Sonus Faber Venere 1.5 loudspeaker
I've loved the neutral, detailed, involving sound of Sonus Faber loudspeakers for as long as they've been available in the US. Most of my listening to them, however, has been at audio shows, and during a visit to Audio Research Corporation in 2012. (Since 2008, both ARC and Sonus Faber have been owned by the Italian firm Fine Sounds SpA, and since then ARC has used speakers made by SF, as well as by Wilson Audio and Magnepan, in the design of their electronics. Fine Sounds also owns 100% of Wadia, McIntosh, and Sumiko.)
But I'd never had a pair of Sonus Faber speakers in my house. I specialize in reviewing affordable speakers, and products had always been way out of my price rangein their current product brochure, the nine two-channel models of the Olympicas, Homage, and Reference lines retail from $4500 to $120,000/pair. Earlier this year, however, I got wind that Sonus Faber was bringing out a new line, Venere (it's Italian for Venus), that included a bookshelf model, the Venere 1.5, for $1198/pair; ie, slightly less than 1% of the price of their top model, the Aida (footnote 1), I jumped at the chance to get a pair of them into my listening room.
The Venere 1.5 is a two-way, front-ported, biwirable bookshelf speaker measuring 15.4" high by 8" wide by 11.7" D and weighing 13.2 lbs. It has two drive-units: a 1" silk-dome tweeter and a 6" Curv-cone mid/woofer. These drivers were designed by Sonus Faber's design team of Paolo Tezzon and Joseph Szall, and the tweeter manufactured by the German firm DKM. The speaker was engineered to ensure that no two walls of its cabinet were parallel to each other; in fact, the lyre-shaped cross section of its cabinet is similar to that of the company's flagship model, the Aida. The Venere also has a conical waveguide surrounding the tweeter, and the cabinet's corners are curved to minimize diffraction effects. The Venere 1.5 is designed to be used with its dedicated stand ($398/pair), which tilts the speaker back so that the outputs of the two drivers are time aligned.
My gloss-black review samples were gorgeous. (White lacquer is also available; Walnut veneer costs another $300/pair.) Also included are attractive, magnetically attached grillecloths. I listened to the Venere 1.5s with and without their grilles; the Venere 1.5 is the first speaker I've reviewed for Stereophile whose grille made absolutely no difference in its sound. Congratulations to the Sonus Faber design team for developing a grille that has true acoustic transparency. I left the grilles in place for my listeningthey look so pretty.
Sonus Faber seems to pay great attention to structural rigidity. The Venere 1.5's cabinet is internally braced, and the speakers are bolted to the stands, which have a top plate and base of tempered glass, and adjustable aluminum feet that couple it to the floor.
Sonus Faber's determination to damp resonances with rigidity involves an ingenious mechanism for bolting the speaker to the stand. However, the assembly instructions are horrendous. Three sentences of cryptic instruction accompany a perplexing exploded diagram of the bolt arrangement. Further complicating things are several sizes of metal hardware that look identical but aren't. To avoid doing something wrong and having to retrace my steps, and thus double the risk of scratching the speakers, I first carefully outlined what I needed to do. The planning and assembly took me two hours, but when I'd finally gotten the hang of it, it was easyassembling the second stand and speaker took only 15 minutes. Still, the process reminded me of a nightmarish experience I had 20 years ago: I bought a five-piece set of lawn furniture that arrived unassembled in a box full of unmarked lengths of wood and more than 100 pieces of metal hardware. It took me and a friend, who had an engineering background, over four hours to assemble it all. Please, Sonus Faber, try to come up with some decent assembly instructions.
But when I'd bolted the Veneres to their stands, the structures were so rigidly coupled to each other that the combination seemed to have been birthed from a three-dimensional printerand when rapped with a knuckle, the speakers produced no resonances. I look forward to reading John Atkinson's measurements of their cabinet resonances.
In reviewing dozens of affordable speakers over the last decade or so, I've marveled how it was difficult for me to find any speaker that had any significant coloration that detracted from the musical experience. This is a testament to the talent of the current crop of speaker designersas recently as 15 years ago, trade-offs among colorations were common when comparing the relative merits of speakers, including those with prices well into four figures. I mention this because, although my listening revealed the Sonus Faber Venere 1.5 to be an extraordinary performer that exhibited some strengths I've heard from no other speaker at this price, I did hear two colorations. However, not only did these colorations not detract from the speaker's ability to foster involving musical experiences, they were counterbalanced by strengths that rendered their slight deviations from neutrality relatively meaningless.
The first coloration I noticed was a lack of high-end extension and extreme top-end sparkle. However, this did not darken the sound, nor did it alter the reproduction of the harmonic overtones of instruments with considerable high-frequency content. I think there were two reasons for this: 1) The reproduction of the lower highs was so pure, so undistorted, so right, and instruments producing considerable HF energy sounded so realistic and natural, that the lack of top-end extension did nothing to detract from the sound. 2) The Venere 1.5s' ability to reproduce inner detail and room ambience in the midrange and lower highs enabled all instruments in the midrange and high frequencies to float on a bed of air on the soundstageif any of the top-end air that I normally associate with extended HF reproduction was lacking, I didn't miss it.
Footnote 1: Kalman Rubinson reviewed the floorstanding Sonus Faber Venere 2.5 ($2498/pair) in November 2013.Ed.