Sony ESPRIT

July
1 9 7 9 july 1979
1 9 8 7 1987

The ESPRIT series is where Sony got to act too Luxman-like to be fully successful.

Despite some of the components selling very well and becoming undisputed references and others being remembered even by full-tilt Sony-haters, the ESPRIT series suffered from too many development quirks, marketing mistakes and approximations to remain remembered even a decade after its introduction.

The truth often is in the origins, as proved below.

Unlike the ES series, ESPRIT didn't start as such, with a clear name, a clear marketing objective and a clear product-planning process. This led to lengthy delays, strange advertising moves and very different technologies incorporated into enclosures catering to vanished imperatives.

Which is quite strange, retrospectively, because the ESPRIT lineup came directly from a frightfully successful set of components which sold like mad throughout the world : the pre-Esprit. But Sony after its 1976/1977 peak started to act very much like Luxman at the same time.


Chronologically, the first development was the APM loudspeaker, as researched by a dedicated team at the Sony Shinagawa plant since at least 1976.
The future APM-8 was technically ready by the summer of 1978 and Masaru Nagami, at Sony since 1965, was the executive in charge of running the ESPRIT corporation, a fully-owned Sony subsidiary created for the occasion and located in the Shibaura plant, Sony's main audio research center.

Nagami then had an enormous high-efficiency horn rig powered by some TA-N88 and a myriad of TA-N86 which he clearly prefered (who wouldn't ?).
He and a staff of ten at Sony started the development of the pre-Esprit successors : two power-amps, two preamps, an active filter, a parametric EQ, a floating-magnet suspension system plus scaled-down variants of the original APM.

A tuner was planned but finally not developed by Sony ; it was delegated to WEGA in Germany, a brand fully-owned since march 1975. It seems Wega's Manfred Schwarz may have had a hand in the circuit design of the amps and preamps...

No turntable was however planned at all so the PS-X9 was used as stand-in... even if it was two years old in '79 and had never been tagged with anything ES or ESPRIT.

Parallel to the finishing of the APM-8 and its sadly shortlived APM-9 version, 1978/1979, the main preamp and power-amp were developed within the chassis of the TA-E88B and TA-N88B ; these two temporary prototypes were named TA-E89 and TA-N89 :)
This didn't last too long and completely different chassis and technologies were chosen although the circuits themselves finally remained somewhat similar.

The final TA-E900 and TA-N900 however took more than one and two years, respectively, to be launched : october 1980 and july 1981.
The smaller siblings and complements were also unveiled throughout 1981 : TA-D900 (march), the SE-P900 and FW-90 (april), TA-E901 and APM-6 (june).
There also was an RK-900 speaker cable, made by Hitachi for Sony throughout 1981 : 56 twisted OFC wires for a 2x 0,18mm diameter. However, this was only available in... 100m rolls !

Left to happen were the TA-N901 (june 1982), the APM-4 (october 1982) and the entirely-completely-absolutely different TA-N902 in october '83. The latter makes for a four-year gap with the actual launch of the ESPRIT (sub)brand !

But for the APM-8, and despite a lot of press coverage, reception was warm but not that enthusiastic.
Most of the praise came from the elaborate circuit of the N900, its fan-cooled Heat-Pipe with MOS-FETs and PLPS : lots of accurate power in a relatively small enclosure. That already was the goal of the TA-N88B... four years earlier.

Because of the 100% hand-made production and ongoing development, the ESPRIT division had to "scale" the release of the complete system so it left those who wanted it all... wanting, waiting but not having.

Looks-wise, despite unbelievable build- and finish quality (like all of Sony's audio products, one has to see and touch them), Sony did rest on somewhat dated looks which when seen in the magazines and show-rooms looked rather passé and even brutal, bare, compared to the contemporary P-L10 or L-08M.

Which was normal after all : all ESPRIT components were meant to be housed in big wood enclosures that allowed a proper visual balance.
That is why, unlike the pre-Esprit components, the rack extensions were made detachable.
These enclosures, TAC-90 and TAC-91, however, were never advertised or even mentioned anywhere except on the back of the JP E901 catalog for the TAC-91.
They were produced allright but remained in some wharehouse, incognito, until leftover stocks were dumped to the USA later in the 1980s, when the entire ESPRIT thing was as old as the hills.


Distribution and overall marketing also proved problematic.
The most lavish effort was done in the UK : Sony UK opened in 1981 a dedicated showroom in the Shepperton film studios ! Listening sessions and demos were performed by Michael Sykes, main man of Sony UK since the beginnings in '68 and until 1984.

Sales however proved dismal.
Of the units displayed, only one pair of APM-6 was sold (out of two in stock) and of the two APM-8 pairs, one was given to the in-house tech when the showroom was closed, all too shortly in the summer of 1983.
Whatever the effort, the United Kingdom always had been Sony's weakest european market - very Sony, very stupid.

In the USA, as done by the Atlanta-based ESPRIT operation, distribution remained very limited with only 7 spots for the entire USA !
Advertising was on par with any cottage brand's budget : minimal quarter-page b/w ads published throughout 1982 and early 1983. That's it.

In Germany, Sony's biggest export country, ESPRIT got a lot of press coverage, a few proper two-page ads and even a dedicated early 1980 catalog which, however, held a mix'n'match of non-Esprit and pre-Esprit units and only the APM-8 as actual ESPRIT.
However, no dedicated catalog was deemed necessary when the ESPRIT lineup was at last completed in 1981/82.

For the other european countries, the situation was equivalent to that of the USA : nothing much and very little of it.

In Japan, advertising was present and continuous but somewhat limited and, as usual, not showing the components' magnificent finish and design at all.
Only one ESPRIT-dedicated catalog was published in Japan and it was at 80% a simple reprint of the contemporary ads... pre-Esprit included - that ESPRIT certainly was discrete.

Another problem came up after the CD standard was launched and ESPRIT still was, officially, Sony's upper audio range : there never was an ESPRIT CD player and none was ever planned either ! The CDP-701ES therefore took stand-in position for digital ESPRIT.


As Masaru Nagami had by then reached the retirement age and the adventure hadn't proved too successful, 1984 saw the ESPRIT range being relegated to the back pages of the general catalogs until december 1987 and the advent of the R1 series.

Despite this somewhat discrete existence and unhelping distribution, some of the ESPRIT components sold extremely well, far more than one could imagine : a minimum of 400 pairs of APM-8 were produced (yep : four hundred pairs), the TA-D900 became like its TA-D88B original the bestselling 4-way filter for most high-efficiency ALTEC/JBL japanese rigs and many many many TA-N900 and TA-N902 were sold as well. And the 901s aren't rare either.


It took TVK to revive the souvenir of the series :) and plenty have now rediscovered the ESPRIT series, at a time Sony has entirely lost its own... spirit.

Sony ESPRIT, image 1 Sony ESPRIT, image 2 Sony ESPRIT, image 3 Sony ESPRIT, image 4 Sony ESPRIT, image 5
Sony ESPRIT : 2 topics
(last updated topic shows up first)
  • How hard to find are Sony Esprit 900 components?                             (6)last updated by stchedro - 26/02/2012, 14H42
  • Sony TAC ESPRIT cabs                             (6)last updated by JwFabrie - 29/10/2016, 13H13
page online since : 2005
page updated : may 2011
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