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Sony SS-CS3 review: A bargain (with some caveats) for new audiophiles

If you’re familiar with my reviews, you probably know I’m an admirer of the SS-CS3’s little brother, the CS5 bookshelf speaker; they’re a bargain and sound magnificent! So, does the bigger brother live up to the expectations?

While the short answer is no, the Sony SS-CS3 is still a good and extremely affordable tower speaker that deserves to be taken into account by first-time audiophiles and listeners on a budget.

Sony SS-CS3 floor-stander in test setup
Image: Sony

Final verdict on the Sony SS-CS3 4.0

I’m a big fan of the Sony CS series, and the SS-CS3 deserves to be part of it. This speaker punches way above its price tag when it comes to audio fidelity and immersive soundstage, also thanks to a performing wide dispersion super tweeter that enhances the clarity and detail of sounds.

The mica woofers deliver a good performance on the low end, but not excellent: the bass lacks the depth and articulation seasoned listeners expect, leaving me with a feeling that a pair of SS-CS5 bookshelf speakers with a decent sub might actually sound better.

Then again, one has to be pragmatic and take the budget into account: at the time of writing, you can get a pair of SS-CS3 for less than $500. At this price, they’re the best you can get, and with a bit of tweaking, you can turn them into tower speakers that’ll accompany you for years.

What I like

  • Accurate.
  • Versatile.
  • Incredibly affordable.

What I don’t like

  • Lower frequencies are not particularly accurate.
Buy Sony SS-CS3 at: AmazonB&H

Why you should trust me

I’m an audio engineer and seasoned audiophile with 15 years of experience in the music industry.

Marco Sebastiano Alessi, author and contributor at Higher Hz

When testing speakers, I’m interested in clarity and neutrality, first and foremost, but I also want the sound to be enjoyable and engaging.

When I use my hi-fi equipment for deep-listening sessions, I pay attention to the quality of frequency response across the spectrum, and when it comes to floor-standing speakers, it’s crucial they can perfectly reproduce whichever music I throw at them.

Build and design 4.0

In terms of build quality, the SS-CS3 delivers exactly what you’d expect from a Sony product: a sturdy and durable product that meets the needs of many.

This three-way tower speaker comes in a sleek, black, or woodgrain finish that feels minimalist and modern and will work well in all environments.

The cabinet is made from high-quality medium-density fiberboard (MDF), which enhances its durability but also minimizes resonance and vibrations. Finally, the speaker’s excellent crossover networks keep the sound clear and detailed and are attached to the cabinet to prevent vibrations.

While not a beauty to look at like the Wharfedale Evo4.4, the SS-CS3 looks and feels less clustered than its smaller brother while sharing its minimal, no-nonsense aesthetics.

Compatibility 4.5

A strong point of the SS-CS3 is its effortless compatibility and versatility: with a 6-ohm impedance, this tower speaker will work with virtually any amplifier or receiver you can get.

Sony SS-CS3 speakers in home theater setup
Image: Sony

If you’re looking for an amp for your home theatre or hi-fi, here are a few options that should meet your needs and notoriously work well with the SS-CS3.

The Denon AVR-S750H is a great choice with its 75 watts per channel and support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Also, the Marantz PM6007, despite delivering only 45 watts per channel, performs well in small/medium-size rooms.

Sound 4.0

All in all, the Sony SS-CS3 speakers deliver a balanced and detailed audio experience that’s surprising at this price. In particular, the super tweeter and tweeter seamlessly work in unison to provide exceptional clarity and naturalness in the high frequencies.

The four-driver system brings to life a comprehensive and immersive sound that will work magnificently in both listening rooms and home theaters. This configuration is designed to create a broad and rich soundstage, with the notoriously high-quality Sony crossover ensuring a consistent sound profile regardless of your listening positions.

Sony SS-CS3 speakers in hi-fi audio setup
Image: Sony

The super tweeter impressed me. Despite its small size, it reproduces ultra-high frequencies up to 50 kHz, and while you might not hear those frequencies unless you’re a bat, you’ll still feel the sense of airiness and articulation on the high end of the spectrum.

The tweeter provides a natural and warm sound without being pedantic. The result is a full, pleasant sonic experience that won’t tire your ears even after hours of listening.

The issue comes with the woofers, especially if you’re into bass-heavy music, you’ll notice a lack of depth and clarity on the low end, which makes music flatter and muddier that I’d like. It’s a shame, considering the brilliance and beautiful soundstage offered on the higher end.

If bass is crucial to you, you might be better off getting a pair of CS5 bookshelf speakers with a sub or the Elac F5.2 I’ll discuss below among the CS3’s alternatives.

Compared to other floor-standing speakers

While the SS-CS3 might be the best budget floor-stander for those of you working on a very low budget, here are a few alternatives to consider if you’re willing to extend your budget a little bit further.

Sony SS-CS3 vs Polk Audio T50

Slightly cheaper than the SS-CS3, the Polk T50 is an excellent choice for home theater enthusiasts thanks to its wide soundstage, and if you’re into deep bass, they might be a better option than the SS-CS3.

However, when it comes to sound clarity and fidelity, the Sony model is the clear winner here.

Sony SS-CS3 vs Klipsch Reference R-600F

Almost two-and-a-half times more expensive than the SS-CS3, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the sound of the R-600F feels smoother and more articulate, especially on the lower side of the spectrum.

The 6.5-inch TCP woofers offer an immersive sonic experience, with a controlled and deep bass that dwarfs the underperforming woofers of the SS-CS3. It’s a completely different league, and if your budget allows it, opting for the Reference is undoubtedly the best option in the long run.

Sony SS-CS3 vs Elac Debut 2.0 F5.2

Elac’s phenomenal F5 series should be the go-to option of every music enthusiast who enjoys hours-long listening sessions, thanks to a warm, timeless sound that never tires your ears.

Easy to place in a room and coming with a cutting-edge aramid-fiber woofer, the Elac F5.2 delivers an outstanding performance that can easily compete with high-end tower speakers.

You can get a pair of those for roughly $600, so about $100 more than you’d pay for the SS-CS3. Once again, it all comes down to your ambitions as an audiophile, but if you’re in for the long run, getting the F5.2 is a great choice.

Who are the Sony SS-CS3 floor-standing speakers best suited for?

The Sony SS-CS3 might be the perfect solution for those entering the world of audio fidelity for the first time or are on a budget.

With a price gravitating around $460 a pair, these tower speakers are inexpensive compared to most models that deliver a comparable performance. They can also be a valid solution for home theaters thanks to their clear highs and enveloping soundstage.

Buy Sony SS-CS3 at: AmazonB&H
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