Sonus faber Concerto GP Loudspeakers Reviewed

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Keeping one step ahead of the competition has been Sonus Faber's trick ever since the birth of an Italian 'school' of speaker design. Whatever the origins of the genre - and there are stories to make Boccaccio blanch - the fact is that Sonus Faber put the Italian speaker industry on the map and unleashed a horde of clones. With Extrema and then Guarneri, also copied to a degree by others, Sonus Faber broke away from the soft-curved Electa look, leaving sculpted walnut to the wannabees. But it was with the Concertino that Sonus Faber really departed from the norm it created, introducing the concept of elegance to the budget sector.

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Cleverly, the style was a by-product of a carefully-developed, efficient, cost-effective cabinet construction technique. Although derived from a methodology first employed in the building of the flagship Extrema, it worked with the Concertino and the Concerto at far lower price levels. The Extrema was fashioned from cross-sectional slices bonded together and then sealed by the side panels; Concertino and Concerto also employ sectional assembly and bolt-on side panels. The company's original description, quoted in the review of the Concertino in March 1996, bears repeating:

"Concertino features a new cabinet designed to obtain the maximum control of resonances. The speaker's central body, insulated with non-resonant material, is sealed by two side walls made of solid walnut staves. This helps to optimise the harmonic consonance of the acoustic chamber, with beneficial effects on the speaker's timbre."

Concerto, launched later that year, was a scaled-up Concertino, marginally larger at 230x290x415mm versus 219x290x295mm (WDH), weighing around 23kg per boxed pair compared to 15kg per pair and carrying a slightly larger woofer. Unless they were placed side by side, you couldn't tell them apart, the styling being so smooth and generally flawless that it gives no impression of scale without some point of reference. Above all, they looked like Sonus Fabers without resembling the models which went before. Maybe it was the grade of walnut used in the side panels, maybe it was the use of leather, but whatever the link, you knew that Concertino and Concerto could only be Sonus Fabers. And while both wore the new face - indeed, they constituted an entirely new range - a simple option made these new models that much 'newer': classy piano black gloss side panels.

As with all Sonus Faber speakers beside Guarneri, the grilles consist of cloth on rigid, sculpted frames which attach to the baffles with press fittings. Only instead of shaped frames which echoed the curves of the drivers, the new grilles were full-frontal, edge-to-edge designs covering the entire baffle areas. But both the Concerto and Concertino made one more stylistic leap, maybe due to cost, which further distanced them from the models with a higher wood content: the leather used on the baffle extended to the top, back and underside.

Concerto Grand Piano, or 'GP' for short, is the next phase, the third model in the range if you don't count the Centro centre channel speaker. Although it is, in the simplest terms, a floor-standing version of the Concerto and therefore Sonus Faber's first-ever floor-standing model, the Grand Piano nomenclature tells you that it's only available in gloss black, an extra-cost option on the less expensive models. Whether or not the company succumbs to pressure to release a walnut version of the GP remains to be seen; if they do, the wooden edition shouldn't be allowed to detract from the impact of the shiny black GP, because its finish represents yet another departure from the Italian status quo. It looks so utterly, shockingly, almost criminally expensive in its gloss black glory that you start thinking of speakers like the WATT/Puppies at seven times the cost.

Profiled with sloping surfaces like the Extrema, the Concertino and the Concerto, the GP also benefits from a reduction in standing waves provided by internal cavities without parallel sides. The bottom is horizontal, the back and sides vertical, but the front and rear panels slope back slightly. By virtue of the rounded contours of the side panels, the GP looks soft and organic even in its glossy, modernist blackness. Lest I attribute too much originality to Sonus Faber, this style of small, glossy-black tower is popular among American designers, but for models at far higher price points, and usually in designs far less intrinsically conventional than a system with dynamic drivers in a vertical array. What the Concerto GP does is bring a very expensive look to the sub-£2500 sector. And more bass to Sonus Faber customers, as you'd expect of a Concerto which has grown to 240x290x1000mm (WDH).

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