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.
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).
Exactly like the Concerto, the GP is a magnetically shielded two-way
system with a 180mm mid-bass driver using a cellulose carborium cone and
a 20mm silk dome ferrofluid-cooled tweeter. What the GP also contains
is a 180mm acrylate carbonium cone passive radiator. Weight is double at
50kg the pair, but the cartons thoughtfully include cut-out handles so
lifting them isn’t too much of a chore. Another nice touch is the
inclusion of special maroon covers to protect the gloss finish, to
prevent the damage your belt buckle could inflict when you’re moving
Again exactly like the regular Concerto, the GP is a ‘medium’ load,
with sensitivity of 87dB/1W/1m and a nominal 8 ohm impedance. Power
handling is stated as 30W-200W, and frequency response as 40-20000Hz,
+/-3dB. Gold-plated multi-way binding posts provide the option of
bi-wiring, but the review pair of GPs arrived a single-wiring
terminal link, so they could only be connected in bi-wired mode, with
Harmonix cables. I’m not sure if Sonus Faber insists that all GPs be
wired this way, but I preferred bi-wiring after fashioning short links
to create a single-wire termination for comparison’s sake.
Given that the GP is a floor-stander, it was nice to find that Sonus
Faber has developed a slick three-spike framework/stand instead of
reverting to the usual spike-in-each-corner. Levelling the speaker for
greater rigidity is therefore much simpler, as anyone who has ever tried
to adjust four spikes can tell you. Sonus Faber’s solution consists of a
T-shaped metal slab which fixes to the underside of the GP with three
Philips-head screws. Each end of the ‘T’ is threaded to accept a spike
which terminates in a tiny ball rather than a point which could do
greater damage to one’s floor, and each spike shaft is drilled so that a
rod, like a small Allen key, can be placed through it to make
adjustments easier. Each spike is capped with a knurled metal cover, as
per the Celestion SL-600 stands of yore. I placed the GPs on Sonus
Faber’s ‘stone’ base plates, the same slabs as the bottom sections of
the stands they make for their small models. It’s a pretty-in-pink
granite-like composite which looks great and improves the bass and
stereo imaging, more than justifying their 249-per-pair price tag.
Hell, I’m gonna buy a pair to place under any speakers or stands I might
review in the future.
Despite nearly identical specifications, GP differs in its demands
from the Concerto, both in terms of amplifier choice and speaker
positioning, simply because of the greater bass and weight a
floor-stander provides over a smaller sibling from which it’s derived.
The GP’s bass is more extended, almost exactly to the same degree that
the Concerto betters the Concertino, so the speaker is naturally that
much more revealing of an amplifier’s and a source component’s bass
capabilities. And you by the GP for its bass capabilities. If
not, you could simply stick to the Concertos and spend the difference on
Sonus Faber’s own stands and stone slabs.
While the basic Concerto benefits enough from high-end amplifiers to
suggest that it would be the last item to need upgrading if purchased as
part of an entry-level system, Concerto GP actually demands to be
driven by something above the budget norm. Whatever that 30-200W rating
suggests, ignore it. Power isn’t the issue so much as quality, and one
of the best amps I found for use with the GP was a 25-watter, GRAAF’s
Venticinque integrated. Unsurprisingly, it was Italian, too.
Concerto GP, for whatever reason, shows a touch of recidivism
relative to the earlier models; where the Concerto sounds like a refined
Concertino, the Concerto GP returns to the latter’s rock’n’roll
craziness, sounding like a Concertino with bass rather than a Concerto
with bass. It’s as if the Concerto – the middle child – is the reticent
one, while the larger and smaller siblings are bolder and more likely to
party. So any tendency toward wild-ass behaviour, especially down
below, should be nipped in the bud. And the tight-bottomed GRAAF can do
With far greater ease than either the Concertino or the Concerto, the
GP can fill a good-sized room with a huge, three-dimensional
soundstage. Even though it boasts the same sensitivity as the Concerto
and only a few Hertz more extension, it sounds a lot bigger, richer and
more, well, — ideal for home cinema set-ups where the owner would rather
add a subwoofer. My 12x22ft listening room all but groaned from the
surfeit of wall-to-wall-to-ceiling images and thunderous bass. Where it
matches Concertino/Concerto with a family resemblance only bettered by
the Brothers Baldwin is in the midband: neutral tonal balance, clarity
Like its siblings with their user-friendly midbands, the GP
approaches the BBC LS3/5A for natural sounding vocals – not unsurprising
since Sonus Faber’s Franco Serblin is an admirer of that classic
mini-monitor. In keeping with the standards set by the Concertino and
the Concerto, the GP favours clear female voices and woody acoustic
instruments, while solo piano recordings, like the speaker’s name
suggests, could prove to be the GP’s best friend in an A/B showdown.
And yet…where the basic Concerto displays new levels of refinement
over the Concertino, the GP harks back to the smaller speaker’s
skittishness and rockability. But the bass is so much more extended, so
much deeper and rounder and Extrema-like (maybe it’s the sonic signature
of a passive radiator?), that the liveliness doesn’t suffer that
uncontrolled feel associated with small speakers as they struggle to
cope with the bottom octaves. It’s an odd but delightful blend, a small
speaker’s energy and vim with a large speaker’s sense of authority,
which makes it a perfect rock speaker for headbangers who want the
energy and the levels the music demands, minus any rough edges added by
inadequate hardware. And which is why the GP can swing from Al Green to
Green Day without a hiccup.
At 2111 per pair, the GP bridges the gap between high end compact
floor-standers and the never-mind-the-quality-feel-the-width garbage
which too many British manufacturers feel compelled to issue in the
800- 2000 price category. And then there’s the special deal: buy the
GPs with the stone bases and the price for the package is 2298 – a
savings of 62 which you can put toward cables. By my reckoning, that
makes the Concerto Grand Piano a bargain, especially when you consider
that the GP obviates (for most installations) any need for a subwoofer.
Now, what’s the Italian word for ‘Boom, boom’?