The new Sonus faber Homage Tradition Collection

The question is often posed, “How do we get more people to engage in the world of high end audio.”

Too often this is followed up by a bunch of grumpy old men, sitting in chairs at a hifi show, somewhere between minor arguments over minutiae and falling into sleepy time.

If you’re a 20 or 30 something person casually observing this, I’m guessing you don’t want to be part of this group. I’m 50 something and I don’t want to be part of this group.

Arriving at the beautifully appointed World of McIntosh townhouse in NYC’s SoHo district for the unveiling of Sonus faber’s latest Homage Tradition collection. The tagline is “Everyday Luxury,” and I couldn’t agree with them more. They’ve come up with a range of new speakers between about $16,000 and $30,000 that incorporates everything they’ve learned building their flagship models.

I could go on and on about the technical and mechanical details, but it’s not necessary. When you hear them, you’ll know instantly. And when you see them and touch them for yourselves, the sheer quality is evident.

But I suggest you watch this video:

Sonus faber and the McIntosh group really get what it takes to not only make fine audio cool, but they give it the respect it deserves. Hence the name “Homage tradition.”

I wanna be this guy and you do to. Well, at least we can all have a pair of Sonus faber speakers and dream….

Sonus faber Aida Loudspeaker

How many times have you heard a fellow audiophile or music lover say, “For that kind of money, those speakers should wash your car” or, “They should be better than sex”—or something to that effect? A pair of Sonus faber Aida loudspeakers cost $120,000 and are better than sex. Spend a few minutes immersed in a serious listening session, and you won’t care if your luxury car is dirty. Play a few more tunes, and you might not even notice your significant other beckoning you to the bedroom for some intimate time. They are that good. Indeed, the Aida is as close to perfection as I’ve experienced, and I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the world’s finest speakers. These, however, do nothing wrong.

Steve Martin once said, “First, get a million dollars.” Perfection doesn’t come cheap, and that’s the only bad news concerning the Aida. This speaker caters to an exclusive club, yet sales are steady, especially now that the $200,000 “Sonus faber” is no longer on the market. And while these gems flawlessly perform no matter what they’re connected to, the better your source components, the better the end result.

Listening to an old favorite, 10cc’s Bloody Tourists, the heavens align, as they do every time I listen to the Aidas (pronounced Eye –ee-dah). Regardless of the recording material or recording quality, I’m hearing more music than I’ve ever experienced on familiar recordings—and my reference GamuT S9 speakers aren’t exactly slouches. Passages decay more than they did before. There’s an extra guitar overdub here I hadn’t noticed, and an extra layer of vocals. If you audition the Aida, prepare to invest in coffee. You’ll be shutting off the lights at 2 a.m. just because you have to hear just one more record.

These rewarding experiences, my friends, are what the pinnacle of high-end audio is about. Sound so good, so real, you can just reach out and touch it. If you like smooth vocalists like Diana Krall, the Aidas offer you the opportunity to have a sonic lap dance. If you want to rock, and have enough amplifier power, the Aidas put Slash and a wall of Marshall cabinets in your room. And if you like electronica, the Aidas deliver Deadmau5 to your door, mouse mask and all. Acoustic music lovers are in for the biggest treat. The Aidas present a tonal accuracy and contrast that, by far, are the most natural and convincing I’ve ever witnessed.

When covering a Deadmau5 show with Music Editor Bob Gendron last year, he remarked, “Your system can’t do that…” Yet, on a recent visit to the TONE studio, he had recalibrated his perspective. Playing “Raise Your Weapon” from 4×4=12, and twisting the level control on the ARC REF5SE up to 80, a monstrous grin came over his face.  Switching the program to the Slayer Vinyl Conflict box set, he admitted, “These speakers play at concert-hall levels with none of the distortion and fatigue you get at a live performance. I’ve never heard a stereo system sound like this.” Another convert.

Posh Treatment

Every pair of Aidas comes with a visit from Sonus faber to make sure the speakers are optimized for maximum performance. If you live in North America, chances are high that Sumiko’s Bill Peugh will make the journey. Having heard Peugh work his magic at countless dealers and audio shows, it was a pleasure to have him take the time to set up the Aidas here.

For a speaker that weighs 365 pounds each, the Aida is a svelte tango partner. Thanks to the enclosed collapsible trolley, they are easily moved about. And the job can be done with one person, making it easy to place the speakers in a listening room. Another example of how no stone has been left unturned by Sonus faber.

After a brief listen to a single speaker in the room so we could get a handle on bass response, we introduced the second speaker into the system and found the pair beginning to optimize. The Aida uses a rear-firing midrange and tweeter, each having their own controls on the rear panel. The “Sonus faber” introduced this concept, and it’s used to great success here. For now, the Aida is the only other speaker in the Sonus faber range with this function.

Having set up the speakers for the best combination of imaging, frequency smoothness, and bass response, we turned to fine-tuning the rear firing drivers. It’s an illuminating process: The level coming from the drivers isn’t terribly high, yet when adjusted, it causes a profound difference to the overall sound. Setting the level too high destroys the Aidas’ precise imaging performance by way of brightness. Not enough, and the speakers lose some airiness and coherence. Much like fine-tuning VTA, the speakers disappear when a perfect balance is obtained. No small feat for six-foot-tall models.

How quickly the Aidas settle into a groove. We are listening in earnest by the end of the first afternoon. My review models boast very few hours of prior listening time, so they are—for all practical purposes—a fresh pair. Like those on any speaker, the drivers require a certain amount of physical break-in to open up and achieve full body. The Aida is no different, although in retrospect, it merely sounds smaller and less extended after the initial uncrating. Bass is not completely fleshed out, and coherence between drivers is not as good as it is with a couple hundred hours on the clock. By the next day, after 24 hours of continuous play, they begin to relax.

Sumiko’s John Paul Lizars assures me the speakers change character during the break-in period, but it must have happened while I was sleeping. To be clear, I left them playing 24 hours a day during the review period; they had to be back in time for the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show.

As tests evolved, all I noticed was a slight fog, which progressively dissipated.  Leaving the Pass XA200.5s Class-A monoblocks powered-up for nearly a month had consequences on my electric bill; I used three times more electricity as the average house in my neighborhood. Yikes. I’ve had a few paranoid delusions of the DEA showing up at my house with a SWAT team wanting to know where I’m growing the marijuana crop, only to give them a tour of my studio. “Sorry officers, no drugs in here, just these big amplifiers.” If I’m not at CES in January, you’ll know why.

I spent the bulk of my listening time utilizing the Pass monoblocks and Octave Jubilee monoblocks, which offer 250 watts per channel of vacuum tube power.

Under Pressure

The Aidas are polite company at low to modest listening levels. But as the volume goes up, they do an even better job at disappearing in the room. Sumiko representatives often discuss the concept of “pressurizing the room,” and I’ve never heard it better illustrated than with these speakers. Interestingly, I found myself (and guests) listening to the Aidas at higher levels than normal. Once the volume hits a certain point, the aforementioned effect becomes hypnotic, drawing you further into the presentation than you might have thought possible.

Fatigue that accompanies twisting the volume control to the upper regions? It’s just not there with the Aidas. Instead, it feels as if you can just keep turning up the volume forever, or at least until your amplifiers run out of power.

Tied to a chair and given truth serum, I’ll confess my love of the sound of a great electrostatic speaker like the Quad 57 or the MartinLogan CLX. Coherency is my hot button. It’s not so much midrange magic, but midrange correctly rendered. With no crossover in the path, the associated distortions, by design, do not exist. And distortions are a big part of what convinces your brain that you’re listening to a stereo system instead of the real thing.

Again, the Aidas do the seemingly impossible, providing a seamless soundstage that never sounds like a woofer, tweeter, and midrange in a cabinet (even though their complement of drivers has crossover points at 55, 180, 250, and 3,000Hz). There’s so much new technology incorporated in this speaker, it would take a whole book to cover depth. And that’s precisely what’s included with the Aida— a 200-page tome, illustrating every facet of the speaker’s philosophy, design, and construction. Not to mention a massive collection of great photos, beautifully printed.

The Aida’s downward-firing 13-inch woofer produces bass with incredible texture and grip. I also suspect it heavily plays into its ease. The bass isn’t as aggressive, gut-punching, or pants-flapping as that of a few favorite audiophile darlings, but it possesses a presence that provides a true musical foundation, as it should. Just like when you listen to a musician playing a stand-up bass in a club.

Vide, the acoustic bass line in Stanley Clarke’s In the Jazz Garden is rich with decay, texture, and pace. Clarke’s instrument does more than maintain a separate space from piano and drums; it projects a three-dimensional effect that bass rarely manages in a recording. When changing the program to Dan Deacon’s America, the growling synth bass line shakes my room. These speakers move serious air when required.

The high-frequency spectrum is equally well represented. Older Sonus faber speakers, while providing highly pleasing sound, are often criticized for a midrange glow that borders on coloration. The Aida retains a high degree of utter tonality and soul, and provides a high degree of resolution and the ability to render musical detail without harshness, distortion, or fatigue. It yields a greater degree of loud-to-soft gradation than anything I’ve heard shy of the world’s finest horn systems.

Moving away from the ring radiator design of the former flagship, the Stradivari, a new, 29mm “arrow point” tweeter gets incorporated in the Aida. The intriguing albeit delicate bar is a very specific wave guide. Nothing in the Aida is without function. Peugh states the soft dome allows for a more natural response as well as more even and natural room dispersion. Experiencing the Aida is remarkably similar no matter where you sit in the listening environment, contributing to the notion of musicians playing in another room when listening from afar.

While the Aidas have a sensitivity spec of 92db with one watt, they give more with tons of clean power on tap. A sampling of lower-powered amplifiers in the 25- to 50-watt-per-channel range proves acceptable. Still, small amplifiers run out of juice when called upon to really rock. And I can’t imagine an Aida owner not wanting to take advantage of as wide a range of music as possible.

Ooh, the Cabinet

Much of the Aida’s sound can be traced to the cabinet and Sonus faber’s approach. A visual tour de force, these speakers arouse and impress, coated with layer upon layer of hand-applied and hand-polished lacquer. The metal bits receive the same amount of attention to fine detail, right down to the exact formulation of the bath used to apply the anodized coatings. Words and photos do not do justice to these audible works of art.  The booklet states the processes used in the speakers’ construction is “like that in an Italian supercar,” and it isn’t kidding.

Many current speaker manufacturers live and die by the sword of completely eliminating any resonance from the enclosure. However, Sonus faber looks at speaker design like an instrument manufacturer would, working with resonances and fine-tuning to achieve a more musical result. If you like the Wilson/Magico/YG Acoustics approach, I doubt you will love the Aida—just as I wouldn’t expect an automobile enthusiast that loves the Aston Martin DBS to be equally excited about the Porsche 911 GT3. High performance, different approach.

As for the emotional connection the Aidas engender? A non-audiophile friend, who is a cabinet maker by trade, was in awe of the enclosures that take nearly three weeks to complete. Before I put Mobile Fidelity’s recent 45RM remaster of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan on the turntable, he was explaining “no one listens to vinyl anymore.” Then, when the needle dropped, he teared up. “I used to go to the Village and see Dylan all the time. This puts him right in the room.” We switched back to the same album on CD, even played through the fantastic dCS Paganini, and the magic diminished. How can you ask for a better, more emotionally engaging experience?

Listen to Get the Rest of the Story

If you were hoping for a treatise on specs, measurements, and speaker configuration, that’s not what matters here. And none of it will matter to you after you’ve spent 60 seconds listening to one of your favorite pieces of music through the Aidas. I can’t think of a more sublime example of high technology serving fine art.

Should a $120k pair of speakers not be on your short list, try and experience the Aida anyway. And have your Sonus faber dealer demonstrate the new $2,498 Venere 2.5 speakers. A staggering amount of technology trickled down to the company’s entry-level speakers, and is only be made possible by an enterprise that has the resources to build an Aida.

Just as Verdi’s Aida took his art to its highest level, Sonus faber’s Aida takes the aesthetic and acoustic art of speaker-building to an equally lofty level. While it can be tough to justify the value with products so expensive, having spent plenty of time with most of the top models in the six-figure bracket and a considerable number of great speakers in the $20k- $50k range, I can say with absolute certainty that Aidas offer sound and build quality commensurate with price. They have provided one of the most enjoyable musical experiences of my career.

Sonus faber Aida

MSRP:  $120,000/pair (Manufacturer)


Analog source AVID Acutus Reference turntable    TriPlanar tonearm    Lyra Atlas cartridge   AMG V-12 turntable    AMG arm    Clearaudio Goldfinger
Digital source dCS Paganini stack    Aurender S10 music server
Preamplifier ARC REF5SE    Robert Koda K-10
Power amplifier Burmester 911 mk.3    Pass Labs XA200.5 monoblocks    Octave Jubilee monoblocks
Cable Cardas Clear
Power cords Furutech PowerFlux
Power conditioning  Running Springs Dmitri and Maxim
Accessories GIK room treatments    Furutech DeMag and DeStat    Audio Desk Systeme record cleaner    SRA Scuttle rack

Sonus faber Venere 3.0 Loudspeakers

I always look forward to the arrival of houseguests.  And, as far as visitors go, the Sonus faber Venere 3.0 speakers make a great first impression—even before the music begins.

With these speakers, priced at $3,498 per pair, Sonus faber made some compromises, but did so without losing brand cred.  To achieve the speakers’ reasonable price, Sonus faber moved production offshore to China, in a factory closely resembling its Italian facility.  The 3.0s are the flagship of the Venere series, which abandons the classic Sonus faber look, borrowing instead the lyre-shaped cabinet of the company’s top-of-the-line Aida speakers.  The 3.0s are available with a glossy finish, in either black or white, as well as with a walnut-wood finish for an extra $500 per pair.

After escorting the speakers up to my listening room and unboxing them, I feel under-dressed in my T-shirt.  My review speakers feature white side panels, complemented by a black top and front.  I’m tempted to ask the speakers if they prefer their martinis shaken or stirred—the cocktail party music would soon follow.

You Look Maaaaarvelous!

Sonus faber describes the speaker as having a “lyre shape.”  I describe it as being shaped a bit like a pear when looking at it from above, with the narrow part at the back raised slightly.  The speakers are squared off at the front to create a flat plane for the drivers.  Ultimately, this combination of angles, curves and lines gives them a sculptural aesthetic—or perhaps a look similar to those of the robots in Bjork’s “All is Full of Love” video.  But let’s stick with the former descriptor.

The Veneres are sizeable floorstanders: about 4 feet tall, with enough room to house a silk dome tweeter, a 5-inch midrange driver and two 6-inch bass drivers, plus a rectangular port at the bottom.  The base is made of strong glass with aluminum connectors at the edges, where you affix the tapered, spiked cone feet.  This combination provides a solid anchor for the Veneres, but take note that the spikes are quite sharp at the business end; they will easily pierce carpet or leave noticeable scratches on your wooden floor—or your foot.  Consider yourself warned.

Two sets of binding posts facilitate bi-wiring or bi-amping, and the included jumpers make it easy for those of us with only one set of speaker cables.

Strike a Pose

Eager to see if the speakers’ sonic capabilities match their good looks, I begin the setup process.  The Veneres are fairly easy for one person to move.  I appreciate their 47-pound weight (as does my back) after having lugged my reference Piega P10 speakers out of their usual position, which is where the Veneres’ placement process begins.  After trying to fine-tune their placement in my 17-foot-by-20-foot listening space, I find that the starting point ultimately offers the best acoustics—about 4 feet from the back wall, 2 feet from the side wall, and about 8 feet apart.

After some toe-in experimentation, I determine that the Veneres require only a small amount for best imaging.  Like two polite and conversational party guests, the speakers are not too finicky about where they stand, and their oration inspires active listening.

The Best Of Chesky Classics & Jazz & Audiophile Test Disc offers some helpful tracks for speaker setup, demonstrating the ways in which surround sound can be simulated using a pair of speakers.  In one example, David Chesky walks around an omni-directional microphone tapping on a tom-tom drum.  In another example, the experiment is simulated using digital-processing technology.  When placed well, good speakers can make Chesky and his drum appear to travel a circular path around the listening room.  Very good speakers placed optimally can make it seem as if Mr. Chesky is walking behind the listening position, which is especially noticeable with the digitally processed track.  The Veneres prove very capable of this auditory illusion.

Start the Show!

Once optimized, I’m exciting to fire up the speakers—and am quickly impressed.  It’s clear that Sonus faber put its biggest investment into the Venere 3.0 where the money belongs: the sonics.

First of all, these speakers do a shockingly good job of extending the perceived width of the stage on which the musicians are playing.  Aimee Mann’s “One,” from the soundtrack to P.T. Anderson’s 1999 film Magnolia, starts very simply, with her voice front and center, which the Veneres render very well.  Later, with the onset of additional instruments, the song explodes out to each side of the soundstage.  The speakers manage to bring those bits of music around the edges of the room into the listening area.  The same is true with larger orchestral pieces, like Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” concertos.  These speakers incorporate that broader stereo image seamlessly into my listening space, with sound floating beautifully around the room.

I will say that the front-to-back depth of the speakers’ perceived stage is limited, as one might expect from any speaker in this range.  Live at Luther College, from Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, is a great test for this, as individual audience members shout various requests and comments toward the musicians.  Elements in the distant of the recorded space seem pushed forward toward the plane provided by the Veneres.

While tight and tuneful in the bass registers, the Veneres do not dip below 38 Hz, according to Sonus faber’s specs, which is confirmed by my own test tracks.  Madonna’s “Drowned World/Substitute For Love” offers some very low notes, which are barely audible through the Veneres.  But for most people, especially those living in small spaces or condos, limited low frequency be a desirable characteristic to reduce late-night complaints from sleeping neighbors.  Those seeking very low, foundation-rattling bass punch may find the Veneres a bit light for their tastes.  For most types of music, the bass of the Veneres balances well with the overall mix.

I enjoy Portishead’s “Cowboys,” but the vocal effects in this recording can make Beth Gibbons’ voice quite fatiguing on an overly revealing system.  The song illustrates the Veneres’ extended but forgiving highs.  The speakers let the overall musical experience shine through, as opposed to drawing the listener’s attention to a single, hard vocal edge.

While some more expensive speakers reproduce more nuances, the Veneres tend to take the high road, as if you are sitting further back in the auditorium, where each onstage pick of the guitar, draw of the bow across the cello strings or squeak of the saxophone diminishes sonically over a distance.  For example, Beck’s “Lonesome Tears” features a single triangle strike with an extended ring; some of the immediacy, sparkle and ambient decay is lost with the Veneres’ reproduction, but they still do a mighty good job of it.

Here Come the Papparazzi

It’s obviously nor fair or helpful for you, the reader, to compare the Veneres to my Piega P10s, which start at $9,500.  In absolute terms, the Veneres give up some transparency, realism and detail compared to higher-end speakers.  But for $3,498, the level of balance these speakers offer is stunning.

Sonus faber’s voicing choices for this speaker are well thought out, being more musical than analytical.  The Veneres are well balanced for many types of music, including rock, classical and jazz, as opposed to exceling only at one genre.  They reproduce vocals wonderfully, bringing them to the front instead of recessing them into the mix.  The bottom line is that the price is right and the speakers provide countless hours of listening pleasure.

It’s very exciting to experience wonderful products like these, which can fit realistically into many audiophiles’ budgets.  It’s hard not to give the Venere 3.0 speakers an enthusiastic recommendation.  A few compromises aside, they offer very impressive audio performance.  Combining this with their attractive, modern look and bargain $3,498 price tag makes these a stellar value and very much worth your audition.

Additional Listening

By Jeff Dorgay

After spending some quality time with Sonus fabers flagship Aida, I found it very intriguing to see just how much of this lineage could be achieved in such a reasonably priced speaker.  All of the style cues suggest that this new speaker has come from the same brain in terms of style.  For those not intimately familiar with the top of the Sonus faber range, you’d be hard pressed to tell the Venere 3.0s were made in a Chinese factory—they are that good.

Instead of trying to make the speaker cover a wider range while sacrificing quality, Sonus faber settled for a bit less ultimate bass weight to help keep the range in top shape.  Unless you are playing Deadmau5 at club levels in a big room, I doubt you will find these speakers lacking.

The Venere not only has a heavy dose of Sonus faber heritage, it is also a nice balance between the warmer, more forgiving SF of old and the resolution that the Aida brings to the table.  The Venere’s 90-dB sensitivity rating makes the speaker an excellent match for just about any amplifier, tube or transistor with more than 25 watts per channel on tap.  Whether I mated the Veneres to the PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium power amplifier recently in for review, (35wpc/EL34 tubes) or my vintage Pass Labs Aleph 3 (30wpc/solid-state Class A), I couldn’t find myself ever requiring more power than this within the 13-foot-by-16-foot confines of room two.

This combination of beautiful sound, timeless visual style and high build quality wins the Sonus faber Venere 3.0 speakers one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2013.  These are top performers in their price range.  Those wishing for a wood cabinet can step up to a walnut wood finish for $3,998 per pair.

The Sonus Faber Venere 3.0

MSRP:  $3,498/pair  (gloss white or black)

$3,998/pair (walnut wood) (Factory) (U.S. distributor)


Speakers Piega P10
Amplifier Mark Levinson 335
Preamplifier Coffman Labs G1-A
Digital Sources Audio Research CD3 MKII    dCS Purcell processor    EAD 9000 MKIII DAC   Genesis Technologies Digital Lens
Analog Source Marantz TT-15 with Clearaudio Virtuoso Cartridge
Cables Jena Labs Valkyrie and Symphony interconnects    Jena Labs Twin 15 speaker cables
Power Conditioner Running Springs Audio Haley
Power Cords Cardas Golden and RSA Mongoose
Accessories Mapleshade SAMSON racks and shelves    ASC TubeTraps    Cathedral Sound room-dampening panels

Sonus Faber Elipsa SE

There is nothing better than having your cake and eating it too.  Few speakers personify this idiom like those from Sonus faber—they are stunning, even when your system is off.  And the minute the speakers deliver music, whether analog or digital, you are immediately transported to a place where you can forget about the gear, your troubles and whatever else comes to mind, and immerse yourself in the music.

First, full disclosure: This reviewer is biased.  While many of us claim to want a “straight wire with gain,” or “the whole truth, warts and all,” I can’t honestly say I subscribe to either of these philosophies 100% of the time.  Maybe I could if all music was perfectly captured and flawlessly recorded—but we all know it’s not.  Being a lover of panel speakers, electrostats in particular (and a closet lover of SET/single-driver systems), I value coherence most of all.  I don’t give a damn how dynamic a speaker is. If it sounds like the music is coming from a separate woofer, tweeter and midrange, the speaker falls down my list rather quickly.

A warm, syrupy and ultimately colored speaker doesn’t do it for me either.  Such an overly romantic-sounding speaker is as equally boring to me as a hyperdynamic, ruthlessly revealing speaker. Sure, both make for exciting demo sessions, but they always end up being less entertaining after you’ve lived with said speakers for an extended period of time.

The speakers that always hold my long-term interest are those rare few that achieve a balance of high resolution without being harsh, and a high degree of tonal richness without coming across overly colored or slow.  Those of you old enough to remember taking pictures with a film camera might remember the 81A filter, which offered a slight touch of warmth yet was never distracting, and had the ability to make color slides look richer and more vibrant than reality.  Speakers that top my list must sound great regardless of decibel output and, while we’re making demands, they should not rely entirely on cables and amplifiers to achieve greatness. They must also be relatively simple to set up.  How’s that for fussy?

Enter the Elipsa SEs

I’ve always been a fan of Sonus faber’s speakers, even though the Italian manufacturer’s older models have always been slightly romantic and forgiving. But things at Sonus faber have been quietly changing as of late, and its current models retain the mystique of their predecessors while adding an abundance of resolution to the mix.

If you’ve been envious of the $45,000/pair Sonus faber Stradivari speakers but can’t make the financial leap, the Elipsa SE is a bargain at $22,900/pair.  For all but the top percentile of the truly obsessed, this is the last pair of speakers you need to buy.  The SE model offers an upgraded crossover over the standard Elipsa, and incorporates the same tweeter from the Stradivari—a modest yet worthwhile upgrade from the $20,000/pair Elipsa.

We can discuss crossover slopes, sensitivity and driver-magnet structures all day and, while that is a fascinating story to tell, when you unpack the Elipsa SEs, it’s a sensual experience; not a scientific one.  The true aficionado will appreciate the painstaking effort that goes into every step of the Elipsa SE’s construction.  Whether admiring the hand-coated lacquer of the finish, the leather front and rear baffles or even the finely machined binding posts, you quickly realize that there are no “off-the-shelf” parts used in a Sonus faber speaker.

As anxious as you will probably be to get your new speakers up and running, take a few minutes to bask in the unrivaled craftsmanship that went into their construction.

Versatile Performers

Cueing up Chicago’s “While the City Sleeps” from Chicago V (via the 24/192 HDtracks file) immediately shows off the refined high end of the Elipsa SEs, as the high hat shimmers slightly to the left of the sound stage with seemingly endless decay.  The instant the horns enter the mix with full force it’s clear that these speakers have dynamics to spare.  Giving the volume control a major push to the right—reaching near-insane levels—the Elipsa SEs do not lose their composure: The enormous three-dimensional sound stage remains large and focused.

Slowing the pace somewhat with the title track of Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage (also available as a 24/192 download from HDtracks) portrays an even larger soundstage—now the Elipsa SEs completely disappear in the room, as the drums linger to the left of centerstage, with Freddie Hubbard blasting out on trumpet at the far left, and Hancock’s piano diffusely rendered as it moves gently up and back from center stage.

Combined with a full compliment of Audio Research’s Reference electronics and a dCS Paganini stack, one wonders if the presentation could be any better.  This is what real music sounds like.  While much of this impact can be attributed to the first-order crossover network and wideband drivers required to successfully implement this kind of design—a result of exhausting driver development to achieve perfection—that is only part of the story. It is the integration of everything that makes a Sonus faber speaker system truly more than just a sum of the individual parts.

Sonus Faber’s elliptic enclosure design results in what they call “Virtual 2pi radiation,” which also does a fantastic job disguising the mass of the speaker in such a svelte cabinet, resulting in a high performance speaker that is easy to set up in your room.

Even casual placement results in a wide and deep soundstage.  However, a bit of extra attention to the rake angle of the Elipsas allows them to achieve their maximum performance when set to perfection.  The resulting time alignment of the drivers adds to the coherence and the speakers literally disappear in the room.  A calibrated level (or iPhone app) will help you get both speakers tipped back exactly the same amount.

A great many speaker manufacturers strive to make their speaker enclosures as free from resonance as possible, but it almost always ends up making the speaker sound overdamped.  Listen to the sound a bass drum makes as the mallet bounces from the drumhead: There’s a liveliness to it, with resonance and sustain, regardless of whether it’s Tommy Aldridge or Art Blakey playing.  That’s the life force of a bass drum, which is, sadly, often lost in a speaker (or, for that matter, an entire system) that is overdamped.

An instrument’s resonant signature is much like a person’s voiceprint: Each one is unique, which allows us to discern the difference between violins or electric guitars.  The Elipsa SE preserves this delicate balance.  Yet, even with music created entirely in the world of the studio, the Elipsa SE holds it together seamlessly, no matter how complex the fare.  A long listening session of albums from Frank Zappa and German bands Can and Faust proves that, even at high volume, the speakers can play densely packed music without a soundstage collapse.  Faust’s “Picnic on a Frozen River” from the Faust IV album is full of multiple soft, discordant bits that remain anchored in the left-to-right as well as in the front-to-back soundstage at high volume. Zappa’s classic “Peaches En Regalia” offers a similarly exciting experience, with synthesizer riffs flying around my listening chair, just as it does when listening through great headphones.

Moving into the 21st century, Playing Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy Reconfigured reveals no weaknesses in the Elipsa SE, nor any sign of fatigue.  Even though this speaker has a low frequency specification of 35 Hz, they are well up to task of hitting this album’s the deep bass grooves.  And the high sensitivity of these speakers will not tax your amplifier, which adds to the dynamic realism that they offer.

The Elipsa SEs perform equally well at low volume, still easily disappearing into the room like mini-monitors.  Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 performed by the Netherlands Wind Ensemble shows the delicacy that these speakers are capable of, as well as the tonal purity.

Very Amplifier-Friendly

With a wide range of amplifiers at my disposal—solid-state, tube and class D amps, ranging from a pair of 20-watt 845 SET monoblocks all the way up to the mighty Pass Labs’ XA200.5 monoblocks—all were able to drive the Elipsa SEs without difficulty.  Granted, each amplifier imposed its own sonic personality on the presentation, which complements the high resolution that these speakers offer. But still, every variation on the theme remained thoroughly enjoyable.

Thanks to a sensitivity of 91 db per watt, the Elipsa SE is comfortable with the 35 watts per channel that the average EL34-based tube amplifier can provide, but because the speakers have a maximum power handling of 300 watts, they will absolutely crank if you have enough high-quality power on tap.

Driven to ear-shredding levels (by the XA200.5 monoblocks) with Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff, the speakers revealed their true gloriousness.  The only distortion present was that of the amplifiers in the recording studio.  Following this up with the Pixies’ Tromp Le Monde and ending with Explosions in the Sky’s The Earth is Not a Cold, Dead Place is perhaps a bit off the path of the lute that Sonus faber mentions on their website, but it leads to the most important aspect of these speakers: They are unflappable.

That Bias Again

After giving the Elipsa SEs a major workout with about 15 different amplifiers of all genres, I must confess two things: There was no combination that turned in a bad performance and, being the hopeless romantic that I am, I was seduced completely when combining these speakers with a few of my favorite tube amplifiers.

Now that Audio Research is part of the Fine Sounds corporate umbrella that owns Sonus faber, it is no surprise that the Audio Research Reference electronics are a fantastic match for these speakers.  Yet, whether I was using the PrimaLuna DiaLogue 7 monoblocks, the Octave Jubilee Mono monoblocks or the Balanced Audio Technology VK-150s monoblocks, it was tough to get any work done while listening to these speakers.  The massive soundstage and dreamy midrange sent me back to the record rack repeatedly and many listening sessions ended in the wee hours.

But is the Elipsa SE Right for You?

That’s the answer to the $22,900 question, of course.  This is a pretty tall stack of twenty-dollar bills to spend on a pair of speakers, but few others exist at this price point that approach the Elipsa SE’s level of performance.  And even fewer exist that are this gorgeous.  But I am of the belief that life’s too short to have ugly speakers in your living room. As it turns out, I am not alone.  In an informal poll, the Elipsa SEs have the highest spousal-acceptance factor of any speaker we’ve ever reviewed, as well as the highest interest among non-audiophiles of either gender.

If you want a perfect fusion of acoustic purity and aesthetic beauty, these are the speakers you’ve been waiting for.  The truly tough decision will be whether to acquire the Elipsa SEs or go all the way to the Strads.

Many audio pundits cling to the philosophy that the source is everything in a system, and that is sound advice.  However, I find the speakers to be the biggest variable in a system—they have to integrate with your room and those you share it with, so they are often the highest hurdle to jump.  These speakers are so easy to drive, you would have little trouble starting your journey with modestly priced amplification and avail yourself to a new experience as your budget permits system upgrades.

About 15% smaller in physical dimension and with only one 10-inch woofer (rather than the two in the Strads), the Elipsa SE lends itself more to the average listening room.  As Sumiko VP of Sales Norbert Schmeid mentions, “While the Stradavari is ultimately capable of more performance, the Elipsa is an easier speaker to set up because of the single woofer.” And, at about 100 pounds each, you can move them around your listening room with relatively minimal effort.

Either way, you’ll get your money’s worth—and then some. Don’t be surprised to see these speakers in our awards issue later this year.

The Sonus Faber Elipsa SE

MSRP:  $22,900/pair  (Factory) (US distributor)


Digital Source dCS Paganini    Sooloos Control 15    Aurender S10
Analog Source AVID Acutus Reference SE/SME V/Lyra Atlas
Preamplifier ARC REF 5SE    Burmester 011    Robert Koda K-10
Amplifier ARC REF 150    Burmester 911    Pass Labs XA200.5
Phonostage ARC REF Phono 2SE
Cable Cardas Clear     AudioQuest Sky