Jay Garrett gets a first listen to the brand new Homage Tradition speaker range from Sonus Faber which were showcased at their UK launch held at Marylebone’s high-end Hifi store, KJ West One in collaboration with specialist distributor Absolute Sounds.
The new Tradition range features two of the Italian company’s celebrated Homage speakers – the Amati floorstander and the Guarneri standmounts. These have enjoyed a number of refreshes since the 90s but not for seven years. Joining them is a brand-new 3.5 way floorstander, the Serafino.
It also looks like there’s a centre-channel speaker called the Vox Tradition, but it wasn’t shown or mentioned here. I also managed to grab some time with the company’s all-in-one digital player, the SF16. SF in this case could well stand for Science Fiction as I think it has all the marks of a device from a 70s sci-fi blockbuster.
Sonus Faber SF16
The SSF16 features a pair of 5-inch bass drivers. One fires out front with the other being rear-firing. These are beautifully enclosed in a wood and aluminium case. The sound firing in opposing directions reduces vibration, and thus improves sound quality, apparently.
At the sides are two extending satellite speakers. These house four 1cm silk dome tweeters (two front and two back) and four 5cm ceramic midrange drivers (again, front and back). The very cool extending arms aren’t just a nifty party-piece though. It also adds to the system having much improved sound separation. It certainly sounded very nice indeed in the small room at KJ West One. Granted, this is not going to grapple with any of the larger speakers in the store but I am sure it can more than hold its own against similarly priced compact systems from the likes of Naim et al. The SF16 is built for streaming but you do get optical and coaxial input options, as well as analogue RCA.Sonus Faber has opted for DTS Play-Fi for streaming. This means the system, which can link together 16 speakers, or eight stereo pairs, can also connect with other brands using the DTS Play-Fi platform. At £9,900 a pop, only your bank account (as well as the device’s scarce numbers) will limit your SF16 multi-room system plans.
Sonus Faber Homage Tradition Range
All the speakers in the Homage Tradition range feature a lute-shaped design, which gives the speakers larger volumes and allows the cabinets to better control internal resonances. The Guarneri is a stand-mounted two-way with a 5-inch midrange-woofer and a 1.1-inch soft-dome tweeter crossed over at 2.5kHz – total frequency range is 40Hz – 35kHz. They come complete with carbon fibre stands fitted with bespoke Sonus Faber spikes. They measure 29.8- x 11.8 x 15.4-inches (HxWxD). The Guaraneris were in the same room as the SF16. The mid-range clarity and smoothness of the highs worked brilliantly with the impressive bass response. In this room at least, the width and depth of the soundstage really impressed me. The Guaraneri’s larger siblings are the Serafino and Amati. To be honest, they look very similar to the uninitiated.
The in-house designed speakers are focused primarily to be natural. Sonus Faber also wants them to be clear and impart emotion. The rather attractive multi-layer wooden cabinets have aluminium tops and bases. They are both four-driver, three-and-a-half-way floorstanders. Their tweeters are the same 1.1-inch soft-dome unit that’s in the Guarneri, and both use the same 5-inch midrange driver.
This 3.5 system, mentioned a couple of times now, refers to how the two bass drivers are configured. In a regular two-woofer, three-way topology, both woofers cover the same frequency range and cross over to the midrange. It was explained that the problem with this is that the distances to the midrange differ. That means the timing, and therefore the transitions between all those drivers, can be off. With the same drivers in a three-and-a-half-way topology, the woofers don’t cover the same frequency ranges and only one hands off to the midrange. The benefits are that both woofers contribute to the deepest bass and, because only one woofer has the duty of transitioning to the midrange, there’s a better blend from it to the midrange compared to two woofers trying to mix in. Before you point out, yes, each also has its own enclosure, duct and filtering. This special bass control has been dubbed ‘Stealth Ultraflex’. It consists of a wave-shaped aluminium duct at the rear of the speaker to help control airflow and minimise distortion.
In the Amati the bottom woofer handles frequencies down to 28Hz to around 100-120hz. The other crosses over with midrange at about 250Hz. The Serafino can go down to around 30Hz. This hands the speakers tighter, more controlled bass. Also there is more focus to the midrange. The example been given is using the male voice, as it has the ability to go quite low but also a strong midrange. Sonus Faber has put a lot of effort in to giving this range more stability. The ‘paracross tolpology’crossovers have an active component that “gives better contrast between the sound and background silence.” This clever bit of tech also apparently takes care of loop-back impendence – the impendence going from the speaker in the direction of the amplifier. Usually the impendence we’re concerned about is from amplifier to speaker. This result of this happy side-effect is a clearer reproduction and better contrast.
The main differences between the Serafino and Amati have to do with the woofer and cabinet sizes, which affect their bass-output capabilities. The Serafino has 6.5-inch woofers, whereas the Amati has 8-inch ones. This gives the Amati a total frequency range of 28Hz – 35kHz and the Serafino the same top-end but down to 30Hz. The sizing naturally follows through to the cabinet – the Serafino’s being smaller at 43-inches x 15.6-inches x 19.1-inches (HxWxD) including outrigger and spikes. The Amati’s overall dimensions are 46.3-inches x 16.2-inches x 20.2-inches. Weight-wise the Serafino tips the scales at 52Kg with the Amati weighing in at 61Kg. They are sat on ‘Silent Spikes’ – metal spikes that are built upon the company’s patented Zero Vibration Transmission (ZVT) system – which decouple the speakers from the floor and further minimise unwanted resonance.
The Amatis were really just as promised. Even when playing some squeaky-voiced Irish male singer-songwriter murdering a David Lynch track. I had to listen past this aural assault and crime against a usually haunting and atmospheric track when sung by Julee Cruise to appreciate the speaker’s performance. This live recording maintained the realism and authenticity to a point where I almost wanted to get up and go to the bar.
It got much better when the CD moved to a cover of a Police classic by Spanish punks, Seguridad Social. To be honest, it made a pleasant change not to be played the usual classical tunes. It also proved that the Amati can really rock. There were other tracks played that I didn’t catch the titles of (or none were given) that displayed more subtle nuances of the speakers. They really did display plenty of detail with vocals perfectly centred. I regularly read comments about a ‘holographic presentation’ but the sound coming from the Amita seems much more tangible; more real.
Not only do they sound great, but they look gorgeous too. The Homage Tradition cabinets are fronted with strips of leather on their baffles and are available in Wenge as well as the usual red. The wood and leather is nicely counterpointed by the aluminium top and bottom plates and spine that runs the length of each speaker. To me it looks like a heatsink, but that might just be me. The red finish consists of walnut wood with black inlays, combined with brushed black aluminium and black leather, whereas the new Wenge finish has maple inlays with brushed aluminium coated in a titanium finish and brown leather.
The Amati 3.5-way floorstanders cost £23,500 per pair, the new Serafino speakers are £18,000 per pair, and the standmounted Guarneri are £13,600 (stands are included).
The Amati was being demoed using KJ West One’s usual dCS CD player through Audio Research amplification, which made sense as they are under the same umbrella as Sonus Faber.