It was Franco Serblin's burning desire to thank the great violin makers of Cremona. He chose to do it with a range of speakers bearing their names. But maybe it was also the challenge of following the Extrema. Or perhaps it was time for a stylistic change to keep the clonemakers jumping. More likely, all three combined at the right time to inspire Serblin to move Sonus Faber another step ahead of the competition. That's because nobody expected the Guerneri Homage, nor anything like it. Not its sound, not its styling. Guarneri Homage is the beginning of Sonus Faber, Phase 2, or Sonus Faber: The Second Decade. And it leaves all others in the dust. To say nothing, though, about the Amati and Stradivarius models to follow...
So what's the significance of this? That digging into the past just might have resulted in the wisest rethink of high-end speakers this decade?
Producing speakers to commemorate the works of the greatest instrument makers of all time is a perilous task. They must be of the same standard as the works of art they're intended to honour; if not, then they fail to serve their purpose. So what do you do? Produce a speaker which makes everything sound like it's being played on said instrument? God forbid that anyone should ever create a speaker in honour of the glockenspiel...
Appropriately, Serblin has managed to endow the Guarneri Homage with the many of qualities of the very violins it honours, and not just visually. To make this point hit home, those of us lucky enough to have attended the world launch in Cremona got to hear a solo performance on a Guarneri, just in case we didn't know what a real one could do.
The whole project is steeped in 'authenticity', perfect for celebrating Giuseppe Guarneri's achievements during the 250th anniversary of his death. The cabinet's cross-section, the view from the top so to speak, is the same as that of a lute. The result? A flat front baffle but curved sides resulting in an interior without parallel side walls to minimise unwanted standing wives...just like a violin. In keeping with both Guarneri and Sonus Faber traditions, the woodwork is exceptional, the cabinet consisting of 42 individual, solid, handsawn sections of walnut, maple and limewood, all the pieces having been naturally slow-dried for two years and stabilised in kilns. Age-old methods have been employed in the construction, including the use of materials such as natural dyes and organic glues throughout: oliban, copal gum, propolis, Venetian larch turpentine, linseed oil, wine alcohol, gamboge. No, I haven't heard of half of those materials either, but, damn, it's one evocative litany -- could be a shopping list for the Magi or the contents of Bilbo Baggins' tool chest. The sectional bonding is completed with heat pressing techniques used centuries ago for violin making.
Tuning of the cabinet has been accomplished with proprietary sheet copper and lead tuning elements which damp the interior walls of the speaker. The back section, which contains the port and the terminals for bi-wiring, is fashioned from a single block of solid limewood. All together, this forms an absolutely gorgeous piece of fine furniture measuring 380mm tall, 190mm wide and 375mm deep. And the picture is completed by the stand, which continues the 'strings' motif of the grille. Yes, the idea of a single piece of foam or cloth has been abandoned for this model; instead a row of elasticated strings running top to bottom reminds you of violins. And, no, the strings don't 'play along with the music', as one wag suggested.
Much though I'd rather stick to the purist notion of sound uber alles, I cannot undervalue the importance of the looks and the finish. Of all the many speakers I've had in my studio, of all the speakers I've seen at shows, the Guarneri Homage has elicited more sighs of lust than any other I can name. It is, without question, the least likely speaker to antagonise the traditional enemies of hi-fi, eg interior designers and house-proud wives. I have no doubt that they, too, will get caught up in the Guarneri Homage mythology, their cocktail party banter moving toward delicious trivia like, 'Did you know that pair No 001 is in Cremona's Salon of Violins?', or 'You do realise that this finish consists of no less than 10 coats of varnish, hand-sanded between each application?' Not precious enough for you? Add into the conversation, as you puff your pipe or sip your Armanac, that the wood was prepared for finishing with a sealing coat of albumin, or that the final polishing consisted manual effort using felt and oil, with a final buffing stage producing the mirror finish. In terms of mystique, snob value, class, sex-appeal, prestige -- call it what you will -- no other hi-fi product I can name even comes close. This is, without question, the first to ooze glamour.
Inside, Guarneri Homage employs carefully chosen components fine-tuned for the application. The 5.5in mid/bass driver is proprietary, with extra attention having been paid to the voice coil and the surround air gap to prevent compression. The tweeter? This is a silk dome with its own acoustic chamber cut from solid maple, said to possess the lowest resonance ever recorded. Both drivers are subject to long run-in periods before being mounted to the sculpted baffle to ensure optimal performance. The crossover is a modified 6db/octave design with inductors incorporating silk-wrapped Litz wire and all the crossover's individual components were chosen by ear as well as measurement for maximum transparency.
Other details? The stands bring the speakers up to chest height, they weigh enough to make you grunt and they're fitted to chunky slabs of the same granite-like material used for the stone/wood stands for the other Sonus Faber models. The binding posts accept all types of connector, and it's interesting to note that one set is gold-plated, the other au naturel. (This amused me no end because it confirmed my musings/findings a few years ago when I was short two identical pairs of banana plugs, and mixed gold with nickel -- gold for '+' and nickel for '-'. )Read more about the Guerneri on Page 2.