Sonus Faber Cremona loudspeaker Sam Tellig part 3

I thought the soundstage was excellent, and listened contentedly for several weeks, using the Musical Fidelity NuVista 3D CD player and the Unison Research Unico integrated amplifier. I also tried the YBA Passion Integré which proved a perfect match. Ditto the Musical Fidelity A3.2CR pre- and power-amp separates that I wrote about last month, two more good choices. My listening-room system went largely unused.

Then Giovanni Cacciatore (that's how Franco Serblin refers to John Hunter) arrived from Sumiko, along with his associate, Patrick Butler, or Pasquale Maggiordomo. Giovanni was equipped with the Duets CD by electric bass player Rob Wasserman. They put vocalist Jennifer Warnes' "Ballad of the Runaway Horse" on endless repeat. For more than an hour, I listened patiently as Ms. Warnes sang breathlessly about a "galloping steed." Finally, I could take no more and hoofed it up to my office.

"Call me when the woman stops panting after the runaway horse," I said.

Half an hour later, Giovanni and Pasquale were done. Finito! All that work to move the speakers a matter of mere inches! Now they were about 3' from the back wall and 2' from the side walls.

There may have been something to that "galloping steed" song—the speakers kept their superb imaging and center fill, but now I heard a much stronger, more extended bass response. Srs. Cacciatore and Maggiordomo had also adjusted the spikes so the speakers tilted back at maybe a 3 degrees angle.

"Franco wouldn't approve," said John.

I didn't either. After several weeks, I readjusted the spikes for a 5 degrees backward tilt, and what I thought was a better tonal balance—more highs. But I left the speakers where Giovanni and Pasquale had placed them.

Taking my cue from Franco, I didn't rush things. If he could give the Cremona three years, I could give it three months. I listened to all manner of material with the speakers—but no more galloping steeds.

I tried various 1920s, '30s, and '40s pop and jazz recordings, including Duke Ellington and tons of Count Basie. Historic classical recordings from the 1930s and '40s, including Jascha Heifetz reissues on Naxos. Lots of late-night chamber music. I even listened to some blues recordings that I bought last October at the Fifth Annual Blues Masters at the Crossroads concerts, at Chad Kassem's Blue Heaven Studios, in Salina, Kansas.

The Cremona was the finest speaker that I—or we—have had in our living room. It was also the best-looking, but sound is what counts. The midrange and treble had the expected Sonus Faber magic: sweet, smooth, completely free of grain, with not a hint of hardness. Bing Crosby, recorded in the late 1930s, was right in the room. His baritone voice was clear and pure, without boominess or chesty coloration. Bing's pipes are difficult to get right.

The treble was well extended—so much as I can hear in my approaching geezerhood. There was more top-end extension, more sparkle than I'd noted with the Minima FM2, which preceded the Cremona in our living room. The sound was clear and pure—crisply articulated without being overetched. Do you have a bad case of high-tech, metal-dome tweeteritis? Sonus Faber offers a cure. In the midrange and treble, the Cremona reminded me of a Sonus Faber minimonitor.

The bass was surprisingly extended, given the size of the cabinet and the 6" diameter of the twin bass drivers. This is what a minimonitor can't do: go down to 32Hz. The bass extension and authority sometimes caught me by surprise. Bass was there when needed and, even more important, absent when not.

I asked Franco how he'd achieved such low-end performance. Was it the lute-shaped cabinet?

"Honestly, it's the fantastic realization of the bass drive-units. The ScanSpeak bass driver delivers unprecedented performance for its size."

I substituted the Audio Analogue Maestro integrated amplifier for the Unico. The Maestro is rated at 150Wpc into 8 ohms, which allowed me to crank up the volume a little and still not clip. At this point, I borrowed a Sony XA-777ES SACD player. (I have enough SACDs now to think about actually buying an SACD player.) I played mostly large-scale orchestral works. The tonal balance was excellent. The bass was extended—more so than with regular "Red Book" CDs—yet controlled.

"What's that slight buzzing sound coming from my speakers?" Marina wanted to know. "Is something wrong?"

"No, that's the sound of the rosin on the bows."

I played the Scriabin Etudes on a Lang Lang disc that also contains Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto 3 (Telarc SACD-60582). The Etude Op.8 No.12 almost lifted me off my seat with its dynamic range and tight bottom end. I love tight bottom ends.

Even at moderately loud listening levels, the 80Wpc Unison Research Unico integrated didn't break a sweat. What a combination. And fitting, perhaps—like the Cremona, the Unico comes from Vicenza.

During our talk in Milan, Franco emphasized that amplifier quality is more important than amplifier quantity. In most rooms, the Cremona will not require the most powerful amp—or, necessarily, the most expensive. Depending on your room and preferred listening levels, you might get by quite nicely with a modestly priced integrated amp like the Unico or YBA's original Integré. Or the Musical Fidelity A3.2CR pre- and power-amp combination.

I couldn't resist going retro.

After listening to the Cremona for several months, I put the Minima FM2 back into the system. It was a trip down memory lane, back to the mid-1980s, when the Minima was introduced. The top end was rolled-off. The mid- to upper bass was overripe, as I said earlier. The Minima was less resolving, less transparent than the Cremona. The Minima's focus, however, was superb. So was the Cremona's. Now I know why Franco keeps a pair of Minimas on hand as a reference.

The Sonus Faber Cremona is the finest cabinet-built speaker I have heard for under $10,000/pair—not that I've heard everything. On looks alone, the Cremona probably creams its competition. It represents Franco Serblin's finest achievement yet in terms of value for money—a mini Amati Homage for about a third the price.

Like other Sonus Faber models that I've heard, the Cremona had a quality that's impossible to quantify. Perhaps the best analogy is with watches. Many loudspeakers these days are like quartz watches: accurate, practical, soulless. A Sonus Faber speaker, on the other hand, is like a mechanical watch. It has a heart.

Bravissimo, Franco. Molto, molto bene.—Sam Tellig