by Anthony Kershaw
Sonus Faber is an Italian purveyor of some of the most exquisite high end loudspeakers. Manufacturing is of the highest level. In fact, the finish of the speakers is among the finest in the industry. It follows, right? Zegna and Canali suits, Lamborghini and Ferrari cars. If guys like it, the best usually comes from Italy.
Interestingly, Sonus Faber has never rocked the industry with ground breaking designs and show/magazine buzz. Respect, yes, but no heroes. It came as a pleasant surprise, then, when I got to hear the top of the line Stradivari Homage for an extended listening session. I was wowed. They looked and sounded magnificent. I figured I’d grab them for a review, but a smaller speaker caught my eye. The Guarneri Memento is the smallest speaker in the top Homage range. They retail for $15,000, which had better place them in the flabbergasted category, especially as they are stand mounted monitors. These are the subject of the review. I’ll save the Stradivari for later.
I was fortunate to borrow the new Boulder 865 integrated amplifier for the duration of the review. Musically and aesthetically, a near-perfect match for the handsome speakers. With a sensitivity of 88dB, the speaker will be a good match for amps of varying topologies.
As previously suggested, Sonus Faber rarely gets to the top of the ‘best of’ lists. I’m not sure they care. They go about the business of producing exquisite furniture that happens to sound very, very good. And there’s the rub with audiophiles. Many see the furniture and have a difficult time getting past the visuals. ‘How can Heidi Klum look that good, and be smart, too?’ In the past, there may have been some truth in that. Under full disclosure, up until my Strad encounter, I had only heard Sonus Faber speakers during shows, and some time ago. The models heard did not float my boat. Yet, heard in the recent session in a fine listening room, well-treated and matched with excellent ancillaries, the Stradivaris sounded brilliant. Dynamic and detailed, with great impact and immediacy. The Guarneri, while smaller and less impactful, retain much of what impressed me with the mighty Strad.
In keeping with the best in stand-mounted monitors, the Guarneri image like the devil. Very precise, with voices and instruments in specific places. Many speakers do this well, but the SFs were precise and maintained an impressive accuracy (the Boulder may be helpful in this area — the piece is spectacular in its ‘neutrality’, for want of a better word). Lots of expensive speakers place the instrument but lose some of the essence. The sound essence is where the dollars (and ears) should be directed.
The Guarneri is a two way vented box loudspeaker with lute shape, proprietary damping and constructed using solid maple. The tweeter is a 25 mm ultra dynamic linearity ring radiator driver with dual toroidal wave-guide, sitting atop a 150 mm ultra dynamic linearity mid woofer. Sonus Faber describes the driver as a ‘CCAW/Kapton “eddy current free” voice coil. Dynamically linear magnetic field motor incorporating Kellog and Faraday rings.’ The crossover point is 2.500 Hz.
The soundstage is wide and deep. I had the speakers firing straight out into the room. My placement of choice for most speakers. Toeing in did tighten up the soundstage some, but lost a little of the bloom. The bloom of these speakers, while keeping the impact and precision, is really the top billing of the design.
Bass? Ah, the search for the audiophile Holy Grail. Deep, accurate bass from a small box. The bass is measured down the 39 Hz. Not low, but in a not-too-large room, enough to hear much of what most composers’ require. What is there, though, is very clear, and much of this clarity is what emphasizes the impact. For most genres and tastes, the bass will be plenty. The bass, as heard via an Audio Research tube amp, did lose some of the slam of the Boulder solid state, but (for me) more than made up for it with gorgeous timbres (real?) and exquisite delicacy. Thus, vocals sounded lifelike with outstanding presence. Eva Cassidy’s amazing first album The Other Side is indicative of her outstanding talent but not of the tragedy to come. Her sweet timbre and superb diction were captured with consummate ease. Over the Rainbow was especially moving.
The Ysaye String Quartet’s Live at Wigmore recording was true to the hall’s fairly dry acoustic. Playing at Wigmore gives your sound height but not much width. It was very nice to hear the venerable London chamber hall sound so realistic through the Guarneri Mementos. The Ysaye is a very underrated string quartet, by the way. The audiophile ‘rule’ where monitors do the small stuff well but degrade the big picture was only partly true with the Guarneris. The global view is clear, too. As for big rooms, I’m not sure fans of Megadeath and Slayer will be buying the Guarneri, but it’s a pretty versatile speaker. The bass replication of most heavy metal recordings is probably not the Sonus Faber’s prime directive, but, I’m sure the speaker would have a go. That said, large force orchestral music sounded spectacular. Balanced and very impactful, visceral and emotional.
The Guarneri comes with boxed stands that angle the speaker back a few degrees. Interestingly, the look of the stands is not my cup of tea compared to the actual speaker, which has the look of a masterpiece. The ‘strings’ of the speaker covers are intended to be left on and do not interfere with the sound of the speakers.
The marketing? For many, the slicker the brochure, the weaker the product. A couple of high end speaker manufacturers have gone from rags to riches (or, from a garage to a decent size operation), and, as the brochures and websites get glossier and the vulture capitalists take over, the edge goes from the product. The Sonus Faber website and brochure are second to none. But I hear no deterioration of the products, from the top of the range on down. The engineers at Sonus Faber obviously have pride in the look and sound of their products.
As such, let your ears do the business. Ignore the rep, and have a listen. Yes, they look fantastic. Yes, they are very expensive. But you get a very fine sounding speaker that will look the part in almost any decor. Give the Mementos some room to breathe, some good cables and electronics and you’ll have yourself a system of which to be proud.
The Sonus Faber Guarneri Memento Loudspeaker
Manufactured by Sonus Faber
Via Antonio Meucci, 10
36057 Arcugnano (VI), Italy
+39 0444 288955
Source of review sample: Distributor loan
Price: USD $15,000