Sonus Faber Stradivari Homage loudspeaker Page 3

Given the Stradivari's drive-units and the attention paid to its cabinet, you might expect exceptional dynamic abilities. You wouldn't be disappointed. Like all great, large, expensive speakers, the Stradivari delivered the musical goods with a confident grip at both ends of the scale, and without breaking a sweat. Most noticeable were the low-level dynamics, especially in the bass and midbass region, where, at the ends of familiar bass lines, the speaker seemed to reveal a last bit of decay that had been previously obscured. Played at high SPLs or at a whisper, the Stradivari remained open, extended, velvety-smooth, and in complete control.

The Stradivari's wide baffle produced a singular sonic picture. Instead of the more common narrow-baffle, low-diffraction sound, in which a speaker "disappears" to leave behind a ghostly apparition of a three-dimensional sound picture, the Stradivari presented a more weighty, unusually solid picture that seemed to be a three-dimensional curtain wrapped behind the baffles and extending well back into virtual space. While more conventional baffles have produced wider, more transparent soundstages and perhaps more focused and upfront images, none has delivered such a solid and physically believable three-dimensional soundstage in my room—aided, I'm sure, by the Stradivari's rich, palpable midrange.

Expensive, exquisitely built, with high-quality drivers and crossover components, and superbly finished with a stylishness of which only the Italians seem capable, Sonus Faber's Stradivari Homage is, in my opinion, the finest loudspeaker Franco Serblin has designed, and the most accomplished his company has built. That was his goal, and he has succeeded.

I know many owners of the Guarneri Homage who have told me they think it a better-balanced speaker than the Amati Homage, even if it can't go nearly as low. I don't think Guarneri partisans will feel that way about the Stradivari. For whatever reason(s), the Amatis didn't like my room enough to deliver a credible bottom end. (The Aerial 20T, which I've heard deliver the low-frequency goods elsewhere, had the same problem when I reviewed it in the April 2004 issue.) But the Stradivaris and my room proved to be the best of friends, delivering nearly ideal bass, though I'm sure greater extension and more forceful expression are possible in a bigger venue.

Rated at 92dB efficiency, depending on the phase angle, this 4 ohm speaker shouldn't be difficult to drive. It sounded rich and lush with a brute of a solid-state amp in my room, and with a relatively low-powered tube amp in Italy. I'd stay away from soft-sounding cables and cartridges, but your tastes may vary.

Like the far less expensive Krell Resolution 1, the Stradivari is in some ways old-fashioned in its emphases on the music's physicality and weight, on harmonic richness over resolution of inner detail, and on ear-popping 3D imaging, which has become a fixation among designers—probably, in part, in an effort to create a compelling "picture" to compete with video (call me crazy). Yet the Stradivari also resolves detail and delivers microdynamics, allowing the listener to hear the very last drop of decay and the lowest-level musical gestures with great clarity and without compression. Its balance is notably rich in the midrange, but with its prodigious and well-controlled midbass and low bass and its clean, smooth top end, the sensation of having everything in good balance is achieved with ease.

Beyond the sonic particulars, and more difficult to describe and explain, was the Stradivari's ability to convey music's emotional content. The speaker was not the most analytical and revealing design I've ever heard, but it was illuminating enough. It was, however, the most emotionally communicative speaker I've ever heard. Can a speaker have "soul"? I don't know, but this one comes the closest to making me think so.

A parade of great and expensive loudspeakers has marched through my room in the past year, with more to come. Though some were a less good match for my room than others, all have performed brilliantly, if differently. Each did some things extremely well. For instance, the mbl 101E's overall high-frequency performance remains unmatched in my listening experience, as does the Aerial 20T's high-frequency resolution and transient delivery. For $11,000/pair, the Krell Resolution 1 is the biggest bargain in full-range, "CinemaScopic" speakers I've heard. Yet, overall, I kept going back to the $39,000/pair Rockport Antares as my favorite—until the arrival of the Stradivari. Now it's a toss-up. For $40,000, you should have it all, and with all varieties of music. With the Antares and now the Stradivari, if you can afford them, all is what you get. As with the Antares, I envy the audiophile who can afford to listen to, look at, and own a pair of Sonus Faber Stradivari Homages. A stellar achievement.

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