A few weeks ago, I got a weird phone call from McIntosh Group (the parent company of Audio Research, McIntosh, Sonus faber, Sumiko, Wadia, and other brands), asking if I would travel to Kansas City for a special AV event.
To understand why that was such a weird request, consider the fact that McIntosh's parent company has invested an insane amount of money in their World of McIntosh Experience Center in the heart of Manhattan. While you, the audio lover, can go there and rock out hard on the best that their brands have to offer, they also rent this space out at New York City prices--reportedly starting at $50,000 per night for special events. Swanky digs by anyone's standards, and enough to get my butt on a plane to JFK for the right event.
But Kansas City, you ask? It's a complicated story. Sonus faber's biggest fan is a real estate developer named Steven Karbank, who lives in Kansas City and whose most recent project is called the 1900 Building. Modern, sleek, and sexy--this space is designed for hosting art events, film screenings, and musical recitals of all sorts for the local community. Literally no expense was spared, from the architecture to the materials, from acoustical engineering to the audiophile grade products that go into making this venue something very special.
I know what you are thinking: How the heck can someone use audiophile components designed mostly for one-person listening in a screening room or musical event venue? This was the challenge for local installer Ryan Anderson from Elevated Electronic, along with local acoustical engineers Kevin Butler and Russ Olsen at Henderson Engineers. Most acoustical designers and installers would look to the likes of horn or line array speakers from companies like JBL or Meyer Sound for a space such as this. Karbank is a major fan of the gorgeous Italian speakers from Sonus faber, though, and the unbelievably luscious sound of Audio Research and McIntosh on the electronics side. Engineers from Italy were brought in to collaborate on the specific design challenges of the three key venues in this space.
I'm not privy to all of the choices they made during the design process, but I was able to witness the results for myself. For the event, Mr. Karbank brought in three very talented college music students to play for our group of press and mostly AV dealers. Our hosts all prefaced the performances by inviting us to walk around the room as the musicians played--something I would normally consider rude--because they wanted us to hear the difference between a room energized by live musicians and by gear of this caliber
With that in mind, I explored the room as a mixing engineer blended the live sound with that of the hi-fi system in a room that is designed to host 75 to 100 listeners. The mix was just fantastic. In some weird spots, you could hear the difference or a blend issue, but for 95 plus percent of the room, it was a seamless experience. Levels were matched nicely. The timbre of the live instruments was faithfully reproduced in real time from the horizontal Sonus faber speakers. Using audiophile products to do sound reinforcement was pretty damned ambitious, but with careful work, design, and installation, the results were noteworthy.
The whole event brought to mind the ongoing conversation about live music versus reproduced music. Sadly, too often audiophiles have little to no frame of reference when contributing to this conversation. The 1900 Building allows people in the Midwest, or those willing to get on a plane, to experience "Live" and "Memorex" simultaneously. And for me, it really brought home just how close Sonus faber, McIntosh, and Audio Research gear can get to the ultimate musical goal. But it also gave me insight into how even this level of gear differed from the live experience in subtle ways.
I challenge all audiophiles, including myself, to hear live music more often. Having that acoustical reference is simply invaluable to judging on a subjective level what sounds right and wrong. Simply put, the more you have heard in terms of live music, the better you will be at evaluating audio gear in your system.
Bravo to Sonus faber, who was celebrating the launch of their "affordable" line of Sonetto speakers, which not only sound absolutely fantastic but look stunningly gorgeous. Their wood finishes are as you might expect: the best in the business. Their new satin white paint job on their Sonetto speakers, center speaker, and subwoofers is one of the most in-touch design cues I've seen in years.
Sonus faber speakers aren't the least expensive A-list speakers out there, but they are some of the sexiest, greatest sounding products you can plunk your Platinum Card down on. They are the Italian version of what drew me to invest in my Focal Sopra 2s. And of course, a full review is pending later in the fall of 2018.
If you are ever in Kansas City, look up events at the 1900 Building. They have an attached restaurant that is as good as most of the foo-foo places here in Los Angeles. And the blend of Sonus faber, McIntosh, Audio Research, and live music is something that I wish all audiophiles could experience for themselves at least once.
• For more information, visit the Sonus faber and 1900 Building websites.
• Read Sonus faber Announces Their Sonetto Line of More Affordable Speakers at HomeTheaterReview.com.