Sonus Faber Minima FM2 loudspeaker Franco Serblin Interview
I interviewed Franco Serblin, founder and president of Sonus Faber, one rainy morning at the June 1992 SCES in Chicago. We met at Sumiko's exhibit and conducted our discussion in the back of the room, where his Extrema loudspeakers were winning my vote for "Best Sound at the Show." Franco spoke mostly in Italian while his administrative assistant, Cesare Bevilacqua, translated. We were joined by Lorenzo Sen, a Vincenza audio dealer. Franco was charming, philosophical, and dressed as elegantly as he had appeared in the January 1992 Stereophile photo (p.83). In that picture, he knelt in front of a Sonus Faber Extrema, his jaw resting on his fist, like Rodin's The Thinker.
Franco grew up with classical music at home, listening to the piano. His father was a master carpenter. When he became interested in audio, Franco found that he changed his equipment every two to three weeks. He began to believe that there had to be a way to make audio components that audiophiles would keep for years.
The result of this thinking was Sonus Faber, founded in 1981 in Arcugnano, the "gold capitol" of Italy and the best place to buy handcrafted jewelry. "Sonus Faber" loosely translates into "handcrafted sound." That was Franco's dream: to combine, in a small speaker design, superb cabinetry with the finest drivers. He believes that a "big sound" is not necessary in the home. "People want an impressive speaker right away, but they change it the next year. With the Minima, even if you change, you take the Minima with you...I know of no used Minimas on the market."
Franco explained Sonus Faber's design philosophy. "We like your [American] point of view, for, after all, you started 'hi-fi'." But he suggested that Americans prefer large loudspeakers with high sound levels. He wanted to convey "the difference between European and American style." In Europe, the most important thing is the music; less important than owning a big amplifier or loudspeaker is having "a small corner [in which] to listen to the music you like." After all, "Here [pointing to his body] is the body, which is very big, and here [pointing to his head] is the spirit, which is very small but very important. The Minima is like the spirit."
The Minima's success in Europe over the eight years of its product life has convinced Franco that he should continue with his "less is more" design direction. Unlike manufacturers who modify their products yearly, Franco finds that it "is very important for us to have a product that has no change in the future." Therefore, despite reviews, the Minima will remain the same. I asked him if he might violate this principle by fixing the Minima's bass leanness. "No," he said, even though he began his career by designing a satellite/subwoofer system called The Snail (see Vol.11 No.3, p.34). He now designs small speakers only; in Italy, "there is no culture for subwoofers." He found the search for perfect bass futile. "When you want more bass, you miss it; when you have it, it disturbs you." The Extrema is the culmination of Franco Serblin's ideas, for it is the "extreme representation of the very pure 6dB" design.
In his best Zen style, Franco ended the interview by reminding me, "Nothing sounds better than things that aren't."—Larry Greenhill