Sonus Faber Amati Futura loudspeaker Page 2
The Sonus Fabers' time in my room overlapped that of the TAD Compact Reference CR1s, which I reviewed in the January 2012 issue. These are two very different-sounding loudspeakers. Listening to "Don't Give Up," from Peter Gabriel's New Blood (Apple Lossless file ripped from CD, Real World 84108 00038), the image of Gabriel's voice was smaller and set back farther in the soundstage through the Italian speakers. In absolute terms, the Sonus Fabers' stereo imaging was not quite as precisely defined as it was with time slicers like the TADs, but it seemed more solid, more palpable, without being thrust forward at me.
There were also differences in tonal balance that were immediately obvious. The Amati Futuras had less top-octave energy than the TAD speakers, sounding mellow in comparison, but with more low bass. Of the three speakers I have reviewed in recent issues, the Vivid B1 came closest to achieving the most accurate treble balance in my room (though its low frequencies were no match for the evenness and extension of the Sonus Faber's).
The Futura's relative lack of HF energy did make some purist recordings, such as the recordings I made at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival in the 1990s, sound too soft-toned. Only the last in that series, Bravo! (CD, Stereophile STPH014-2), for which I had to resort to close miking to cope with the noise of the hall's air-conditioning, sounded naturally balanced in the highs through the Amati Futuras. But with so many recordings having overcooked high frequencies, the Sonus Fabers worked magic with something like Miles Davis's musically magnificent but sonically shrill live set from 1982, We Want Miles (CD, Columbia 469402 2).
This magic seemed to have something to do with the quality and quantity of recorded detail presented by the Amati Futura. It may sound oxymoronic, but this loudspeaker is more of a quietspeaker, in that the inevitable spurious noises of its enclosure and drive-unitsresonances, distortions of various kindswere being suppressed. So while the balance was a little on the mellow side, the music wasn't dulled. "Mellow" didn't equate with "muffled"in fact, in the case of this speaker, quite the opposite.
For example, a constant factor during my auditioning of the Amati Futuras was that they consistently revealed a greater degree of reverberation in recordings. The signature of the small recital hall used for my 2000 recording of Robert Silverman's complete set of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas (24/88.2 master AIFF file for CD, OrpheumMasters, no longer available) was more obvious than through other speakers, yet the piano itself was very solidly presented. The same thing was true of the piano accompaniment in Debussy's song "Invocation," from Cantus's Against the Dying of the Light (24-bit master AIFF file for CD, Cantus CTS-1202), the masonry of the walls of the chapel at Shattuck St. Mary's School, in Minnesota, sounding more reflective than I had become used to. However, this wasn't a case of speaker colorations or delayed resonant energy creating a false sense of reverberation; instead, the speaker seemed to be stepping out of the way of low-level information to more readily expose the reverb tails and the decay of the room sound that this recording had all along contained. I was reminded of the first time I heard Quad ESL-63 electrostatics, 30 years ago, with their absence of box-speaker spuriae.
And as with the Quads, it was the midrange where the most magic in the Amati Futura's sound was to be found. This speaker loved the human voice, whether it was the male voices of Cantus in the Debussy song, or Rebecca Pidgeon's husky tones in "Spanish Harlem" (from Retrospective, 24/96 HDtracks download, Chesky), or the rococo tenor stylings of Ronnie Isley in Burt Bacharach's "The Look of Love" (from Here I Am, CD, DreamWorks B0001005-2). There was no obvious coloration, no underlying formant structure that emerged over long-term listening as a characteristic of the speaker rather than of the recordings. Every voice sounded maximally different from the one I had just played, the speaker stepping out of the way of each in turn.
Lower in frequency, the midbass of my Fender Precision bass guitar in the channel-ID tracks on Editor's Choice was a touch too warm, but not out of control. But with MP3s, which to me always have a rather fluffy low-frequency quality on bass guitar, while the Amati Futura's treble balance tamed the too-aggressive edge these recordings can have, the lows became too mushy. I had initially ripped Ronnie Isley's "The Look of Love" as a 320kbps AAC file when I was performing codec listening tests, and the bass guitar in that version sounded too soft through the Sonus Fabers.
That's not to say the Amati Futura couldn't rockbut, as Martin Colloms wrote in the AprilJune 2011 issue of The HiFi Critic, it did so in a "rather adult manner, with more refinement and elegance" than "frenetic pulsing drive." Perhaps at my age, that suits me just fine. Just before I had to pack the speakers up to be shipped to Eric Swanson, our cover photographer, I downloaded Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers' Live at the Portland Oregon Zoo 7/31/2011 (24/44.1 FLAC download). I rocked out as "Little Maggie" segued into a breakneck version of Weather Report's "Birdland" with Béla Fleck on electric banjo, the 20-fingered J.V. Collier on bass guitar, and the thunderous Sonny Emory on drums, each of whom the Sonus Fabers presented at his talented best.
I finished my auditioning with the 20-bit master of Robert Silverman's performance of the Liszt B-minor piano sonata I'd prepared for the LP release of Sonata (Stereophile STPH008-1). Yes the balance was a little mellow, but the sound of the 9' Steinway was magnificent. When Bob pounds away at the low end of the keyboard after the descending octave passages toward the end, as Liszt sums up the work's themes, the low frequencies were powerful. Uncolored. Weighty. Yet the following track, Bob's transcendental performance of Liebestraum, was presented with all its necessary delicacy of touch and tone intact.
Superbly engineered and equally superbly finished, the Sonus Faber Amati Futura justifiesat least to those who can afford itits $36,000/pair price by offering sound quality to match its drop-dead-gorgeous looks. Its high frequencies may be somewhat mellow in absolute terms, which may be a factor in large rooms, but this is offset by the sheer amount of recorded detail that the speaker presents to the listener. I was sorry to see the Amati Futuras leave my listening room; I had spent many fall evenings engrossed in my music, thanks to the marriage of art and science represented by their design.