Sonus Faber Cremona loudspeaker Page 2

All my initial auditioning and John Hunter's adjustments were done using the Musical Fidelity kW monoblocks, which had sounded so magnificent with the Revel Ultima Studios I was listening to immediately prior to installing the Cremonas. However, the Sonus Fabers seemed more sensitive than normal to amplifier choice. The kWs exhibited the same iron control, sonic transparency, and impressive dynamics with the Cremonas, but the system balance tended a little toward the threadbare side of things.

Changing to my long-term reference, the Mark Levinson No.33H monoblocks, resulted in a sound that was less lean in the bass than with the kWs, with sweeter highs, though the balance occasionally sounded a little too warm. I ended my auditioning with the excellent dual-mono darTZeel NHB-108 from Switzerland, which John Marks wrote about in his September 2003 "The Fifth Element" column, as well as the Halcro dm38, which I'll be reviewing in a future issue. I'll save my comments on the Halcro for that review, but the darTZeel was a very pleasant surprise: quite the sweetest-sounding solid-state amplifier I have heard.

With all these amplifiers, the Cremonas produced an impressive sweep of sound that quite belied the modest lineup of four 6" woofers. The soundstage was expansive yet stable and well-defined, without any image bloat. The speaker's treble was its strong suit. Clean, airy, smooth, it made violins sound natural without doing so by suppressing high-frequency detail. The strings on Bruno Walter's traversal of Beethoven's first two symphonies (CD, CBS Masterworks MK 42009) sounded sweet, despite the 1959 recording's analog tape hiss being clearly audible. And oh, did the double-bass players on this CD dig into their entrances with gusto! In fact, the Cremona's bass performance, both in extension and in definition, was so good for a speaker in its price and size categories that I kept digging out recordings I hadn't played in a while to see what it could do with them.

At the suggestion of reader Earl Thomas—and much to my surprise—the Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista SACD player proved capable of playing DVD-Video discs. Where these had a linear PCM soundtrack—Paul Simon's Graceland Concert, for example (Warner Reprise 7599-38136-2)—it sounded better, in that it was less strident on the Cremonas than either my Technics DVD-Audio player alone or the Technics feeding the Levinson No.30.6.

The Tri-Vista would not play DVD-As, however, which is where the Technics-Levinson combination drew ahead, particularly with one of those few discs where the content provider has allowed an in-the-clear 24-bit/96kHz digital output—Ray Brown's classic Soular Energy, for example (Hi-Res Music HRM 211). Brown's bass had a superb combination of weight via the Cremonas, yet without any tendency to boom. As Brown walked his way through the bass line of "Cry Me a River," all his notes spoke evenly, with both a satisfying purr to, and excellent pitch differentiation of, the E-string fundamentals.

I followed Soular Energy with Reptet (MCMC2 2003), a limited-edition jazz quartet CD recorded live to two-track by Doug Haire in Seattle. Evan Flory-Barnes' double bass had considerably more body than Ray Brown's, but was less well-defined overall. This CD sounded better with the kW monos driving the Cremonas than with the fatter-balanced Levinsons. But on both albums, as well as on my own Rendezvous CD (Stereophile STPH013-2), the ambience surrounding the drums was clearly evident on the Sonus Fabers, placing all three jazz ensembles in well-defined, tangible acoustic spaces.

Provided I sat just below its tweeter axis, the Cremona's midrange was in general as uncolored as I have come to expect these days from high-performance speakers. Voices had a natural, unforced quality that I found addictive. The male singers on my new Deep River CD (Cantus CTS 1203), for example, were richly detailed without sounding overly aggressive. However, the pianos on Soular Energy and Reptet occasionally had a little more bite than I was expecting; some notes sounding more forward in the soundstage than others.

Listening to the cabinet walls with a stethoscope while I played the half-step toneburst track from Editor's Choice (Stereophile STPH016-2), I could hear some distinct resonant modes between 200Hz and 600Hz; when I played pink noise, I could also hear an acoustic resonance at around 900Hz emanating from the midrange unit's port. Most of the time with most kinds of music, any coloration due to these narrow-band modes was below my threshold of detection, but they did pop into view with specific instruments on specific recordings. As with my speaker reviews last month, while preparing this report I was working on a recording of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto that I am hoping will be released on SACD and LP in the near future. I could definitely hear some of the clarinet's notes "hooting" a little, with a slight resonant overhang.

I hear the mission bells a-calling
That slight criticism aside, the Sonus Faber Cremona is a superb performer. It is also competitively priced, considering that its peers include the Wilson Audio Sophia ($11,700/pair), the Revel Ultima Studio ($11,000-$12,000/pair), and the Quad ESL-989 (around $9000/pair). It is also one of the best-looking speakers I have had in my listening room. "Sweet, smooth, completely free from grain," wrote Sam Tellig. I must agree. Highly recommended.