Down in East Kent, we have a 'sad bastards club' which meets Saturday mornings. We discuss hi-fi, cars, music, cameras, watches - and anything else that isn't young and female because we're all 40-plus . We number among us a member whose wife so loathes hi-fi that it borders on the pathological. In 34 years as an audiophile, I have never met a person who detests harmless, innocent hi-fi equipment with such all-consuming vehemence.
But she loves the Sonus Faber Guarneri.
Why? Because the Guarneri, like most Martin Logan products and precious little else, delivers sublime performance while acknowledging that people have to look at/live with the equipment. Among the world's covetable toys, only hi-fi equipment manages to be both expensive and hideous. Every other form of luxury commodity addresses the item's presence as well as the performance. Think about it: There are very few hideous supercars. Furniture, jewellery and clothing are by definition 'styled'. Pens, cameras and watches are too small and fundamentally functional to offend the eye. So the Guarneri is regarded as a milestone for what it did to the way we regard the of hi-fi speakers, like the less-radical but equally revolutionary-in-effect Sonus Faber models before it. And this occurred prior to 'custom-install' becoming an established audio subset.
With Cremona, Sonus Faber has taken the highly-coveted Homage look (see sidebar, What's In A Name?) down to a slightly more approachable price point. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an affordable speaker; to most people, £4998 per pair is way past 'obscene' and well into 'vulgar'. Still, in terms of the Homage line, it undercuts the much smaller two-way Guarneri by £300 while offering an extra fistful of drivers and cabinetry, and it is nearly £7000 less than the floorstanding Amati which it so resembles.
But looking like a scale model of the Amati at 8.9x18.1x42.9in (WDH) is as far as it goes, the shape and grille being the only common links. Every driver is different, the specification is different - even the wood is not the same, the Cremona being fashioned from 32 staves of solid maple. Moreover, the finish is medium-gloss rather than full gloss, a hand-applied, multi-coat surface described as 'ecologically sensitive lacquer' and a look which so appealed to the anti-audio spouse mentioned above.
As with the Amati and Guarneri, the cabinet shape is more than a mere aesthetic statement: the lute shape was developed to control resonances and internal standing waves. This isn't high-end mumbo-jumbo but an approach to dealing with a problem which has always affected box-type loudspeakers. The resultant 68kg-per-pair design is as seemingly dead as any cabinet fashioned from the myriad mineral composites, and Homage models are notably free from smearing or imprecision. Even the diminutive Guarneri exhibits bass which belies its size, due in no small part to the cabinet integrity and rigidity. The much larger Cremona? Its lower octaves - the Cremona is said to cover 32Hz-40kHz - will disappoint only the brain-damaged.
At the very top of the Cremona is a Vifa unit which looks a whole helluva lot like the treble unit favoured by Krell for its LAT models. Described as a '1in high resolution Ring Radiator with copper cap motor system', it's notable for a tiny phase plug in the middle - not too common for tweeters. Immediately below it and intersecting with its surround (to bring the drivers' centres as close together as possible) is a 5in mid/bass cone with 'Symmetric Drive' motor system, the diaphragm made from hard paper. In the lower half of the enclosure are two 6in woofers, also paper-coned and with the same drive system.
Crossover points aren't stated, but bi-ampers needn't cogitate: Cremona uses single-wiring, not bi-, via custom-made gold-plated terminals fitted at the very bottom of the back section. This portion of the cabinet is sculpted like that of the Amati's and it contains the apertures of two separate ports, one each for the mid/tweeter section and the bass elements. Completing the package is a sturdy metal plinth with adjustable feet, the correct set-up providing the Cremona with a rather severe rearward-leaning slope for driver time alignment.
Like the Amati but unlike the amplifier-taunting Guarneri, Cremona is an easy drive at 90dB/1W and with 4 ohm impedance; the company recommends amplifiers in the 50-300W range, which includes their sorely underrated Musica integrated. If you read my two-part coverage of the Audio Research SP16 pre-amp and VS55 power amp, you'll recall that I 'lucked into' a dream combination which I just didn't anticipate. And yet much mitigated against it. Despite the 90dB/1W spec, I expected the Cremona to behave atypically for a speaker of that rating, simply because a near-decade's use of the Guarneri has conditioned me to feed Sonus Faber's top models with ample wattage; my session with the genuinely efficient Amati failed to 'un-condition' me despite its easy driveability.
While I tried the Cremonas with amps ranging from 35W/ch up to 300W/ch, I kept returning to the 50W/ch VS55. It was immediately apparent that the package formed a synergy to match such legendary pairings as the early Krell/Apogee marriages (and - I suppose - early Linn-plus-Naim if your idea of wedded bliss is Mr & Mrs Alf Garnett). But I must caution those of you for whom this review is a guide to a possible purchase: my room measures 12x18ft, and I do not have any desire to burst my eardrums. Let's just say that it was loud enough to convey the majesty of Kodo drumming, with no signs of amplifier fatigue, nor of speakers begging for more juice. And it was tickled pink with the sheer grunt of the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista M3.
Read much more on Page 2