If you’re skeptical about the idea that Sony could build and properly market a true high end loudspeaker, you’re not alone. Even Sony recognized the clash between product and image, so much so that they considered marketing their new creation, the $27,000 AR-1, under a different brand name. My own skepticism only deepened during today’s press event, where the speaker’s designers proudly described its “unique” features – such as braced cabinetry – not a single one of which was in fact unique. Indeed, compared to the advancements in driver and enclosure technology on display elsewhere at the show, the new Sony seemed downright quaint.
I had to say, though, that the company had definitely sweated the details. Consider this: ten years ago the speaker’s designer, thinking ahead, planted the maple trees whose wood he intended to use for the baffle. That’s right, they grow their own wood! Then they shape every cabinet by hand. And the finish has the sort of depth that we normally associate only with the finest Japanese lacquer.The drivers are custom-designed units manufactured for Sony by ScanSpeak.
Perhaps the greatest counter to any lingering skepticism was the presence and endorsement of two audience members. The first was Ray Kimber, who has used a prototype of the AR-1 as the monitor speaker for his IsoMike recordings for several years. The second was Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds, who told a tale of his long search for a speaker to re-capture his early enthusiasm for recorded music, and how he stumbled upon the AR-1 by accident but has never looked back.
Thus primed, we the assembled press were played a couple of recordings through a pair of AR-1’s that seemed less than ideally set up in an adjacent room. Nonetheless, I began to feel there might be something to the speakers when Chad played one of his Nat King Cole LPs. The sound was undeniably beautiful, fully fleshed out, and detailed. Later, I heard the AR-1s far more carefully set up – and in multichannel, no less – in Kimber’s own room. Driven by Pass electronics and EMM Labs sources, the speakers were dynamic and engaging as all get-out.
This post isn't intended to be a full review; rather, it's purpose is to let you know that there is a new kid on the block from an unexpected source. Come this summer, you’ll be able to hear the AR-1s at a half dozen or so high end dealerships around the country, and I suggest you do. Despite their mass market brand and total lack of exotic technology, these speakers give every indication of being the real deal.