Sonus Faber Electa Amator loudspeaker
At first glance, the Sonus Faber (pronounced Fah-bear) Electa Amator appears to be a typical minimonitor: a small vented box with two drivers. The speaker is significantly better-looking than Franco Serblin's first speaker system, the Snail, a subwoofer with two satellites attached via arms (see photograph in Vol.11 No.3, p.34). And, like the Oracle Delphi turntable or Goldmund Apologue speakers (the latter also an Italian design), the Amator's appearance has received at least as much attention as its performance. But is it just another pretty face?
Hardly. Imagine the usual minimonitor box, each of its eight corners rounded off in a beautifully worked curve. Use 1½"-thick medium-density fiberboard for both the back and front faceplates. Take the back of the box and pull the bottom out an inch or so toward you so that the back surface is no longer parallel to the front. Now make the cabinet so narrow in front that the midrange/woofer front driver just can't fit. Round out the sides of the cabinets at the front around the driver, making bulbous curves on each side of the cabinet. Now bevel the edges where the sides meet the front and back baffles so that the sides sensuously embrace one another. To complete the picture, cut and groove 24 separate pieces of gorgeous solid walnut to make the sides of the cabinet.
The result is stunning. The woodworking reminded me a great deal of the inlaid artwork found around Sorrento, in the Amator's native Italy. Rapping the cabinets yielded only a very dull thud.
Inside each cabinet are two Dynaudio drivers built exclusively for Sonus Faber. The tweeter, a 1" soft dome said to be capable of handling 600W of continuous power, is the same Esotar 330 described in detail by Martin Colloms in his June 1992 review of the marvelous Sonus Faber Extrema (Vol.15 No.6). Each tweeter is protected by a metal-wire tripod. John Hunter of Sumiko assured me that the tripod has no deleterious effect on the sound. Since these weren't my speakers, I didn't pry off the tripods to test his assertion. The midrange/woofer, which handles the signal below 2.8kHz, is a 7" long-throw cone unit. The crossover is said to feature true 6dB/octave slopes. (The use of 6dB slopes has been a Sonus Faber feature since the release of the Parva FM2 minimonitor in 1984.)
A significant difference between the Amator and Extrema is found on the former's rear. Whereas the Extrema has a large auxiliary bass radiator like that found on some of the Ensemble speakers, the Amator features a curved and flanged passageway from just behind the lower driver to the top rear of the cabinet. The interior finish is just as fine as that on the exterior, to minimize disruptive laminar air flow. The back plate is finished off with two sets of binding posts to facilitate bi-wiring or bi-amping.
The optional stands are integral parts of the overall design. Rising from the large, heavy base plate is a column consisting of a number of separate, interlocking pieces of wood. (Of course, the wood is finished to match the speaker cabinets.) The column can be lengthened or shortened by extending these interlocking sections. At the top of each column is a small mounting plate, topped off with small Navcom sheets to decouple the speakers from the stands. (While other speaker manufacturers or distributors suggest spikes or Blu-Tack/Mortite between speaker and stand, Sumiko strongly recommends Navcom.) The stands are essential for proper height adjustment of the Amators. The woofer, not the tweeter, should be located at ear level.
Minimonitors: cittadino di seconda classe?
Stereophile writers and readers have grappled with the issue of minimonitors for many years. The current, tenuous compromise has led to the somewhat artificial segmentation of speakers found in "Recommended Components." Minimonitors have created the sub-class categories under "Restricted LF." Contained in these second-class citizen groupings are such superlative speakers as the Ensemble Reference and Celestion SL700SE. While I appreciate the positions of such people as J. Gordon Holt and Anthony H. Cordesman on this issue, I don't agree. Why not create additional sub-classes for "Inability to Properly Soundstage," "Additive Colorations," or "Exaggerated HF"?
Like all other pieces of hi-fi gear, speakers are mechanical/electrical devices. None of them truly sound like live performers in our listening rooms; every speaker has faults (sorry, Lewis Lipnick). I continue to believe that the primary role of the reviewer is to identify each speaker's most obvious faults; for example, limited low-frequency performance, exaggerated high-frequency performance, inability to soundstage, additive colorations, etc. Reviewers must determine the relative importance of shortcomings based on their own preferences and needs. We report, you judge. I find it much easier to live with "Restricted LF" than with any number of more intrusive and obnoxious colorations. Great minimonitors are great speakers.
Minimonitors: sono tutti gli stessi?
To those who dislike them, minimonitors are all the same: reasonable frequency performance except for the lack of deep bass, limited dynamics and volume levels, and very good soundstaging.