Reprise album of that title, for the first time on a true high-end system back then, had been a formative experience for me. That version had been assembled by Carl Wilson from fragments of two unreleased songs, "Surf's Up" and "Child Is Father to the Man," from the sessions for the aborted Smile album, with a new lead vocal for the first section from Carl. But the glory of this new album is a mono demo version"Surfin' Take 1"from December 1966, with just Brian Wilson's double-tracked vocal accompanied by a piano. (The second section of this demo, Brian singing "Dove nested towers . . . ," did make it through to the 1971 version.) The Sonys handled this track as they had every other: a sweet sound with no coloration, and a deliciously palpable quality to the acoustic objects, even in mono. They increased even more my great respect for Brian Wilson's visionwith just voice and piano, he conjured up every aspect of his brother's later arrangement.
There are highly detailed speakers that tend to have cold tonal balances; there are warm-sounding speakers that smear or obscure recorded detail. Sony's SS-AR2 is neither. It offers a transparent window on the recorded soundstage while sounding the opposite of cold. Somewhat mellower and more polite in character than, say, Revel's Ultima Salon2, which set the standard for sound quality for $20,000/pair speakers, the Sony SS-AR2 is nevertheless a superb-sounding speaker with an almost full-range, uncolored balance. With its translucent wood-grain finish, it also looks superb, in an understated way. If you value recordings of the human voiceand even if you don'tSony's SS-AR2 is a speaker you need to hear.