Italy is internationally recognized for its rich culture of craftsmanship and artisanal skills. Brands like Ferrari, Ducati, Gucci, and Armani immediately come to mind. And in the world of high-end loudspeakers, it is Sonus faber that should be first and foremost in your thoughts in this regard. Since being acquired by the McIntosh Group about ten years ago, the Italian loudspeaker manufacturer has been branching out with its product offerings, evolving from its former reputation as a boutique ultra-high-end speaker manufacturer as it attempts to reach a broader audience.
This year represents the 35th year in business for Sonus faber, and to mark the milestone, the company recently introduced the Sonetto line of loudspeakers. Designed as an affordable alternative to the more expensive Olympica line, and as a replacement for the Venere line (which was manufactured in China), Sonetto is now the least expensive Sonus faber speaker line, yet it's still made in Vicenza, Italy. And that "Made in Italy" label is protected by Italian law to include only products that are totally made within the borders of the country, including the planning, manufacturing, and packaging of the product.
HomeTheaterReview.com publisher Jerry Del Colliano was invited to preview the Sonetto collection at a unique launch event hosted by Sonus faber and its parent company in Kansas City this summer. He came away impressed enough to line up review samples of the Sonetto III floorstander and asked me if I was interested. At the time I was reviewing the B&W 702 S2 floorstanders and so it was an opportunity for a little side-by-side comparison of two similarly priced three-way designs.
Although the Sonetto line was designed with music listening in mind, Sonus faber didn't forget about the home theater customer. The eight models of the Sonetto collection are comprised of three floorstanders, two bookshelves, two center channels, and one on-wall model, with prices for the collection ranging from $848 to $3,249 each. The Sonus faber Sonetto III, the subject of this review, is the smallest of the three floorstanders and is priced at $3,999 per pair. And by the time this article is published, Sonus faber will have introduced two complementary subwoofers to the Sonetto collection. The Gravis I and Gravis II subwoofers will enable a cohesive look no matter what speaker configuration is desired.
With a nominal impedance rating of 4 ohms and sensitivity of 89 dB, I didn't expect the Sonetto IIIs to be too difficult to drive. The reported frequency response is 42 Hz to 25,000 Hz. During the design phase, Sonus faber decided to implement its patented Paracross topology in the Sonetto's crossover network, with crossover frequencies of 220 and 3,250 Hz. This anti-resonant crossover design is claimed to provide impedance compensation at low frequencies for easier amplifier performance and is the same technology used in their more expensive lines. Sonus faber's Chief of Acoustic Research & Development Paolo Tesson says, "It's a feature which allows for a better contrast in music reproduction."
Unpacking the triple-boxed Sonetto IIIs, I was immediately struck by their clean industrial design and exquisite fit and finish. My review pair (SN 00004) came with a high-gloss piano black finish with terrific depth, which requires several layers of hand rubbed, clear coat lacquer to achieve. Additional available finishes include a gorgeous satin white and a wenge wood option.
The cabinet has the now familiar Sonus faber lute (teardrop) shape, eliminating any parallel walls to prevent any internal resonance issues. The Sonettos share the "Voice of Sonus faber" combination of a 29-millimeter damped apex dome (DAD) tweeter and a 150-millimeter midrange driver. The midrange driver is constructed of Sonus faber's proprietary natural cone formula, including air-dried cellulose and other natural fibers. The DAD tweeter is claimed to reduce distortion, extend upper frequencies, and provide better off-axis performance. This technology was previously only available in their costlier Reference, Homage Tradition, and Olympica lines.
There are also two 150-millimeter aluminum alloy cone woofers beneath the midrange driver. Both the midrange and woofer transducers are new designs. According to Sonus faber, the new woofer was designed to deliver fast, tight, and extended bass. All the Sonetto floorstander and bookshelf models have an integrated bass reflex design, with a 2.75-inch diameter bottom port designed to direct sound forward toward the listener. This design solution is intended to achieve extended bass response while maintaining a cleaner design and providing for easier room placement.
The front baffle is fully integrated into the curved sidewalls, forming a seamless cabinet. The top is covered in soft, black leather embossed with the company logo. The Sonetto derives its clean, industrial aesthetic from the gunmetal finished aluminum rings that frame the drivers and the substantially sized solid aluminum spikes. There are magnetically attached grills included, but in my opinion the speakers are better looking without them. There are two sets of upscale, satin-finished binding posts on the back, adding bi-wiring and bi-amping options.
While I could tell immediately upon unboxing that the Sonettos were a bit smaller than the B&W 702 S2s, I was particularly surprised by the difference in weight. The Sonetto III weighs just 35.2 pounds, compared to 65 pounds for the heavily braced B&W 702 S2. For someone who needs to move speakers frequently, this was a blessing. At the same time, I wondered about their ability to control resonance. The speaker cabinet itself measures 38.75 inches tall by 8.5 inches wide by 11 inches deep. The advertised measurements consider the outrigger feet, spikes, and the binding posts, bumping the overall dimensions to 40 inches tall by 9 inches wide by 12 inches deep. That's still a couple of inches shy of both the B&W's cabinet height and depth measurements.
I initially connected the Sonetto IIIs to my family room system to run them in for a couple of weeks with daily television audio. In this system, the Sonettos were being driven by the 150 watts-per-channel Denon AVR-X8500H receiver, which provided more than enough power. Afterwards I moved the speakers upstairs to my dedicated media room to begin some critical evaluation. I placed the speaker baffles five feet out from the front wall and about seven and one-half feet apart. Foregoing the bi-wiring and bi-amping options, I connected a single run of WireWorld speaker cable from a Classé CA-5300 amplifier. I used a Classé CP-800 preamp with an Apple Mac Mini connected as my music server. Streaming sources included Tidal HiFi as well as QoBuz (available Fall 2018 in the U.S.) for higher resolution music streaming. For all physical media, I used an Oppo UDP-205 universal disc player. I experimented a bit with speaker placement but found the Sonettos not to be finicky in that regard. I returned them to the position where they started off for critical listening.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...