Sonus faber is probably best-known for its ultra-high-end Reference line, which includes the coveted Aida speakers ($130,000 per pair). But in recent history, the company has begun to direct its efforts more aggressively toward the more affordable end of market, starting with the very successful, but now retired, Venere and Chameleon lines.
The company's current entry level is the Sonetto line (reviewed last year), and a step up from there you'll find the redesigned Olympica series, now dubbed Olympica Nova. This series includes seven speakers, starting with the Nova I bookshelf at $7,000 per pair, which includes a two-way driver configuration with a 28mm tweeter and a 150mm cone driver. Floorstanding models start with the Nova II (the subject of this review) which at $10,000/pair adds one 180mm woofer to the aforementioned driver configuration. The Nova III ($14,000/pair) and Nova V ($16,500/pair) add, respectively, one and two more 180mm woofers over and above the Nova II complement, and cabinets get incrementally larger (although not significantly so) as you climb upwards in the line. Additionally, the series includes two center channels and a compact on-wall speaker for home theater purposes.
All of the Olympica Nova speakers feature a number of advancements borrowed from their more premium stablemates, including cabinetry assembled using eight layers of bended wood (as in their Homage Tradition series), as well as the damped apex dome (DAD) tweeter. True to the company's heritage, the cabinets are curved and stained, reminiscent of the classical stringed instruments that inspired the design. Of course, I would be remiss to not mention the inclusion of the classic elastic string grilles that are iconic to the Sonus faber brand.
At 68.3 pounds, the Olympica Nova II is substantial, but still manageable enough to wrangle out of the box and set up in my listening room. In handling the pair, the first thing I noticed was the quality and sturdiness of their construction. Exemplified by the hand-finished, natural-wood front baffle to the aluminum casing holding the cabinet together that dovetails into a fanned port at the back of the speaker. Called the Stealth Ultraflex, this intricate port system weaves a series of ducts or channels into the cabinet design. Sonus faber likens them to a "sea wave" profile. The supports were completely redesigned in this series, using solid aluminum bottom plates and sitting on steel spikes for extra sturdiness and stability. Everything about the design signals class and refinement, especially the fine stiches of Italian leather, hand applied around the rings of the woofers. I placed the speakers where I normally have my floorstanding front right and left channels and aimed them at my listening position for best results as suggested by the included manual.
Using Wireworld Silver Eclipse cables, I connected the speakers to my Krell Chorus 5200XD amplifier. It's the amplifier I use most with my reference Salk Soundscape 12 speakers, which, like the Sonus fabers, are also lower-sensitivity and four-ohm nominal impedance speakers. My primary source for discs and streaming alike was my Sony UBP-X1000ES 4K Blu-ray player. An Anthem AVM 60 processor provided processing and preamplification.
Over the years, I've had extensive listening sessions with Sonus faber speakers at various audio shows, but this was my first time auditioning a pair in my own listening space.
I started my in-depth testing with The Dark Knight movie soundtrack (CD, Warner Bros.). I first listened in two-channel mode sans subwoofer. Hans Zimmer's orchestral tracks came through beautifully, with a very natural sweetness to the entire midrange. What stood out especially were some of the lines with violin and cello solos, which were rendered masterfully with a rich, full bloom. On the high end, the DAD tweeters made some of the score's repetitive scraping noises sound natural, and with an astonishingly high degree of clarity. (Zimmer used various metal objects to scrape against natural instruments as rhythm background to some of the tracks – I won't try to guess what he used on what.) In contrast with other speakers I've heard that rely on exotic metals in their tweeter designs, the high end was crystal clear on the Olympica Nova II speakers but didn't have that extra tingle or sparkle to the sound. Mid bass was tight and full; however, when it came to the kick drums and some other elements from the lowest registers, the tracks were missing that extra thump.
To give the Olympica Nova IIs a bit of extra support at the bottom end, I added my SVS PC-13 Ultra subwoofer to the mix, with a crossover frequency of 60Hz – high enough to support the Olympica Nova II speakers where their response would begin to fade out but not so high as to hog any glory from them. Once I did this, all seemed right with the world again. With the subwoofer added, a feeling of depth and evenness was added back to the bass. Sticking with orchestral music, I popped in Rachmaninoff Plays Rachmaninoff: The 4 Piano Concertos (CD, RCA). The piano sounded just gorgeous on the Sonus fabers. The speakers were very dynamic and played the dramatic notes with wonderful immediacy and precision. No surprises here.
Switching over to vocals, I cued up the track "Rise Up" by Andra Day from her Cheers to the Fall album (CD, Warner). Frankly, I was astounded by the clarity delivered by speakers. I heard every bit of the raspy texture of Day's voice and felt like my ear got moved right in front of Day's microphone. It made for quite an immersive experience. The Sonus faber speakers performed with similar aplomb with regards to all other female and male vocal material I threw at it.
Next up, I threw in some techno with one of my favorites, the Random Access Memories album by Daft Punk (CD, Sony). Again, the Olympica Nova II speakers attacked these tracks with the same neutral attitude and high level of precision and accuracy. While nothing was lacking sonically, there was something a little different in the presentation than I have heard from other speakers in its class. Digging through my listening notes from my time with the Paradigm Persona speakers, for instance, I noted that while the Paradigm speakers gave me the feeling of being in a club-like atmosphere, the Sonus faber speakers didn't. Much of this probably had to do with the extra sparkle the Paradigms had around the high end and the way they seemed to add a little emphasis to the synthesizers. With the Sonus fabers, presentation was more matter-of-fact, without any particular element of the mix being given a little extra spotlight. It's important to note, I'm not trying to say one way is better or worse; simply that there's a difference in presentation.
On to some video material. On my streaming list was the hit series, The Umbrella Academy. (Netflix). The series centers around the seven adopted siblings, all with superhuman powers, trained by their stoic, adoptive father to fight crime and save the world. One of the main heroes, Vanya Hargreeves, played by Academy Award-winning actress Ellen Page, is a concert violinist and uses the violin to control her power to harness sound waves. As expected, the Olympica Nova II speakers masterfully reproduced Vanya's violin solos, and dialogue was as natural as can be.
Gunfire, explosions, and high-octane action were all presented with great clarity, although I've heard other speakers make these sound a little more realistic. For example, bullet fire sounded slightly hollow or thin with the Sonus fabers. At no point did this detract from enjoying the film, but there are some competitive speakers out there that focus on this kind of stuff just a little more.
With the spy series Jack Ryan (Amazon Prime) I experienced more of the same, although this series does feature a significant number of quiet, whisper level conversations. And here I was amazed by how deftly the Sonus fabers were able to handle these scenes with such great clarity.
It's always challenging to point out the faults in a speaker that performs at this level. And I will say it unequivocally, from a sonic standpoint, at least, there is nothing the Olympica Nova II does objectively wrong, especially with music. Yet, no speaker – or any piece of equipment in any category for that matter – excels equally in every respect. There are some areas where the Sonus faber speakers excel far above their peers at the same price point, but then there are areas where they perform merely as expected for a pair of speakers costing $10,000. First off, as my colleague Bob Barrett did with the Sonetto III speakers, I'm going to quibble about the binding posts. The positive and negative posts are configured the opposite of most speakers, which could be an issue if your speaker cables are oriented for the positive connector to be on the right side. In my case, I was prepared for that because I'd consulted the fairly straightforward manual before making my connections.
Secondly, let's talk about the soundstage presentation. The Olympica Nova IIs never failed to deliver a fully pressurized room whether with music or film/TV soundtracks, even with the most demanding material. However, some speakers give the illusion of a soundstage that exceeds the physical confinements of your listening space, especially on superhero films and TV shows with wide panning action sequences. I will just say that the Sonus fabers did not present this way. I also encountered this on a few orchestral samples recorded in large venues. I didn't quite get the same sense of space I've heard from comparable speakers in this class. Putting this simply, if your preference leans toward a massive, expansive, super-sized soundstage, these may not be the speakers for you.
Finally, the Olympica Nova II will not work optimally with every system. Low frequency extension is limited to 40Hz, which means you will need the help of a subwoofer or two to capture everything in the audible range. That is probably more important for TV and film selections than for music, but still, it is something that needs to be considered. Also, with a four-ohm nominal impedance rating and an 88dB sensitivity rating, these speakers will need to be carefully paired with the right amplifier. This isn't the sort of speaker you want to attempt to drive with a bottom-shelf, mass-market AV receiver, nor a flea-watt audiophile tube amp.
Certainly, $10,000 is no small sum for a pair of speakers. Still, this price point is within the realm of what a typical, middle-class audiophile might spend, and the competition is quite stiff. There also are a number of options at lower price points that deliver a high level of performance. Sonus faber's own Sonetto series are a great example. And if you happen to be a C-level executive in a Fortune 500 company, or an A-list Hollywood celebrity, spending more would get you even closer to that perfect speaker.
But at this price point, you're likely shopping around for something like the Paradigm Persona 3F (reviewed here). I also spent some time with its bigger brother, the Persona 5F a while back. Like the Olympica Nova II, the Persona 3F doesn't quite capture the lowest registers, with low-frequency extension limited to 48Hz. In addition, the Persona 3F will not be able to quite match how smooth and natural classical instruments, especially stringed instruments, sound on the Sonus faber. But then again, I doubt many speakers can at this price point. The Persona 3F's Beryllium tweeters provide a little bit more sparkle to the high end, which is not to say it is better in that regard, but just a different take on how to present high-frequency sounds. I do, however, feel the Paradigm Persona series presents a larger, fuller, more open soundstage versus the Sonus faber. And I find the Paradigm to be a little more adept at movie and TV sound.
Another good candidate would be the Focal Kanta No. 2 speakers (reviewed here). I haven't really spent a significant amount of time auditioning these, but my colleague Greg Handy gives them high marks.
Some of you may be of the opinion that at $10,000 per pair, one should not need to sacrifice low frequency response for midrange and high frequency performance. In that case, I might recommend the Revel Performa F228Be (reviewed here). Like the Paradigm Persona speakers, these use Beryllium tweeters and will similarly sparkle at their high frequencies. Revel speakers have a very strong reputation for home theater performance, if that's what you're aiming for.
There's a lot to love with the Sonus faber Olympica Nova II. With its detailed highs and rich, full midrange, vocals and acoustic music were picture perfect. For two-channel music listening, especially if your tastes lean toward classical, jazz, vocals, or other instrumentals, the Olympica Nova II is almost unrivaled at this price point. Pop in a disc or load up a file, and it's as close to getting a jazz quartet or a chamber music group auditioning in your own listening room as you could hope for. For home theater purposes, the Sonus faber speakers clearly more than hold their own, although they're not quite the star performer in this arena as they are with music.
While it's true that speaker technology probably advances a little more slowly as compared with preamplifiers (just think how much auto room calibration has advanced in recent years), source devices, and such, speakers have been getting better and better for decades. And, more importantly, high-end performance continues to trickle down-market, which is a good thing for consumers. The Sonus faber Olympica Nova II speakers represent a level of performance that 10 years ago – maybe even five – would have cost twice or thrice their asking price. Provided your listening space is not exceedingly large, and you do have one or two good subwoofers to support, I do not hesitate to recommend the Sonus faber Olympica Nova II speakers.
• Visit the Sonus faber website for more product information.
• Check out our Floorstanding Speakers category page to read similar reviews.
• "Is It Live or Is It Memorex?" Sonus faber Style at HomeTheaterReview.com.