Chario Academy Sovran loudspeaker

Italian manufacturer Chario Loudspeakers has never had a strong presence in the US. No wonder, then, when confronted by these exquisitely finished beauties of solid hardwood, many American audiophiles think, "Sonus Faber rip-off." Without knowing the musical history of the 1960s, had you heard Badfinger first, you might have thought the same thing when you then heard the Beatles. Similarly, Chario, by far Italy's largest maker of high-performance speakers, was founded in 1975, eight years before Sonus Faber. While SF has its drive-units built to its own specifications by other firms, Chario designs and builds its own.

In short, Chario is a veteran Italian speaker manufacturer with a long history of innovation. Still, Chario's new US importer, Puerto Rico–based Koetsu USA, is facing a challenge in getting that point across in the crowded American loudspeaker market. They offered for review the Sovran, a brand-new model in Chario's top line, the Academy series, hoping its relatively modest price (for a high-performance speaker) of $17,000/pair would do just that.

Three-Way, Two-Box Design
The Sovran is just under the top model of Chario's Academy series, the Serendipity. The new speaker comprises two cabinets. On top is a two-way box of solid walnut or cherry with a front baffle of high-density fiberboard (HDF), containing a 1.2" Silversoft soft-dome tweeter that fires at a (seated) ear height of 35", and above it a 6.7" Rohacell Full-Apex Poly-Ring mid/woofer. This is loaded with a slot that fires to the rear.

Below this sits the subwoofer tower, decoupled from the upper cabinet with four proprietary circular elastomer "puffers" that fit inside cylindrical recesses machined into both boxes. Inside the isobarically loaded woofer box, close to the floor and a little more than 1m away from the upper box's mid/woofer, are two vertically arrayed 8" natural-fiber drivers configured "cone to cone." These are wired out of phase with each other so that the two cones move as one.

The motors of all drive-units are based on neodymium magnets. WBT speaker terminals—two pairs on the subwoofer tower, one pair on the woofer/tweeter cabinet—allow biamping as well as standard hookup via a supplied set of jumpers. The Academy Sovran's exquisite woodworking and overall design meet the highest expectations for an Italian-made loudspeaker. The speaker's size and shape (48" tall by 9.5" wide by 17" deep) makes it ideal for rooms of small to medium size.

In a booklet accompanying the Sovran, Mario Marcello Murace, an electrical engineer and Chario's head of research and development, provides an unusually detailed technical explanation of the speaker's design. Unfortunately, the cumbersome translation renders incomprehensible many concepts that, to begin with, are difficult to grasp. This is not helped by Chario's penchant for trademarking terms it then fails to define.

A careful reading of the booklet indicates that Murace has attempted to keep parallel the phase-delay slopes of the crossovers between the subwoofer and mid/woofer and the mid/woofer and tweeter, in order to produce uniform off-axis performance. This, he claims, lets you toe the speakers in for greater soundstage depth, or fire them straight ahead for a soundstage wider than the distance between the cabinets, without affecting the Sovrans' reproduction of timbres.

Murace also claims that the relatively large distance between the floor-hugging subwoofers and the mid/woofer, combined with a crossover network that produces a large overlap of frequencies, extending from 80 to 250Hz, reduces the effects of room modes that lead to low-frequency peaks and dips, and diminishes a spaciousness-reducing phenomenon Murace describes as bass mono effect, caused by the similarity of direct and reflected low-frequency energy in a small room.

Much of the technical description, while useful, is incomprehensible and should be rewritten. In the end, what matters is the sound. But even a fuzzy understanding of Murace's design goals for the Sovran helped explain why these speakers were unusually easy to position in my room.

Moving the Academy Sovrans around the area of my room where most speakers have performed best produced the fewest shifts of bass quality and timbral accuracy I've ever heard. The Sovrans were the least fussy speakers I've ever set up in my current room.

Likewise, whether set up toed-in or firing straight ahead, the Sovrans' tonal balance remained remarkably consistent. Only their spatial performance changed, as described in the manual. Toed-in, they produced a deeper but somewhat narrower soundstage; with their side panels parallel to the room's sidewalls, the stage widened, opening up to extend beyond the baffles, but wasn't as deep.

Ultimately, I preferred the Charios toed-in. I lined up their front baffles along the marks that describe the positions of my reference speakers, the Wilson Audio Specialties MAXX 2s. Based on my experience, I'd say that if you can afford the Sovrans, they'd be a better bet than most to perform well in situations where speaker-placement options are few.

Hardly romantic sound
Most audiophiles associate Italian loudspeakers with a warm, romantic sound, their appeal being more to the heart than to the head. But nothing about the Sovran's timbral balance or overall sound induced me to swoon, nor do I think designer Mario Marcello Murace intended it to. Despite the Sovran's looks, its sound was more Teutonic than typically Italianate. With the speaker's claimed –3dB low-frequency cutoff point of 35Hz, I wasn't expecting to hear ultradeep bass, and I didn't. But the bass the Sovran did produce sounded nonmechanical, natural, and as musically accurate as I've heard from any speaker at any price.

Chario s.r.l.
US distributor: Koetsu USA
PO Box 1909
Carolina, PR 00984-1909