Considering the hefty price tag of #2250, I had no qualms about auditioning the Amators solely with high-end products. Front ends consisted of the Oracle Delphi Mk III and SME Series V tonearm with Audio-Technica AT-ART1 and Ken Chan Koetsu cartridges, the CAL Tempest SE CD and Marantz CD-12 players, the Audio Research SP-9 and SP-14 preamps and Aragon 4004, Radford MA50 and Beard P100 monoblock amplifiers. Wires included Master Link and MAS speaker cables, Lieder cables, as well as Mandrake and YFERE/YBLENT interconnects. The speakers were auditioned in a room large enough and dead enough to eliminate room acoustics as a variable. I sited the Sonus Fabers on Partington Dreadnought II stands, with Blu-tack above and spikes below.
Aging gracelessly, I'm becoming more and more stubborn about the
music to which I subject myself for at least 40 hours per week. Even
so, I forsook the soul music long enough to try the Amators with as
many genres as I could, beginning with a frighteningly lifelike
recording of the harpsichord (yes, sceptics, I have heard one up
close), Michel Keiner's performance of Bach's
Goldberg Variations on Associations Cercle Kallistos CK 1004. (This is a limited edition LP recorded with purist techniques, in collaboration with YBA of France.) Along with one or two
Sheffield Lab releases, it's one of the best 'lone instrument' recordings I've ever heard, even if it does make me want to don a powdered wig. What it showed about the 'super' tweeter in the
Amator is that the dearer speaker is even faster and cleaner than the Electa, and that its top end transparency with the grille in situ matches the Electa with the grille removed.
The 'speed' of this speaker is its most remarkable strength relative
to the dearer model, although the gains in bass performance were as I
expected. Everything that should sound
crisp has clean, smear-free edges to the notes, and the percussive aspects of that venerable keyboard were not compromised in the least. Moving to acoustic guitar recordings
showed the same strengths, with the added attraction of rich woody resonances, while a capella (the King's Singers in particular) showed an almost complete removal of the chestiness noted with the smaller Sonus Fabers.
Speaking of 'smaller', the dearer model's slimmer baffle resulted in even better imaging capability, especially in terms of image specificity. The lessening of reflections by shrinking the baffle is a well-known practice; with the Amator, it means that the Sonus system more closely approximates a point source than does its predecessors, and in this respect it seemed more like the dream I've harboured for so long: an LS3/5A with testicular fortitude.
What both the Amator and the less expensive Electa offer over all
other quality mini-monitors -- besides the finest cabinetry ever seen
on a hi-fi product -- is the ability to go loud, to rock
hard and to convey power without the listener ever knowing that the speaker is no bigger than the monitor on a PC. The LS3/5A -- even the new, improved version -- can't take the hammering you can dish out to the Sonus Fabers, always sounding like it's going to explode at any minute, while the SL700 simply gives up when driven to hard, sounding almost like a valve amp that's been asked to do too much. As for the WATT, well, I've already written many a word about how it's more of a reviewer's tool than a hi-fi product, so the comparisons aren't worthwhile until I try the Mk II, which is a far more 'universal' product. But for playback levels and sheer dynamics, the Amator is now the one to beat.
Ask any audiophile, though, what he or she wants out of a small
loudspeaker and they'll say 'bass' before they say 'level' or
'dynamics'. The Electa is good enough to satisfy all but those
who were weaned on IMFs or big Infinity systems; the Amator's extra 5Hz is enough to offer a perceptible gain in 'weight' on the kind of material able to inspire it. With Bang, Baroom and
Harp, it was possible to fool yourself into thinking that here was a speaker standing a lot taller than Danny Devito, with woofers the size of dinner plates. The long throw of the woofer,
the tuned port, the stone-dead cabinet and 400 watts' worth of Aragon or Beard power all combined to make the Amator the ultimate choice for the space-shy, bass-hungry audiophile
If there are grounds for complaint, it's only when you audition these side by side with some monster system like Divas, with seemingly infinite bass extension, or the WATTs themselves, which have yet to be matched, in my experience, for sheer precision in terms of image-shaping. The transparency, probably the best I've heard from a box with cones and domes, is exceeded by planar systems, but they are, invariably, more space-consuming, even if the footprint is tiny (eg Martin-Logan Sequels). So, forgetting about the non-box alternatives, we're left with what I think is simply the best all-round small box currently available, regardless of price. I can think of panel systems I'd prefer at the price or less, but no panel can sneak past the house-proud spouse the way this little beauty can. It's almost criminal that something this pretty can be this wonderful. I hate to put it in such a sexist manner, but I think I've found the hi-fi equivalent of a bimbo with brains. And I love it.