Sonus Faber Electa Amator loudspeaker Page 4

The Amators really came alive above a certain volume level (85dB), energizing my room with sound. Surprisingly, they continued to sound fine at much higher levels. It wasn't until somewhere around 95dB that the diminutive Amators began to lose their ability to fully unravel all of the little nuances contained in my cherished recordings. Many moments in the Saint-Saëns, or almost anything from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, provided good illustrations of this phenomenon. At these higher levels, detail was slightly smoothed out or blended together—that thickening character again. This minor exception aside, the Amators played effortlessly to volume levels well over 100dB, making them excellent rock speakers in addition to everything else. There was no additional hardness at these higher levels.

Si, ma come sono gli acuti e il registro centrale?
Of course, all would be for naught if the Amators didn't do a good job in the critical midrange. Fear not: their midrange performance was lovely. Unlike some minimonitors, the Amators were neither analytical nor euphonically musical. Consistent with their surprising bass weight and extended and lively highs, their sound was full-bodied as well as being nicely detailed through the mids. The overall midrange performance of the speakers was superior with the grillecloths removed.

An excellent across-the-board illustration of these strengths was the live recording of Carmen McRae and Dave Brubeck at New York's Basin Street East (Take Five, Sony Music Special Products A-9116). Voice and piano were natural and realistic, and resolution of detail was first-rate, ranging from McRae's phrasing through the jovial sounds wafting up from the audience.

Timbres were harmonically natural and temporally correct. Transients were quick, never smeared or slurred, and fundamentals and overtones were in the right proportions. With the grillecloths on, the slight sonic veil rendered everything just a tad less satisfying. But there was more to the Amators' presentation. Once pumped up to a high enough volume, they actually seemed to energize the listening room. I was first struck by this capability while listening to Take 6's beautiful a cappella voices. On live recordings like the McRae/Brubeck, this energizing capability was extremely involving. The effect couldn't have taken place without disappearing-speaker soundstaging, natural timbres, and an open, lively treble, but there was more to it than that. The performance became very much alive, filling my listening room with sound. Instead of transporting me to the performers, it brought the performers into my listening room—with much more than what reviewers often describe as a sense of "immediacy."

There was a slight warmth from the upper bass through the lower midrange. On some vocals, such as those of Take 6 or Carmen McRae, an occasional nasal or hollow character was added—especially without the Navcom sheets. When the overall volume level was high enough to enliven the bass but not so high as to harm detail resolution, this nasal character was very slight. At lower levels, it became more obvious. Within the Amator's very wide effective volume range, the hollowness just about disappeared.

La panna su questa torta, dov'e?
When I first saw the Amators, I fully expected problems from the little tripod protecting each tweeter. Once again, my preconceptions proved groundless—the Amators' treble performance was wonderful: extended, open, and airy without ever becoming bright, hard, or edgy. I was particularly impressed with the explosive crashing of cymbals on such recordings as Present's Triskaidekaphobie (Cuneiform 17 CDX). Another vivid example was the purity and clarity of the Saint-Saëns's triangle and cymbals, which cut through and floated effortlessly above the other sounds of the orchestra.

The treble performance I've described was attainable only when the speakers were higher off the floor than seemed appropriate. My ears were level with the center of the woofers, as Sumiko advises. With the speakers closer to the floor—ie, tweeters at ear level—the sound was appreciably more harsh and edgy. In fact, the sound at this speaker height was what I expected to hear with the tweeters' protective tripods in place. I'm not convinced that the tripods aren't responsible for the on-axis harshness. While it may be true that the speakers' acoustic center was designed to be the center of the woofers, I wonder if the unusual height requirement is actually a clever solution to an on-axis problem created by the tripod.

The Sonus Faber Amator looks absolutely gorgeous, rivaling anything made at any price. Unfortunately, they're expensive, and even more so with stands, which are visually and sonically essential. Without proper stands and careful, arduous setup, the Amators' performance suffers significantly. But set up optimally, the speakers are lovely to look at, wonderful to listen through.

Physically, the Amators are minimonitors; sonically, they clearly are not. While they do lack the capability to produce the very deepest bass, the rest of their sonic performance is at or near the state of the art. From the midbass through the uppermost trebles, they are neutral, full-bodied, and musical. Their soundstaging is superlative; with the proper source material, the cabinets simply disappear. As I sat in my listening room, the Amators brought most performers closer to me, and with greater immediacy, than do most other speakers.

There is very little sonic evidence for classifying these wonderfully musical speakers as minimonitors. Overall, the Sonus Faber Amators' very satisfying sonic performance dramatically belies their small size. While they are expensive with their dedicated stands, their sound is commensurate with their price. The Amators represent a unique speaker alternative. They are small, look beautiful, and are equivalent sonically to some of the best-sounding big boxes. Bravo!

Sonus Faber
US distributor: Sumiko
2431 Fifth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 843-4500

337mckenna's picture

The online photo is of the Electa Amator II. Different speaker, different shape, different tweeter, and use a passive radiator. The original is even better looking.
I remember reading this review in 1992, and seeing/hearing Electa Amators for the first time. I was hooked! A few years later I bought a pair of dealer demo's, and I'm still listening to them. Probably the best audio purchase I have ever made.