Solamente una faccia bella? 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?
Sonus Faber was founded in 1981 by Franco Serblin. Real wood has always featured strongly in the construction of this company's evolving range of costly, compact loudspeaker systems (footnote 1). The first was called the Parva, now in its FM4 form. This was followed by the Minima, a Tablette-sized model. The upmarket Electa came through in the last few years, followed by the Amator-Electa. This series increases in size and weight with each new introduction—for example, the Minima weighed 6kg, the Electa 12kg, the latest Extrema a massive 40kg or 88 lbs.
At present, my writing chores are divided between two fields: domestic audio and lutherie. Having invested considerable time in both, and having by now met a number of builders who are distinguished in one or the other, I can say with all confidence that the best share a simple, single point of view: Everything makes a difference.
Sonus Faber provides a fascinating and challenging insight into the art of high-quality sound reproduction. This Italian company makes two costly two-way stand-mounted speakers that couldn't be more different from each other.
Audiophile eyes usually roll when a manufacturer describes a loudspeaker as a "genuine musical instrument." Musical instruments have specific characteristics of pitch and timbre. Ideally, a loudspeaker should be a portal to the music; the speaker itself should be neutral in pitch and timbre—in other words, the opposite of a musical instrument. That the sound produced should be "musical" is a different argument.
Imaging, imaging, imaging. That's what I thought when I first heard the Sonus Faber Electa Amators reviewed by Jack English last October. How could such small speakers create such a wide, deep soundfield? John Hunter, president of Sumiko, Ltd. and importer of Sonus Faber products, was amused but not surprised at my reaction. I did the natural thing and begged for a review pair.
I know, I know"NOT ANOTHER $%#$ SONUS $%#$# FABER REVIEW IN $%#$# Stereophile!!" In just the past two years or so alone we've spilled a pretty fat bottle of ink on this Italian speaker line: Martin Colloms reviewed the $12,500/pair Extrema (Vol.15 No.6) and $9000/pair Guarneri Homage (Vol.17 No.7); Jack English covered the $4500/pair Electa Amator (Vol.15 No.10); and Larry Greenhill wrote about the $1800/pair Minima FM2 (Vol.16 No.4). That's a lotta jizzatoni, so let me tell you right off the bat that when I called Italy a few months ago, speakers were the last thing on my mind.
This smallish loudspeaker system has been getting high ratings in the English audio magazines for some years but was not available to US consumers until recently, when the small firm (literally a Mom'n'Pop enterprise, footnote 1) arranged for US distribution through Audio International.
The Spendor BC-1 is about as unimpressive-looking as any other smallish three-way loudspeaker, of which there are countless hundreds of models being made in the US at present. In fact, we were so ho-hummed by the mundane appearance of this speaker that we found it hard to connect the pair up and give them a listen.
In late 1996, as Listener magazine entered its third year of existence, the Spendor SP100 became my reference loudspeaker, and would remain so for a considerable time. My decision to try the SP100 was influenced by John Atkinson's review of its antecedent, the nearly identical Spendor S100, in the December 1991 issue of Stereophile. But my purchase decision came down to two things: The SP100 did virtually everything one could ask a modern loudspeaker to do, requiring in the process far less amplifier power than usual. Just as important at the time, it sold for only $3300/pairwhich explains how I could afford them on the spotty salary of a teacher turned fledgling publisher.
The Spendor S3/5R2 loudspeaker reminds me of Art Dudley. My friendship with Art began more than 25 years ago, long before either of us joined Stereophile. Frequently, we would sit down to discuss music, guitars, and audiophiles. Art didn't have much patience for a certain category of audiophile who would evaluate an audio component based on how many points on their sonic checklists they could tick off. Image specificity? Check. Soundstage depth? Check. Lower-bass extension? Check.
High-quality, low-cost loudspeaker systems are not an everyday blessing. The Rogers LS3/5a has survived for more than a decade precisely because so few US manufacturers sought musical accuracy as distinguished from high output and powerful bass. The economics of loudspeaker manufacture also don't lend themselves to economy. The cost of woodwork is driving the price of speakers up almost as fast as the cost of sheet-metal work is escalating the price of electronics.
As far as I can tell, Santa Fe–based speaker engineer John Bau had designed but four commercial loudspeakers before the TC-60 was launched at the 1994 Winter CES: in order of appearance, they were the Spica SC50i (1980), the TC-50 (1983), the Angelus (1987), and the SC-30 (1989). None were expensive, and all garnered much praise, both in Stereophile's pages and elsewhere.