Sony is a giant of the audio world, dominating large segments of the mass market. But on occasion it also turns its enormous resources toward high-end goals. When it does, the results are always fascinating and impressive. The arrival on the scene a couple of years ago of the Sony AR1 speakers marked a strong re-entry of Sony into the high- end speaker market. And the AR2, a somewhat smaller and less expensive but otherwise very similar model, only reinforced the impression that Sony’s new speaker venture was definitely to be reckoned with. The AR1 in particular struck me as quite spectacularly good. Even though it is not a particularly large speaker, it could be convincing not just in a home environment but also in very large rooms (as at T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach, 2011, where a pair were filling a ballroom with symphonic sound most impressively). This was associated with a great sense of ease in rooms of domestic size.
The Sony NA2ES continues Sony’s foray into high-end speakerdom, but at a lower price point than the AR1 and AR2. Naturally, the first question that arises is what has changed that makes it possible for the price to be so much lower—the $10,000 NA2ES is less than half the price of the AR2—and how much sonic change is entailed in the differences.
The Changes Made
The NA2ES quite definitely represents that same personal sonic vision of designer Yoshiyuki Kaku. And many of the physical changes from the A series are a matter of using something more along the lines of mass-production techniques and less handcraftsmanship. (The AR1 and AR2 are built with a very high level of craftsmanship, akin to the making of a piano, say.) And there has been a slight compromise in driver choice. But “slight” is the operative word there. The tweeter assembly is something distinctively different in the NA2ES, however—I shall return to that later. In any case, in appearance there is little compromise at all: If the AR1 and AR2 have the look of fine furniture, the NA2ES is not far behind—its appearance is graceful and elegant and the finish is superb, if not quite as exceptional as the AR speakers with their hand-rubbed multi-layer lacquer.
The Sound: Facing the Live Comparison
As it happened, the NA2ES arrived to face a difficult test. I was in the midst of rehearsals of an all-Tchaikovsky program, with a big orchestra—90+ players. However vivid one’s ongoing memory of orchestral sound is, and I have been playing in orchestras most of my life, to come home on a Wednesday night from a rehearsal of the Tchaikovsky Fifth and sit down on Thursday morning to listen to a recording of it is an extreme test of a speaker’s mettle, so vivid is the immediate memory. As it happened, the NA2ES’s were subject precisely to such tests, and in many respects they acquitted themselves remarkably well.
Of course there are caveats. I was sitting near the conductor’s podium (outside, second stand, first violins—the front edge and near the center of the orchestra). From that perspective the orchestra is huge geometrically. The sheer spatial extent is not going to be reproduced in a home environment. But other things that are demanding aspects of the situation turned out to be considerably better dealt with than one would have expected, especially from speakers of moderate size.
To take the most obvious one first, the NA2ES’s offer remarkable dynamic capability for such moderately sized speakers. Later on, I heard them demonstrated at the 2013 T.H.E. Show Newport Beach in an enormous room, larger than almost anyone’s home listening room, and they handled that with aplomb. In a home environment, they were capable of live symphonic levels without difficulty, if not quite with the absolute ease of the considerably large AR1s (which are really remarkable in this regard). I did not push them to this limit, but the listed maximum input power and the sensitivity combine to give a 110dB maximum SPL estimate. Certainly they were perfectly happy with peaks up into the high 90dBs, which was as loud as I felt inclined to go, even briefly.
And the NA2ES’s had adequate bass extension for the orchestra, albeit again stopping short of the essentially full- range lower end of the AR1s. The bass did not go down forever, but it was clean and articulate and, if it lacked the really deep bottom end of the AR1s, it was, even so, satisfying in the bass on orchestral music and on rock as well.