I don't know about you, but I have never before taken delivery of a 600 pound pallet. Two boxes stacked vertically replaced the Ford Fusion car in my garage until Sonus Faber's Will Kline flew in to help me unpack and install these breathtaking heavyweights. In fact each speaker weighs a mere 135 pounds. The rest is the protective packaging. This new version of the Amati breaks with the past in one respect – my test samples came in a new Wengè finish instead of the famous Red finish which is also available and which still presses all my buttons.
I've seen my share of gorgeous speakers including the Giya G1 and the KEF Blade. I have owned the breathtaking Wilson Benesch ACT 1 which I think may be the only line that can compete in the aesthetics and finishing departments with this Italian manufacturer. Even against other Sonus Faber creations, this one is astonishing in the clarity of line, its lute shaped profile and the stunning use of titanium finish aluminum, maple inlays and coffee colored leather. The inspiration comes from Italian motorboats with their iconic wooden hulls. If you select the Red finish, then the wood is walnut, the leather and the brushed aluminum black. If style is paramount we can stop this review right here. I'm calling a winner. Nothing tops this.
Sonus Faber was acquired by the Fine Sounds Group in 2007. The group acquired Audio Research in 2009, Sumiko in 2010, Wadia in 2011 and McIntosh Labs in 2012. In 2016 the group took on the name McIntosh Labs, with its HQ in New York.
Let's take a look back at the history of Sonus Faber Amati speakers. The first one, the Amati Homage, was introduced in the 1999 at a price of $20,000 weighing 154 pounds, followed by the Amati Homage Anniversario in 2005, with a price of $27,500 and weighing 177 pounds. The Amati Futura arrived in 2011 at $36,000 and weighing 122 pounds. So, it is some relief to see the latest upgrade priced at a more affordable $29,900 despite its extra weight and refinement. Sonus Faber have announced three members of the Homage Tradition collection, which pull from technology recently developed for the Lilium and Cremonese speakers. Below the Amati Tradition sits the Serafino floorstander ($21,900) and the standmounted Guarneri Tradition ($15,900 including stand).
There's a whole lot of technology under the covers here. Let's start with the shape. The new profile has curves which change and double, blending the lines of the earlier Homage speakers with that of the Lilium, offering more internal volume at the rear of the speaker for an extended frequency reponse. The main structural element is the exoskeleton called Stealth Ultraflex, a part of which you can see as an aluminum extrusion forming the rear backbone. Stealth Ultraflex is characterized by a laminar tuning derived from the Olympica series. A vent favors the flow of air through the duct while controlling its speed and reducing turbulence and with it distortion. Dampshelves are included at the top and bottom of the cabinet. This is a ported design of unusual sophistication.
Sonus Faber have gone to great lengths to mechanically decouple the speaker from the floor. Their patented ZVT (Zero Vibration Transmission) system features alternating surfaces metal/elastomer/metal overlapped inside the substantial bracket/spike group. It inhibits the transmission of vibration from the drivers into the floor and acoustic feedback into the speakers.
The drivers are all designed in house. The tweeter was first seen in the $70,000 Lilium speaker. It's a 1.1" silk dome design with "Arrow Point" DAD (Damped Apex Dome), implemented with a natural wood acoustic labyrinth rear chamber. The 6" midrange, mounted just below the tweeter, has a neodymium magnet system for linear dynamic response. A sandwich construction combining a syntactic foam core between surface skins of cellulose pulp creates a lightweight but stiff cone for the twin 8.7" woofers. The "Paracross topology" crossover sets the crossover pints at 80Hz, 250Hz and 2500Hz.
The new Serafino Tradition model uses much the same construction in a chassis about 3" shorter, 0.5" narrower and 1" shallower, substituting two 7" woofers for the 8.7" woofers of the Amati Tradition. For anyone looking for the Amati Tradition sound in a slightly smaller package and at an $8,000 savings would do well to check it out.
Will Kline set up the Amati Tradition speakers along the longer wall of my 22' x 12' listening room, in a position close to where I set my YG Carmel 2s. The sophisticated porting system seems to make the Amati Tradition quite tolerant of position, and after a period of small adjustments pronounced himself well satisfied. In fact he was very pleased with the sound of the speakers in the room. Some other very large ported speakers have not been so comfortable in this room so this is a major achievement, which could bode well for you. I let the speakers play for close to a month to continue their break in and of course to warm up from the cold garage. They sounded even better after this.
Technical Design Details
The bass drivers use a sandwich construction but the two surfaces are made from the same hand thrown paper to provide a consistent sonic signature with the midrange. The central layer is a stiff polypropylene cone to create the required stiffness for the heavy lifting these drivers will perform. The midrange and the upper of the two bass drivers each has a dedicated rear chamber while the lower of the two bass cones, which operates down to the lowest frequencies, has the bulk of the cabinet for its rear chamber.
Designing a bass system is a matter of making the best compromises between control and depth, and many elements are involved including the internal cabinet structure, porting, rigidity, as well as driver design and location. Lessons were learned from the Futura speakers that pioneered this approach, and the result is a speaker with greater bass control and one that is easier to drive.
The silk dome tweeter tackles the universal problem of turbulence at the apex using a proprietary damping material, and Will believes this is the best tweeter Sonus Faber has ever developed and an industry leader. They aim always for long term listenability rather than the last ounce of transient response which may etch the sound and introduce listening fatigue. Within the Homage Tradition line, the Amati Tradition has the highest implementation of ZVT vibration control, since it has the greatest need with its two large bass drivers. The ZVT system here works not just in the vertical direction but also in the horizontal plain, with the structure that holds the spikes entirely wrapped in anti-resonance material.
What about amplifier matching? It goes without saying that McIntosh amps like the MA9000 Integrated ($10,500) will partner well with the new model since Sonus Faber is now part of the McIntosh Group. Earlier Sonus Faber models had a sweet sound that would not always prove a good match for certain tubed amps with a sweet sound of their own. This is no longer the case, and the Amati Tradition should pair well with any high-end amp. It will respond best to powerful amps capable of high current output. "Something with balls" is how Will delicately put it.
During their residence, the Amati Tradition speakers attracted a lot of compliments, and not just for their imposing looks. A large group listened in awe to the fourth movement of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony, which I played at a relatively low volume (for me). They loved it, and for a speaker playing at such a low volume, where the presence usually drops off, this is a major achievement. Of course I played them at high volumes too, just not with a large crowd in the house. In fact the nature of the sound simply did not change as the volume level was adjusted – just its amplitude. The same is true of the Carmel 2, which is why I love it, but it only holds up to a volume level well below the Sonus Faber can achieve. The Carmel 2 is a two-driver speaker. Maximum volume level and low base extension is where Yoav Geva was willing to make compromises for the Carmel 2, the smallest speaker in the YG range. The Amati Tradition with its four drivers and much larger internal volume is expected to excel in those two areas, and it delivers in spades.
The Amati Tradition is not an analytical transducer, nor does it immediately impress you its lightning reflexes or ultimate resolving power. The strengths of this speaker lie in its natural musicality, its sense of ease, its wide dynamics and extended frequency range. The larger the speaker, and the further apart its drivers are from one another, the less likely it is to produce pinpoint imaging. For a speaker of this size the Amati Tradition does very well in this regard, managing strong locational accuracy and depth of image.
Keb' Mo' demonstrates the low-end prowess of the Amati Tradition with a powerful and tight bass line on "Every Morning" [UDSACD 2054]. Power and control in the deep bass is what all designers of big speakers set out to achieve, but most can only do that in large rooms, well away from room boundaries. I must give high marks to Sonus Faber here, for on most tracks it succeeds in my room where many other large speakers have sounded either loose or boomy or both.
Schedrin's Piano Concerto [Hyperion SCADA67425] is perhaps the most dynamic recording in my collection and hence a true test of a component's dynamic abilities. The piano sound comes through deeply resonant and with strong detail maintained into the highest volume attacks. Long notes and harmonics are well sustained, colors are rich, the soundscape broad and deep. The piano feels very much in the room. The horns too are wonderful. Low level detail is strong. A mesmerizing performance overall.
The Amati Traditions continue their strong performance on the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2 on the same disc. The drive and energy are tremendous, the orchestra sounds fast and dynamic. The piano sound is warm but articulate, with a gorgeous singing tone. But there is also room for improvement. The image does not fill the full width between the speakers and the strings feel somewhat overripe and smoothed over. The Carmel 2s in the same location throws a continuous image and the strings have much more texture.
Can you have too much of a good thing? On The Well from Jennifer Warnes [Cisco SCD 2034] the Sonus Faber actually overpowered my room. It sounded too close, the bass boomy and loose. In a bigger room, pulled further from the walls, I expect it would sound just fine. I experienced this problem only with this one disc, but it does point to the need to match the speakers to the room, or to match the room to the speakers by retrofitting TubeTraps or the like. The sound improved significantly, especially on Jennifer Warnes' voice, as I lowered the volume by 2.5dB.
Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate's crossover album – Kulanjan [Hannibal HNCD 1444] presents an interesting three-way comparison. The Estelon YB, which I reviewed last month, offers rich colors, strong deep instrumental support for the voices, and a very clear open perspective in a large image. The Amati Tradition offers an even bigger image and a more forward projection. The deep bass plucked notes are exceptionally well rendered. The Carmel 2 has a lighter balance, but is still remarkably tuneful if not so impactful in the deep bass, and it is the fastest and most open of the three. All these speakers are wonderful and truly revealing of the musicality captured on this wonderful album.
I got much the same impression when listening to Haydn Quartets on original instruments [Astree E8786]. The Estelon YB is rich and sweet, not a hint even of harshness, revealing a strong string tone, good attack and a lovely acoustic space. Sonus Faber brings the performers closer to the listener. I found it totally involving and enjoyed the rich woody color of the strings. There is a real sense of being in the room with the musicians. The YG offers a spectacular image, enriched with fantastic attack and sustain. Ten years ago, if I picked three speakers in this price range, the sound on this difficult recording would most likely have sounded considerably more brittle, less dynamic and the image less precise. Progress indeed.
On many recordings, such as Alfie by Sonny Rollins [Impulse IMPD 224], the Amati Tradition demonstrates not just a strong coherent performance with realistic imaging, but maintains the ability to do so over a remarkable range of volume levels. Sonus Faber have certainly achieved their aim of long term listenability, but I felt the top end, although extended and open, did not always capture the full detail and the low level resolution that some competitors have managed. The Carmel 2's tweeter is open, fast and highly detailed without being fatiguing in any way, and sets industry standards in this regard. I notice this most in delicate brushwork which is not as fully resolved on the first track of Alfie through the Amati Tradition. The Sonus Faber is by nature a much more forgiving speaker than the YG. The choice and implementation of the tweeter is the prime element in that particular tradeoff and what you buy should reflect your answer to the question: "Do I want my finest disks to sound the very best they can or do I want to optimize the sound over all of my recordings?" Unless you introduce sophisticated tone controls, you can't have it both ways. Sonus Faber has always been upfront about where they stand on this issue. Listenability must extend over a wide range of recordings. That's quite a different mandate from the YG Carmel 2 which is more like "truth and be damned".
The Final Word
Judged purely in sonic terms, if you have a large room and a powerful amplifier then the Amati Tradition is competitive on sonic grounds with anything out there in the $30,000 class, and in my view, it's a grand slam home run on looks. This is a very well judged new entry from Sonus Faber, and it may be the last speaker you'll buy.