Sony pre-Esprit

1 9 7 6 1976
1 9 8 4 1984


Pre-Esprit is the name of a series which never had a name, never was advertised much and came from a brand most always dismiss right off the bat : Sony.
That series however sold worldwide as if Pioneer, Sansui and Yamaha made a joint venture, advertised a lot about it and then sold each component for 200$ a pop.

That series of course had nothing to do with anbody else than Sony and was designed and launched during that brand's true 1970s peak : when it could do things right from beginning to end, without marketing madness and without Norio Ohga meddling in the process.

Pre-Esprit is, of course, a name forged retrospectively (by me :) because that half-dozen components gave way to the ESPRIT series, visually as well as technologically, by way of two prototypes housed in pre-Esprit chassis.
However, the original set sold infinitely better, origins notwithstanding, whereas the latter sold well despite its origins - big difference.

Looks-wise, after a slimline 2x 150W V-FET integrated amp prototype presented in october 1975, the overall design was done by Shigeo Takahashi throughout 1976 with, as goal, minimal enclosures showing only essential controls and allowing the most logical and shortest possible signal paths.
If almost all other manufacturers were then on (or already on) to slim + rack appearances, Sony, as ever, is the only one who made this slant visually pleasing in the long run.

The front plate was planned at 10mm thickness but aluminium carving wasn't yet possible with the quality demanded by Sony - 6mm it was to be.
The anodization of the japanese originals remained plain silver with no variations but the export "B" color (gun-metal) saw slight differences : either neutral (dark grey), with a very slight magenta undertone or a slight yellow undertone.
These potential undertones may get reinforced with strong UV exposure which is probably due to the original process.

The first to appear were the HA-55 head-amp, XL-55 MC cartridge and the ECR-880 condenser headphone, at a time the future stars of the show were actually ready and shown in audio fairs but not quite ready to be officially launched.
Then came said stars (TA-E88B and TA-N88B) with the avowed goal of not using any ICs and cleaning up the signal path as much as possible (E88B) and... doing exactly the opposite with the over-endowed N88B and its PWM circuit :)

Then came a smaller combo (TA-E86B & TA-N86B), a 4-way crossover (TA-D88B), a digital tuner (ST-J88B) and, last, the TC-K88B k7 recorder which "inaugurated" the ES and ESPRIT logos - although it didn't belong to either series.

No turntable was specifically devised to go with the 88s and 86s but the PS-B80 was implicitly added from the side, later on.
Same for the speakers with the SS-G7 and, later on, the SS-G9 filling the blank space.

Sales were truly excellent from the very start, worldwide, on both sides of the possible market areas : "audiophile" and professional with N86B-based multi-amp'ed studio rigs.

But for the ECR-880, all of these sold like mad : about 10,000 E86 + N86 combos were made, around 6000 E88 + N88 combos, something in between for the J88 and a bit less for the D88 and later K88.
These numbers include both Japan and export versions but, still, there were and still are plenty of them around, except the N88 and D88 which remain fairly rare today ; all were kept available in Japan until 1981 and until 1984 in Germany.
Exception to the rule, the TA-N88(B) was fairly quickly withdrawn in Japan due to its congenital power-supply caps overheating problem - the little TA-N86B took stand-in position and it's a better amp anyway.

In the USA, the series was only briefly advertised for, very late in 1980, and dubbed Audio Lab by Sony US, with the unrelated addition of the PCM-1 (or PCM-10 for the second run of magazine ads).
Also somewhat available there and there only was an Ikea-like rack system made of eight rectangular metal stoppers (silkscreened "ESPRIT" !), four long pass-through screws and three smoked-glass shelves - extra-rare but not that pretty or practical and limited to two or three components.

There is little else to say : the Pre-Esprit components are beautiful (magnificent), reliable and, sound-wise, truly world-class, especially the E88B, D88B, E86B and N86B.

A large 1979 Audio Accessory test mixing and matching "high-end" amps and preamps put the TA-E88B at the very top of its preamp list : above Accuphase, above Mark Levinson, above Luxman or Victor, above whoever.

Sony pre-Esprit, image 1 Sony pre-Esprit, image 2 Sony pre-Esprit, image 3 Sony pre-Esprit, image 4
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