Hello-fi producers can be fast to let you know of their ardour for music – that’s basically the idea of their (and our) admiration for hi-fi, in spite of everything. And it’s simple to imagine such sentiments from Sonus Faber when, upon arriving on the Italian firm’s headquarters in Arcugnano, Vicenza, we’re confronted with a constructing whose roof mimics the curvature of a violin. It’s a becoming ode to an instrument that has performed an instrumental position within the model’s four-decade historical past of speaker manufacturing.
It was 10 years after its inception that Sonus Faber created its first high-end audio system with picket, lute-shaped cupboards. The 1993 Guarneri Homage standmounter was the debutant for an ‘Homage’ assortment (named after probably the most distinguished households of Cremonese violin makers within the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries – Guarneri, Amati and Stradivari), which nonetheless boasts a few of the best audio system within the agency’s catalogue at the moment. And it could mark the beginning of a protracted and affluent journey into artisanal speaker manufacturing.
The constructing we stand in as we’re guided by way of Sonus Faber’s early historical past and examples of its first audio system is the one the corporate moved to from close by Monteviale in 2003 – and was outlined by its native architect as “a spot for music”. It’s not only a museum and workplace headquarters; it’s a working manufacturing unit the place each Sonus Faber speaker – from entry-level Lumina to flagship Reference – is assembled and, within the constructing reverse, designed.
With components of hi-fi speaker manufacturing more and more transferring to China (one thing Sonus Faber has exercised for the producer of its Lumina cupboards), Sonus Faber prides itself on native craftsmanship from native suppliers. The cupboards for the remainder of its ranges are manufactured by a wood-maker roughly 30km from Vicenza known as De Santi.
Because the story goes, Sonus Faber founder Franco Serblin was searching for a brand new strategy to hi-fi within the mid-‘80s and, deciding on strong wooden as his discriminator, found Luciano DeSanti’s manufacturing unit, which on the time specialised in grandfather clocks. Quick ahead almost forty years and that very same firm and manufacturing unit, now run by Luciano’s son Stefano, continues to be the maker of (virtually) each Sonus Faber cupboard – and this has change into their principal enterprise.
Their partnership has grown right into a collaborative one through the years, too. “They’re the specialists too”, stated Sonus Faber’s Marta Vecellio as we tiptoed across the manufacturing unit flooring. And there’s one significantly good anecdotal instance of this that caught with us.
Having made walnut wooden standmounters with the Parva (the first-ever Sonus Faber speaker), Minima, Electa and Electa Amator fashions, Serblin wished to create a floorstander model. (It wasn’t till 1998, 15 years into the corporate’s existence, that Sonus Faber’s first floorstander – and first three-way speaker – was really born within the Amati Homage.) Nevertheless, this wasn’t attainable on the time on account of restricted wood-drying strategies for bigger walnut panels, as required for a floorstander – in the event that they couldn’t be dried nicely sufficient, they’d danger cracking underneath intense use. However De Santi was in a position to assist Sonus Faber lastly fulfil this early ambition. First, the American walnut wooden loses resins and humidity by drying naturally, earlier than getting into a really dry chamber that step by step heats up and is then turned as much as a excessive temperature on the finish. A change from a silicon glue to a softer water-based one has helped too. And thus, Maxima Amator was born in 2020.
The audio system which have cupboards completed in a shiny lacquer (the Homage and Reference fashions) are then despatched to a tiny close by lacquering manufacturing unit, which additionally treats Steinway pianos, to be cured for one month, sanded after which repeatedly polished over seven levels, earlier than being despatched again to the Sonus Faber HQ for meeting. Once more, this can be a relationship that goes approach again, starting round 1993 when Sonus Faber realised it wanted a human hand’s contact to deal with its fantastically curvaceous however awkward to deal with, Guarneri Homage audio system.
Earlier than we will confidently say “bellissima” in a satisfactory Italian accent, we discover ourselves having gone full circle in a Sonus Faber speaker’s manufacturing journey. Sonus Faber might need caught predominantly to wooden cupboards and paper cones for many of its historical past but it surely has experimented and innovated in these areas.
The corporate has dabbled with headphones (the Pryma 0|1 in 2015), a wi-fi music system (the SF16 in 2016), customized set up audio system (the Palladio assortment in 2019), and vehicles, with the system for the Maserati SC20 supercar, which we sadly didn’t spy within the automotive park.
The Design Lab, which is reverse the headquarters and which was once a manufacturing facility for Electa, was opened in 2014 and is the place to begin for each Sonus Faber product. It’s right here, on this chamber of secrets and techniques, the place the acoustic designs, laptop simulations and prototype elements come collectively; the place prototypes’ mid-to-high frequency responses are measured and exercised to their restrict in an anechoic chamber; and the place the staff listens and compares them to merchandise from opponents in an effort to decide areas for refinement.
It’s all very essentially mechanical however the headquarters and Design Lab accommodate extra laissez-faire (or ought to we are saying ‘spensierato’) listening too. Every constructing is fitted with a listening room that represents the McIntosh Group guardian firm, which Sonus Faber has belonged to since 2016.
In addition to a blast of Dolby Atmos motion by way of its AV room’s 9.6.four configuration of Sonus Faber Palladio CI audio system pushed by McIntosh muscle, we had been handled to a two-channel demonstration – first of the brand new Lumina V floorstanders (the agency’s newest audio system) fed by a Lumin U1 streamer, McIntosh D1100 (DAC stage solely) and Rotel RA1592 built-in amplifier, after which of the brand new Maxima Amator with the Rotel amplification swapped out for the heavyweight mixture of McIntosh’s C2700 tube preamp and MC462 energy amp. Do the maths and we’re speaking programs simply shy of £20,000 (round $27,000, AU$37,000) and £43,000 ($58,000, AU$80,000) respectively.
It has been lower than two years for the reason that Electa Amator III glided into our take a look at rooms, and even much less time since we had our first style of the Lumina sequence by way of the Lumina 1 standmounts.
The Lumina V are unsurprisingly recognisable – bold-sounding and strong, with a low-end authority from these twin 6.5-inch woofers lapping up Leonard Cohen’s guttural, front-and-centre vocal in You Need It Darker and suitably anchoring the bassline that bubbles under it.
There’s sufficient scale and house for Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre (carried out by the Symphony Orchestra of London) to carry curiosity, and a way of midrange purity and expression that will help you immediately admire Eva Cassidy’s supply in family favorite What A Great World.
As you’d anticipate for a speaker six instances the value, a change to the Maxima Amator audio system with the McIntosh electronics reveals a unique type of beast totally.
Understandably, there isn’t the identical bass authority from solely their 18cm mid/bass driver, however as an alternative we get a quicker, extra musical and naturally rather more detailed efficiency – Paul Simon’s jingly-jangly Diamonds On the Soles of Her Sneakers sounds as sprightly as we’ve heard it – with frequency integration a key energy of the presentation.
It’s a tremendous instance of the McIntosh Group’s two-channel repertoire; an ode to the corporate’s ardour for music – and, like so many Sonus Faber audio system each new and outdated, it is packaged in one of the good-looking designs in the marketplace.
We glance again on the authentic 1991 Sonus Faber Extrema