There is no doubt about one thing: the evolutionary step between the Guarneri Homage and the Guarneri Memento is as distinct and impressive as that between any other world-class technical product after a 13-year lifespan: cars, cameras, you name it. The trick was not losing the virtues that made the original so desirable.
This may sound contradictory, but if you have a pair of the originals, don't feel compelled to change them. They're still magnificent, and I intend to use mine until the driver cones decompose. But if you want to own the best-looking small speaker ever made, which just happens to sound as amazing as it looks, turn your eyes toward Italy. Sonus faber has done it again. And despite the 600-pound gorilla in the catalogue called "Stradivari," the Guarneri Memento just may be the best all-round speaker they've made to date.
If this review had appeared in December, I would have stolen a seasonal Chanukah refrain that states "A great miracle happened here." Not only has Sonus faber improved its 14-year-old masterpiece in every way, it's managed to lower, in real terms, the retail price! You don't need an accountant's math skills to understand that 5500 in 1993 vs. 6500 in the present is a serious price reduction. I've always loved the Guarneri. Now I positively adore it.
Sonus faber Philosophy and History
Franco Serblin's stroke of genius back in 1993 - since proven to be a viable direction for Sonus faber rather than a cul-de-sac like the fascinating Extrema - was to marry high-tech and centuries-old luthier skills to speaker building. While sound came first, and the Guarneri Homage proved that a speaker under 400mm tall could deliver genuine bass and a true sense of scale, the industry-shaking element was its styling. Debate still rages as to who produced the first "boat-tailed," tapered-rear, box-type speaker, but there's no doubt that it was the Guarneri that put it on the map.
As a result, it was proven that amazing sound could issue forth from gorgeous enclosures, more in keeping with fine furniture than geekware. Even the grille design - a row of strands continued down the front of the dedicated stand, recalling violin strings - has been employed by rivals, both with and without Sonus faber's blessings.
But Sonus faber always stayed one step ahead and each successive model, named after a Cremonese luthier, upped the ante, culminating in the astounding Stradivari. Like the Guarneri, it was copied within mere months of its launch. But fancy woodwork isn't enough: the Homage models are tuned by and for the most critical ears in the business. Serblin has stayed true to the original Homage concept, and it is with delicious irony that the smaller Guarneri Memento has raised the bar higher still. Roll on CES, and the first public hearing of the "baby" Stradivari.