Time thins the ranks of specialist industries. Trends, products, and companies come and go. High-end audio is a poster child for this reality, and most veteran audiophiles have evidence of the casualtiesliterature or orphaned products, stashed away somewhere. But a small number of true believers remain true to their visions, and persevere to help advance the state of the art.
I know from conversations with other reviewers that this sort of thing happens all the time: Something new comes alonga product from a company we've never heard of, a technology we've never encountered before, whateverand when we're impressed, we end up wondering if the thing is really as good as we think. We're insecure, just like you (footnote 1).
The Amati Futura is the third Sonus Faber loudspeaker to be called an Amati. The first, named simply the Amati and priced at $20,000/pair, was reviewed for Stereophile by Michael Fremer in June 1999. I reviewed the second, the Amati Homage Anniversario ($27,500/pair), in May 2006.
Back in the day, one of the first reviews to be posted in our free online archives at www.stereophile.com was Michael Fremer's June 1999 report on the Sonus Faber Amati Homage loudspeaker. The Amati was the second in the Italian manufacturer's top range, the Homage line, which is dedicated to the master makers of stringed instruments of 17th-century Cremona. The first was the Guarneri Homage (reviewed by Martin Colloms in July 1994), while the third was the Stradivari Homage (reviewed by MF in January 2005). Mikey was so impressed by the Amati that he purchased the review samples and used them as his reference for almost three years.
After establishing a reputation for building small, magnificent-looking, very expensive, stand-mounted loudspeakers, the Italian manufacturer Sonus Faber has hit the ground running. First came the moderately priced ($3500/pair) floorstanding Concerto Grand Pianos, and now the company's "statement" loudspeaker, the Amati Homage--a $20,000/pair visual stunner that earns its keep almost by looks and touch alone.
I've never heard a pair of the Italian Sonus Faber speakers I didn't like. What I've never liked was the US price: too high. And then you have to put them on costly stands. Plus, you're paying a premium for the magnificent woodworking and exquisite design—something I wasn't into, since I live with my stereo in a basement office/workshop/listening room some (who shall remain nameless) refer to as the "habitat for inhumanity."
It is the audio writer's nightmare that the combination of the large number of exhibitors at a Consumer Electronics Show and the very limited amount of time the Show's doors are open will lead him to miss the event's biggest story. I came close to living that nightmare last January, at the 2007 CES, when I realized that I had missed an entire floor of Las Vegas's Venetian Hotel. And it was, of course, the floor where, among other high-profile high-end companies, Sumiko was debuting the Cremona Elipsa from Italian speaker manufacturer Sonus Faber.
"The Sonus Faber Cremona is the finest cabinet-built speaker I have heard for under $10,000/pair," wrote the usually reticent Sam Tellig in the January 2003 Stereophile. "Bravissimo...Molto, molto bene" he added to his paean of praise for the Italian speaker manufacturer's founder and chief engineer, Franco Serblin.
Yamaha once made a loudspeaker shaped like an ear. I felt sorry for the guy (especially if he was an audiophile) who had to write the ad copy explaining why a speaker shaped like an ear would sound better than one shaped like a shoebox or a wedge of cheese. An ear-shaped loudspeaker makes about as much sense as an eyeball-shaped television. But what about a loudspeaker that is designed like a musical instrument?
Sonus Faber is an iconic Italian high-end company whose loudspeakers have always evinced innovative technical design, superb construction, spectacular appearance, and great sound. I was intrigued with the design and performance of their stand-mounted Extrema (reviewed by Martin Colloms in the June 1992 Stereophile, Vol.15 No.6), which combined a proprietary soft-dome tweeter and a mineral-loaded polypropylene-cone woofer with an electrodynamically damped but passive KEF B139 driver that occupied the entire rear panel.
Conventional wisdom has it that large Japanese corporations are insular. But when it comes to audio, Sony bucks the conventional wisdom as much as it does in pretty much everything it does. In Europe, the company has long had an excellent reputation for producing loudspeakers using local design talent, so I wasn't surprised to see Sony launching a line of American-designed and -made speakers at Stereophile's 1994 High-End Hi-Fi Show in Miami. Stereophile writer Barry Willis came away from that Show raving about the Sonys: "What we heard was gorgeous, absolutely beautiful: rich, warm, and deep, with a seductive midrange, a shimmering, delicate, grain-free top-end, and a soundstage to die for," he wrote about the sound of the three-way SS-M7 in Miami (footnote 1), 1 concluding that "WATT/Puppy performance is now available at Vandersteen prices in an American-made loudspeaker sporting a Japanese badge."
The occasion was the 1999 Consumer Electronics Show, and I had sought out the Sony suite at Bally's—the word in the Las Vegas bars where audio journalists hung out was that Sony was demonstrating the production version of their SCD-1 Super Audio CD player. I was glad I'd made the trek along the Strip: As I reported in the May 1999 Stereophile, the sound of a DMP recording—of unaccompanied choral music recorded and mixed in DSD by Tom Jung—was breathtaking, I felt, with an exquisite sense of space. It was definitely the best sound at the CES.
Every few years, it seems, Sony offers a statement product. Sometimes they do it to define a new product categorythe SCD-1 introduced to the world the SACD/CD player. Sometimes they do it because they can, as with the outstanding ES SS-M9 and ES SS-M9ED loudspeakers, enthusiastically reviewed by John Atkinson in Stereophile in September 1996 and August 2001, respectively. So when I heard that Sony would introduce a special new speaker at a "by invitation only" event at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show last January, my interest was piqued. I've always kicked myself for not buying a pair of ES SS-M9s ($3500) when I could have. The ES SS-M9EDs were even better, said JAand, at $16,000/pair, a lot more expensive. Now, a decade later, Sony has decided to make another "statement."
A highlight for me of Stereophile's 2011 equipment reviews was Kalman Rubinson's report on Sony's SS-AR1 loudspeaker in July. I had been impressed by this unassuming-looking floorstander at the 2009 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, when, courtesy Ray Kimber, I had used a pair for my "Loudness Wars" demonstrationand was equally impressed when I used another pair for a dem of my recordings at Massachusetts retailer Goodwin's High End, in summer 2011. The SS-AR1 costs $27,000/pair and combines a full frequency range with an uncolored, detailed midrange, sweet-balanced highs, and excellent dynamics. "The Sony SS-AR1 is an impressive loudspeaker," summed up Dr. Kal; "it brings the analytical capabilities of studio monitoring to the listening room." So when I learned that Sony had introduced a smaller, less-expensive version, the SS-AR2 ($20,000/pair), it took me less than the proverbial New York minute to request a pair for review.