Sonus Faber Electa Amator loudspeaker Page 3
It took me a long time to understand the Amators' unusual bass performance. Starting with the upper bass, performance was neutral, articulate, and powerful. Great example were the bass riffs from the Red Hot Chili Peppers' surprisingly good recording Blood Sugar Sex Magik (Warner Bros. 26681). If the overall volume was too low, the bass lost significant impact. At a certain level, the bass truly came alive. Moving down into the midbass, tonal neutrality and power were the equal of that found in the upper bass, but with a slight loss of clarity and articulation. Another illustration of these distinctions was evident on the timpani strokes from Saint-Saëns's Symphony 3 (Mercury 423 719-2). Moving down into the deep bass, the Saint-Saëns made it clear that some of the deepest bass fundamentals were not reproduced.
E la larghezza, e la profondita?
While we expect minimonitors to have poor bass performance (the Amators didn't), we also expect them to produce wonderful soundstages. On this count, the Amators fulfilled all of my expectations. With well-recorded source material, the soundstage developed behind and around the speakers. The cabinets simply disappeared into the soundstage—something I, for one, love. There was width, depth, precise placement, and air aplenty.
A surprising illustration of these abilities was Clannad's Past Present CD (RCA 9912-2-R). This is Enya's former group, with more of a rock than a New-Age flavor. The Amators presented layer upon layer of stage depth, and nearly sidewall-to-sidewall width. With a more closely miked recording like Take 6's debut (Reprise 25670), the performers were right in the room with me. It is important to note that the Amators did not give everything the same characteristics, the sonic differences on recordings being reproduced intact. The only downside was the frustration of listening to some of the many recordings (LPs and CDs) where the engineers simply hadn't bothered to consider soundstaging in the recording process.
With splendid recordings such as the Atrium Musicae's La Folia de La Spagna (Harmonia Mundi 901050), however, the soundstaging was captivating. The stage itself was very wide and deep, with layer upon layer in both directions. Images within the stage were themselves equally dimensional and full-bodied. The speakers' treble performance added to the spatial illusion with a generally open, extended, and airy character.
What was somewhat unusual in the Amators' soundstaging was the relative closeness of the performers. With any source material, the Amators had a somewhat close perspective. I felt I was always closer to the stage than I was with any number of other speakers. The soundstages were thus wider, as they should be with such a presentation. With few exceptions, the Amators put the performers in my listening room, but always behind and around the speakers. As such a perspective implies, the midrange was prominent.
While this close perspective was occasionally surprising, it was very pleasant with more intimate works. A musically satisfying example was McCoy Tyner's splendidly well-recorded New York Reunion (Chesky JD51). There in my room was Al Foster's drumkit to the right center, Ron Carter's upright bass to the left center. Joe Henderson's sax was closer and a bit further to the right, while Tyner's piano was further off to the left and a bit closer than the bass. And there I was, right in the same room with all of them.
Constance Demby's Sacred Space Music (Hearts of Space HS11010-2) was even more intriguing. Her hammered dulcimer was right in the room, just behind the speaker cabinets and slightly over to the right. Absolutely no sound appeared to be coming from the speaker cabinets. They totally disappeared into the music.
E il fortissimo?
Fortunately for my own hearing, I do not listen at rock-concert levels. Driven by the excellent Audio Research Classic 150s, the surprising Sonic Frontiers SFS-80, or the truly musical Lectron JH 30, the Amators were able to play as loudly as I would ever want. They were significantly easier to power than the larger Extremas. (Powering the Extremas may prove a challenge for any number of well-regarded amplifiers, including my own.) The Amators appeared to present the amps with a moderately efficient and unproblematic load. While able to play loudly enough in absolute terms, I did feel, as I do with most audio gear, that there was some restriction of dynamics. The range of subtle volume shifts in works such as the splendid Chesky reissue of Scheherazade (RC-4) was somewhat glossed over. This was not an issue on most popular recordings, as the dynamic range was not that great to begin with. In these cases, the ability of the speakers to play loudly was at issue; the Amators handled this test with aplomb.