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 cliché, 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 "Natural" (Kid Ina Korner - Interscope) 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.