Sonus Faber Guarneri Homage loudspeaker
Sonus Faber's big reference model is the extraordinary Extrema (footnote 1). Stereophile's writers voted the Extrema their 1992 "Loudspeaker of the Year," appropriately so, I feel, considering its amazing looks and equally remarkable performance. The $14,000/pair Extrema is built like a tank, and is capable of producing a seriously big sound, even in quite large rooms.
Now there's the Guarneri Homage. Conceived as a complete entity in harmony with its elegant matching pedestal—I hesitate to call it a "stand"—it looks like no other loudspeaker. The exquisitely finished cabinet is small, perhaps a third of the Extrema's volume (if only half its apparent size). The Extrema announces its presence, especially when it's sitting on its industrial-looking, four-pillar frame stands; the Guarneri, on the other hand, blends into the room, and is a fine piece of furniture in its own right.
The Guarneri is seductively designed, with tapering curved sides and a deeply lustrous piano-gloss finish. In order to get a smooth curve inside and out, the side panels are assembled from sections of solid wood, similar to the construction of a traditional boat hull. The seven primary sections are interleaved with ebony, the result reminiscent of the body of a fine lute. This was no accident; designer Franco Serblin, founder of Sonus Faber, wanted to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the master Italian violin maker, Guarneri, which explains this speaker's full name: the Guarneri Homage (footnote 2).
While Serblin's work to date has been indisputably musically rewarding, and executed with unmistakable Italian brio, its foundations are firmly fixed in traditional high-fidelity concepts and engineering. By contrast, the Guarneri owes more to fine materials, centuries-old craftsmanship, and the vital contribution that the structure of a musical instrument plays in its sound. The Guarneri Homage is a limited-edition, virtually made-to-order speaker. Only a few craftsmen are capable of building its enclosure, and then only in limited quantities—no more than 10 pairs per month.
A typical design strategy for a new loudspeaker consists of a program of technical research into various acoustic options, which are then tailored and tuned to produce a good-sounding product. With the Guarneri, however, the music came first. I can do no better than to quote Sonus Faber: "High technology has a way of blurring and obscuring the ideal solutions that precede us, in the belief that only the latest solutions can possibly be the best."
To justify the use of the name Guarneri, Serblin started from the view that this loudspeaker had to be a music-making instrument. This can be a mixed blessing: it may result in a radically different design, but there may also be some fatal, unforeseen flaw in the overall performance. For example, if an engineer consciously or unconsciously limits the design's frequency range and/or maximum available loudness, then magically satisfying results can be obtained in the all-important midrange. Sounds restricted to that range may be reproduced with unprecedented vibrancy. But if such a speaker is incapable of satisfactorily reproducing the climax of a symphony, or fails to do justice to even a moderately loud drum or the sparkle of a chime, then it will ultimately be found wanting.
Footnote 1: See Stereophile, June 1992, Vol.15 No.6, p.133.—John Atkinson
Footnote 2: Sonus Faber presented Pair 001 of the Guarneri Homage to the Salon of the Violin in Cremona, Italy in June 1993. The speakers are to remain on permanent demonstration amid the real Guarneris, Amatis, a Stradivarius, and other fine instruments. The Guarneri Homage at Cremona is driven by an Electrocompaniet amplifier, with source material from a multimedia computer program that tells the story of the Guarneri violins. The company presented Pairs 002 and 003 to master violinists Salvatore Accardo and Uto Ughi; Pair 004 will remain at the factory as a reference standard.—Ken Kessler