Sonus Faber Cremona loudspeaker

"The Sonus Faber Cremona is the finest cabinet-built speaker I have heard for under $10,000/pair," wrote the usually reticent Sam Tellig in the January 2003 Stereophile. "Bravissimo...Molto, molto bene" he added to his paean of praise for the Italian speaker manufacturer's founder and chief engineer, Franco Serblin.

So I just had to take a listen for myself to this relatively inexpensive ($7495/pair), smaller descendant of the $22,000/pair Amati Homage, which had been Michael Fremer's reference at the end of the 1990s; and of the $10,000/pair Guarneri Homage, which had impressed Martin Colloms in the pages of this magazine a decade ago. An unfortunate backlog in my reviewing responsibilities meant that it took rather longer than I had expected to set the Cremonas up in my listening room. But, like everything worth experiencing, the wait was worth it.

We open in Venice...
...or rather, in the northern Italian city of Vicenza, where Sonus Faber's 24 employees toil in a spanking-new factory to produce loudspeakers that reflect that country's preoccupation with music and art. Like the Amati and Guarneri, the gorgeous-looking Cremona features a cabinet made of layers of maple, with curved sidewalls that give it a cross section something like that of a lute. This is intended not so much to eliminate vibrational modes as to control and tune them so that they have the minimum deleterious effect on the music. The front baffle is covered with black leather, and the grille consists of vertical black cords stretched with a small amount of tension from top to bottom of the baffle to ensure that any vibrations are well below the audioband. The strings are silk-covered silicone rubber and are considerably thinner than, for example, those comprising the grilles of the Krell LAT speakers.

The four drive-units are all sourced from VIFA's Scanspeak division. Covering the high frequencies is a custom-made version of the Danish manufacturer's popular ring-radiator tweeter. This has a copper cap on its pole-piece to reduce distortion. The doughnut-shaped fabric diaphragm, surrounding a brass "phase plug," is set back in a slightly flared front plate. Immediately beneath the tweeter is the midrange driver, this a 5.5" paper-coned unit with a "Symmetric Drive" motor. The paper cone is marked by cuts spiraling out from the dustcap to the rubber half-roll surround, these filled with a polymer adhesive. This treatment is said to break up standing waves in the cone. The midrange driver is loaded with its own internal chamber and is vented via a port just over 1" in diameter on the black gloss rear section of the cabinet.

The twin 6" woofers also use Symmetric Drive and paper cones modified with the oblique, adhesive-filed cuts. The woofers handle the region below 300Hz and are reflex-loaded with a port nearly 3" in diameter, this again positioned on the cabinet rear. The crossover uses first-order filters, and there is a single pair of brass binding posts at the base of the cabinet's rear panel. Franco Serblin doesn't believe in biwiring or biamping. "It just introduces complications," he told Sam Tellig.

We next play Cremona
Sumiko's John Hunter was fortuitously visiting the Tri-State area soon after I had set up the Cremonas, so he visited to see what kind of job I'd done. I had toed both speakers in toward the listening seat. As he had done with Sam Tellig, John repeatedly played Jennifer Warnes' "Ballad of the Runaway Horse," from Rob Wasserman's Duets (CD, MCA MCAD-42131), while he made small adjustments in placement. The left speaker ended up pretty much where I'd set it up; the right speaker was moved closer to the side wall than I'd had it. The result was a smoother transition through the upper bass to the midbass, as heard on Wasserman's bass.

Hunter then made small adjustments to the rake-back angle of the front baffles by altering the relative heights of the Cremona's front and rear pairs of carpet-piercing spikes, which screw into the two metal crossbars on which each speaker sits. He appeared to be balancing the precision of soundstage focus against the overall smoothness of the mid-treble balance, as revealed by Warnes' rather sibilant voice.

After Hunter declared himself satisfied, he drove off to see his family in Connecticut and I did some more experimenting with position and baffle rake. Even so, I returned to his setup, which provided the best overall performance. Sumiko goes to considerable lengths to train its dealers and their sales staff in speaker-setup techniques; I didn't feel I was getting unusual treatment.

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