Sonus Faber Extrema loudspeaker Page 4

The facility for the user to adjust the bass power in the 35Hz-70Hz octave, centered on 45Hz, was most useful not just for correct alignment in the optimum room position (to give the best stereo image, low coloration, bass uniformity, and extension), but also for some measure of program tuning. The adjustment was fine enough for surprisingly critical adjustment.

For example, I preferred the damping set higher for loud, fast rock material; for older, drier classical recordings played at more modest levels, a judicious reduction in ABR damping helped fill out thinner recorded balances. Optimally set, the Extrema could be driven hard in the bass, that rear-woofer diaphragm really earning its living, yet doing so without "chuffing" or distortion. However, the midrange began to go cloudy at the bass-power limit.

Moving up in frequency, as implied earlier, the Extrema's midrange was not perfect, but then it never is. There was a trace of recognizable polypropylene-cone "cuppy" sound right in the midrange, plus a mild thickening and "woodiness" in the lower tenor range. But the upper mid was quite free of hardness or glare, more than balancing the effect. The mid entirely avoided that excessively thin tendency heard in a few recent Stereophile-approved speakers. One or two have to be belted hard in order for the lower mid to make its presence felt; in some cases, great care is needed with matching or sources to achieve a good result.

Treble can be a contentious range; characterizations such as coloration and uniformity are more difficult to attach to a given speaker because the sound of the treble is so strongly founded on the adjacent mid-frequency range. The treble may be fine in itself, but if the join to the mid is incorrect (for example, a step down in level of as little as 2dB), then the system might be described as dull or enclosed, lacking sparkle or air. Conversely, a similarly small step up could result in characterizations of "toothy," "sibilant," stringy, and thin sounds. Many speakers suffer far more severe exaggerations than this!

It's a tribute to the Extrema that its treble was never too obvious, never drew significant attention to itself, never got in the way of the speaker's overall clean, neutral performance. It was sufficiently extended so as to provide good air and sparkle in the reproduced acoustic, perhaps just a shade sweet in the extreme treble. A Magneplanar "R"-series owner could well be cognizant of this aspect of sound quality, this ribbon range capable of a strong output to beyond audibility.

The treble was smooth and well-integrated, essentially true to the harmonic shading of the harmonic range of mid sounds: bell and triangle sounds were excellent, vocals quite crisp and articulate, string tone natural and unstrained. Above all, the highs were free of perceptible brittleness or hardness, and had a vital and generous measure of transparency to boot.

Rarely does a review speaker sound so familiar, insinuate itself so easily into the evaluation process. There was little for me to come to grips with in the Extrema's sound other than finding a fair measure of its quality.

I could describe how it sounded on specific LPs and CDs, but I feel that to do so would belabor the point. From here on, it's up to you.

Salient points include the Sonus Faber Extrema's high cost even without the mandatory stands taken into account, a commensurately fine, classic, "furniture"-grade build and finish, and a performance which reaches far beyond the accepted boundaries for a compact two-way system.

The Extrema's design attributes include a smooth, extended frequency response attained with very good directivity. The sensitivity is usefully above average, and while the amplifier load factor is lower than 8 ohms, it could be regarded as a "kind" 5 ohm load. The power handling is high, allowing for a decent maximum sound level and a good dynamic range, a performance maintained into the bass—remarkable for the class. Still more extraordinary is the good bass response to 27Hz in-room, plus the fine-tune bass control. Distortion is low for a moving-coil design, and phase shifts are also low, tending to improve focus stability. High resolution is obtained at both high and low signal levels.

Subjectively, the Extrema is essentially well-balanced, with very natural dynamics and rhythmic capability. Soundstaging focus, width, and depth are in the first rank. Coloration is quite low, mainly a richness and "woodiness" to the midrange, and a related dulling of presence. The Extrema is a little sweeter and more laid-back than it really needs to be. Such are the quality, power, and extension in the bass that consideration of a subwoofer is academic. The speaker's ability to deal equally well with both rock and classical material was particularly impressive.

Aspects I'd like to see improved include the useless grille. Luckily it is easily detached, and the drivers themselves are physically tough. I would also like to see a stronger, larger top plate on the stand, and a more considered speaker/stand interface, perhaps with a vibration-free locking assembly for safety. I'm also doubtful about those ball-headed floor spikes.

This review comes with a health warning from the critic: I liked these speakers. Their stylish design would suit many a well-designed, well-furnished modern lounge. They stand as art objects in their own right, far removed from the rectangular box syndrome. If asked to rank them in Stereophile's "Recommended Components," I would place them in the top end of Class B, failing to meet Class A by definition of that pedantic last 7Hz of bass required to meet Class A's "full-range" standard.

I admire the commitment, dedication, and craftsmanship which have gone into this effortlessly musical transducer. As a high expression of the art of audio, the Sonus Faber Extrema certainly meets the performance challenge set by its high price.

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