Sony ES

1 9 6 5 november 1965
2 0 0 5 2005

After America's Harman/Kardon's Citation, Sony's ES is the oldest japanese high-fidelity series : albeit crowned with more "aura", all others came later or even much later : as often, Sony was there first.

In fact, "ES" dates as far back as 1954 with some of Sony's first broadcast open-reel recorders (ES-1 and ES-2) but I have no idea (yet) if those two letters already meant what still remains a bit uncertain.

The ES series was officially launched in november 1965, even if the first ES component, the TA-1120, was ready late in the summer.
It was quickly augmented between 1966 and 1969 by what was necessary to reach single-brand high-fidelity nirvana : power-amps, preamps, turntables, tonearms, loudspeakers, tuners, a cartridge and an open-reel recorder.

However, until the ESPRIT series came to be, "ES" really was meant to stand for Sony's entire high-fidelity production which wasn't, lineups- and numbers-wise, not yet what it would become after 1975...
Throughout the later years this single banner system naturally brought some crocs to the "high-fidelity" notion and some "little" components were filed under "ES" when they shouldn't have been.

While this may be seen as a typically Sony approximation, the same was true of Yamaha's "NS" series for instance, and remained true for both brands until high-fidelity vanished from the landscape.

What is however typically Sony is that nobody seems to know exactly what "ES" means !
1965 through 1967 japanese corporate publications alternate between "Extremely High Standard" and "Extreme Standard Series".
It should however be noted that japanese people rarely did (and still don't) speak much english : actual writing and/or meaning is often left to phonetics only, as often proved in many japanese ads and taglines for any brand until the late 1970s...

While other sources (mainly USA) wandered with "Excellent Series" or a completely contradictory "Extremely Standard", later publications in and outside Japan and even front scripting on many 1980s components define ES as "Extremely High Standard".
The only version being carried throughout the forty years of production is the 1966 "Extremely High Standard". That is what "ES" means and stands for - nothing else.

What is also typically Sony is that "ES", as definite marketing tag, remained until 1983 mentioned and advertised only in Japan - that's seventeen years of blank !
Even better, a dedicated ES team team was only gathered in 1986, quite probably for the series' 20th anniversary.
This didn't stop Sony from selling millions of high-fidelity components, most of the time outselling its competitors despite higher prices and generally very lame advertising.

Of course, throughout its 40+ years of existence, ES saw different phases, "revolutions" and market positioning(s) and related release dates as well.
The later series (1986-1993) saw extremely successful export-only items, a few marketing contradictions, often befuddling naming schemes and many semi-equivalents, variants and versions in market-related disguises.

But for Yamaha between 1979 and 1982, Sony is the only japanese brand to have documented its own activities through a quarterly magazine named ES Review : it was published between december 1969 and 1986, replaced by the DIGIC magazine until 1997.

Although covering all of Sony's activities (broadcast audio and video, marketing, patents, fundamental research, sales, technologies, personel etc), the name chosen proves that Sony = ES, just like Pioneer = eXclusive, Yamaha = Natural Sound, Onkyo = Integra or NEC = Authentic.

The first ES series became an instant hit : while Matsushita still had five tubed components, ditto Sansui, Kenwood a quartet of unrelated units and Pioneer still was an industry minor, Sony was selling its STR-6060, TA-1120, TA-3120A and TTS-3000 by the thousands and thousands - worldwide.

The second ES series, although never named as such, followed on that success : TA-1130, ST-5150, TC-755, SQD-2020, PS-2250, TTS-4000 etc all sold like hotcakes throughout the world.

The third ES series was known in Japan and somewhat in Germany as "ESII"
The name itself mainly pointed to a design difference but also makes a clear marker of when hi-fi truly became a market-for-the-masses : 1973/74.
This is when Yamaha launched its real NS series, when Kenwood came with the Supreme and the ATC Series and when all others augmented lineups to have them as plethoric as Sony had them since 1970.

Sony again sold oooooodles of components from the ESII lineups (TA-5650, ST-5950, PS-4750 etc) and managed to produce several all-time bests such as the TC-880-2 or SS-8150.

After that, 1976/77, the hi-fi market is running full-speed and a sort of quality segmentation appears.
The late ESII gives way to its gems (TA-F6B, TA-N7B, ST-A7B etc), sided by an unbelievably successful push toward "higher-end" (TA-E88B, TA-N86B etc - the pre-Esprit) and lineups getting really plethoric and often market-targeted.
From this stam the ESPRIT series, which took some of the mousse off the ES series.

ES, as a coherent set of components, got relegated to bit player while new technologies, smaller enclosures, new manufacturing technologies and the multiplication of flashy features made the news.
Paradoxically, this is when the second "official" ES logo appeared : 1979. It was however put on a component, the TC-K88B, directly descending from the pre-Esprit and accompanied by another logo, ESPRIT, something which that component wasn't either !

October 1982 is the rebirth of ES and the birth of it for us westerners : dedicated lineup, dedicated catalogs and the ES logo clearly, plainly, simply, silkscreened on the front plates. It took seventeen years but "ES" was at last palpable, visible and materialized !

This ES series, the fourth, sold extremely well as well, helped by the little sales boom which followed the introduction of CD (TA-F555ES, PS-X555ES, TC-K777ES, CDP-501ES etc) even if Sony managed to insert some incoherences in design and technologies.

The fifth ES series came to in 1986 and, again, sold like french croissants on a sunday morning. Worldwide, again : TA-F800ES, TC-K700ES, CDP-555ESD etc.

The sixth ES series is the one everybody remembers clearly : it holds the stream of X7 and X5 CD players, the flurry of F555ES amplifiers, the TA-E1000ESD or the well-remembered DAT recorders, all outselling all other brands until 1994.

With the seventh ES series, 1994, "series" became a somewhat overstated definition. Lineups were downsized to half a dozen units in all : high-fidelity sales had started to dwindle due to the bursting of the financial "bubble", upcoming home-theater on one side and the "QS" series Sony deemed interesting to flank ES with on the other. ES again was relegated to bit player.

This time, however, it was for good : after a few very successful home-theater-dedicated amps, preamps and receivers launched before the new millenium, the ES tag gradually vanished in the shadows of the new Internet-driven world.

The last ES "series" consisted of three components : SCD-501, TA-F501 and SS-K10ED. Made in Malaysia, China for the speakers, not particularily beautiful, well finished or well built, this last "501" was a clear but cheap retake of the successful Series 5000. It wasn't named ES and it didn't sell much.

The End.

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page online since : 2005
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