Greg Handy developed a passion for audio in his early teens when he worked as an installer of car audio systems. This experience taught him about passive and active crossovers, subwoofers, and challenged acoustics, as well as how to troubleshoot persistent bugbears like ground loops and noise.
From there, his interests grew to home audio and home theater systems. Once he bought his own home, he began installing sound systems and theater systems in different rooms, spending much time and money along the way. It wasn't long before he began doing the same for friends and family, then sharing his passion for AV with the HomeTheaterReview.com audience.
Sonus faber, a speaker manufacturer with a 34-year heritage and now part of the McIntosh Group, is based in Arcugnano, Italy, where all design and manufacturing take place. I have heard numerous demos of Sonus faber products and have always come away impressed. I recall, at various audio shows and audio stores, appreciating their non-fatiguing, laid-back, organic sound. But those auditions were snapshot listening sessions, in unfamiliar settings. Lucky for me, I now had an opportunity at an extended audition period with the Il Cremonese ($45,000/pair) from Sonus faber's premium Reference line of speakers, which also includes the Aida ($120,000/pair) and Lilium ($70,000/pair). Sonus faber offers speaker lines at a wide variety of price points, including more entry-level products like the Chameleon B bookshelf speaker we reviewed last year.
In 2015, Sonus faber developed a 300-year tribute to Antonio Stradivari, the iconic Italian violin designer/craftsman, and his creation, the Cremonese violin, which he produced in 1715. To honor the famed luthier, Sonus faber produced the Il Cremonese speaker. Notable design cues give hint to the violin, such as speaker grilles that are an elaborate set of strings that reach from top to bottom on three sides of the speaker. It looks very cool. Two wood facets of the rhombus column have horizontal, three-inch-spaced black lines that further reinforce the violin theme.
Common for Sonus faber is the belief that speakers should be built with the same materials used in the manufacture of musical instruments--specifically, the violin and lute. As such, this speaker is described as a wood, five-sided rhombus or diamond-shaped column that features non-parallel cabinet walls, with a back-tilt posture. I could argue that it actually has six sides, since the rear of the speaker has a flattened three-inch-wide panel where the two rear larger sides meet, but that's just me being picky. For the purpose of this discussion, we can go with the five-sided narrative. A departure from the company's traditional all-wood design is an upward-angled top with a glass insert, and a horizontal plinth, both made of black anodized, CNC-machined aluminum that offers structural strength and vibration control. Sonus faber refers to the metal top and plinth as damper shelves, which assist in the quest to diminish (if not eliminate) distortion and increase linearity.
Exquisitely finished, decorative wood panels are attached on two sides of the five-sided structure, immediately to the right and left of the front speaker baffle. Sonus faber offers two finishes: high gloss natural or red stained walnut. I am partial to natural walnut, so I felt fortunate when my samples arrived in that finish. Not only are these panels' fit and finish amazing, but they also enhance the strength of the cabinet. The front baffle is home to the tweeter, midrange, and two bass drivers, surrounded by Italian leather upholstery.
The remaining two rear sides of the column are also covered in leather, and the outer side of each speaker is where two sub-bass drivers are positioned. These drivers are meant to face the sidewalls when you position the speakers in your room. The leather-finished surfaces get the aforementioned stringed speaker grilles. I was really torn between using the ingenious grilles or sticking with the luxurious leather. I ended up splitting my time between both options.
Sonus faber refers to its tweeter as an Arrow Point Damped Apex Dome, which is 28mm (1.1 inches) in diameter and handles the audio spectrum of 2,500 Hz and above. Designed by Sonus faber, the driver has a neodymium motor, which creates linearity. A mechanical interface helps decouple the tweeter from the cabinet; it sits in its own complicated maze-like wood enclosure, further enhancing its flat frequency response.
The midrange driver covers the bandwidth from 250 to 2,500 Hz, and it is another Sonus faber design using a neodymium magnet motor system. It is a 180mm (seven-inch) diameter driver with a natural fiber cone made from a mix of cellulose pulp, kapok (a cotton-like substance from the ceiba tree), kenaf (a jute-like fiber from the tropical mallow plant), and other natural fibers encased in a clear coating that has damping characteristics. The entire driver is isolated from the front baffle and sits in its own acoustic chamber within the cabinet structure.
Twin 180mm (seven-inch) bass drivers, located just below the midrange driver, are given the frequencies from 250 down to 80 Hz, and they are constructed with an advanced foam core material and flanked by cellulose pulp outer shells. These drivers are of a long-throw motor design, and they share a reflex structure ported underneath the plinth. Special attention was given to ensure perfect blending with the midrange driver while retaining high definition and detail in the bass audio spectrum.
Sonus faber calls the sub-bass drivers "Infra Woofers"; as you might guess, they handle the frequencies below 80 Hz and represent the ".5" in the Il Cremonese's 3.5-way design. These drivers measure 220mm (8.7 inches) in diameter and are located in the lower portion of the outer rear surface of the five-sided column. With the same cone structure as the woofers, they blend well with one another. Continuing the theme of the other drivers, these sub-bass woofers are in their own reflex enclosure, which is ported underneath the plinth.
The crossover design goals are to improve volume and phase response in order to improve time delays, using the highest quality Mundorf capacitors and Jantzen inductors. The low-frequency impedance management creates an improved amplifier load.
Each speaker has four oversized spike structures on the bottom that use an updated version of Sonus faber's Zero Vibration Transmission (Z.V.T.) technology. Made of metal and synthetic polymers, the spikes are threaded into the plinth and decouple the speaker from the floor. If spikes are not appropriate for your flooring, Sonus faber provides protective, machined-aluminum discs upon which the spikes can sit. Four heavy-gauge speaker terminals allow for bi-wiring or bi-amplification.
The frequency response of the entire system is 25 Hz to 35,000 kHz, with an average impedance of four ohms. Sensitivity is 92 dB, indicating that the speaker is amplifier-friendly; however, Sonus faber recommends at least 100 watts per channel, but no more than 800 watts per channel. Note that the average impedance suggests that, on occasion, the speaker could create a lower load, which demands a high-quality amplifier.
At 57 inches tall, 15.68 inches wide, 24.5 inches deep, and 185 pounds, the Il Cremonese commands your immediate attention and will not go unnoticed.
The speakers arrived in a wooden crate, with the bottom side being a pallet to which both speaker columns were bolted. Each speaker has a reusable fabric bag. A one-piece foam crown connects and surrounds both speakers. Four walls and a top connect to each other with screws to form the rectangular wooden crate. My demonstration speakers were not new, but they were still in excellent condition--a real testament to their packaging.
I installed the Sonus faber speakers in my living room, replacing my existing Vienna Acoustics Schonberg speakers for the left and right channels of a surround sound system. I retained the existing center and left/right surrounds, which are also part of the Vienna Acoustics Schonberg line. I set my MartinLogan BalancedForce 210 subwoofer to play 80 Hz and below. At the time of this installation, I was working with a new two-channel amplifier from Bryston: the 14B3, rated at 600 watts per channel at four ohms--a perfect complement to the Il Cremonese. An NAD M27 powered the remaining channels, and an NAD M17 surround sound processor controlled the entire system. I used an Oppo BDP-105D for Blu-ray playback and VUDU movie streaming. I also streamed CD-quality TIDAL through a MacBook Pro, using the Chrome browser.
Once everything was connected, I performed a calibration to balance the new speakers. However, for the MacBook Pro input, I set my processor to its pass-through setting to leave the signal untouched.
I began my evaluation using the song "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman (Elektra), streamed over TIDAL. Vocals were a standout, displaying an enormous amount of texture and detail. Upper-frequency clarity was natural, with excellent intelligibility. The midrange had weight but was non-fatiguing. Bass was deep, but with the fine detail to reveal subtle variations in the recorded music. The depth and width of the soundstage, along with the imaging, were remarkable. Never have I heard such vast amounts of subtle detail, with such fine nuance and differentiation of instrumentation, in my living room.
I moved on to an acoustic guitar version of "Stairway to Heaven" by Rodrigo y Gabriela (Because Music). The normal finger screeching that I commonly hear as musicians move their hand up and down the neck of their guitar was now either non-existent or at least very subtle. The acoustic guitars had detail and a natural flair that sounded authentic. In this track, most bass was that of the musicians using the body of the guitar as a drum, and it sounded as such: revealing detail in the midrange and upper bass registers.
I had to experience Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli through these Italian speakers. The song "Con Te Partiro" (Polydor GmbH) sounded impressive. The speakers reproduced Bocelli's voice with such realism, revealing the subtle vocal inflections with detail and finesse, along with the dynamics of an orchestra in the background. The violins maintained detail and clarity, while imaging was wide and deep.
I spent some time adjusting the speaker placement to see what produced the best performance. What worked best in my room was to place the speakers about 7.5 feet apart, slightly toed in, and about 3.5 feet from rear wall. I suspect that I could have pulled the speakers even farther off the wall, but my room has its constraints. During my extended time with the speakers, I played various artists of different genres. The speakers proved to handle a variety of music incredibly well. One common theme was that the forefront or leading audio--whether instrumental or vocal--seemed to float out in front of the soundstage, with fantastic imaging. I tried to find something that these speakers did not do well, but I could not. They made bad recordings that I love sound better.
Since I integrated the speakers into my existing surround sound system, of course I watched a few movies during my time with them. One film that left an impression was F8: The Fate of the Furious (Universal). This movie has plenty of dialogue, as well as big action scenes. In the first action scene of the movie, a car race begins through the streets of Cuba. The sound of small black V-8 engines roaring and echoing through tight roads surrounded my seating position. The reach of the speakers extended farther to the left and right, creating a clearer connection to the surround speakers, than with my Vienna Acoustics speakers. Of course I would prefer a center speaker from the Sonus faber family, but the Vienna Acoustic center sounded just fine, merging well with its Italian neighbors to the left and right.
At first, I had the processor set to send frequencies 80 Hz and below to the subwoofer, and it worked well. But given the low-frequency capability of the Il Cremonese, I changed the setting to send the right and left speakers a full-range signal, picking up the low-frequency effects for the entire system. The speakers did not disappoint. For example, during the same movie, the character Dominic Toretto sets off an electro-magnetic pulse generator, sending a progressively stronger and deeper frequency that really digs deep into the sub-bass category. The Sonus fabers communicated the effect with detail and depth that you could feel. I could live with this setup sans subwoofer, and I believe there was an inherit benefit of having the sub-bass frequency drivers in front of me. However, as time went on I began to think that home theater buffs may still benefit from a dedicated powered subwoofer for those occasional times when the deepest of the deep bass frequencies appear. I can't say for sure, but my hunch is that, if I bi-amplified the speakers, they would hang with the finest subwoofers. If these speakers were mine, I'd definitely dig a little deeper into my pocket and bi-amplify them. Imagine twin Bryston 14B3 amps, one located behind each Il Cremonese, with four short speaker cables to each speaker. Unfortunately, I did not have the hardware to test this theory.
In the movie Rogue One (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures), there were many scenes with deep bass demands. The Sonus faber speakers continued to handle the lower frequencies just fine, and with great detail. Definition was present in the lower-frequency range without being muddy, creating a realistic sound effect. For example, I don't know what a Death Star planet-destroying weapon should sound like; but, when the weapon was deployed, it was deep, authoritative, and all-around convincing.
These speakers are large and may not be optimal for all room types. Additionally, they do require some distance from the rear wall, due to the rear and bottom porting. A larger room is definitely where these speakers belong.
Comparison and Competition
As you can imagine, there are some formidable competitors at this price point. The Magico S5 Mk.II ($38,000 to $42,750) comes to mind. Like Sonus faber, Magico puts a strong focus on cabinet bracing, rigidity, and structure, but the company tackles the issue in a different way: with metal cabinets and bracing. While I have not had an extended experience with the S5, my recollection from a CES demonstration was what they are impressive.
The Focal Scala Utopia III Evo is an upcoming model that is worth considering.
I would have to give the B&W 800 D3 ($30,000/pair) an audition before pulling the trigger on any speaker purchase at this price level, based on the performance I heard from the previous 800 D2 model.
Sonus faber's Il Cremonese is an astonishing speaker. I was very impressed with its performance. Imaging is wide and deep. The speaker is articulate without being overly analytical and fatiguing. Balance is another strong characteristic, along with excellent dynamic range, clarity, and detail. Of course, these attributes are to be expected at this price level. What really sets this speaker apart is its ability to communicate the most subtle and delicate differences in pitch, inflection, and tone. If there is one word to describe the Il Cremonese, it's finesse.
Obviously a $45,000 speaker pair isn't for everyone, and some may question whether any speaker at this price point is worth the cost, given all the excellent competition that exists at much lower price points. Clearly this speaker is about more than just audio. The Il Cremonese is a work of art, a sculpture that will be noticed and commented upon. Not all speakers have such charisma, and it comes at a cost. If you are in the market for speakers at this performance level and price, you absolutely must audition and see this speaker for yourself.
• Check out our Floorstanding Speakers category page to read similar reviews.
• Visit the Sonus faber website for more product information.
• Sonus faber Launches Il Cremonese Loudspeaker at HomeTheaterReview.com.