Omnidirectional sound from an organic glass tube tweeter. Introducing the "Sountina" NSA-PF1, currently in the limelight as an elegant speaker system offering a room-filling soundstage. Such original technology also proved a font of inspiration for the designers, but how did they channel their creative energies into this sonic sculpture? Here, the designers reveal how the Sountina is another paragon that casts light on the best direction for Sony design.
Matsuoka: I'll never forget the first time I saw the original model for the Sountina. That was more than two years ago, at a presentation by engineers announcing the results of development. When I walked in, I saw a glass tube standing upright in the middle of the room. I could hear the clear sound of a bird chirping, coming from nowhere in particular. That glass tube turned out to be the tweeter. Normally, tweeters determine the positioning and orientation of sound. But here, the glass tube in front of me produced consistent sound no matter where I stood as I circled around it. I even backed up against a wall, but there was hardly any change in sound pressure. It was truly an eerie experience, as if every nook of the room were filled with sound.
I knew then that this was a breakthrough promising a new listening style. It was also good timing. I happened to be working in the U.S., where my colleagues and I were exploring the frontiers of audio entertainment. We realized that typical two-channel audio systems keep listeners captive in front of the speakers, if they want the best performance. It's a little futile using these systems when several people want to enjoy music together. That's because the optimal listening position is focused in one area. Why couldn't we develop a system that drew people together around it instead? Like a campfire people gather around. This kind of free, flexible listening style was what my group had been seeking.
The glass tube in front of me embodied this concept perfectly. I couldn't help but feel excited. When I finally returned to work in Japan, I went to see and hear the Sountina, which had been under development all the while. It exceeded my expectations, and I was truly delighted.
Tsuge: I, too, felt the tremendous potential of this "sonic glass tube" the first time I saw it. Conventional speakers produce sound through a diaphragm, using magnetic coils. As with car tires, the basic mechanism has not changed in a very long time since it was introduced. People haven't succeeded in changing it. With the technology to overturn convention right in front of us, we were obviously eager to share it with the world. This aspiration brought many people at Sony together in product development from an early stage—people in R&D, engineering, and product planning.
In product design, I listened carefully to the sound produced by the Sountina as I worked. The organic glass tube tweeter produces the most natural, clear sound, free of inherent characteristics and orientation, at ear level. For this reason, we arranged the main unit at the base to ensure the ideal tube height. The unit incorporates a cone-type midrange speaker and woofer, as well as an amp. In this way, the Sountina functions as a three-way active speaker system aligned on a vertical axis.
The four columns linking these parts contain oscillators to vibrate the organic glass tube. Proprietary elements contract to drive the tweeter, offering excellent power and responsiveness. The result is vibrant, high-resolution sound conveying subtle nuances. In design, we combined all the pieces in the basic structure in a logical way to make this happen.