Sony's resin tubes

Sony has a history of making ‘lifestyle’ consumer electronics alongside their more boring, everyday items. From the 1980s My First Sony line designed to indoctrinate children into brand loyalty1 to the beautiful clutch-like Vaio P palmtop, the company has never been afraid to experiment with form, function, and fashion. Occasionally, they’ll release wild products like the XEL-1 which read like concepts but actually get released, albeit at silly prices.

One such item was the made-to-order NSA-PF1 ‘Sountina’, a six-foot tall speaker released in or around 2008. It wasn’t sold in the United States, but a 2012 archive of an exporter’s site shows that you could acquire one here for a cool $17,000. It’s a beautiful device, with some relatively traditional-looking speaker stuff holding up a glowing resin tube. This tube, which Sony likes to call ‘organic glass’ while plastering the product with disclaimers instead of just admitting that resin is itself a very cool material, serves more than just a decorative purpose: it is vibrated from below to act as the unit’s tweeter. A longstanding issue with loudspeaker design is that high frequencies are extremely directional, leading to ‘sweet spots’ where listeners have to be positioned. A cylinder that radiates high frequencies out at all angles is a clever approach to solving this issue.

The Sountina was clearly an extravagant R&D display by Sony; I would be shocked if they sold more than a handful. Truthfully, most people who can drop five figures on their loudspeakers aren’t going to have Sony at the top of their list. But if we fast-forward to around 20162, Sony released something more attainable, albeit something that was still largely an impractical lifestyle objet d’art. This something was the tabletop LSPX-S1 speaker, still described as a ‘Glass Sound Speaker’ with asterisks upon asterisks explaining that ‘glass’ means ‘organic glass’, and ‘organic glass’ means ‘resin’. This unit retailed for around $800, was mass-produced, and did make its way over to the U.S. The model number is notable here; alongside the LSPX-S1 was the LSPX-P1, a short-throw projector. Both were announced as part of a marketing initiative called ‘Life Space UX’3. Foreshadowed in an interview about the Sountina, the LSPX-S1 has a warm filament-style LED toward its base, making it resemble a lantern more than a speaker.

These sold in some quantity, at least, as they’re abundant on eBay. But there isn’t much in the way of user information on them out there, and I suspect that’s because yet again… if you’re plonking down $800 for a Bluetooth speaker, you’re probably not looking to Sony first. Doubly so if you want to make a stereo pair. Last year (I think?), Sony improved on this issue somewhat with the $450 LSPX-S2. This is still an expensive lifestyle device, and therefore one with little information out there, but with some finagling I managed to acquire a display unit for a very good price. If you’ve made it this far, let’s talk about the LSPX-S2.

Actually, no, sorry. Before I can talk about this little resin tube, I need to talk briefly about my taste in loudspeakers so that we’re on the same page. I’ve been looking for a bedside unit, and because of the way my bed is more of a living space than a sleeping space, a 360° tweeter device has been appealing to me for a while. I had been tempted by the SoundMatters Upstage360, especially once new units started popping up for half price or so on eBay. This, of course, was also rather suspect though, and while SoundMatters is a company I’ve owned and enjoyed a number of products from, the comments on the Kickstarter didn’t paint an image of confidence. To switch gears for a second, I do not like multi-way speakers. My ‘real’ hifi system has Audience ClairAudient 2x2 loudspeakers, which use 4 full-range drivers each for the sake of efficiency. There’s no crossover, no sense of tweeter/midrange/woofer, and this is how I like it. I have always had a problem with cohesion in multi-way loudspeaker designs. Yet, I accepted when thinking about the Upstage360 that this would be unavoidable, and given how few 360° speakers are out there, I was willing to try a two-way design with the Sony as well. One final preference of mine that the Sony does make use of is a passive radiator design in lieu of a bass port or the like. I only mention all of this because we all tend to have different things that we want out of audio. I want full, but not booming bass. I’ll take cohesion over inaudible frequency response. With this product, specifically, I’ll compromise things for omnidirectional sound.

While I don’t care about packaging, the LSPX-S2 is certainly packaged like a lifestyle product. The outside of the box has a silhouette of the speaker on it, which… given its shape and size, really makes it look like the packaging for a magic wand4. The manual harkens back to the Sountina’s, in a way – Sony proudly gave the Sountina a full-color manual to set it apart, and while the LSPX-S2 is not this, it does have two rather chic spot colors (a sort-of pink and a sort-of brown) in addition to black, and it’s laid out in a much more… friendly fashion than most. The friendliness hurts more than it helps, but overall the manual is fairly extensive. This is important because the unit has Bluetooth, which can be paired traditionally or via NFC, as well as some WiFi functionality, and an app to control some of the more complicated bits. The WiFi can be tied to a UPnP server on your network, which I may try at some point, or Spotify Connect, which I will never try because fuck Spotify. The app also lists a handful of services like YouTube and Soundcloud, but I think these just… launch those respective apps? All in all, the app is pretty terrible, but I’m primarily concerned with using this as a normal Bluetooth and analog line-in speaker.

As a speaker, it’s… pretty good! It’s certainly still not $450 good, but it does a few things very well. First and foremost, the omnidirectional resin tube thing works. And a lot of music that I enjoy sounds excellent on it. The mids are lush, and the bass is present… obviously not a room-shaker, but it doesn’t feel like it just cuts off at the low midrange. Treble is where things get a little bit tricky. I do think some of that lack of cohesion that I mentioned earlier comes through, particularly on very busy, wall-of-sound type recordings. In these instances, highs just feel a bit detached from the traditional loudspeaker to my ears. The treble can also be very peaky; higher-register vocals can be a bit harsh, and sibilant sounds kind of feel like they might shatter the glass tube, if it were actually made of such a material. But most well-recorded, well-mastered stuff sounds quite nice; instrumental music, be it acoustic or classic synths tends to sound excellent. Which, for me at least, fits the use-case of a mono5 omnidirectional speaker – it’s a chill background-music machine.

This background aspect also fits its candlelike aesthetic. While the LSPX-S1 had a quaint filament-style LED at its base, the LSPX-S2 has a warm LED that fires up into a clear dish of sorts to create an effect much like a tea-light. You can adjust the brightness of this, though it never gets brighter than mood lighting. Likely a better setting is its candle mode, which flickers gradually at random. This combined with the way the LED is configured makes for a really lovely little bit of mood lighting. I have returned to my room after an hour away and nearly scolded myself for leaving a candle lit. It’s a lovely look.

Finally, a few notes on UI. The app, as mentioned, is bad. It lets you control things like brightness, which is nice, though fortunately unnecessary. Even if the app was great, it’s best to assume these things don’t exist, because some day they won’t and… well, at that point you either have a functional product or a brick. On the unit, there are buttons both around the base of the unit, and under the unit. The controls on the outside are power (also used to switch candle mode on/off), push-to-play, and volume up/down. The push-to-play is the most meh of these, as it seems to pretty exclusively rely on Spotify, but I’m glad the power is available without lifting the device up. Under the unit are controls for pairing, brightness up/down, adding an additional speaker(s), and a shared button for a sleep timer and WPS. The sleep timer is a nice feature, though I wish it was on the outside of the device. Since the buttons are neither tactile nor lit, if you’re heading to sleep and your only light source is the dim LSPX-S2 itself… well, it isn’t very easy. The buttons on the outside of the device are barely raised, but the buttons on the bottom are not at all. They’re also a bit mushy, so even when you can see where you’re pressing, it doesn’t feel reliable. Last thing about the buttons – it’s nice that the power, etc. are on the outside, but they are so close to the bottom that you almost need to lift the device anyway. All in all, I’m glad Sony gave the LSPX-S2 as many physical buttons as they did; you can control everything important without the app, and the controls basically all make sense. The UX isn’t ideal, but in 2021… well, I’ve seen much worse.

I hope that Sony makes an LSPX-S3, or perfects the process on the LSPX-S2 such that it’s closer to the $200-250 range. It’s a nice luxury device that fills a lifestyle niche that Sony has always dabbled in; but you’re paying largely for this, it just does not sound like a $450 speaker. This said, there aren’t many speakers out there that fill the omnidirectional mono niche, so for a situation like mine… well, I’m glad I got a banger of a deal on this weird little resin mood light. It’s a truly pleasant ambient device.

  1. Okay, this is a little harsh. I mean it’s true, but it’s also true that children have different usage needs than adults, and things like volume limiters, simple controls, and rounded edges do genuinely make for a better product for a child. I don’t know that anyone else was doing this at the time with real electronics that were based on and ultimately worked as well as their adult counterpoints. ↩︎
  2. It’s hard to pinpoint exact dates on these products that got more attention as press releases and trade show items than actual, in-home reviewed products. ↩︎
  3. There’s not much to look at here, and the stylesheets have gone poof, but the WayBack machine has a snapshot of Sony’s Life Space UX page. ↩︎
  4. The sex type. ↩︎
  5. If you get two of them, you can configure them as a stereo pair. ↩︎