'When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie...' I love Things Italian, from my buzzy little Fiat Uno to Tameo models to Borsalino hats, spumoni to Sabrina's cantileverage. Dunno why; my sense of 'style' was never pronounced and (visual) aesthetics is not an overriding preoccupation. It's just that the Italians, from Bugatti to Giugiaro, always seem to get it right.
Aside from a reputation for automotive unreliability rivalled only by Great Britain, Italy is regarded as a nation of craftsmen. It was only a matter of time before one of them turned to audio equipment, not counting those weird Galactron goodies of yore, and I couldn't wait to see what the children of Leonardo and Cellini and Michaelangelo would do with aluminium faceplates and/or wooden boxes. My first taste of Italian audio cuisine was the Sonus Faber Electa loudspeaker and I was not disappointed.
What knocked me out was the Electa's panache, the way it balanced every aspect of speaker performance in the same way that it addressed the speaker's physical presentation. The latter is so remarkable that the Electa's beautiful cabinetry overshadows its actual performance, the mouthwatering visuals being so striking that most Electas are probably sold on looks alone. Fortunately, the sounds delivered by what is, in reductio, nothing more than a fairly small two-way box are so utterly musical that any inherent weaknesses are rendered insignificant by its overall 'whole'. In other words, it's not just a pretty face.
Remember that the Electa, despite some minor chestiness and a rather brutal way of showing up the partnering power amplifiers, has the capability to swing with the music, to respond to the power of the music without breaking up (or breaking down) and it can deliver the high levels and a huge soundstage which belie its size. It is to other high-priced mini-monitors what Italian supercars are to German supercars. The former have soul, the latter have technical brilliance. And given the choice, I'd always opt for James Brown over James Last.
With this in mind, what on earth could Sonus Faber possibly offer with the Electa Amator? It differs mainly in details, the most obvious being its cabinet profile, with sloped rear baffle and
rear- rather than forward-firing port. The enclosure size of the Amator is 220x370x350 WHD to the Electa's 240x380x270 WHD, narrower, slightly shorter but a fair bit deeper. What gives away the identity of the dearer model is the sculpting around the mid/bass driver, which is too wide for the narrower baffle of the Amator.
In order to keep the Sonus Faber 'look' of curved edges, while at the same time trying to accommodate the 180mm driver as used in the Electa, the company cooked up some amazing woodworking techniques which curve the cabinet sides around the edges of the
driver. The result is a cabinet which bulges a third of the way up, and the grille frame has been shaped to compensate for this styling fillip. Under the grille, it's the same leather-clad
baffle, but now the speakers are arrayed vertically instead of offset. This is possible partly because of the relegation of the port to the rear and also by cutting away (as per the Electa) a
fair portion of the 28mm tweeter's surround plate to allow for close coupling of the woofer to the tweeter. Given the two drivers used by Sonus Faber for this design, there's no way to
set the centres of the drivers any closer together unless they suddenly merge to become a coaxial.
Although the drivers have the same dimensions and near-identical appearance as those used in the Electa, they differ in a number of ways. The mid/bass drivers' cones have been treated with a carbon/acrylate coating to decrease resonance and improve linearity, and the drivers are matched in pairs to ridiculously close tolerances at the factory. For the upper frequencies, Sonus Faber has unearthed a new, special driver dubbed the T330D Esotar, originally created by Dynaudio for the professional market. This 28mm dome tweeter is built to zero-tolerance and costs Sonus Faber L.1,000,000 per pair, or roughly #480 at today's exchange rates, just for the tweeters. The speakers arrive with a protective wire construct in front of the tweeter
which can be removed for those prepared to eliminate this insurance policy in favour of slight sonic gains.
As with the Electa, the Amator is supplied ready for bi-wiring, with easily-removed gold-plated links connecting the four gold five-way binding posts. As before, the owner is treated to solid
Brazilian hardwood and Italian walnut, handcrafted to form an aesthetically pleasing, non-resonant cabinet weighing 15kg; it smacks of fine furniture as much as it does of hi-fi. Sensitivity is high at 88dB for 1W at 1m, and the company recommends amplifiers in the 30-200W range. Sonus Faber specifies the frequency response as 45-30kHz, +/-3.0dB, and the impedance is a safe 8 ohms. But don't think for one minute that this speaker will work will with mid-fi amplification.