Cuttin-Edge, On-the-Spot Reporting

High-Fashion Hi-Fi from Focal and Sonus Faber

I commented to Jeff Fritz while covering the show today that many European hi-fi companies just get it. They understand that every product must have a certain style or class to be taken seriously, and that performance alone won't get you very far. Every detail matters for something that owners will have to potentially look at for years and integrate into a living or work space. As important to a product's look -- especially a loudspeaker's -- are its tactile qualities.

Sonus Faber Chameleon seriesThe Sonus Faber Chameleon line

Sonus Faber understands that almost better than anyone. With its stupidly affordable new Chameleon series, the company has contrived to produce speakers that are made entirely in Italy, using SF-designed drivers that are bespoke to the range, and that are clad in soft, supple leather. The three models -- the T tower, B bookshelf, and C center-channel -- retail respectively for €1750/pr., €900/pr., and €450/each, including VAT. With user-replaceable side panels available in six different colors, and brushed-aluminum accents around each driver, the line looks far more upscale than one might expect. For further insight into Sonus Faber's newest line, check out my impressions of its recent launch event in New York City.  

From the French quarter of the Munich Order Center, the venue of the High End show, Focal surprised with the introduction of a new speaker range to slot in below its flagship Utopia line. Sopra consists of two models to start: the €8000 N°1 bookshelf speaker (includes matching stands and VAT), and the €12,000 N°2 floorstander. Five different finishes are available, including Black Lacquer, Carrara White, Imperial Red, Electric Orange, and Walnut Veneer.

Hans with Sopra 2sHans examines the Sopra N°2

These are sensational-looking loudspeakers. Modern without being too absurd, the Sopra models seamlessly blend design cues from Focal's Utopia range with a clean, more rounded appearance. The tweeter section of the cabinet is a matte-black polyurethane that contrasts nicely with the various lacquered cabinets. Each Sopra model also has a glass top panel and base, while the drivers are bolted to the chassis from the inside, giving the front panel a harmonious feel. Honestly, these are some of the best-looking and best-feeling loudspeakers I've seen in recent memory.

Materials and tolerances are superb, with contoured French-made cabinets built using the same process as the Utopia line. Details such as the Infinite Horn Loading -- effectively a damping cavity at the rear of the beryllium-domed tweeter to absorb rear-firing energy -- capped by an elegant, perforated metal grille, give the Sopra speakers a sophistication and gravitas that few modern loudspeakers can claim.

The Sopra lineThe Sopra N°1

Each of the Sopra models utilizes a 1" tweeter with an inverted beryllium dome and a 6.5" driver with a cone made from Focal's proprietary, composite-sandwich W material (with the driver functioning as a midrange-woofer in the N°1 and as a midrange in the N°2). The 6.5" driver harnesses Focal's patented Tuned Mass Damper suspension system, something that is frequently used in earthquake-resistant skyscrapers and Formula 1 cars. The larger, three-way Sopra N°2 also makes use of two dedicated 7" W-material bass drivers. The Sopra models also weigh quite a bit: 80 pounds for the N°1, 122 pounds for the N°2. You certainly get what you pay for.

In a sea of generic-looking loudspeakers, Sonus Faber and Focal have pretty much set the standard for what to expect at their respective price points. Most everything else just looks dated by comparison. Given their prices, it's remarkable that both companies have been able to manufacture these lines entirely in their home countries. Beautiful.

Hans Wetzel
Senior Contributor, SoundStage!

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