Watching a kettle boil, waiting for a cheque to arrive, counting the minutes until The Return Of The King appears on the screen at the local Odeon - not truly comparable with the 10-year-long vigil for the Stradivari Homage, but you get the drift. Yet our impatience can't even begin to mirror the anxiety of Franco Serblin, capo of Sonus Faber and the designer responsible for the three models in the Homage series.
It was 10 years ago that the Guarneri revolutionised the shape and sound of the compact high-end speaker. It remains in the catalogue to this day and is one of the best-selling high-end speakers of all time. Five years later, its floor-standing sister, the Amati, arrived. While a sublime speaker, too, it didn't rock the industry to its foundations as did the Guarneri. After all, it simply looked like a Guarneri that had been extended downwards - hardly a radical fashion statement. And the sound? Though categorically providing more bass and sounding wonderful, it didn't represent a Great Leap Forward either.
Fans of the Guarneri and Amati knew, though, that Serblin was saving something special for the final model that he would offer in tribute to Cremona's greatest violin-makers. And we didn't need to turn to Encarta to know that it would honour Antonio Stradivari. What we couldn't imagine is what would be the non-sequitur that would represent Serblin's life-work. A subwoofer system? Towers? Dipole arrays? This was, after all, the man who gave us the Snail and the Extrema, the man who re-wrote the book as far as speaker styling was concerned, who single-handedly proved that high-end speakers don't have to look like shit. And that means most of them.
How wrong we were. Instead, the Strad features drivers in a vertical array, two rear ports - Franco even dispensed with bi-wiring. On paper, the Stradivari was almost conventional...if you can call a speaker using violin-making techniques like staves of solid wood and 'mystical' lacquers 'conventional'. Serblin was deliberate in his decision not to dabble with freakish technologies, materials or tweaks. He stated bluntly that, 'It would not have been right to inject high-tech into the Stradivari, to try to reinvent the speaker. It is an evolution.' So he limited the 'newness' to the shape and to a quartet of drivers made to his specification, which included near-impossible standards of tuning and construction.
In all the years I've known Franco, I have never seen him so sapped, so drained - nor so relieved. My Italian is too poor to appreciate all that he said, but there's reason to believe that this is his final no-compromise design. He never said a word about retirement homes or sailing off into the sunset, but he did describe the Stradivari as, 'The ultimate statement of what Sonus Faber means. I have stayed faithful to the original concept, that this is my hommage to the greats of Cremona.'
Of course, he could be like another famous Italian who'd threaten to retire and then stage an awe-inspiring comeback: Frank Sinatra. On the other hand, I can say after living with the Stradivari, that he has nothing left to prove because the Stradivari isn't simply the best-looking speaker I've ever seen, bar none. It's one of the very best performers I've ever heard, regardless of price.
Let's dispense with the looks in one paragraph. A friend's wife, who detests hi-fi more than any human being I've ever met in my 51 years on this planet, took one look and said, 'I could live with those. They're sexy.' Hearing that remark is tantamount to seeing Chrissie Hynde eating at McDonald's.
Coinciding with Sonus Faber's 20th Anniversary, the Stradivari Homage is the culmination of everything Serblin has learned since producing the Snail. Its evolutionary path is clear. You will note, for example, that the carcass of the speaker looks like a pair of Amatis turned face-to-face. There is no mistaking its family resemblance to the Guarneri despite the relocation of the lute shape (or 'boat-tail') to the ends of the speaker. And it's here that we see what is Franco's latest (if not last) revolution, within the confines of classic speaker design philosophy.
It's been years since I used a dynamic speaker that was more than twice as wide as it was deep, and that was the box-like Goodmans Eleganzia of 1963. It was an early attempt at making a large speaker shallow enough to wall- or shelf-mount, while retaining enough enclosure volume to allow it to load a massive woofer.Read more about the Sonus faber Stradivari Homage speakers on Page 2.