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Sony SS-CS5 3-way Speaker Review

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Sony SS-CS5 3-way bookshelf speaker. Yes, you read that right. It is a 3-way speaker with a mid-range driver in a space where 99% of speakers are 2-way. I purchased it from Amazon for US $149. Bad for me but for those of you shopping for bargains, the SS-CS5 cost just US $78 including shipping for a pair!!! I can't sell you my used socks for that price and still come out whole.

Note: I used to work for Sony and our company Madrona Digital is a dealer for Sony so read as much bias as you want into this review.

While rather light, the SS-CS5 doesn't look particularly cheap or bad:

Sony SS-CS5 three-way 3-way bookshelf speaker audio review.jpg


Here is the back side:

Sony SS-CS5 three-way 3-way bookshelf speaker back panel binding post port audio review.jpg


Is that Cyrillic translation I see for the word "manufactured?"
1590267170478.png

Speaker is made in Malaysia so why Russian language translation for that one word?

Measurements that you are about to see were performed using the Klippel Near-field Scanner (NFS). This is a robotic measurement system that analyzes the speaker all around and is able (using advanced mathematics and dual scan) to subtract room reflections (so where I measure it doesn't matter). It also measures the speaker at close distance ("near-field") which sharply reduces the impact of room noise. Both of these factors enable testing in ordinary rooms yet results that can be more accurate than an anechoic chamber. In a nutshell, the measurements show the actual sound coming out of the speaker independent of the room.

Worried that the soundfiled would be complex due to 3-way design, I upped the number of measurement points to above 800 but that still was not enough to fully capture the energy above 14 kHz. So what you see in the measurements below, underestimates the highest audible region by a few dBs.

Spinorama Audio Measurements
Acoustic measurements can be grouped in a way that can be perceptually analyzed to determine how good a speaker can be used. This so called spinorama shows us just about everything we need to know about the speaker with respect to tonality and some flaws:

Sony SS-CS5 three-way 3-way bookshelf speaker CEA-2034 Spinorama frequency response measurements.png


We see fair bit of frequency response anomolifes identified by broad peaks and dips which should make them quite audible. We also have heightened energy starting around 8 kHz even though what is seen as noted is actually lower than reality.

We see resonances as indicated by the same blips in all three upper graphs around 1 kHz, and 2+ kHz.

There is also directivity error around 3 kHz so I imagine that is one of the crossover points (can't find the spec).

Room reflections are also uneven:

Sony SS-CS5 three-way 3-way bookshelf speaker CEA-2034 Spinorama early reflections frequency r...png


Putting it all together, this is what we can predict for a hypothetical average listening room:

Sony SS-CS5 three-way 3-way bookshelf speaker CEA-2034 Spinorama Predicted In-room frequency r...png


It is more or less what we could have predicted from the on-axis response in the first graph. Overall, the response is not going to be balanced.

Horizontal directivity is not smooth and varies with the driver in play:
Sony SS-CS5 three-way 3-way bookshelf speaker horizontal directivity frequency response measur...png


The tweeter "beams" (narrows its response) quite a bit compared to mid-range it seems.

Vertical response is hardly ever good in 2-way speakers. Here it seems more of a mess:

Sony SS-CS5 three-way 3-way bookshelf speaker vertical directivity frequency response measurem...png


Notice how the tweeter response at 20 kHz is so spread out with dips and peaks.

Impedance graph shows some kinks which usually indicates resonances:

Sony SS-CS5 three-way 3-way bookshelf speaker phase and impedance vs frequency  measurements.png


Here is our waterfall which can also indicate resonances and such:

Sony SS-CS5 three-way 3-way bookshelf speaker CSD waterfall response measurements.png


Being a small speaker, I started the distortion measurements with 86 dB SPL at one meter:

Sony SS-CS5 three-way 3-way bookshelf speaker  distortion absolute vs frequency response measu...png


We expect and get some distortion in low frequencies. But also get a peak around 5 kHz. This becomes much more clear when we look at the distortion percentages at both 86 and 96 dB SPL:

Sony SS-CS5 three-way 3-way bookshelf speaker  distortion vs frequency response measurements.png


Hard to fault such a small and cheap speaker but still, expect a lot of distortion across the board especially if you turn it up.

Speaker Listening Tests
I always look forward to the first few seconds after the speaker plays. Here, I was like "maybe this is not so bad" until another five seconds passed and I said, "man this thing is bright!" It is so bright that if you play music in the dark, you may have to wear sunglasses! It is also muddy to some extent although the brightness gives the impression of detail.

On the "good news" side I could not get the woofer to bottom out. This is because it doesn't produce a ton of bass but importantly, it gets so bright and loud in upper registers that you want to turn it down.

So I reached into my audio toolbox of filters in Roon player to see if I can improve the sound. This is what I wound up with:
Sony SS-CS5 three-way 3-way bookshelf speaker Equalization audio review.png


The first filter as show, worked very well, improving detail level and overall balance. But the sound was still quite bright. So I put in a quick and dirty shelving filter for the high frequencies. That tames some of the problems there but still, this is not a listenable speaker for me. It would require a lot more work to possibly make it not sound so bright.

For a quick test, I put my hand on the little tweeter and that gave much needed relief! If it were me, I would just disconnect the tweeter as a quick fix. My overall sanity would be in danger otherwise.

Conclusions
Boy, did I go into this review hoping for a great bargain at this price. Around $36 a speaker. Are you kidding me? Alas, that was not meant to be. I don't know what the objective scores are but subjective results are just too annoying for me to tolerate.

Needless to say, I cannot recommend the Sony SS-CS5 speaker.

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As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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tecnogadget

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#3
Ohh boy !! Me and my broo used to laugh about this “toy speakers” all the time.
Just looking at what was going to be measured raised red flags for me.

You could not had explained it better @amirm ,what would you expect for just $36 per speaker ??

Yet again, the measurements does not look that bad considering what this speaker is. So I get mixed feelings about it.
Maybe if it just had some little more life in the bass department you could hace lived with the uneven frequency response.

Edit: Seriously, we have seen many speakers costing many times more than this Sony with the exact same In Room response.
Why is this speaker so unlistenable? It seems like that high amount of distortion did not help to pass the cut.
 

napilopez

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#4
Interesting, this is not a speaker I'd necessarily read as 'bright' from the measurements, and it measures quite well, especially if listening off axis.

That said: "It is so bright that if you play music in the dark, you may have to wear sunglasses!" is my new favorite line in a review.

The measurements are good so I wonder if it can't be EQ'd into shape with some more effort, perhaps with some broader Q filters. Seems like it'll always be SPL limited though.
 
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#5
Speaker Listening Tests
I always look forward to the first few seconds after the speaker plays. Here, I was like "maybe this is not so bad" until another five seconds passed and I said, "man this thing is bright!" It is so bright that if you play music in the dark, you may have to wear sunglasses! It is also muddy to some extent although the brightness gives the impression of detail.
This has been my impression of the Sony house sound since the '90s. Bright enough that it seems detailed and exciting, with a veiled midrange.

It seems to work best in their Bluetooth speakers. Listen to those off-axis and they're surprisingly good.
 
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#6
I often take offense at people describing budget audio stuff as toys but In this case it's valid. The only logical reason to use 3 drive units in a speaker at this price is marketing.
 

pozz

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#8
Is that Cyrillic translation I see for the word "manufactured?"

Speaker is made in Malaysia so why Russian language translation for that one word?
It says "production date" in Russian and Kazakh. No idea why. In Russia these speakers sell officially for 14,000 rubles or about $200 USD.
 

thewas_

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#9
Yes, you read that right. It is a 3-way speaker with a mid-range driver in a space where 99% of speakers are 2-way.
Unfortunately that's not a mid-range driver and thus not a classic 3-way speaker, but a mid-woofer, tweeter and super-tweeter, a result of the silly hype (and golden badge) of "Hi-Res Audio" https://www.sony.com/electronics/speakers/ss-cs5
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #10
OP
amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #11
Interesting, this is not a speaker I'd necessarily read as 'bright' from the measurements, and it measures quite well, especially if listening off axis.
I had it toed in some when I first started listening. And then had to point it out straight toward the end.

As to measurements, as I mentioned, the energy above 11 kHz or so is underreported.
 
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#12
I often take offense at people describing budget audio stuff as toys but In this case it's valid. The only logical reason to use 3 drive units in a speaker at this price is marketing.
You explained the idea better, this kind of stuff
are monsters conceived in marketing departments, hence the “toy” tag.

Totally agree with @infinitesymphony about their sound signature. Their consumer speakers were never of my taste. Bud I had not listened to the High End series.

The first series of portable “Hi-Res” speakers felt utterly quite ear piercing the times I demoed in stores.
 

ROOSKIE

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#13
Unfortunately that's not a mid-range driver and thus not a classic 3-way speaker, but a mid-woofer, tweeter and super-tweeter, a result of the silly hype (and golden badge) of "Hi-Res Audio" https://www.sony.com/electronics/speakers/ss-cs5
I agree with your assessment of the 3-way vs super tweet. It is also what Sony calls it. The silly hype is not so silly as in this price range you are selling mainly to people who will not buy stiff unless it is hyped in some way. They made what I consider a reasonable compromise as the speaker surely performs well for the price.
If you want to sell a speaker for an everyday price of $149, that hits $75-80 on sale with clockwork regularity, then you need to sell a lot of them.
I picked up an open box pair for $50, they looked essentially new. My GF's kid used them for a year or so in his room. I brought them out into the living room a few times for fun. They sounded totally legit for the non price point - as in always available for $150 or less.
At medium volumes I enjoyed them just fine, actually with some tracks I was very impressed. The slightly peaky response troubled a few tracks but mainly they sounded good enough for nearly anyone I know who is not an "Audiophile" listener. As an real "Audiophile"/picky ass guy, I would not be satisfied. At loud volumes they sounded not good and I deff could hear a straining speaker - hurt my ears.
On one hand paired with a cheap subwoofer and high passed, I think these would be a fantastic budget speaker for many. On the other if you have patience, clearance deals (such as the Infinity R162 for $160) will yield a much better buy and a much better speaker in my subjective opinion. Of course you can buy these any day you want for $150 or less - no effort.
The JBL 5" 3 series has an amp and some better sound for $300 a pair or less. Obviously there are other budget options. The pioneer has a higher score here but is close enough that most will not have a clear preference so try both.
Anyway my 3 cents are that these speakers are well designed and give a nice taste of decent audio for the price of a dinner or two out. (can we go out?)

PS, my GF's kid now has C-notes. I found them to be more satisfying but not much more. They were satisfying to make though.!
 

MZKM

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#14
it measures quite well, especially if listening off axis.
For shits and giggles I rotated the measurements by 20 degrees horizontally and also subtracted the difference between on-axis and 20H to all the vertical measurements (this is not super accurate, you can't reliably calculate diagonally), and I came up with this:

Screen Shot 2020-05-23 at 9.06.42 PM.png


This Preference Rating increases from a 4.5 to a 5.0.
 
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ta240

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#15
I still think the bright sound may be to make them sound better on a shelf in the middle of a huge wide open bestbuy. I've run those back to back with the Pioneer SP-BS22 in the store and the Pioneer sounded bland by comparison. Now, in a regular room I can see where the Sony could be too much and the Pioneer might be just right.
 

andreasmaaan

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#17
I can't help feeling that if they'd taken the cost of that utterly redundant super-tweeter and invested it in one or two extra crossover components, this could have been an incredible value-for-money speaker.

I mean really! It's crossed over at a frequency at which 50+% of the population can't hear anything anyway o_O
 

617

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#18
I can't help feeling that if they'd taken the cost of that utterly redundant super-tweeter and invested it in one or two extra crossover components, this could have been an incredible value-for-money speaker.

I mean really! It's crossed over at a frequency at which 50+% of the population can't hear anything anyway o_O
I honestly think most people would be shocked how little sound comes out of a tweeter in a two way. 2000hz is a quite high pitch.
 

andreasmaaan

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#19
I honestly think most people would be shocked how little sound comes out of a tweeter in a two way. 2000hz is a quite high pitch.
That's true, although subjectively the frequency range starting at 2kHz is extremely important as it's the most sensitive hearing range.
 

ROOSKIE

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#20
I can't help feeling that if they'd taken the cost of that utterly redundant super-tweeter and invested it in one or two extra crossover components, this could have been an incredible value-for-money speaker.

I mean really! It's crossed over at a frequency at which 50+% of the population can't hear anything anyway o_O
To be fair with the target audience for these likely dominated by young folks, I bet quite a few of them can actually hear that high. If you ever want to hear what is missing when frequencies up there are not present (10k+) just eq them down /out. The music is very bland. Despite not a lot of content up there it is important.
Also if you look at the crossover online it is pretty decent for the price. Better than most. I stand by my earlier comment that extra tweeter bling sells. They are making a high sales volume product. Sony is perfectly capable of making a 2 way but there know it will not sell as well in the target audience of $100ish speakers. I guarantee you the sales volume of these dwarfs what most speaker companies are moving.
 
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