When it comes to luxury products -- clothing, cars, furniture, you name it -- the Italians have a sense of style that is unmatched worldwide. Some will consider this a generalization, of course, but if you’ve ever been to Italy, or even seen an Italian film, you’ll know that there’s a uniqueness about them and what they make that helps to define their culture. As a result, it’s not surprising that when the Italian speaker maker Sonus Faber presents new hi-fi products, it has a knack for doing it in ways that leave the rest of the hi-fi world in the dust. The company is based in Vicenza, about an hour or so by car from Venice.
Take the introduction of the Ex3ma loudspeaker, for example, which was released in the spring of 2014 as part of the company’s 30th anniversary. They invited about 200 people from around the world -- press, dealers, distributors, and corporate friends -- to their headquarters, and basically had a three-day party to celebrate the company and that speaker. Last year, to introduce the Sf16 all-in-one music system, they invited about the same number of people to Forte Village, a posh beach resort on the coast of Sardinia, for a similar kind of thing. It, too, lasted three days. What other company does that?
Homage Traditions waiting to be unveiled
I was fortunate enough to attend those events, as well as the latest one, held on February 2 at the WOM Townhouse, located in the SoHo district of New York City. (WOM stands for World of McIntosh, a corporate umbrella also known as McIntosh Group that includes Sonus Faber, Audio Research, Wadia, Pryma, and McIntosh Laboratory. The WOM Townhouse is an upscale, five-story, invite-only showcase store for the group’s products.) This event’s purpose: to introduce the Homage Tradition series, a four-speaker lineup that replaces the original Homage line. In Sonus Faber’s world, Homage resides above its Olympica speaker series and below the three flagship speaker models, which all stand on their own, as they’re not part of any series name: Il Cremonese, Lilium, and Aida.
Although the February 2 event didn’t host the numbers that the 30th-anniversary and Forte Village events did, it wasn’t meant to, since it was really an introduction for the North American market. The others were events for the world. There were about 50 people there -- around ten press, the rest mostly dealers and then Sonus Faber staff. The day was divided into three parts: product introductions and presentations in the late morning, listening sessions all afternoon, and a dinner party with live music from Zach Heckendorf in the evening. I stayed at the WOM Townhouse for almost the entire time, only slipping out for a ten-minute breath of fresh air just before the evening session was about to begin.
Although the event had fewer people than the other two and was on only one day, in ways it was more significant than the others because the Homage Tradition speakers that were introduced will appeal to a far broader audience than the Ex3ma or Sf16. The Ex3ma was a limited-edition model restricted to only 30 pairs, so very few people could even purchase them (all 30 pairs sold out during the event); the Sf16 costs $10,000, so it’ll only appeal to those who want an all-in-one system and have the cash for it. The Homage Tradition line is a different story.
The Traditions: Guarneri, Amati, and Serafino
The three main-speaker models in the new Homage line include the Guarneri Tradition and Amati Tradition, which respectively replace the Guaraneri Evolution and Amati Futura. There is also a new model called Serafino Tradition. The Guarneri, Serafino, and Amati sell in the United States for $15,900, $21,900, and $29,900 per pair, respectively. Coming is a replacement for the current Homage Vox center-channel that will be called Vox Tradition, but it wasn’t shown or talked about much there.
As it’s been for about eight years at Sonus Faber, the chief designers behind the Homage Traditions are Paolo Tezzon and Livio Cucuzza. To me, Tezzon and Cucuzza are to speaker design what Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (or Paul McCartney and John Lennon, if you’re more of a Beatles fan) are to rock ’n’ roll songwriting. They’re a formidable duo whose combined talents create a true synergy at Sonus Faber, which is why I’ve taken to calling these two “high-end’s rock-star designers.” Furthermore, because of their inherently cool Italian looks, they play their parts well.
Paolo Tezzon and Livio Cucuzza
With Tezzon handling the acoustical engineering and Cucuzza the industrial design, the two have consistently created speakers that can be considered visual and sonic masterpieces, many of which will be remembered long after they have been discontinued. The Lilium, for example, should go down in the hi-fi history books for its beauty -- design and sound. Likewise, the Homage Tradition lineup follows with the same attributes; in fact, I could see many audiophiles considering these models their best efforts yet, since, sonically and visually, they offer certain things their other speakers don’t.
The Guarneri is a stand-mounted two-way with a 5" midrange-woofer and a 1.1" soft-dome tweeter crossed over at 2.5kHz (it’s worth pointing out that the drivers in all Sonus Faber speakers are designed in-house). Its stand, which is included in the purchase price, has a carbon-fiber shaft and an aluminum base with bespoke Sonus Faber spikes in it. One really interesting visual aspect of the Guarneri is where the top of the stand meets the bottom of the speaker -- it gives the little Guarneri cabinet the appearance of a “hull shaped” bottom, which, when viewed from a listening chair, is much more interesting to look at than a flat-bottomed cabinet.
I listened to the Guaraneris in the small room they were set up in on the fifth floor of the WOM Townhouse. Audio Research electronics drove them, and I was flat-out shocked by the deep bass the pair could produce -- the company specs the frequency response down to 40Hz and, in-room at least, I believe it. I was also taken by the clarity of the midrange, the sweetness of the highs, and the width and depth of the soundstage they projected. I wouldn’t purchase a pair of these for a big listening space, but in a small room, which is why they had them set up in such a space on February 2, the tiniest Tradition could be just the ticket.
The Serafino and Amati are similar in that they’re both four-driver, three-and-a-half-way floorstanders. Their tweeters are the same 1.1" soft-dome unit that’s in the Guarneri, and both use the same 5" midrange driver. The three-and-a-half-way part refers to how the two bass drivers are configured. In a regular two-woofer, three-way topology, both woofers cover the same frequency range and cross over to the midrange. The problem with that is that their distances to the midrange differ, so, acoustically, the transitions between all those drivers can be messy. With the same drivers in a three-and-a-half-way topology, the woofers don’t cover the same frequency ranges and only one hands off to the midrange. The typical benefits are that both woofers contribute to the deepest bass and, because only one woofer has to transition to the midrange, there’s a better blend from it to the midrange compared to two woofers trying to mix in.
Mind you, to make the woofers work effectively like this, each has to have its own enclosure. Therefore, internally, the Serafino and Amati cabinets are subdivided so that each woofer has its own chamber inside and its own port out the rear side. In both models, the bottommost woofer handles frequencies below about 80Hz, then rolls off above that frequency. The top woofer in both covers from the deep bass up to about 250Hz, where it meets the midrange. According to Tezzon, this three-and-a-half-way driver configuration is a new thing for Sonus Faber, resulting in quicker- and punchier-sounding bass than what their other speakers show. As one dealer I talked to there said, “These are the first Sonus Fabers that can really rock.”
The main differences between the Serafino and Amati have to do with the woofer and cabinet sizes, which affect their bass-output capabilities. The Serafino has 6.5" woofers, whereas the Amati has 8" ones. Likewise, the Serafino’s cabinet is smaller -- with included outrigger base and spikes, it is about 43"H x 15.6"W x 19.1"D. The Amati’s overall dimensions are 46.3"H x 16.2"W x 20.2"D. Obviously, since the Serafino is smaller, it’s lighter than the Amati -- 115 pounds versus 135 pounds. The Amati’s larger woofers and cabinet mean it can play deeper and louder in the bass (the Serafino is specced down to 30Hz, the Amati to 28Hz, though max output levels are not given). In a case like this, which model is better depends mostly on the room it’ll be used in.
Somewhat paradoxically, at the event the Amatis were played in a medium-sized room on the fourth floor, while the Serafinos were in the larger open-space room on the fifth floor. “Shouldn’t it be the other way around?” I asked Tezzon. He explained that if both rooms were built the same way, then yes. However, the larger room has huge glass windows on two walls and many hard surfaces, which wind up making it resonant-sounding to the point that you can hear your voice echo a bit, even when you speak at a normal level. He figured that the pair of Amatis would overload this room with too much bass, making it boomy sounding. As a result, he put the Amatis in the medium-sized room, which he called his “controlled setup,” because the room is mostly traditionally constructed walls, not big windows, making it less resonant sounding. He also added room treatments to dampen the room even more. Tezzon was definitely right -- the sound of the Amatis in that room was much cleaner in the low to upper bass than the Serafinos were in their space.
That said, even though the Serafinos were overloading that open room in the bass range by just a little bit and were resonant sounding in the vocal range, I absolutely loved the way they sounded there, despite the flawed room acoustics. When I played a favorite track of mine, Cowboy Junkies’ “Misguided Angel,” from The Trinity Session (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, RCA), I could see jaws dropping all around me when the speaker end of the room was swamped with the sound of the recording space (this recording has a huge soundstage). When Margo Timmins’s lead vocal came in, it hung center stage with a fully fleshed-out, tangible quality coupled with loads of detail. Yeah, it was a little too resonant because of the room, but no one said a word while it was playing -- they simply listened all the way through.
Aesthetically, I still give the nod to the Lilium as being the most beautiful-looking speaker that Sonus Faber makes; in fact, I believe it might be the most beautiful speaker that any company makes. They should have a pair in a museum somewhere, if they don’t already. Still, these new Homage Traditions come close to that one’s beauty, and feature a level of quality craftsmanship that you seem to find only in Italy. In short, they’re expensive speakers that look and feel the part.
The Homage Traditions’ cabinets are mostly made of wood, adorned with leather on their front baffles -- hallmarks of the brand -- yet they also feature much more aluminum than I’ve ever seen Sonus Faber use. All their tops and bottoms have machined aluminum plates, plus there is an aluminum “spine” that runs the length of each backside, looking kind of like a tall, narrow heatsink on the rear. The aluminum is used mostly for performance -- combined with the wood side walls, the top, bottom, and rear aluminum pieces make for a much more solid enclosure than if they used wood all around -- yet it also gives these speakers an even more sophisticated look than, say, that of the Olympicas, which have only dashes of aluminum on them.
Of the two Homage Tradition finishes available for all models -- Red and Wengè -- it was impossible for me to decide which one looks better. As the name implies, Red has a red-colored finish on the wood, accented with black-colored wood inlays and black-anodized aluminum pieces. Wengè has deep-brown-colored wood with much-lighter-colored inlays and silver-anodized aluminum. Regardless of the finish, the sturdy floor spikes are always silver.
Depending on how the sun was coming into the rooms, I sometimes preferred the Red finish, but then other times I preferred the Wengè one. If anyone asked right now which I’d choose, I could honestly say, “I have no clue.” The only thing I know is I could be content with either.
Sonus Faber makes speakers unlike any other brand does and, commensurately, presents them in unique ways. What I hope is that this article provided enough information to get a hint of what it felt like to be there on February 2. But I also know that words can convey only so much about an event like this one, so I shot a bunch of pictures from morning to evening and included them in the gallery below, which should give you an even better idea of what went down at WOM Townhouse. If it’s true that a single picture is worth 1000 words, the gallery should give you 45,000 words’ worth. Now that this latest Sonus Faber event is over, I can’t wait to find out when and where the next might be.