Every now and then, in the midst of its gargantuan consumer electronics efforts intended to change the world, shake societies far and wide to their core and reduce sitting heads of state to their knees, Sony will quietly release a simple product that speaks more to its heritage than to the present. Back in 1995, during Trinitron's salad days and on the heels of the DVD format war and MiniDisc controversy, Sony hired an ex-Polk engineer to design an entire line of ES loudspeakers. The first of which, the SS-M9, took the audiophile world by storm and ran neck and neck with some very good competitors.
A couple of years ago, Sony released the SS-B3000 Performance Bookshelf Speaker. Part of a line of speakers designed by an (unconfirmed) award-winning scientist, the SS-B3000 seems to take its model number from the company's original SS-3000 speaker released in 1965. Made in Japan, that 90 plus pound floorstanding monster featured real-wood cabinets, elaborate crossovers, level controls, and a peculiar 16 ohm impedance. With the current model presenting a much different profile, the model designation also seems peculiar, at the very least.
The $99.99 (MSRP per pair) SS-B3000 employs an 8-inch Kevlar-reinforced H.O.P. (Highly Oriented Polyolefine) woofer, a 3 ¼-inch Enhanced H.O.P. midrange, and a 1-inch Nano Fine® dome tweeter. Sony claims H.O.P. is stronger than the more commonly used polypropylene, while the dispersion and neutrality benefits of Kevlar, of course, have been made famous by B&W since the 1970s. Unlike B&W, however, Sony uses Kevlar to merely to reinforce the H.O.P., not as the core material of the driver. While Sony claims this hybrid approach achieves the best of both worlds, the skeptic might infer a desire to reap the cosmetic advantages of Kevlar while also using a cheaper polymer in conjunction. Regardless, simply seeing Kevlar in a $100 speaker is pretty compelling. Sony claims its Nano Fine® tweeter plays out to 50 kHz. The SS-B3000 is a lot bigger than a typical bookshelf speaker. At almost 10 inches wide, 20 inches high, and 10 inches deep, the SS-B3000 requires a bit more space than even big bookshelf speakers. It's quite the 'tweener - not big enough to sit on the floor, too big to stick on a shelf, but a little awkward on stands. Given its size, the 14-plus pound SS-B3000 is not particularly heavy, but it's not light either. The SS-B3000 employs a rear-firing port, and provides plastic push-pin connectors - cheap, but then again, the speaker is cheap, and all things considered, better the budget go into the drivers, which it appears it did. The SS-B3000 is finished in black vinyl, and, overall, the speaker provides a decent level of fit and finish.
The SS-B3000 presents a nominal 8 ohm load with an 88dB efficiency. The speaker needs better quality power to perform at its best, but it performed more than satisfactorily when driven by the entry-level receivers and amplifiers with which it will likely be paired the majority of the time.
At first listen, the SS-B3000s presented a surprisingly lively, crisp sound with decent warmth and depth. They rendered instruments a bit too screechy and not altogether there in the lower registers, with good overall coherence but holes in individual parts of the frequency spectrum. They threw a fairly wide and deep soundstage and even offered some crisp imaging on some tracks, especially rock and electronic music. The treble had some zippiness and brittleness in spots, and moving into the midrange the speaker had trouble losing that quality in order to render vocals and piano tracks properly. This particular aspect made listening a bit fatiguing over a very long period. The mids also sounded a bit hooty and even shallow on some tracks, especially acoustic and classical material.
Moving into the lower registers, the sound turned somewhat muddy and flabby, but held together well overall and kept pace with the overall presentation. It must be noted, however, that these individual faults did not prevent the speaker from maintaining its good overall coherence and listenability, on pretty much all types of material and even at high volumes. Above all, a speaker should not draw attention to its individual faults at the expense of its overall coherence, pace, and presentation. The SS-B3000 succeeds in that regard. Frankly, its overall musicality and rhythm reminded me of more expensive speakers.
Click to Page 2 for The High Points, The Low Points and The Conclusion.
Clearly, Sony had a complete design in mind with this speaker, with
its share of faults certainly but also a firm idea of its sonic
character. The SS-B3000 has faults, no doubt. But it also presents
music in a listenable, dynamic manner that should please most of its
owners over the long term. From a purely critical standpoint, the
SS-B3000 manages to just hang in there on an absolute basis. But when
you remind yourself of its ridiculous, stunningly low price, it makes a
very strong impression. That's right - $99.99 per pair.
• The SS-B3000 presents music in a
listenable, dynamic way that should please a lot of people in a lot of
different situations, over many types of material.
• The SS-B3000 plays loud when asked, and can fill a medium-sized room better than smaller bookshelf models.
• The SS-B3000 offers more technology and design than typical low-budget bookshelf speakers.
• The SS-B3000's screechy treble and somewhat weak midrange make
long-term listening a bit fatiguing compared to small speakers costing
significantly more money.
• The SS-B3000's bass, while deep, lacks definition and overall punchiness.
• The SS-B3000's unusual size may make placement difficult in areas that require typical bookshelf speaker dimensions.
• The SS-B3000 only provides push-pin connectors, and offers no on-board mounting hardware.
• The SS-B3000 only offers a one-year parts and labor warranty.
The Sony SS-B3000 offers an impressive amount of engineering and sound
quality for its very low price. It sounds like a budget speaker at
times, but not overtly, and not at the expense of its overall
musicality and coherence. Its atypical size may make placement a bit
difficult, but on the other hand, it offers enough sound to push it
into applications that little bookshelf monitors not dare go. After
evaluating it strictly on a performance basis, you can't help but
remind yourself of its price, and come away even more impressed. It's
no surprise that the SS-B3000 has sold so well and attained such
popularity. For $100, it's worth a try and a benefit of the doubt. Then
after listening, the box gets thrown out and you move on happy that
they're in the house.