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Sony aims high with new affordable Core Series speakers

The Audiophiliac auditions the Sony SS-CS5 speaker, the least-expensive three-way bookshelf speaker you can buy from a major manufacturer.

Sony SS-CS5 speakers. Sony

Sony isn't usually the first name to come to mind when I'm thinking about quality speakers, but its new Core Series speakers turned me around.

I had a pair of Sony's SS-CS5 bookshelf speakers to evaluate, and the first thing that stood out was that it's a three-way design. Most three-ways have woofer, midrange, and tweeter drivers. But the SS-CS5 sports a 5-inch foamed mica-reinforced woofer, 1-inch dome tweeter, and a 0.75-inch dome "super" tweeter. So it's more like a two-way design, with a super-tweeter that extends the high-frequency response up to 50KHz. Now sure, humans can, at best, only hear up to 20KHz. But I find that speakers and headphones with extended high-frequency responses tend to sound better in the frequencies we can hear. They don't sound brighter, just clearer.

The SS-CS5's impedance is rated at 6 ohms; the speaker measures 7x13.3x8.6 inches; and it weighs 9.4 pounds. The rear panel has a bass port and heavy-duty speaker wire connectors. The matte black vinyl-wrapped cabinet looks and feels a little cheap, more like what you'd expect from a home-theater-in-a-box speaker than one aimed at a more discerning customer. I used my NAD C 316BEE stereo integrated amp and Oppo BDP 105 Blu ray player for all my listening tests.

The SS-CS5's uber resolution delivers the texture of sound, like the feel of a bow moving over a cello's strings. There's an intimacy to the sound that eludes most similarly priced speakers. Even with the extra detail, the SS-CS5 never crosses the line to add stridency or harshness. Bass oomph is good, not great, though I never considered using a subwoofer with the SS-CS5s for music. For home theater, definitely add a sub. I'd recommend the Dayton Audio Sub-800 or Sub-1000.

A brief shootout with a pair of PSB Alpha B bookshelf speakers was interesting. Those speakers had a warmer, more laid-back tonal balance, but the SS-CS5 won for its superior detail and clarity. I really like the Alpha B, and will continue to use it as a reference for small, moderately priced bookshelf speakers. The SS-CS sound is a different "flavor." It has a more intimate quality that brings the music closer. The Alpha B imposes some distance on the sonic perspective.

I didn't have the Pioneer SP-BS22 LR speakers on hand for a direct comparison, but I know that speaker well enough to say this Sony wins on detail. But the SP-BS22 LR has better overall tonal balance. It's also a lot cheaper. But if you crave the utmost in resolution, the SS-CS5 is worth considering.

The complete line of CS speakers is, or will soon be, available at Sony Stores and Best Buy. The SS-CS5 bookshelf speakers I'm reviewing here sell for $220 per pair. The matching SS-CS3 tower speakers run $240 each, the SS-CS8 center channel speaker is $170, and the SS-CS9 subwoofer is $240.

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