Rolling hills, a romantic hotel-cum-villa and perfect weather -- this setting for the launch of a speaker from Sonus Faber was somehow more appropriate than the chaos of a hi-fi show. The company had gathered together 25 journalists and distributors from all over Europe and the Far East for the unveiling of its new flagship, the Extrema.
If the name seems tongue-in-cheek, then put it down to a fine sense of humour. But the Extrema does live up to its name, and without any sense of irony. A small frontal area and gorgeous woodwork provide the family resemblance. Then you see the side view, deeper than any small monitor I can name. And the styling...a solid walnut lower half, a semi-gloss upper, with only one line parallel to the floor. Unlike speakers which are imposing because of size, the Extrema has sheer presence. And I'm not the only jaded hack who responded with a sharp intake of breath. So overwhelming was the first view that the presentation was held up while all assembled swarmed over the Extrema with cameras flashing. Madonna should have been as lucky at Cannes.
The Extrema will slug it out -- or duel, which seems more appropriate -- in the rarified sector which includes only the Wilson WATT (sans Puppy); I can think of no other small, dynamic-driver'd monitors with circa-6000 price tags. It measures 270x550x460mm (WDH) and weighs 40kg; the launch samples rested on the largest four-pillar stand in the Target catalogue.
At the front, it's classic Sonus Faber, with the costly 28mm Esotar T330/SF soft-dome tweeter virtually grafted to the 190mm woofer. But the woofer is a new, exotic driver made for Sonus Faber by Audio Technology of Denmark, featuring a 75mm voice coil and a woofer cone coated with carbonium-acrilate. The construction is exquisite, suggesting reliability, while power handling of 2kW for 10 milliseconds attests to unburstability.
Where the Extrema departs most from the existing models is in the inclusion of a rear-firing passive woofer -- the legendary KEF B139 -- which has user-adjustable damping through a five-position switch. This ensures optimum speaker/room interfacing and speaker/amp matching. Also introduced with the Extrema is a back mounted plate which provides the B139 with its own, fixed 'rear wall' and which eliminates problems from rear reflections.
But the most exciting development introduced with the Extrema is the crossover, which has no capacitors. Dubbed Sine CapPAT, the crossover is a first order type operating at 2kHz, with 6dB/octave slope. Bi-wiring/bi-amping is offered through gold-plated terminals.
Although specified as having a nominal 4 ohm impedance and 88dB/1W/1m sensitivity, the Extrema fully exploited two large Klimo Linnets and two Spectral amplifiers, in bi-amped mode at a demonstration held at Lorenzo Zen's Hi-Fi Studio in nearby Schio. Initial exposure revealed stunning imaging capabilities, superbly controlled bass and heart-stopping dynamics, but the full account will have to wait until our October issue, when we'll be publishing the world's first review.