Home Theater

Sony Wows Listeners with Speakers Built into 4K Ultra HD TVs

At CES 2013, all the big brands showed stunning 4K Ultra HD displays, but only Sony had extraordinary audio too; ‘magnetic fluid’ speakers to come standard in 55- and 65-inch sets.


Sony urges 4K Ultra HD TV viewers to "feel the passion of music" with new 55- and 65-inch 4K displays, during CES 2013

Photos & Slideshow

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While most CES 2013 attendees ogled the gorgeous pictures on the myriad 4K Ultra HD (UHD) TVs shown at all the big-brand CE booths, Sony had the only 4K displays that people wanted to listen to.

Available standard on Sony’s forthcoming 55- and 65-inch 4K displays (XBR-55X900A and XBR-65X900A), the speakers feature “magnetic fluid” as an alternative to the dampers found in conventional speakers.

Being damperless means the speakers “create less distortion … and produce louder sound by consuming less energy, which means you can get more energy directly through the speaker,” said Sony’s John McLoughlin during the demo.

That demo, featuring clips from both an action-packed movie (“Salt”) and standard Adele fare, easily rivaled high-end standalone speakers, even at very high volume. I dare discriminating listeners – maybe not audiophiles—to pit the Sony built-ins against a dedicated surround system. The speakers and electronics are that good.

As the floor vibrated during the demo, I was sure there was a subwoofer connected to the TV, but there was not. There are two subwoofers, each two inches deep, built into the rear of the TV, but for more bass response, an external subwoofer can plug into the TV’s headphone jack.

You can bypass the speakers themselves with an external receiver, but you can’t use the built-ins as part of a multichannel system, say, as the left and right channels.

By the way, while the demo had the TV set atop a console, you can indeed mount the new displays on a wall.

“It’ll rephase the properties of the speakers,” McLoughlin says. “Just tell it to.”

Why Bother with TV Speakers?
Does it make sense to build the speakers into the 55- and 65-inch displays, given that it eats up real estate on a device that folks cherish for slim bezels and general style?

Well, the speakers don’t add much if any depth to the displays, and they’re only a couple of inches wide. They disappear into the high-gloss display—I could hardly make them show up in a snapshot.

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View more CE Pro coverage of CES 2013 at www.cepro.com/ces

And you’d think that anyone who buys a 4K display, even a relatively small 55- or 65-incher, would invest in a dedicated surround-sound system to go with it, right?

Maybe not. Although Sony’s 84-inch 4K display is on the high end as far as Ultra HD goes ($25,000), the smaller sets shouldn’t carry such hefty premiums vis-a-vis their 1080p counterparts.

Sony spokesperson Ray Hartjen tells CE Pro that the new displays “will be priced at a modest premium over top-end full HD sets” when they ship this spring.

He adds, “The premium is in the experience … immersive sound to couple with the immersive visuals of 4K Ultra HD.”

Remember the old Mitsubishi Unisen TVs with a 16-speaker virtual surround array? That audio experience far surpassed that of any built-in TV speaker system before it.

But don’t compare the Sony magnetic fluid speakers with other built-ins like Mitsubishi’s. They deserve to be pitted against high-performance standalone systems.

Good Sound: A Real Competitive Advantage
I can tell without side-by-side comparisons that 4K video is far superior than the best 1080p. But going from booth to booth at CES 2013, I couldn’t discern the difference between one 4K dipslay and another. Likewise, the “smarts” among smart TVs start to blur , as does content navigation by tablet, gesture and voice.

For me, the only thing that really distinguished one 4K from another was the speakers in the Sony product. If ever there was a perfect display for secondary rooms, this is it. Not even a soundbar is required. I can imagine specialty retailers encouraging customers to step up to the new Sony sets for bedrooms and other spaces, paying a premium over 1080p, but saving on speakers and other audio accoutrements.

Sony debuted its magnetic fluid technology last year in a $399 dock for iOS devices (model RDP-XA700IP) and a $499 3D Blu-ray Home Theater System (BDV-N790W). More home audio products with the same technology will be announced “later this winter,” Hartjen says.

Sony is on a tear to restore its former audio glory. After all, Sony has its roots in audio (“sound” being derived from “son”). The company’s $27,000 SS-AR1 speakers, exhibited at the Venetian this year, have received rave reviews.

VIDEO: Discussion of Sony TV speakers, plus clip of the movie “Salt”

VIDEO: Adele through Sony TV magnetic fluid speakers—doesn’t do the speakers justice, but it sounds a heck of a lot better through a cheap camera than a typical built-in speaker

MORE CES 2013 COVERAGE HERE/ces
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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at [email protected]

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  Article Topics


Home Theater · Displays · Speakers · News · Media · Slideshow · CES · Sony · Ultra HD · All Topics
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