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.
I started off the evaluation listening to several jazz artists, including the title track from Tony Bennett's and Diana Krall's duet album Love Is Here To Stay (Verve Label Group) streamed from QoBuz in 24 Bit / 96 kHz. The Bill Charlap Trio provide the musical accompaniment for the vocals of Bennett and Krall on this album. This track is well recorded and provided a good opportunity to compare the Sonettos to the B&W 702 S2s in their ability to reproduce vocals and instruments.
At the upper end, the Sonettos drew a little less attention to the bit of grit evident in Bennett's voice in recent years than the B&Ws, although it was still there. Being a bit more forgiving, I found the sound to be more pleasing to the ear. There was also a bit less shimmer to Kenny Washington's brushes striking the drums through the Sonettos, but they still sounded quite natural. The sound was just highlighted more with the B&Ws, as though the drum kit was placed a bit more forward within the soundstage than with the Sonettos.
Placement of instruments and vocals within the acoustic space was rock solid through the Sonettos. The soundstage extended just beyond the width of the speakers. I've listened to Diana Krall perform live numerous times and was reminded of those performances while listening to her breathy voice and characteristic phrasing being so accurately reproduced by the Sonettos. These speakers hit the proverbial nail on the head in capturing her characteristic vocal.
Turning up the volume, Peter Washington's bass notes provided a nice vibration to the room. Quiet passages in the song were inky black. The piano sounded so alive and natural, with overtones just seeming to be suspended in midair. I know it's a clich, but the Sonettos made it seem more like I was in the studio listening to Bennett and Krall lay down this track than listening through a pair of speakers.
Next, I turned to singer-songwriter James Taylor's performance of "Fire and Rain" from his Live at the Beacon Theatre concert DVD (Columbia / Sony Music Distribution). In this stripped-down arrangement, J.T. is playing guitar and singing, supported only by cellist Owen Young. The Sonettos perfectly reproduced the intimacy of the duet, with the rich overtones of the cello backing up Taylor's natural sense of phrasing and beautiful tone, along with his finger picking style on the guitar.
The speakers just seamlessly got the midbass and midrange notes right. Experiencing the track through the Sonettos, I found myself turning up the volume to concert levels and listening to the rest of the disc. With the wall of sound coming from the Sonettos so beautifully filling the stage in front of me, I soon forgot that I was listening to the stereo track and not the 5.1 mix.
Lately I've been listening a lot to the remastered editions of Led Zeppelin's original four albums, so I queued up the iconic track "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" from their debut album Led Zeppelin (HD Remastered Edition) streamed from QoBuz in 24 Bit / 96 kHz (Atlantic Records).
Jimmy Page's memorable opening guitar riff had such a realistic tone and sense of a large space that it gave me chills. Robert Plant's voice on the opening lyric also had a natural depth, with aural cues of that same large recording space clearly present. Whether it was real or reverb mixed in didn't matter. And the fast Sonettos really brought the energy as the song progressed to Robert Plant's bluesy, over-the top-impassioned vocal.
When John Bonham comes in at the 3:53 mark, all I can say is, wow! I couldn't help but move my head to the beat. The Sonetto IIIs really do possess tight bass capable of going much lower than you'd expect.
The Imagine Dragons track "Origins" streamed in 16 Bit / 44.1 kHz from Tidal has a lot of variety in tempo from start to finish. A speaker's ability to keep up with all those changes and present it all in a coherent way says something about its overall tonal balance. The track starts out with just an acapella chorus with lead singer Dan Reynolds then joining in. During the first thirty seconds, the soundstage was extremely wide through the Sonettos, extending from wall to wall.
When the entire band begins playing in their typical drum-infused, high-energy style, the Sonettos again showed they have the bass chops of a larger speaker. The Sonettos' aluminum alloy bass drivers and bottom port proved to be an effective combination for bass reproduction, delivering every bit of the bass depth and impact of the bigger B&Ws on this track. And that's despite the Sonetto's having one less bass transducer.
So, how about movies? I was eager to see how the Sonetto IIIs would handle a sci-fi action movie with some aggressive bass action. I cued up the Blu-ray disc of the film Star Trek: Into Darkness (Paramount Pictures) to find out whether this petite floorstander could handle the challenge of reproducing this aggressive soundtrack without the aid of a subwoofer. After all, for those living in apartments or condominiums, subwoofers usually aren't an option if you want to keep the peace with neighbors.
In the opening scene of the film, the crew of the Enterprise is trying to save the indigenous people of the red planet Nibiru from an erupting volcano without being detected. Not only are there explosions from the volcano, but the Michael Giacchino film score contains big dynamics and deep bass as well.
In the beginning of the scene, Kirk and Bones have stolen a sacred scroll from the tribe to draw them away from the volcano so Spock can neutralize it before it erupts. When they abandon the scroll, the locals stop and start chanting to it. The soundstage through just the two Sonetto III speakers was so wide that I heard voices coming from not only beside me, but from behind me as well. When I first heard the voices from behind, I turned my head thinking my wife had just entered the room. That was wild! I would have sworn the surround speakers were playing, but I had turned them off.
When the Enterprise surfaced from the ocean floor, though, the Sonetto IIIs couldn't quite portray the mass and size of the ship compared to playing the same scene with the subs engaged. Later in the scene, as the device to neutralize the volcano is detonated, the Sonetto IIIs were clearly pushed to their bass limit and beyond. While they played loud, they couldn't reproduce the rock-solid bass foundation and clarity experienced with the subs added in. I heard the bass more than felt it like I did with the subs. But then, even much larger speakers tend to fall short on their own when trying to reproduce deep bass sound effects in movie soundtracks. The scene was still much more enjoyable than I was expecting when played through just the Sonetto IIIs. The Sonetto III floorstanders really made me rethink my perspective about watching movies through just two channels. If I couldn't have subs in my space, I would be very happy with a pair of the Sonus faber Sonetto IIIs.
One thing that bothered me about the Sonus faber Sonetto IIIs was that their positive and negative binding posts were configured in reverse from what I'm used to finding on almost all other speaker brands. It made installation of the speaker cables with leads that are oriented for the positive connector to be on the right much more difficult to install. Installation resulted in what looked like a contortionist act by the cables to orient the positive and negative spades to the correct binding posts.
Comparison and Competition
While there are several floorstander speakers in the general price range of the Sonus faber Sonetto III, there are few peers to this overachiever. In my experience, the closest competitor in terms of both footprint and sound signature is Monitor Audio's Gold 200 ($2,250 each). Both speakers sound bigger than you'd expect given their size. Also, there is the B&W 702 S2 ($2,250 each) that I recently reviewed. B&W offers a bit more resolution in the upper frequencies if that is your priority. But keep in mind that the B&W 702 S2 definitely takes up more floor space if you're tight on room.
Another notable competitor is RBH Sound's Signature Reference SV-6500R tower ($4,395 / pair). The RBH speaker is more imposing in stature, with two more drivers than the Sonetto III, and it has less placement flexibility because of its size. However, because of its additional bass driver and larger cabinet volume, it's able to deliver a bit more low end than the much smaller Sonettos. That might be important if you aren't able to add a subwoofer and your space can accommodate this larger speaker. All three are terrific speakers, but the Sonus faber Sonetto IIIs are likely to appeal to a broader audience because of their smaller size and industrial design aesthetic.
Due to some terrific design and engineering, the Sonus faber Sonetto III produces much bigger sound than a speaker its size has a right to. If you're tight on space and thought you'd have to settle for a bookshelf design, think again. The Sonetto IIIs could well be the answer. And if you have placement restrictions, the Sonettos are more forgiving than most floorstanders. The Sonetto IIIs have such a wonderful ability to reproduce lifelike midrange and midbass that you'll often forget you're listening to speakers.
The energetic and musical Sonetto IIIs also have great overall tonal balance and are a wonderful choice for jazz, folk, pop, and rock music. To top it all off, the Sonetto III floorstander adds in terrific Italian style and craftsmanship that are sure to provide true pride of ownership.
• 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.