Sonus Faber Minima FM2 loudspeaker Page 2
The Minimas passed all my usual subjective listening tests with flying colors. I played pink noise to determine the optimal listening axis. Midband colorations were not evident, and the sound was natural over a wide listening area. This was confirmed by the sit-down, stand-up, walk-around test. The sound remained uniform, changing character only when I was standing right above the speaker. I broke the Minimas in over three months, but even over this long a time I heard little change in sonic character.
I set up the Sonus Fabers at the narrow end of the room, 4' from each side wall and 3' from the back, with my listening seat 8' away. This is closer than usual, but it allowed me to reproduce the same sitting distance in the study. Using the second Stereophile Test CD's warble tones, I was able to confirm that the Minima had usable response down to 80Hz, with some response just detectable at 60Hz and no evidence of doubling. (This last had not been not the case with the B&W Matrix 805s in the living room.)
Still, the Minimas were unlikely to produce deep bass in the bigger room—hardly surprising, considering the 4" midrange/woofer. A better bass balance was obtained in the study. Terry Bozzio's kickdrum and Tony Hymas's synthesizer were surprisingly lively in the study on Jeff Beck's "Behind the Veil" (Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop, Epic EK 44313). I found the Levinson No.27 and KSA-250 amplifiers to best reproduce the punch of Bozzio's kickdrum when driving the Minimas. Rimshots, kickdrum, and drumhead sounds were highly dynamic and clearly defined. The bass was rhythmic, with a mild jump factor. Even so, this was limited bass performance, and could not compare to such three- or four-way full-range systems as the Snell E/III or A/IIIi.
The midrange is the Minima's strength; this came through best on voice, clarinet, and piano solos. Voices and strings sounded natural, floating free of the speaker positions—the Minima is the first monitor loudspeaker I've auditioned that reproduced the human voice as naturally as the Spendor BC-1. On the first Blue Nile LP, A Walk Across the Rooftops (Linn LKH1), the lead singer's voice was rich, full, and three-dimensional, standing apart from the music and special effects. Even with this warmth, the singer's tiny inflections of expression were clear and evident. Classical music, whose reproduction depends on midrange accuracy, was the Minima's forte. Chopin's Scherzo in b-flat, Op.31, as played by Anna Maria Stanczyk on the first Stereophile Test CD, had a marvelous, rich, warm quality that was totally involving.
The Minimas resembled their Sonus Faber brethren in one other key area: their ability to image. On the same Chopin recording, the Minimas placed the pianist's manager's post-performance "Well done!" comment at the extreme left of the stage, showing these minimonitors' ability to re-create the proper soundstage perspective. This was also heard on the second Stereophile Test CD's "Mapping the Soundstage" (track 10). LA's voice changed its apparent location in my listening room, just as JA described last June (Vol.15 No.6, p.202). The Minimas' imaging abilities could also be heard on the instrumental finish to Richard Thompson's "Why Must I Plead" (Rumor and Sigh, Capitol CDP 7 95713 2). There, the acoustic guitar's sonic image was located just outside the right speaker. Only the Minimas and Quad ESL-63s have gotten this right.
Despite their superb imaging, the Minimas were not as transparent as other top loudspeakers. Regardless of speaker placement, speaker cable, or amplifier, in neither room did the Minimas achieve the see-through clarity I heard from the Extremas at the 1992 SCES. Of course, this is an unfair expectation; the $14,000 Extremas are the only minimonitors I've heard that can produce Quad-like transparency. (In addition, I was not driving the Minimas with the same, no-compromise equipment or cables Sumiko used with the Extremas at the CES, such as the $20,000 SME Model 30 turntable with an SME Series V tonearm.)
The Minima's midrange strengths were also evident playing Richard Stoltzman's recordings of clarinet concerti. My daughter plays the clarinet, and uses the listening room to rehearse for auditions. Compared with a real clarinet, most speakers playing CD-sourced clarinet music just don't cut it. For example, my current standard, the Quad ESL-63, is just okay, sounding dry and distant when reproducing Stoltzman's tone. The Minimas sounded warmer if slightly duller and drier than the actual clarinet, but were more involving than the Quads. The Minimas' ability to reproduce clarinet tone made subtle miking differences evident. For example, the close miking of Stoltzman playing Copland's Concerto for Clarinet, Strings, Harp, and Piano (L.L. Smith/LSO, RCA 7762-2-RC) revealed the instrument's reedy, warm timbre far better than the distant miking of Eddie Daniels playing Weber's Clarinet Quintet in B-flat, Op.34 (Reference Recordings RR-40CD).