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science.SHOWBLOGS
. AUDIOMILESTONES
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KEF104loudspeakersOFFTHETEASHKenKessleron miniaturehi-fi
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loudspeaker
three-and-a-half-way
Floorstanding
Madeby:SonusfaberSPA,ltalY
suppliedby:Absolutesounds
Telephone:
02089713909
wwwabsolutesounds.com
web:www.sonusfaber.com;
TheSonusfaber
(f140,000)
fullreviewof Sonus
Webringyouanexclusive
newflagshiploudspeaker
faber'sextraordinary
Review:
KeithHoward,KenKessler,
JohnBamford
& PaulMillerLab:KeithHoward
igh-profilecar makershave
been doing it for y€ars:
creatingspecialeditions
whose desirabilityis only
sharpenedby a strictlylimited
oroduction run. Hi-fimanufacturers
- particularlyspeakermakers- are
pickingup on the idea in increasing
numbers.Cue the Sonusfaber: a
new flagshipfrom the doyen of
Italianspeakermanufacturers,whose
f 140,000 askingprice will be coughed
by a maximum of 30 well-heeled
buyers,this being the total number of
oairsthat are to be sold.
RIGIIT: The clamshell cabinet stands over
1.7mtall with substantialaluminiumcaps
top and bottom which clampthe enclosure.
via an intemal steel bar.Total driver
complement is seven,with two behind
Let'sbegin our tour with thqedriver
complement.lf we ignore,for the
moment, the little two-way symbiont
that nestleswithin a niche in the
TSF'sback panel,there are five main
drive units in a three-and-a-half-way
configuration.Low down in one side
panel is the largestof them, a 15in
subwooferwith a sandwichcone of
Bu thangon a
woven nano-carbon
minute:isn'tthis
s k i n sa n d a R o h a c e l l
'KiCkS, SlamS
foam core, made
speaker
cared
the
to Sonusfaber's
specificationby
previewof it was
Audio Technology
p u b lis hed
of Denmark.lt
in our
September
issue
handlesonly the
lastyearit was,and
very lowest audio
you'llstillfind many
frequenciesbelow
web pagesreferring
to it thus.Butin
80H2. has an 1 'l cm diametervoice coil
a communiqu6
from ltalycirculated
whose former is part aluminium,part
i n th e aut um nof 201 0th e n a mew a s
Kapton,and is reflexloaded by a large
changedto something
lessambiguous: rectangularport that exhaustsat the
'TheSonusfaber'(whichl'll abbieviate foot of the front baffle.Meanwhile,a
to TSFhenceforth).
Fenice,
it seems,
is
three-positionlevelcontrol allowsthe
a nameto whichsomeoneelseowns
subwoofer output to be adjusted to
the rights.
suit different rooms.
Next as we climb the frequency
NOVEI, DESIGN
range are two front-mounted 1Oin
Thiseoisodewill havebeenan
woofers,the lower of which is slightly
glitchin Sonusfaber's
unwelcome
uptilted towards the listener,whose
lavishmarketingstrategybut it matters naturalroll-offforms the high-pass
little:the formerFeniceissuchan
element of their crossoverto
extraordinary
loudspeaker,
andhas
the sub.Also made by Audio
suchnoveldesignfeatures,
that there's Technologythese too have
no mistaking
it whateverits handle.
sandwichconesalthough this
Andno gainsaying
the sledgehammer- time with paper skinsand a
blowvisualimpactof this behemoth, syntactic foam core (a hi-tech
polymercontainingtiny hollow
whichmeasures
over1.7mtall and
weighsa staggering
305k9(yes,each). spherescalled microballoons).
andthrustsnever
ffi::TJ',1iffil"'.":,,
caughtthe Sonus
faberunawares'
24 I www.hifinews.co.ukI FEBRUARY
2011
...
:-.
::
HavingusedSonusfaberssincetheir inception,I reckon
I've tried 2Omodelsand lived long'term with six-The
soundhasalwaysseducedme. Sonusfaber speakers
cameto our attention becausethey looked like no other.
But the ethos is the sameas with ltalian supercars:if
a Lamborghini'sperformancedidn't match the other
worldly styling,the car would be a ioke. Sonusfabers
alwayssoundas good as they look Yes,there havebeen
occasionalcul de sacs,likethe astonishing,but Powerhungry Extrema.Or so I thought: upon hearingthe new
flagship,I was remindedas much oJthat speaker'schunky'
robust bassas I was of the Stradivari'sdelicacyor the
Guarneri'sauthentic midband.Restassured:this new
behemoth is pure Sonusfaber, in every sense.Kr(
a dome tweeter and small
Againthey are reflexloaded
cone driver usingthe same
but this time.by twin, reardiaphragmmaterialas the
firingports.Theycrossoverin
front-firingmidrangedriver- is
turn,quiteearlybut gently,at
recessedinto the TSF'sback
25gHztothe 6.5inmidrange
panel. lt can be rotated bY 45o
unft,built by Norwegiandriver
SEAS
usingSonus each way horizontallyand has
manufacturer
its output adjusted via two
design.
faber'sown chassis
threerings nearby rotary controls, one
Thisincorporates
labelled'soundstagedepth'
anda basket
of aluminium
madeof a gunmetalalloyused which variesthe output level in
five steps including off, and the
for largeartillerypiecesin
secondlabelled'soundstage
from
WW1.All aremachined
acting azimuth'.Thisconstitutesthe
solid,theircombination
resonances. Sound Field ShapersYstem[see
to dampstructural
box-out,p26l and is the subject
A paperconewaschosenfor
of one of three patents filed bY
range
thiscriticalfrequency
Sonusfaber in relationto the
becauseit deliversa fast,
TSF'sdesign.
dynamic,lifelikesound.
RINGTWEETER
belowthe
lmmediately
midrangeunit isa 25mm
ringtweeter,manufactured
of Denmark,
by Scanspeak
a
combines
whichunusually
magnetanda
neodymium
cobaltmagnetin
samarium
iis motor system,the latter
it
because
beingincorporated
sould quality.
enhances
the midrange
Together
driverand the tweeterare
that
mountedon a sub-baffle
from
isolated
is compliantly
the restof the cabinetand
equippedwith a mass-damPer
to ouellvibration.
Sofar,so largeand
lavish- but mostly
There's
conventional.
in store
a surprise
roundthe back,
though, where a little reflexloaded two-way speaker- with
The other two patents
relate, firstly,to the comPlex
cabinet constructionand
the use of industrialmachine
experienceto decouPleit from
the floor,via its four comPliant
feet. Sonusfaber usesa
clamshellmethod for building
the TSF'scabinet,which is
clamped between the huge,
aluminium
machined-from-solid
cap that tops the enclosure
and the two-piece aluminium
base (both of which can be
either hand polishedor black
anodised)by a tensionedsteel
bar that runs top to bottom.
The cabinet sides,which
have a complex curvature
that pays homage to the lYre
(instrumentof the gods),
are formed from an Okoum6
plywood, Okoum6 being an
Africantropical hardwood'
whose propertiesallow the
ply to be bent into the I
FEBRUARY20llI www.hifinews.co.uk| 25
Sonusfaber'sSoundFieldShapingsystemis an attempt to allow listenersto have
their cakeand eat it. Specifically,it aimsto providethe large soundstageof an
omnidirectionalspeakerwithout sacrificingthe image precisionof directional
designs.Conventionalloudspeakersbecomemore directionalas frequency '
increases,becauseof the interactionof the wavelengthof sound in hir with
the dimensionsof the drive unit diaphragmsand those of the baffle on which
they are mounted.At bassfrequenciessoundoutput is equal in all directions
(or hasa figure-of-eightpattern in the caseof a dipole speaker),whereasin the
treble it is increasingly'beamed'.The ramificationsof this for sound quality
have been argued over for decadesbecausenon-constantdirectivity introduces
spectraldisparitiesbetween the direct sound reachingthe lhtener and the early
reflectionsand reverberantsoundwhich follow. By directing additional output
backwards,SoundFieldShapingallowsthese disparitiesto be reducedunder full
control of the user.lf you don't like what it does,you can switch it off. KH
required form. The leather-coveredfront
baffle is CNC-machined
from high density
fibreboard.In fact the cabinet is reallytwo
cabinetsin one, arrangedRussiandoll-like
but with a 2mm viscoelasticlayerbetween
them to provideconstrained-layer
damping
within an overallwall thicknessof 50mm.
Furthervibration control is provided by a
multiple tuned massdamper attachedto
the internalsteel rod.
Last of the three patents relatesto
the use of a fibrousabsorbentmaterial
within the reflextubes. As well as reducing
the egressof internalresonancesand
reflections,this allowsthe tube length to
be reducedby 40%for the sametuning
frequencyand also lowersthe distortion
that resultsfrom turbulent flow at high air
velocitieswithin the oort.
t4,
tJ/ IGN KESSLERLTSTENS
My latest listeningsession,arranged
exclusivelyforHFN/RR,was not myfirst
with these speakers- it was my third. I'd
alsosoent time with The Sonusfabersat
the Milan show and at
their debut [HFNSep
'1 01.The sessions'didn't
count', but they did
prepareme for what to
exDectin more familiar
surroundings.Armed with
a handfulof favourite
titles. I wasted no time in
savouringthe moment.
Neil Diamond'scoversalbum,Dreams,
serveda key function: a lean performance
with minimalistbackingallowsa listener
to focus on a distinctivevoice.The Sonus
faber reproducedhis deep, gravellytones
with the preciseaplomb that keepsme
wedded to the relativelyteensyGuarneri.
'Midnight TrainTo Ceorgia'and
'Yesterday'-how can anyonecover
songsthat exist in such definitiveforms?
RIGIIT: Rear-firinghroway pivots horizontally
and, together with the controls above,-forms
the SoundFieldShapings16temthat allowsthe
stereoimageto be expandedtotaste
Diamonddelivered.and the soeakerslet
him perform without restraint.
Textureswere as authentic. the
deliveryas intimate as Diamond's
recent TV appearancesalludedto via a
Skybox.I lookedover at my colleagues.
Theywere as spellboundas I was, some
equallyfamiliarwith Diamondover the
decadesand equallyas astonishedat
interpretationsreminiscentof Johnny
Cash'sAmerlcan Recordings.
But its sheersize,the 15in woofer,
the plethoraof mid and treble drivers
- inc ludingt h e 'M i n i - M e 'a t t h e b a c k
- begged for somethingwith
kick.Jeff Becksuppliedit with
Live And ExclusiveFrom The
Gram my M useum, contrasting
' Br us hW it h T h e B l u e s 'a n d
'SomewhereOver The Rainbow'.
Recordedlast April,
Beckwas in super-slick
mode, his guitar work
so liquid that he might
have been on pedal
steel.Backedwith.
a powerful rhythm
section,he punctuated
his musicwith kicks.
slamsand thruststhat
nevercaught the speakerunawares.
Onto much lighter fare, Come And Get
It: The Best Of Apple Recordsproved to be
the most revealing.I've known this stuff
intimatelyfor 40 years,but neverdid I hear
the detailson 'ThoseWere The Days'with
suchtransparency,nor did I ever hear Mary
Hopkinsound so ethereal.
Badfinger'sthree tracks?Tearsin my
eyes,gang, tears in my eyes.
'Thebasshadthe
listeningroom's
suspendedfloor
literallyjumprng'
26 I www.hifinews.co.ukI FEBRUARY
2011
..
tIsrENs
{S lottl BAMFoRD
As one erudite hi-fi blogger commented
recently- with a descriptionI considered
most observant- the Sonusfaber lookslike
somethingthat could have been designed
by the Swisssurrealistartist HRCiger (think
the Alien movie... and the LPcover for
ELP's1973 album Brain Salad Surgery.
As for the sound,enjoyinga selection
of hi-resrecordingson Blu-raydisc brought
along by the Ed,the Sonusfaber delivered
majesticscale.A recordingby NHK(Japan's
public servicebroadcaster)of Berlioz's
Fantastiquesounded vivid and open while
a l s od e l i c i o u s l ys m o o t h , h i g h l i g h ti n gj u st
how naturaland 'analogue'the best hi-rez
digital recordingscan sound when heard
through a systemcapableof doing them
justice.Similarlya BD of Pat Metheney
in concert soundedopulent and creamy
with sumptuousbass.What's more, the G,
THE SONUSfABER (fl4o,ooo)
ABOVE:SoundFieldShapingis adjustedby - in addition to rear subspeaker
orientation-twin rotarycontrols labelledsoundstagedepth and soundstage
azimuth,the former adjustingoutput level.A third control adjustssubwooferlevel
acousticsDaceof a concert hall was
renderedwith truly lifelikescale.
Givenadequate,spacein which to
'disappear'they sound sensational.
Evenharder-edgedrecordings
playedat SPLsborderingon the
dangerous- such as MassiveAttack's
t rip -ho p'Ka rmacom a( Por t is head
Experience)'
[from the band's
'singlebox' collectionl- remained
uncommonlycivilisedand controlled
at frequency extremes, my ears
compressingbeforethe Sonusfabers
had shown even the merestsign of
breakinginto a sweat.
And while the balanceappeared
rosy and silver-tonguedthrough
t he mid ba nd an d tre ble,f am iliar
tracks on CD used regularlyfor
such as Diana
systemassessment,
Krall's'My Lovels' lLove Scenes,
lmpulselMPl2342l and 'By The
RiversDark' by LeonardCohen [Ien
New Songs,Sony501 2O22l,were
deliveredwith heroic,extravagant
and textured bass,capableof
taking your breath away.Me'Shell
Ndeg€ocello'sseismicbassguitar
in 'Mary Magdalene'lPeaceBeyond
Passion,Maverick460331 had the
listeningroom's suspendedfloor
lite rallyjump ing .
PAUI, MII,LER LISTENS
By now our reviewerswill have
given you more than a flavourof
the faber's'Force 'l 0' Derformance.
'But are these the best big boxes
we've encountered?"I hear you
ask.In the confinesof a traditional,
albeit heavilytreated room and with
my favouredDevialetD-Premier
amplifierfed directlyand digitally
from a PioneerBD source,the
answerwas a resounding'yes'.In
a venue of matching proportion,
these being the provinceof hi-fi
m illionair esI,c a n o n l y w o n d e r a t
the lifelikescaleand soundstaging
waiting to be realised.
Backto the presentand the
hauntingGregorianChant of the
Consortium V ocale lExau d iam Eum,
2L43SACDon BDI envelopedus
entirely,these huge monolithic*
speakersdisplayingall the physical
impositionof a wil-'o-the-wisp.
How somethingso huge can
sound almost invisibleis a neat
tr,ick,carriedoff in part through its
fundamentallyinert structureand
proprietarySoundFieldShaping.
Thiss am et r i c k f o u n d D i a n a
Krall's'My Lovels' hoveringin the
room, the snappedfingersa precise
metronome againstthe languid
quality of the strung bass.Fabulous.
Then camethe MassiveAttack/
Portisheadcollaborationand that
bassstretcheddown even further.
solid bars of basemetal fallingto the
floor as Portishead'sguitarsripped
t hr ough t he m i d r a n g e ,s e a r i n ga n d
yet intricatelydetailed.And then the
Devialetclipped...cD
for its new flagship
Sonusfaber'sclaimof 92dB sensitivity
is somewhatoptimistic:our pink noisefigureof€9.2dB
suggests
that a nominal89dB is more realistic.Despitethis the
impedanceis low with a minimummodulusof only 2.8ohm- a
littletoo low to justifythe 4ohm nominalfigure.But phase
(equivalentpeak
anglesare modest,so the minimumEPDR
the EPDR
is 1.6ohmat 33H2.Elsewhere
dissipation
resistance)
is generallyabove2.3ohm,so overallTheSonusfaber is fairly
trend is notably
easyto drive.lts on-axisfrequencyresponse
roncave,with diminishedoutput in the presenceband- a
with BBCdesighs[seeCraph1, below].
featureoften associated
Thiscan be expected.todistancethe stereoimagesomewhat
and obviateany senseof in your face'deliveryof detail.
Despitethis dishingthe frequencyresponseerrors,300H2Pair
20kHz,are modestat t3.8dB and 13.5d8 respectively.
matchingerror,overthe samefrequencyrange,is high at
r 1.gdBbut a largedisparityjust within the 20kHzlimit is
the erroris a good,
responsible
for muchof this.Elsewhere
though not exceptionalat t 1.1dB. Beyond20kHzthe output
from the ring tweeter continuesto riseto beyond40kHz.
No fewerthan four driveunitsand three reflexports have
to be takeninto accountwhen makinga near-fieldbass
With all their outputscombinedand diffraction
measurement.
correctionapplied,the -6dB rolloff(re.200H2)occursat about
33H2.Both 100H2and l kHzdistortionfiguresarea little
higherthan expected,but only a little.Thecumulativespectral
decaywaterfall[seeGraph2, below]showswhat are probably
midrangecone breakupmodesin the lowertreble. KH
@
@
ABOVE:
The Sonusfaber'sresponsedemonstratesa
broad'dish'profilebut bassextensionis excellent
G
,W
TheHi-FiNews'dayout' with one
of the world's rarest,costliestand
heaviestfloorstandersis not one
we'll forgetand the experience
alongside
servesas a benchmark,
our exclusivereviewsof other
iconicmarquesincludingthe KEF
The
Muonand Cabasse
LaSph€re.
Sonusfaberis,by anyand every
measure,
a truly outstanding
regret?
loudspeaker.
Ouronly
Lrur
only regref,i
I louosPeaKel
l
I
t
I
nm@
in u "
Ffequenry
ABOVE:Cabinet resonancesare well controlled. There
is just a hint of midrange cone breakupat 6-7kHz
t'I,:''*r (tt'1
-'ilillttlt'llil
lT{11'YiTl
I 89.6 d 8 / 8 9 . 2 d 8 / B B . 6 d B
_
: _....._
lmpedance modulus min/max l2OHz-2OkHzl :2.8oh m@ 3 5 H 2
6.0o h m@ 5 1 H z
l
Impedance phase min lmax (20\2-2akdzJ
) - 2O'@ 3 . 4 k \ z
30" @ 4 1 H z
j that so few audiophileswill ever
I have the chance to hear them.
Pair matching (2OOH/-2Okkl)
i 11.9 d B
LF /H F ex tens i on( - 6dB.ef20O H z /1ok H z )
33nz l > 4 o < P 7 l > o k F, z
to'1,
i sounoouarity,
T H D 1O oH z /l k H zri O k H z( forgodBSPLil m )
0.5%/ 0 . 4 %i 0 . 2 %
ii:+l$:i:i
f:lfii*,i.rii*
* -::"
Dimensions(HWD)
1713t747\791mm
j rrenuRnYzot t
28 I www.hifinews.co.uk
-_i
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