Best Vintage SONY Speakers Ranked (Tested in 2022)


sony vintage speakers in backyard

Sony usually gets that bad rep when discussing vintage speakers, or to say it better, lack of interest.

To most folks, Sony is more synonymous with its mass-market Walkman and PlayStation products than high-end and innovatively engineered loudspeakers. 

But, being the giant it was (and still is), Sony still had the resources to dip its fingers into research and produce so-called high-end pursuits (along with its consumer line).

They were especially interested in electrostatics from an early point; you only need to warp back to 1973 to see its 7000s from the SS series for evidence of this – it’s a curious rebadging of B&W’s long-lost DM-70 Continental electrostatic. 

The Sony is a textbook example of a concept done well. Its capacity to move air quickly and without fuss, allied to a decisive punch when called upon, is sophisticated loudspeaker territory.

If you’re fortunate enough to get hold of any of these speakers, treasure them. Like the best from Pioneer or JBL or many other brands, it’s pure gold unobtainable to most of us outside of Japan.

Now let’s dive into the best vintage Sony speakers and see what my test showed!

1. Sony APM-66ES

The Sony APM-66ES is the last high-end APM speaker to have been made, the final series with all the newest technologies.

There’s an ES version available, the ESMKII (with black speakers and a closed acoustical suspension box), and ultimately, the ESG version (with standard conical midranges and dome tweeters but maintaining the APM technology for the woofers).

For those unaware, APM stands for “Accurate Pistonic Motion.” It is related to the way of driving a flat square diaphragm. 

Sony engineers tended to think out of the box to create something different which would perform using the new technologies of the 70s.

They discovered that a flat and rigid square diaphragm drove in at least 4 points was the best design to bypass split vibration and have the breakup frequency much higher with a distortion grade much lower on the full spectrum.

Regarding the woofer, only one motor is linked to the flat diaphragm with eight damped tubular sticks.

The 66ES is a bass-reflex depending on the market: the initial Japanese APM-66ES (black) had its b-r port vertical next to the mid driver, and the USA counterpart (wood). The European counterpart (black or wood) was a sealed design.

The Japanese and USA versions have two front pots, while the European APM-66ES has one. 

The driving system of the APM-66’s woofers is the last APM evolution using 8 points driving rather than 4.

It allows getting rid of the 9th order resonance mode of the four points driving system initially developed for the APM-8. Therefore, the frequency response of this woofer is flat until 4KHz.

This is unbelievable for a diaphragm equivalent in area to a 25cm diameter cone. The effect is quite clear and fast bass response, so precise and powerful.

The midrange is the center of the design. It is a true 4-point driving APM speaker. Four aluminum cylinders go through the diaphragm and link the front skin to the voice coil, similar to the Sony APM-6 tweeters.

This technical accomplishment makes the 1st generation APM-66ES one of the best APM speakers and one of the best 3-way speakers ever made. 

These speakers are truly high-end items. One has to pay more than 8000 dollars to find such qualities in recent productions. And very significant is that you need to plug them into a very high-end system to be able to really hear what they can deliver.

The bass is unbelievable, the 3D stereo is amazing, and the transparency and dynamics are all over the spectrum.

The only downside would be the general box quality and finish, which really is not representative of the sound quality.

2. Sony SS 5050

The best model in Sony’s 1976 lineup, the SS-5050, was introduced in Tokyo, Japan, in October 1975. It was the first in a lineup that included the SS-1050, SS-2050, and SS-3050.

Japanese hi-fi was already very popular at this point. Still, there was a great deal of snobbery about it.

Additionally, Sony at this time was a major corporation with operations around the globe with factories in numerous nations in the far east.

The SS-5050 was created without cutting corners, just like the company’s other top-tier products, and was surprisingly sophisticated for a speaker from the 1970s.

The three-way design was rather heavy given its 365x630x318mm dimensions, weighing in at 20 kilos each.

Despite its size, it functions as a stand mounter and needs a sturdy frame stand rather than the spun-chrome stand on castors that it frequently ends up on.

Three drive units – a 25mm cone tweeter, a 35mm midrange driver, and a 300mm woofer – all of Sony design and manufacture were housed inside its spacious, well-braced, beech-ply cabinet.

The two upper drive units had unique protectors that helped with dispersion; the large 12-inch bass unit didn’t require any more help.

All three had their own air-tight sealing gaskets and were fastened into the large, heavy front baffle made of wood.

The bass driver cone for the SS-5050 was a hybrid of carbon fiber and paper, or “carbocon,” a technology that the large Japanese corporation was quite proud of and that was used in all of its future high-end speakers.

All drive units had diecast frames, premium wiring connectors, and carbon-coated mid-band and treble drivers.

The mid-band driver is the highlight here since it keeps its breakup areas far from the human ear’s most sensitive range of 2–5 kHz, where the drivers cross over from one another at 800Hz and 8,000kHz.

A 40Hz to 20kHz (-3dB) frequency response was the promised outcome, which was remarkable at the time. By the standards of the time, the SS-5050 also featured astonishingly high power handling.

The Sony required 80W, but a typical budget box would be destroyed by anything greater than 25W RMS. It was a three-way speaker from the 1970s with a claimed impedance of 8 ohms and an extremely high sensitivity of 91dB/1W/1m.

This was a fantastic outcome given that the 73-liter cabinet had a sealed infinite baffle design, especially because most speakers from the 1970s were ridiculously power-hungry.

I played some well-recorded classic rock through the SS-5050, such as Neil Young’s Southern Man, and was instantly taken aback by how dry, sharp, and clean it sounded. Its cup never overflows with sonic warmth or euphony, like many Japanese high-end.

Four decades after they first appeared in British stores, it’s amazing to hear a well-preserved pair of Sony SS-5050s, but you might be startled at how contemporary it sounds.

The endless baffle cabinet and light, high-power drivers deliver a fast, tight, punchy sound far less colored than most speakers of its day.

3. Sony SA-S1

Released in the UK in 1995, Sony’s SA-S1 active speakers packed way more technology than its rivals.

Upon the first review, the look of the SA-S1 tosses you a curve ball.

Any audiophile will instantly recognize what is sitting on an otherwise fairly anonymous-looking boxy speaker cabinet. Of course, it’s the electrostatic tweeter.

This is a great deal for any hi-fi speaker of any kind and cost – let alone something marketed as part of a stack system.

The 25x100mm treble unit is a valid, electrostatic design, driving out up to 8W RMS of power.

The structure of an electrostatic is such that the diaphragm that emits the sound is far lighter than that employed in a conventional dome tweeter. That implies lower distortion and more rapid transients – plus exceptional dispersion.

Typically, that would be enough for any loudspeaker – there are precious few electrostatic/moving coil hybrids. Yet the SA-S1 didn’t stop there as it had a 1.70mm bass unit that utilized a variant of the highly appreciated but little used motional feedback system.

Sony’s motional feedback configuration works by utilizing a second voice coil wound onto the bass driver. This is the same system you can purchase in MFB subwoofers today.

This speaker employs a stereo version of the power chip to provide one channel for the woofer and the other for the tweeter.

The speaker dimensions are 220x500x345mm and weigh 11kg per piece. 

Its lower cabinet is ended in satin lacquered dark brown paint, with plastic front baffle molding and a miniature rear-mounted reflex port.

The overall build quality of the SA-S1 is exceptionally good, much better than any other midi system speaker I’ve listened to, if not quite up to the criteria of high-end hi-fi designs.

Listening

To get the most from the Sony SA-S1, you’ll require two items; the first is a sufficient preamplifier, and the second is a proper pair of speaker stands.

For my own listening purposes, I employed an Audiophile Passive Preamplifier fed with a Chord Hugo TT2 DAC and a pair of Nexus stands, which in my space took the tweeters up to nearly ear height. 

I saw these active speakers perform best a good way into the room, which is a little counterintuitive given they should be midi-system speakers that would frequently be rammed against a rear wall. 

If you do the latter, you’ll probably get a rather sassy presentation that many may like, but I saw it just a little too intense. 

Sony doesn’t mention a frequency response, but there was a lot of bass energy, about 100Hz, way more than you’d hope from most speakers of this size. 

Properly set, you get a captivating sound that differs from most other speakers. 

In a nutshell, it is refined but bold, expansive but delicate, and punchy but smooth. Two features stand out: the treble, which is exquisitely carved and open, and the bass response, which is much more seismic than you might imagine.

Overall, the Sony SA-S1 throws music out at you with an unrelenting force, but surprisingly, it doesn’t sound harsh. However, it serves as a reminder of how lifeless and plodding many traditional stand mounters can be.

Again, the Sony gave the bass and snare drum work great attention; it seemed to enjoy the challenge of expressing strong drum hits, but there was no sense of this speaker being a crude bruiser that was just able to churn out monotonous thrash metal.

Considering that the awesome SA-S1 is not often seen on the market, don’t get your hopes up too high!

4. Sony SS-A5 La Voce

Released in the late 1980s, the Sony SS-A5 La Voce speaker illustrates driving the envelope further in audio technology. 

These are the only Japanese speakers to win the greatly desired French Diapason d’Or award.

It uses an organic bio-cellulose tweeter threaded by acetic acid, providing a stiffer yet thinner and lighter driver.

The speaker itself is very unlike the company’s consumer models. The SS A5 is mostly handcrafted. 

Details typically in the realm of hi-brow European brands are especially evident in this model. The cabinet is constructed from real wood veneer. 

Heavy binding posts substitute the sheer spring-type connector found in Sony’s other speaker models. 

The grill cover looks typical at first peek, but upon closer look, the grill frame is made to form a shape/protrusion, not unlike the Focal JM Lab or early Thiels. 

The Sony logo is gold embellished on the grill cloth. Elegant, even for today’s criteria.

But these very un-Sony looks don’t stop there. With the speaker grills off, you would hardly recognize this as a Sony. Gone is the plastic, ‘teenage mutant ninja turtle inspired’ front panel that was famous with Sony’s speakers at that time of its production.

Conversely, the acoustically treated exterior front panel lends the aesthetics of an oversized LS35a. 

I would assume that this front panel look is sole to this model. There must be a cause why the creators implemented this “cottage industry” look. I would surmise that the front exterior facades as a deflector panel. This passive speaker dampens reflective waves.

Listening

Off the bat, I’m feeling a more advanced Acoustic Research 3a. The A5s don’t go as low as the ARs, nor is that full-bodied midrange obvious.

The highs, though, are simply magic. I must say something about these organic transducers since warmness substitutes that edgy sound on metal domes. Fatty overtones take the position of the flatness of paper tweeters.

On the mid and low, the best analogy I can give is that, while the AR 3as sound like a Marantz, the Sonys lean towards Sansui sonic products.

Or, on a higher-end analogy, the Acoustic Research is to Conrad Johnson while the A5 is to ARC.

The Sonys are large bookshelf speakers. Placing them is hard, and using them as floorstanders will blur the imaging and overall sonic character. 

I am using 16-inch stands on the A5s – low enough to avoid booming bass but just enough to feel that kick on a bass drum.

At this height, the midrange sings pleasantly, though I would prefer a tad more body. But just a tad.

Speaker placement is also a pain. Due to the speaker’s size, the A5s need room to breathe. I used to have a limited room that did not give justice to these speakers.

But now that I can put them in a much bigger room giving the A5 that sonic elbow room, I can only agree with The VintageKnob when they illustrate these speakers as “pure musical bliss, with a soundstage as wide as the Grand Canyon, precise, stable and very energetic.”

5. Sony APM-8

This 4-way floor-type speaker system also employs the APM (Accurate Pistonic Motion) system developed by SONY.

The APM-8 was able to appear on the cover of Stereo Sound’s spring 1982 edition and win a State of the Art Award.

Sales weren’t expected to be very high, yet the APM-8 is the only flat-membrane loudspeaker that people still remember.

The APM-8 is not particularly uncommon despite being extremely pricey and large. There were at least 400 pairs constructed, contrary to the rumors that only 16 pairs were produced.

For the low-frequency range, an 807cm2 planar woofer unit is employed. It has an aluminum skin honeycomb sandwich diaphragm that is powered at four locations by four magnetic circuits and voice coils.

The magnetic circuit has slits, and grooves cut into the center pole plate to suppress eddy current and reduce distortion. The voice coil is made of oxygen-free copper ribbon wire wound edgewise.

The 144cm2 planar unit with a honeycomb sandwich diaphragm made of carbon fiber sheet skin is used for the mid and low frequencies.

Like the woofer, a low distortion magnetic circuit is employed, and the voice coil wires are edgewise wound with pure aluminum ribbon wire to reduce weight.

In addition, a bobbin mica tape with a high Young’s modulus is used to reduce the loss in transferring the power generated by the magnetic circuit to the diaphragm.

A 24cm2 planar unit is used for the mid and high frequencies.

This unit uses a honeycomb sandwich diaphragm made of carbon fiber sheet skin, and the magnetic circuit and material composition are the same as those of the mid and low-frequency units.

A 5.8cm2 planar tweeter is employed in the high-frequency range.

The diaphragm uses a honeycomb sandwich diaphragm made of carbon fiber sheet skin, and the magnetic circuit achieves a magnetic flux density of 21,000 gausses.

The voice coil is made of pure aluminum ribbon wire wound edgewise on a mica bobbin to improve rigidity and efficiency.

In the network and internal wiring, all capacitors and inductors are molded under high pressure with SBMC, an acoustic material with high internal loss, in order to suppress sound degradation caused by mechanical resonance.

In addition, extremely thick oxygen-free copper foil is used for the printed circuit board, oxygen-free copper wire is used for the internal wiring, and parallel wires are frequently used to reduce loss and coloration.

The enclosure comprises a high-density particle board with an internal volume of 200 L and a deadweight of 60 kg.

The radiation frequency of each board is calculated by a fast Fourier transform, and by controlling the board thickness and reinforcement material, the overlap of the radiation frequency is prevented, and the coupling between each surface is minimized to suppress the noise.

For the low-frequency range, an 807cm2 planar woofer unit is employed. It has an aluminum skin honeycomb sandwich diaphragm that is powered at four locations by four magnetic circuits and voice coils.

Sony Actually Made Some Great Speakers

Sony did make plenty of great stuff that isn’t recognized as such because:

1) not many have heard of their products,

2) they are hard to find because the owners hang on to them like crazy!

Sony back in the late 60s and early 70s had some of the best speakers out there, but because of the problem around the Superscope distributorship agreements couldn’t get the dealer arrangements sufficient to compete in sales against Pioneer, JBL, etc. 

Sony’s ULM speakers from 1972/1973 were very advanced and pretty rare. I still kick myself because I didn’t purchase the mint pair on eBay several years ago.

Later on, the SS-A5 did get some awards but was barely distributed. Also, the SS-GR1 was announced in Japan as a State of Art and Golden Sound unit (but was barely distributed).

Sony did make a couple of other well-regarded speakers. When released, the SS-M9, SS-M9ed, and SS-M7s were considered state-of-the-art. 

The 9s were Stereophile class A speakers. They were big and heavy, 300lbs. The tweeters were modified Vifas, and the mids were by Seas. The speakers were developed by a former Polk speaker engineer – Paul Aganos.

Another one, SS-G7, became a real bestseller in Japan but was also… barely distributed elsewhere. The G7 was hand-built from A to Z, just like any other “cottage industry” speakers: one by one, driver by driver, etc.

Arguably though, the company’s finest hour came in 1996 with the launch of the SS-R10 full-range flagship electrostatic. 

Hugely pricey (at 1,500,000 Yen each, or roughly $10,000 back then), this was and still is Sony’s rarest speaker – and is veritable eyesight for sore ears!

In the eyes of some audiophiles, some of these speakers couldn’t be good because they have tagged SONY. 

If you manage to put aside that image issue, you’ll find an amazing amount of really good stuff from the 60s until today, whether speakers, preamps, amplifiers, headphones, turntables, tuners – everything.

Tray Fiddy

Tray has come to terms with the fact he will probably never be a famous DJ.... but that hasn't stopped him from mixing and throwing parties around the town. Tray has over 10 years experience of DJing at home and events.

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