It didn’t matter that they were high-tech, made sense, and made great sound; people weren’t’ listening. We couldn’t sell them at the boutique audio store. One customer said it best: “But…it’s a Sony!?” We tried to sell them. High-tech ultra-low-mass designs: we sat one in the middle of a battery of legendary UK turntables with tonearms called Mayware, SME, and Sonus. And those tables had fancy cartridges. The Sony had a simple and inexpensive Shure M91ED moving-magnet cartridge: the ADC cartridge also works well. All the arms roughly the same tonearm mass- even the Sony. The Dual tables were out because their “ULM” tonearms had twice the tonearm mass. We thought the Sony was delightful: every note and word had flourish, crispness, and great separation- the X55 equaled the best and had better bass. But when people saw it playing, suddenly, it was ignored. And it was inexpensive. I like value which is not the same as inexpensive.
Yes, the Sony name hurt them. And other problems hurt them. They were automatic. Telling people the Sony does not have messy and fussy linkages but uses a simple motorized tonearm for all functions had no effect. Older Sony tonearms quickly caught up to the modern. They used the crazy idea that high-compliance moving-magnet cartridges in ultra-low-mass tonearms to have more control with warped records, more detail in the music, more accurate music, and gave low groove wear: more sizzle. They had hefty platters and a stunning and proven drive based on the legendary PS-X70. The plinth of the X55 was not the common medium density particle board with plastic wood grain but an exotic concoction of composites that absorbed the unwanted sounds. And it was small: Sony’s forte was miniaturization, research, and innovation.
Perhaps the most distasteful: Sony didn’t want to sell them. Their Compact Disc would soon debut so turntables were on the back burner set to low.
Well, they are gone now and so is the audio store. People don’t miss what they never saw.
The older PS-X70 drive system was amazing. They had a great drive system: BSL servo-motor with speed feedback from the platter; silent, accurate speed, costly to make, and plenty of torque. Rap on the Sony Bulk Mold Compound (SBMC) plinth while playing and notice the knocking does not follow the system. At the time the X70 was sold, I think the Japanese, in general, were still behind in tonearm development. Also, their marketing was not too hot so few would take them seriously. And I think xenophobia clouds people’s minds.
The PS-X55 was a bold venture. Sony kept the incredible drive design but added a ULM tonearm of their design. The short arms were rigid so their resonance is higher where it is needed, where moving-magnet cartridge midrange droops; that resonance “primes” the midrange. Finding the elusive midrange is easy with a combination of this arm and a Shure M75 or M91 cartridge – their negatives cancel out. And they added auto-record size selection plus abort if no record is present: simple added convenience because of the motorized tonearm.
The PS-LX3 turntable almost moves me. The consumer-grade turntable had a different arm that is slightly heavier, the bearings feel different. The fact that the auxiliary weight of the PS-X55 does not fit the LX3 tonearm tells me there are differences. The cueing now uses the less expensive damping fluid design and connected to a rod that positions the cueing button on the front of the turntable. The drive, while still having real-time “cruise control” like the X70 and X55, has less power- the power is adequate but not as responsive. All in all, it does sound a bit muddy in the all-important midrange.
Sony had the boldness to try to better the best. The PS-X600 uses the X70/X55 drive but their ULM arms were tapered. Other companies received plenty of praise for making medium-weight tapered designs that gave lighter weight, more rigidity, and less resonance. They should give additional delicate resolution in the midrange. The Sony ultra-low-mass tapered arm was ignored. But crazy Sony couldn’t leave that arm alone: they pushed further with computer-controlled servo motors and feedback sensors. Cool! That design could use a wider range of cartridges and better handle warped records. They were far too difficult to understand so they didn’t sell. The sound coming from the X55 and X600 sound quite similar with the only difference being the X600 superior handling with problem records. Think active suspension cars versus passive designs. ULM arms that are tapered with computer servo-controlled at prices people could afford: cool and sounds great!
It is hard to see the Sony designs. There were so many pseudo-ULM arms that reality showed they were heavy. Those posers ruined the concept. Few have really heard what they could do. And I’m amazed that many present day gearheads and tweakers have yet to figure out how much fun they are.
People just weren’t prepared for Sony. Sales were rotten but they sounded great. I was sold: they still roll in my home. As for the automatic features – Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunctioned and my machines do not: I gave up waiting for them to die, it was predicted, so I just listen to music. The tables are inexpensive, then and now.