Sonus Faber Minuetto loudspeaker
I wanted shoes.
See, I've always wanted a pair of those Italian lizard-skin loafers you see all the suave and de-boner Italian cool guys like Jacques Brel and Sean Connery wearing. I figure if I'm going to sit on my front stoop drinking a 40-ouncer all day, I want to dress the part, you know? So I tried to think of an Italian I could call for a good deal on some shoes, and the only one I could think of besides Rocky Balboa was Sonus Faber's designer, Franco Serblin, who I finally reached at his country villa.
"Umm...theez eez Corey Greenberg...eez theez Signor Franco Serblin, por favor?"
"Chess, yoo eedyotspeek English!"
"Monsignor Serblin, can you send me some cool shoes like you guys wear?"
"Choose? Yoo want mee send yoo choose?"
"Yeah, shoes. Those real thin cool-man loafers, for I am a man of simmering passion."
"I choose send yoo my Minuettos...very beautiful leather."
So you can imagine my surprise when I opened up the box that came from Italy a few weeks later and found a pair of Sonus Faber's $1500/pair Minuetto speakers instead of some stylin' slippers. They were mo' beautiful than any shoe I've ever seen, though, so I figured I'd hitch 'em up to my hi-fi rig and see what all the Faber fuss was about.
The Minuetto is the least expensive speaker in the Sonus Faber line, even though it's got a bigger cabinet and woofer than the $1800 Minima. However, like the rest of the Sonus line, the Minima is fitted with a version of the expensive Dynaudio Esotar tweeter, while the Minuetto has been given a less costly Vifa tweeter. The Minuetto's 7" plastic-coated paper-cone woofer is also sourced from Vifa, and is ported via a 1.75"-diameter port located on the Minuetto's rear panel. As with the rest of the line, the Minuetto crosses its drivers over with simple first-order, 6dB/octave filters, which internal inspection showed to be completely potted over with a hardened black gunk said to reduce vibrations.
The woofer low-pass and tweeter high-pass sections of the crossover are available separately at the two pairs of gold-plated binding posts on the speaker's rear. You'd think these separate terminals for the tweeter and woofer would encourage owners to bi-wire the Minuettos, but Sumiko's John Hunter strongly advised me against bi-wiring them, claiming that doing so would "throw the time domain around" and impair soundstaging and overall coherence. Sumiko recommends using a single run of speaker cable instead, with the supplied gold-plated jumpers paralleling the woofer and tweeter terminals. So that's how I wired 'em up.
Looks-wise, the Minuetto is easily the most gorgeous speaker I've had through here. Like a beautiful wo-man, to look at and rub your hand over eet eez to desire eet, my friend. (See why I need them shoes?) The solid, deeply stained walnut cabinets with their perfectly rounded edges and the dark pebbled leather covering on the speaker's face give it an aroma of luxury and class that you just don't sniff from most speakers at any price. Even my girlfriend, Dara, who wishes all speakers were invisible, was knocked out by how good-looking the Minuettos are.
"Let's keep these!" she decided as I unboxed them.
"But we haven't even heard them yet!"
"Who cares? They look great!"
How come whenever I employ this judgmental hierarchy when discussing wimmens I get a kick in the 'nads? It's because I don't have a cool pair of Italian loafers on when I toss off that kind of savoir faire thang, that's why. Sumiko also sent along a pair of the $395 stands they custom-build for the Minuetto30"-tall jobs with a solid chunk of patio tile for the base, and hollow aluminum posts meant to be filled with sand, lead shot, or a combination of the two. Sumiko also supplies thin sheets of vibration-absorbing Navcom to go between the Minuetto and the base. Interestingly, the Sumiko stands are not spiked, and even though my listening room floor is carpeted, Sumiko didn't recommend using anything pointy under the stands to couple them to the concrete floor under the carpet layer. Sumiko also stresses that much trial and error revealed the stand's 30" height to be the best distance from the floor for the Minuetto to sound its best; they recommend you stick with this height if you want to go with another company's stands.
Very smooth and polite, with a really nice midrange, but too dull in the highs for my taste. I was real impressed by the Minuetto's detail and freedom from coloration through the all-important midrange, but overall I felt its balance to be too rolled-off on top to get overly excited about the speaker. I mean, I liked it okay, but I could never listen past the way the Sonus Faber dulled the leading edge of transients and basically filtered the high end so that cymbals that are supposed to go "sssssssssss" went "fshhhhhhh."
This blunted treble balance also tended to soften the tone of electric guitar too much for my likingJimmie Vaughan's wide range of Strat tones on his Strange Pleasure solo record were all duller in timbre from what I normally hear from my reference NHT 3.3s, and even high-quality cheapspeakers like the $230/pair NHT SuperZero and the $200/pair B&W 2001. I know that many people like the Grain-B-Gone effect this kind of speaker response has on a hi-fi system, but I prefer a more neutral balance that lets me hear exactly what the recording truly sounds likewarts and all. Maybe I'm stupid this way--who knows? In any event, there are lots of people who prefer the Minuetto's kind of airless treble balanceespecially those who are only concerned with how well a system resembles the tonal balance of sitting well away from the stage at a classical-music concert. For music-lovers with a wider range of tastes, I'm not sure this kind of balance serves all kinds of music equally well.
The Minuetto's treble rolloff reduced the speakers' ability to present a soundstage as deep as the best speakers I've heard. The Minuettos were able to throw up a very large and seamless soundscape with recordings that had it in the first place, like the MoFi Muddy Waters Folk Singer record; but its depth was slightly less, well, deep than I'm normally used to. I tried the Minuettos in a much larger room than my current 11' by 14' listening room, but their sense of depth didn't noticeably improve.
To the Minuetto's credit, its midrange is very, very musical and detailed, with excellent articulation on vocals. Johnny Cash's new American Recordings (American 45520-2) is my new acid test for vocals, and the Minuettos were able to float a solid center image with little of the bloat, chestiness, and honk of many other speakers in this price range. The Minuetto was very sensitive to where I sat on the vertical listening axis, thoughfor reg'lar folk tuning in, that means "it sounded kinda funny when I slumped down or sat up in my chair." I've heard this effect before, almost always with speakers featuring simple first-order crossover slopes like the Minuetto's. The various Thiels suffer from this effect, although the Dunlavy SC-1s, which also have first-order crossovers, don't have a problem with this at all. To my ears, the Minuettos sounded best when I was listening to them with my ears roughly at the same level as the woofers.
The Minuetto also had a lively, agile bass range. Of course, its extension wasn't much past 50Hz; but within its range, it was able to resolve subtleties in the sound of bass guitars and kickdrums much better than the ProAc Studio 100 (reviewed elsewhere in this issue), although not nearly to the degree of the $4000/pair NHT 3.3. There's all kinds of stuff happening in the low end on the Latin Playboys CD (Slash 45543-2)lots of very pure-sounding direct-injected bass tracksand the Minuettos were able to resolve this to a greater degree than the Studio 100s.
Dynamically, this is definitely a speaker for small-scale music rather than rock'n'roll warfare. While the Minuetto can play surprisingly loudly for a speaker of this size without totally crapping out, it doesn't really hold itself together at Rock-Approved levels as well as the similarly priced ProAc Studio 100the upper midrange starts to squawk and the tweeter starts getting spiky. When I had the Minuettos hooked up, I found myself listening to a lot less rock; and whether that's a virtue of the speaker or not is for you to decide.
Both the Minuetto and ProAc's Studio 100 are ported, stand-mounted two-ways, roughly the same size and price, both attempt to deliver a good slice of their more-expensive siblings' sound at a much lower price, and both were designed by foreign folks in foreign lands, so comparisons between the two were a natural. While I found something to like about each speaker, what I really want is something that falls somewhere between their very different characters. My rig got too dull with the Sonus Fabers, too bright with the ProAcs; somewhere between them is a world-beating $1450/pair speaker, but I'm still looking.
As with the ProAc Studio 100, I found some aspects of the Sonus Faber Minuetto's sound to my liking; but overall, I wasn't all that taken with the speakerit's just too dull in the highs for me. Interestingly, I found the Sumiko-recommended OCOS speaker cable to be a significant contributor to the Minuetto's treble rolloff, as replacing it with Kimber 4TC made for a much less dull and over-smooth balance. Still, even with the Kimber, the Minuetto was too dull in its tonal balance when compared with other speakers in this range, like the $1000/pair Dunlavy SC-1, the $1295 Epos ES 14, and the $880 NHT SuperZero/SW2P sub/sat system.
If you like a more polite, reticent-sounding speaker, by all means check out the Sonus Faber Minuettoit's got great midrange and a very detailed, rhythmic low end. But if, like me, you're looking for a speaker that accurately reproduces the input signal fed it, the Minuetto isn't what you're looking for.