YG Acoustics Sonja 1.3 loudspeaker

The advertisements run by Colorado manufacturer YG Acoustics in 2008, when it launched its flagship loudspeaker model, the Anat Reference II Professional, unequivocally claimed it to be "The best loudspeaker on Earth. Period." They caused a stir. The YGA speaker cost $107,000/pair at the time of Wes Phillips's review in the March 2009 issue. Wes didn't disagree with the claim, concluding that, "Like my pappy used to say, it ain't braggin' if you can actually do it."

To riff on Wes's conclusion, "If it ain't broke, it don't need fixin'." So I was somewhat puzzled when I first saw the Anat's successor, the Sonja 1.3, at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show. The Sonja 1.3 comprises the Sonja 1.1, the top module, which can be used on its own and costs $38,800/pair (footnote 1). Adding the upper woofer module gives you the Sonja 1.2 ($72,800/pair), while completing the package with the lower woofer module results in the Sonja 1.3 ($106,800/pair).

Superficially, the new speaker looks identical to the older one: the same height, the same form—three separate modules constructed from aluminum panels mounted atop one another—and the same drive-unit array: a 1" silk-dome tweeter mounted within an almost circular waveguide between two 6" midrange drivers, and two 10" woofers. But on closer inspection, it became apparent that the Sonja 1.3 is, in many ways, a completely different design.

The Sonja . . .
The modules of the Anat Reference II Professional were flat-sided, with the HF/MF module rectangular and the two woofers truncated pyramids of different heights but identical volumes, which gave the speaker's appearance a Bauhaus flavor. By contrast, the Sonja 1.3's modules feature subtly radiused side panels, the increasing radius of the lower modules producing an elegantly concave profile. The woofers are no longer powered but passively crossed over, the crossover for both modules residing in the bottom one. (When just the Sonja 1.2 is purchased, the low-frequency crossover is housed in the 1.2 woofer module; this is replaced by a blanking plate when the 1.3 woofer is added.) The crossover filters are a proprietary topology, said to add in-phase in the overlap regions, and use expensive, close-tolerance Mundorf capacitors and "Zero Ohm" inductors. One toroidal air-core inductor is wound in-house by YGA, and the Sonja's internal wiring is all Kimber Select.

Most significant, whereas the Anat and its variants used paper-cone midrange units and woofers, the Sonja's drivers feature the BilletCore diaphragms that made their appearance toward the end of the Anat's life. Each cone begins as a circular blank of 6061 aluminum alloy, an aircraft-grade metal that finishes well and doesn't corrode like harder aluminum alloys. A five-axis CNC machine first balances the blank, then increases its rotational speed so that metal can be cut away to produce the finished cone. It takes about three hours of machine time to produce the woofer cone, which has a thickness before anodizing of 0.25mm, this down from an initial time of eight hours. To produce a midrange cone, which is 0.2mm thick, takes about 90 minutes (both times including setup). The finished cones are sent out for hard anodizing, then shipped to Denmark with the surrounds to be assembled into complete drive-units, the Danish company providing all the "soft" parts, such as the spider.

The final woofer cone weighs 46gm; for reference, the cone of the 10" woofer used by KEF in its R207/2, which I reviewed a few years back, including the voice-coil and its former, weighs 40gm. There is therefore a tradeoff between increased mass and reduced sensitivity with a machined-alloy cone. However, YGA's founder, Yoav Geva, feels that this is worthwhile, given that the BilletCore cone is going to be truly pistonic not only throughout its passband but well beyond it. The use of machined metal unstressed by stamping or extrusion makes the cones extremely rigid and strong—the midrange cone has a mass of only 8gm, but can take 1000 lbs of vertical load without flexing.

Not only the cones, but all the metal parts in the Sonja, including the trim rings around the drivers—even the biwiring binding posts—are made by YGA. The aluminum panels that form the enclosures are milled from large sheets of aluminum.

I visited the YGA factory just before writing this review. It's an impressive operation. Raw aluminum-alloy rods, bars, and sheets enter; finished speakers and bags of aluminum swarf and scrap leave, the former to dealers and distributors, the latter to a recycling center. YGA's two expensive CNC machines run flat-out for two shifts every day, even machining away the copper between the traces on the circuit boards for the crossover filters.

Having seen YGA's capital-intensive operation, I am surprised not only that the Sonja 1.3 doesn't cost more than it does, but also that it costs slightly less than the company's earlier flagship model.

Setup & System
YGA's Dick Diamond and Kerry St. James delivered the six aluminum flight cases containing the Sonja 1.3s and, much to my relief, insisted on setting up the speakers in my listening room all by themselves. With each complete speaker weighing 506 lbs, I had been wondering how they were going to move them.

The answer: To place the 1.2 module atop the 1.3 module, then crown the array with the 120-lb 1.1 module, they used the hand-pumped, handled suction cups used to lift large sheets of glass. Then, with the speaker assembled, they slid Teflon furniture-moving coasters, fitted with Delrin inserts, under the four spikes. It proved surprisingly easy to slide the speakers around on these coasters, to find the optimal positions in the room. Once Diamond and St. James had proclaimed themselves comfortable with the setup, they took the suction cups and coasters away with them, meaning that I was able to do no further fine-tuning of the speaker positions.



Footnote 1: This price is with the internal, 65Hz high-pass filters fitted. A pair of Sonja 1.1s without the filters costs $34,000.
Company Info
YG Acoustics LLC
4941 Allison Street, Unit 10
Arvada, CO 80002
(801) 726-3887
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Comments
carlosgallardo's picture
Comparison

I'd like to read a comparison between the Sonja and the Magicos Q5 and Q7, or Willson Alexandria

 

Bulsara's picture
It's a bargain ...

It's a bargain ... stupid !

Lofty's picture
Another cable question!

John,
after the YGA guys left  - why didn't you install your usual cabling? It surprises me you didn't revert to your constant , then install the K-S cables and report the difference?

As you might say, "color me puzzled?"

John Atkinson's picture
Answers

To respond to these points, with speakers as large as the YG Sonja 1.3, Wilson Alexandria XLF, and Magico Q7 or Q5, the logistical problems doing side-by-side comparisons are immense. For example, I have a basement listening room and I don't see how I could get either the Wilsons or either of the Magicos in that room? If I remember correctly, each Magico Q7 weighs 700 lbs. (The YGs each split into three modules, which made the task manageable - just.)

But you can find our reviews of the XLF and Q5 at http://www.stereophile.com/content/wilson-audio-specialties-alexandria-xlf-loudspeaker and http://www.stereophile.com/floorloudspeakers/magico_q5_loudspeaker/index.html .

Regarding the lack of cable comparisons in my Sonja review, I ran out of time. However, I still have the Kubala-Sosna cables and will publish some comparisons, using different speaker, later in the year.

Regarding the sarcastic comment that the YG speaker is a "bargain," I feel that while the Sonja 1.3 is very expensive, it is indeed fairly priced given the bill of materials,  the cost of skilled labor, and the use of capital-intensive equipment (the cost of which has to be amortized over a relatively limited production run), to make it. Remember also that with a speaker this bulky and heavy, even the cost of shipping a pair to the dealer is expensive and that cost has to be built into the retail price.

I am reminded of a story told me by YG's Yoav Geva. He was contacted by a would-be customer who complained about a YG speaker's price and who estimated that there was around $200 worth of raw aluminum stock in that speaker.

"Send me a check for $200 and I'll send you the raw aluminum so you can build your own speaker!" responded Mr. Geva :-)

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

GeorgeHolland's picture
I'd Rather Own a House

Bulsara, yes it is stupid to say it's a bargain.

Lofty, Mr Atkinson doesn't test cables just allows subjective reviews.

Mr Atkinson, "I feel that while the Sonja 1.3 is very expensive, it is indeed fairly priced given the bill of materials,  the cost of skilled labor, and the use of capital-intensive equipment (the cost of which has to be amortized over a relatively limited production run), to make it"................"Having seen YGA's capital-intensive operation, I am surprised not only that the Sonja 1.3 doesn't cost more than it does, but also that it costs slightly less than the company's earlier flagship model."

Well I'll keep that in mind next time I have a complete house built from scratch. I think I'd get much more for the money than just a pair of speakers. Good luck to them selling enough of these to recoup their investment plus make a profit. Not many very wealthy people are going to buy these.

For $108,000  you can buy all the electronic, audio, computer, wood working equipment to build your own speakers and have plenty left over for a good sized down payment on that house. Plus you have the satisfaction of learning how to make those speakers and can make more and more for your family and friends. People do this all the time. Check out the DIY audio and speaker forums. Plenty of already tried and true speaker plans on there.

John Atkinson's picture
Financial realities

GeorgeHolland wrote:
For $108,000  you can buy all the electronic, audio, computer, wood working equipment to build your own speakers and have plenty left over for a good sized down payment on that house.

Not if you want to emulate the YG speakers. The 5-axis CNC machines used to mill all the speaker parts cost, if I remember correctly, several hundred thousand dollars each. And then there is the positive air pressure machine room, the swarf and scrap collection machines, the salaries of the skilled operators, and the cost of the milling tools, themselves. Let alone rent, cost of capital, worker health insurance and benefits, etc. And while aluminum is relatively easy to machine, the mineral-loaded phenolic resin material used by Wilson wears out several tools, at a couple of hundred dollars a time, for each enclosure.

It is all too easy for an armchair critic to poke scorn at companies like YG and Wilson. But the enterpreneurs behind these companies have done something the armchair critic has never done, which is to put at risk their ability to feed their families in order to realize their dreams.

No-one forces you to buy speakers like thiese, Mr. Holland, but you have to respect what their manufacturers are trying to achieve.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

GeorgeHolland's picture
Oh Please

Who wants to emulate the YG? There are plenty of designs out there just as good or better.  Look at Mr Linkowitz  http://www.linkwitzlab.com/   or John K's http://www.musicanddesign.com/naomain.html  others are also out there.

You don't have to spend obscene amounts like on a YG or Wilson to have fantastic sound.

Those impedance and phase numbers for the YG aren't exactly astounding by any means, you would think for the money that they would have tidied up the problems there and also the panel vibrations are not worthy of the price paid.

"But the enterpreneurs behind these companies have done something the armchair critic has never done, which is to put at risk their ability to feed their families in order to realize their dreams"

Oh stop it I might cry. Poor little Wilson has it rough I can tell.

"No-one forces you to buy speakers like thiese, Mr. Holland, but you have to respect what their manufacturers are trying to achieve."

Their achievement is to charge as much as possible and hope the rich buy it.

ChrisS's picture
Oh Thanks, Georgie!

Your links don't work.

JohnnyR's picture
For The Inept

  Too lazy to copy and paste the links themselves into their browser

 

http://www.linkwitzlab.com

http://www.musicanddesign.com/naomain.html

[Edit by John Atkinson]

[Additional edit by John Atkinson]

Regadude's picture
Those speakers

The speakers in those links don't look impressive. But, I will reserve judgement because I HAVE NEVER HEARD THEM. 

A person would be silly to denigrate a product they have never seen and heard in person...

GeorgeHolland's picture
So Show Us What You Have Made

Oh that's right you can't.wink

Both of those speakers are very well known and admired in the audio community of course they aren't silly expenisve so they don't have the snob appeal like Wilson or YG does,

JohnnyR's picture
Those That Have Knowledge

will be able to pick out what is and what isn't good about a product soley based upon the measurements, layout and other appearances. [flame deleted by John Atkinson]

corrective_unconscious's picture
Those sites

Hope those manufacturers are better with audio design than they are with graphic design or even information graphics, because those are some primitive repositories. Irksome.

(Just for the record I'm quite sure it's possible to obtain superlative speakers for under 10k or 15k...even semi mass produced ones via brick and mortar audio shops.)

GeorgeHolland's picture
It's About

getting across the information. They are more of an info site than trying to sell something. If you want glitz then look elsewhere.

xsipower's picture
Being in Business Isn't Cheap

First just let me say WOW!! Nice speakers (no I am not being sarcastic). I would love to have a pair of these in my living room.

I will have to agree with Mr. Atkinson on his assessment of why these speakers cost what they do. Given that these speakers are not really considered “mass produced”, but made in small quantity I can understand the cost. Machining is very expensive and not a cheap way of making metal parts. It is a slow process and requires expensive machines that must be maintained and staffed by well-paid labor. The benefit of machining is its flexibility and precision. As they say – time is money.

 If they were truly made in high quantity, most manufactures would shift to casting or other forming methods which can save a lot of money because it is fast and does not require as expensive machines. That kind of work is usually farmed out to “third world” or “developing countries”.  Of course some finish machining would be required, but nowhere near as much as with billet machining.

I know that there is a lot of animosity toward the high end audio industry for their prices. Some of it I would say has foundation, but not all of it. People need to understand that many of these companies are small businesses that sell only in the hundreds, some if that. We get used to the mass produced “Made with slave labor” prices from Best Buy and the like. The business model for the smaller companies is totally different. They need to have on staff not only the founders and lower waged assembly people, but engineers and technicians who are expensive. Plus pay for insurance, rent, taxes, utilities, etc. Then there are the materials and subcontractors and expensive capital equipment. They must also spend their own money on trade shows and advertisements. They are not a non-profit organization.

I am an engineer myself; and have spent some 25 years in research and development. Developing products is expensive. While developing a product, you are making no money on it. It eats away at your cash like no tomorrow. By the time let say a high end amplifier goes from concept to production, a year can be spent.  It first needs to be designed on paper and simulated on computers. Then it must be bread boarded, then prototyped – maybe two or three iterations. Then it must be designed for manufacturing. That can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars if not more. That investment must be recouped with hopefully some profit. Some can make stuff in a garage and be cheap and good, but once you move out from a garage your expenses balloon.

Yes we can look at it from an armchair DIY point of view, but that is way too simplistic and disrespects the effort it takes to make a well-designed product that can be reliably reproduced in quantity. We need to be careful when making judgments on high end items.

ChrisS's picture
You can't make me!

Georgie,

Are you amongst the many un-wealthy who are also not going to buy these speakers?

carlosgallardo's picture
Thanks a lot

Thank you for making it clear for all of us.

I understand your logistical problems, my intention was not to complain but having more information from a reviewer like you that got the opportunity to listen to all of them, and at the same time have an respectable oppinion.

MVBC's picture
Really?

"YGA's Sonja 1.3 is that rare beast: a true full-range loudspeaker capable of playing at realistic sound-pressure levels"

And

"Sensitivity: 88dB/2.83V/m"

Good one!laugh

GeorgeHolland's picture
Not Even That Good

Mr Atkinson's words: "The Sonja's voltage sensitivity is specified as 88dB/2.83V/m. However, my estimate was significantly less than that, at 85dB(B)/2.83V/m"

So takes even twice more the power for the same loudness. If 1 watt = 85 dB then 32 watts = 100 dB and above 100dB it made the amp clip? Yep really worth every penny.

"This speaker needs to be used with an amplifier capable of delivering both amps and volts in quantity—I suspect that the hardness I noted at sustained SPLs above 100dB was simply due to the amplifiers clipping into the demanding impedance."

So lets say you spend another $50,000 on an amp capable of driving these. Nice.

ChrisS's picture
"When the boys came out to play..."

If Georgie can't find it at Wal Mart, Georgie ain't buyin'....

MVBC's picture
Contradiction

Nope, that is not his point: it means it'll take me 130 watts to get to 120dB on my JBL pro drivers system while you'll need 2,000 watts with these $100k fancy speakers driving mickey mouse drivers with very expensive diaphragms... To call these being able to reproduce realistic levels is a farce.

harishcs's picture
Is it necessary ?

Even assuming that YG is not being unreasonable about the selling price, the question is whether all that elaborate machining,etc is necessary for achieving state of the art sound ?  

 

 

 

 

JohnnyR's picture
The Truth?

The answer is NO

[Off-topic text deleted by John Atkinson] Magico uses aluminum structures in their $20,000 speakers but is it worth the cost?  You can throw endless amounts of money into making things appear "better" and look impressive but I'd rather have a set of speakers that come with an actual frequency response graph included and it's not that hard to do so yet who does? It would prove that quality control is constant with not just the sample loaned to Atkinson but also the pair you yourself bought.

ChrisS's picture
Whose truth?

Having truth and fact defined for you by Uncle Joseph for so many years, Comrade JRusskie, no wonder you trust a piece of paper with a graph over your own hearing.

JohnnyR's picture
YG Trusts The Graph

Yet you seemed to have overlooked that fact. Atkinson takes frequency graphs, do you trust him? Floyd Toole trusts graphs, that's how the speaker industry found out what consumers liked the best. A speaker that has flat frequency rersponse. Too bad some designers overlook the importance of a benign impedance that doesn't tax the abilities of the amp.Do you trust anything other than your willingness to open mouth and insert foot?

ChrisS's picture
Hear no evil...

And they all trust their hearing too!

John Atkinson's picture
Quality Assurance

JohnnyR wrote:
I'd rather have a set of speakers that come with an actual frequency response graph included and it's not that hard to do so yet who does?It would prove that quality control is constant with not just the sample loaned to Atkinson but also the pair you yourself bought.

For production QA on finished speakers, YG uses MLSSA with the speaker suspended high in the air to give an anechoic time window of 13ms. But as I said in the review but you seem to have overlooked, YG did send me the response of what I understood to be the finalized protoype sample of the Sonja 1.3, measured in the NRC's anechoic chamber in Ottawa. And as I also wrote in the review, my measurement of the farfield response of my sample of the Sonja was almost identical in the midrange and above to YG's NRC measurement of the prototype. YG therefore does have very effective quality control and your insinuation is incorrect.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JohnnyR's picture
Prototype Sample

Isn't the same as the production run in many cases plus you got a cherry picked set of speakers or do you believe that it was just a randon set the shipping clerk chose to send you? You seemed to have overlooked that I said  "but also the pair you yourself bought." so my point is still valid. Will YG send out frequency specs for every speaker?

John Atkinson's picture
Re: Prototype sample

JohnnyR wrote:
Isn't the same as the production run in many cases...

Again you misunderstand what you read. The sample measured in the NRC chamber was the final protoype, ie, the reference sample of the design. All Sonja 1.3s are measured as the final step of the production process and their response compared to that of the reference measured under identical conditions. The close tolerance of that QA process is confirmed by the fact that my measured response of a production sample was essentially the same as that of the reference sample, even given the fact the former was measured with a swept sinewave in the NRC chamber and I used a quasi-anechoic MLS technique.

I am sure there are companies that have poor or inconsistent QA. YG Acoustics is not one of them. It's time for you to stop beating this dead horse.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

GeorgeHolland's picture
So in other words, they don't

So in other words, they don't supply a print out of the frequency response of the actual speakers you buy.

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