John Atkinson

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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 21, 2012 1 comments
Styled to resemble Sonus Faber’s cost-no-object “The Sonus Faber” flagship design, the new Sonus Faber Venere range of speakers made its debut at RMAF. Costing $2498/pair, ie, around less than 2% of the big speaker’s price, the Venere 2.5 was demmed with an Audio Research DSI200 class-D integrated amplifier ($5995), a Wadia Model 121 decoding computer ($1299), a Pro Ject Xtension turntable with Sumiko Blackbird cartridge ($3699) a Pro Ject Phono Box ($999), and Pro Ject’s new Stream Box ($1999). The LP of Jeff Buckley’s classic album Grace was reproduced with appropriate impact and a color-free tonal balance. Even considering the relatively affordable price of the system, this was still one of the better-sounding rooms I heard at RMAF.
John Atkinson Posted: Dec 02, 2007 Published: Sep 02, 1996 0 comments
Conventional wisdom has it that large Japanese corporations are insular. But when it comes to audio, Sony bucks the conventional wisdom as much as it does in pretty much everything it does. In Europe, the company has long had an excellent reputation for producing loudspeakers using local design talent, so I wasn't surprised to see Sony launching a line of American-designed and -made speakers at Stereophile's 1994 High-End Hi-Fi Show in Miami. Stereophile writer Barry Willis came away from that Show raving about the Sonys: "What we heard was gorgeous, absolutely beautiful: rich, warm, and deep, with a seductive midrange, a shimmering, delicate, grain-free top-end, and a soundstage to die for," he wrote about the sound of the three-way SS-M7 in Miami (footnote 1), 1 concluding that "WATT/Puppy performance is now available at Vandersteen prices in an American-made loudspeaker sporting a Japanese badge."
John Atkinson Posted: Aug 12, 2001 0 comments
The occasion was the 1999 Consumer Electronics Show, and I had sought out the Sony suite at Bally's—the word in the Las Vegas bars where audio journalists hung out was that Sony was demonstrating the production version of their SCD-1 Super Audio CD player. I was glad I'd made the trek along the Strip: As I reported in the May 1999 Stereophile, the sound of a DMP recording—of unaccompanied choral music recorded and mixed in DSD by Tom Jung—was breathtaking, I felt, with an exquisite sense of space. It was definitely the best sound at the CES.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 13, 2011 1 comments
Sony has a track record of sporadically producing high-quality loudspeakers, like the SS-M9 that I reviewed in 1997. But as good as these speakers could be, their commercial success was limited. But at the last two Rocky Mountain Audio Fests, Ray Kimber had been getting great sound with a prototype Sony floorstander and the 2011 CES saw the official launch of the Sony SS-AR1 ($27,000/pair).

A three-way design, the SS-AR1 uses Scanspeak drive-units made to Sony's specification, housed in a unique, Japanese-made enclosure. Seen here standing next the basic enclosure, designer Yuki Sugiaro explained that the walls are made from Finnish birch ply and the front baffle from maple ply. The latter is sourced from trees grown in Hokkaido.) The woodworking is so precise that the cabinet shown here is holding itself together without any glue (thoigh glue, of course, is used on the production line).

Driven by Pass Labs amps and an EMM SACD player, the SS-AR1s were demmed in too small and crowded a room for me to pronounce on their sound quality, other than to note that the midrange seemed exceptionally clean and uncolored. But my prior experience at RMAF suggests that this will be a contender.

Availability is said to be "spring" and Sony announced that they have already signed up blue-chip US dealers like Goodwins, Definitive, David Lewis, and Music Lovers.

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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 17, 2013 2 comments
The very first room I visited at the 2013 RMAF was Sony's, where they were demonstrating the HAP-Z1ES hi-rez file player ($1999) that I reported on in September. This neat device features a 1TB internal drive, Ethernet and WiFi connectivity, and can be controlled by an app running on a tablet or phone. It will upsample any format to double-DSD as well as handling native single-DSD and double-DSD files. It comes preloaded with 20 hi-rez albums from Sony, Warner, and Universal and the goal was to make file playback as easy and as fast as playing a disc. It doesn't, therefore, allow playback from a computer or NAS but a rear USB port allows the internal storage to be supplemented with an external drive.
John Atkinson Posted: Dec 21, 2003 Published: Dec 01, 2003 0 comments
Sony's first flagship Super Audio CD player was the two-channel SCD-1, reviewed by Jonathan Scull in November 1999. (The $5000 SCD-1 had balanced outputs; the cosmetically different but otherwise identical $3500 SCD-777ES had unbalanced outputs and was reviewed by Chip Stern in April 2001.) Sony's second-generation flagship player, the $3000 SCD-XA777ES, was reviewed by Kalman Rubinson in January 2002, and added multichannel capability with channel-level adjustment and bass management. Sony's third-generation flagship is the SCD-XA9000ES, also priced at $3000, which adds time-delay adjustment for its multichannel analog outputs and is presented in a smart new styling that Sony calls "Silver Cascade." The disc drawer and the most frequently used controls are on the angled top half of the brushed-aluminum front panel; in the lower half are the display, the headphone jack and its volume control, and the multifunction control knob.
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 21, 2012 11 comments
One of the final rooms I visited at the 2012 RMAF was Sony’s. An as-yet-to-be-named floor-standing speaker was being demmed with Pass Labs amplification, Kimber Kables, and a Mytek DSD-capable DAC, taking data over USB from a laptop. The speaker has much in common with the superb SS-AR2 that I reviewed in October, but is shorter and, as can be seen from Jason Serinus’ photo, has an intriguing array of two supertweeters above and below the tweeter.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 17, 2012 0 comments
Sony’s Motoyuki (Yuki) Sugiura adjusts the volume on the Pass Labs preamp. Although the room was a bit too big for the SS-AR2s, the top-octave balance of the 1" soft-dome tweeter being optimized for a smaller acoustic space, these $20,000/pair speakers, derived from the SS-AR1 that so impressed Kalman Rubinson last July, produced one of the best sounds I heard at the 2012 NY Show. Despite the mellow balance, there was a wealth of recorded detail to be heard, with a huge, stable soundstage. Commendably for a speaker with a modest footprint, the sound didn't appreciably harden at high levels. I will be reviewing the SS-AR2 in the November issue of Stereophile.
John Atkinson Posted: Sep 27, 2012 Published: Oct 01, 2012 1 comments
A highlight for me of Stereophile's 2011 equipment reviews was Kalman Rubinson's report on Sony's SS-AR1 loudspeaker in July. I had been impressed by this unassuming-looking floorstander at the 2009 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, when, courtesy Ray Kimber, I had used a pair for my "Loudness Wars" demonstration—and was equally impressed when I used another pair for a dem of my recordings at Massachusetts retailer Goodwin's High End, in summer 2011. The SS-AR1 costs $27,000/pair and combines a full frequency range with an uncolored, detailed midrange, sweet-balanced highs, and excellent dynamics. "The Sony SS-AR1 is an impressive loudspeaker," summed up Dr. Kal; "it brings the analytical capabilities of studio monitoring to the listening room." So when I learned that Sony had introduced a smaller, less-expensive version, the SS-AR2 ($20,000/pair), it took me less than the proverbial New York minute to request a pair for review.
John Atkinson Posted: Sep 06, 2013 0 comments
The door to a professional reviewer's listening room is one that revolves: As one product leaves, another enters. After a while, it becomes difficult to remember exactly when you auditioned any specific component. But some products stick in your memory—you fondly remember the time you spent with them, and wish they hadn't departed quite so quickly. With loudspeakers, I recall a few such: Revel's Ultima Salon2 ($22,000, footnote 1), MBL's 111B ($17,000), Dynaudio's Confidence C4 ($16,000), Sonus Faber's Amati Futura ($36,000), Vivid's B1 ($14,990), TAD's Compact Reference CR1 ($40,600 with stands), and even the much less expensive Harbeth P3ESR ($2195–$2395) and KEF LS50 ($1500). Among the most recently reviewed of those fondly remembered speakers is Sony's SS-AR2ES ($20,000).

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