Sonus faber Venere 2.5 Speak­ers

NOVO - - PRODUCT REVIEW - Ge­orge de Sa

When I think of Sonus faber, I think of op­u­lence and so­phis­ti­ca­tion, the fu­sion of wood and leather, and with­out a doubt - of mu­sic. An Ital­ian her­itage has served to birth cre­ations of form and func­tion, a meld­ing of tra­di­tion with art and in­ven­tion. The com­pany, Sonus faber (from the Latin words, “sonus” mean­ing sound and “faber” mean­ing crafted, ar­ti­san or smith) had its hum­ble be­gin­nings in Italy, in 1980, with a group of au­dio­philes led by Franco Serblin. Since then the com­pany has in­tro­duced many unique prod- ucts, while gar­ner­ing much at­ten­tion and ac­claim from mu­sic lovers and au­dio­philes alike.

In 2007, Sonus faber be­came part of the Fine Sounds Group, a hold­ing com­pany that has been ac­quir­ing well-known high­end com­pa­nies ever since, in­clud­ing: Au­dio Re­search (2008), Wa­dia Dig­i­tal (2010), Su­miko (2011), and most re­cently McIn­tosh Lab­o­ra­tory (2012). As a whole, Fine Sounds Group is among the world’s largest high-end au­dio prod­uct com­pa­nies, hav­ing an in­ter­na­tional pres­ence and in­flu­ence.

In 2010, Sonus faber ush­ered in a new prod­uct era with the in­tro­duc­tion of their reign­ing flag­ship loud­speaker, orig­i­nally named Fenice, it is now known sim­ply as “the Sonus faber” ($200,000 US). The Sonus faber speaker is the re­sult of a de­vel­op­ment pro­ject that sought to es­tab­lish a new bench­mark and as a re­sult brought with it a num­ber of tech­ni­cal, de­sign and con­struc­tion in­no­va­tions, in­clud­ing a shape in­spired by the lyre in­stru­ment. With 2012, came the gor­geous Aida loud­speaker ($120,000 US), once again re­flect­ing the shape of the lyre and bal­anc­ing tra­di­tion with in­no­va­tion. Later, in 2012, Sonus faber launched their new Venere line (pro­nounced Ve­nair-ay; mean­ing Venus). The lute shape has dom­i­nance in the Venere line styling, anal­o­gous to the Aida and the Sonus faber. The Venere line en­com­passes six mod­els, known as the Venere: 1.5, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, Wall and Cen­ter. This line brings Sonus faber to a broader con­sumer au­di­ence through more af­ford­able pric­ing and the com­pe­tency for both purist stereo as well as home theatre ap­pli­ca­tion. This af­ford­able price level has been achieved though a com­mon in­dus­try method that is a first for Sonus faber, i.e. “De­signed by Sonus faber in Italy – Made in China”, as stated in small print on the rear ter­mi­nal plate. I ex­pect, Sonus faber’s “Built in Italy” propen­sity, will de­pend much on the suc­cess of Venere.

de­sign | fea­tures

John Paul Lizars and Dany Poulin of Su­miko, the North Amer­i­can dis­trib­u­tor for Sonus faber, kindly took care of the ar­range­ments to get the Venere 2.5 loud­speak­ers ($2,800) out to me. They ar­rived in a pair of boxes, well packed and un­marred. In­side, along with the speaker were a man­ual, a tem­pered glass base plate, mount­ing hard­ware with in­struc­tions and hex key, ad­justable alu­minum spikes, and a small polishing cloth. Putting them to­gether was rel­a­tively easy and was ex­plained well in the ac­com­pa­ny­ing in­struc­tions. In­ter­est­ingly, the spikes were of dif­fer­ent sizes, long for the front and short for the back, re­sult­ing in a rear­ward lean of the speaker - higher in the front, lower in back. This pro­vides a poised and grace­ful stance but will also serve to timealign the out­put of the in­di­vid­ual driv­ers to the lis­ten­ing po­si­tion for over­all bet­ter in­te­gra­tion.

Sit­ting be­fore me in my room the Venere 2.5 looked strik­ing. This pair was in a fash­ion­able gloss white but the Venere 2.5 is also avail­able in a stately look­ing gloss black and for a pre­mium ($500) in wood ve­neer, the lat­ter in bet­ter keep­ing with Sonus faber’s tra­di­tion of rich fin­ishes. The

Venere 2.5 cabi­net has a lute or teardrop shape and a grace­fully up-raked top with a gen­tly curved front baf­fle thus, leav­ing no par­al­lel panels. Th­ese stylis­tic lines not only add greatly to the over­all beauty of th­ese speak­ers but have the im­por­tant func­tion of pro­vid­ing greater strength to the cabi­net, re­duc­ing vi­bra­tion and pre­vent­ing the gen­er­a­tion of in­ter­nal stand­ing waves, which would im­pair the ac­cu­racy of sound re­pro­duc­tion – once again form and func­tion in a Sonus faber de­sign. A knuckle wrap test did ex­pose some un­canny hol­low­ness in the cabi­net, about half-way back on the side, which gave me some con­cern about com­pro­mised per­for­mance. The ma­te­ri­als seemed to all be of high qual­ity – from the in­laid tem­pered glass top, glass base and alu­minum out­rig­ger feet, right through to the paint, ro­bust five-way stag­gered bind­ing posts, and satin plas­tic front baf­fle. Fit and fin­ish was su­perb, a tes­ta­ment to the man­u­fac­tur­ing and qual­ity as­sur­ance, de­spite the stereo­types as­so­ci­ated with Chi­nese man­u­fac­tur­ing. The mag­netic grills though a lit­tle flimsy, looked at­trac­tive and se­cured very well – no slip­ping off here. I must say that the Venere 2.5 is most strik­ing from an an­gle, rather than straight on, as it em­pha­sises its gen­er­ous curves. And, then there is the back­side – other than Sonus faber’s own Amati Fu­tura, the butt on the Venere is about the sex­i­est I’ve seen… on a speaker, that is.

The Venere 2.5, as the name im­plies, is a 2½-way de­sign that pairs a 1” silk dome tweeter with two 7” driv­ers, the lower one han­dling fre­quen­cies up to 250 Hz be­fore rolling off and the up­per one reach­ing up to 2,500 Hz, where the tweeter kicks in. The tweeter is a pre-coated silk dome, with­out fer­rofluid, that is built by the Ger­man com­pany DKM, well-known for their man­u­fac­tur­ing. The woofers are tex­tured and made of a ma­te­rial called Curv - a pro­pri­etary polypropy­lene com­pos­ite. The 2.5 is a bass re­flex de­sign that uses a non-con­ven­tional front slot-port, ver­sus the more com­mon round port de­sign. A twin pair of high qual­ity five-way bind­ing posts is pro­vided on the back with re­mov­able me­tal jumpers that al­low for bi-wiring. Fre­quency re­sponse is quoted as 40 Hz–25,000 Hz with an 89dB (2.83V/1m) sen­si­tiv­ity and a nom­i­nal im­pen­dence of 6 ohms. Rec­om­mended am­pli­fier power is quoted as 40 - 250 Watts, un­clipped. Each speaker weighs in at 19.45 kg and mea­sures 43.6” H x 13.4” W x 17.2” D.

per­for­mance

The gen­tle­men from Su­miko rec­om­mended at least 100 hours of break-in, with more be­ing bet­ter. My ex­pe­ri­ence con­firmed this rec­om­men­da­tion. Out of the box, the tre­ble fre­quen­cies on the Venere 2.5 sounded stac­cato, not bright but rather brit­tle, as though lack­ing com­plete­ness. The midrange was vague and there was a lack of co­he­sive­ness be­tween the driv­ers. This was cured in the first 100 hours of use; how­ever, as told, ad­di­tional time yielded ad­di­tional im­prove­ment. This im­prove­ment con­tin­ued to a lesser de­gree over the next cou­ple hun­dred hours or so and was most no­tice­able in terms of smooth­ness and fine de­tail re­trieval. Given my ex­pe­ri­ence, I would rec­om­mend not mak­ing a judge­ment on the Venere 2.5 with any­thing less than 300 hours of use.

Be­fore I get into specifics, I wanted to comment on the gen­eral char­ac­ter of the Venere 2.5 rel­a­tive to what I’ve per­ceived as the Sonus faber “house-sound”. My ex­po­sure to Sonus faber has al­ways left me with an im­pres­sion of fi­nesse and ci­vil­ity com­bined with sump­tu­ous­ness and warmth. The Venere 2.5 def­i­nitely shares in some of th­ese qual­i­ties but it also takes a step in a new di­rec­tion. It has an over­all tone that is more neu­tral, though still car­ry­ing some ex­tra warmth in the midrange and full­ness in the mid-bass. Its tre­ble is well-man­nered but will be as­sertive when the mu­sic calls for it – un­like my ex­pe­ri­ence with other Sonus faber’s that are in­trin­si­cally po­lite. The Venere 2.5 also has a greater abil­ity to demon­strate au­thor­ity in the ar­eas of dy­nam­ics and out­put, bet­ter ac­com­mo­dat­ing fans of hard rock, hiphop or movie sound ef­fects. So if you’ve never been a Sonus faber fan, the Venere might con­vert you.

For my au­di­tion­ing of the Sonus Faber, I pri­mar­ily used my Brys­ton BP6 / 4BSST2 fed by Squeeze­box Touch through my Mu­si­cal Fidelity M1-DAC with Kim­ber Kable Hero and PBJ in­ter­con­nects and 8TC speaker ca­bles.

One bril­liant record­ing that I re­cently dis­cov­ered is The Imag­ine Pro­ject by Her­bie Han­cock. I’ve ripped this CD in WAV for­mat to my PC, which my Squeeze­box streams to my kit. The track, Don’t Give Up, through the Venere 2.5 came across in an un­pre­ten­tious man­ner. It was not un­nat­u­rally sharp or over-cooked in the tre­ble, but rather had a pleas­ant darker qual­ity. Pi­ano keys play­ing had lovely de­tail and were heard with their eerie bloom as well as life­like sparkle and re­verb. Vo­cals were de­liv­ered in-the-flesh, which is to say that they did not have any per­ceiv­able thin­ness, rather, voices sounded whole and hu­man­like with more at­ten­tion di­rected to the singing then to the record­ing it­self. Mov­ing over to the won­der­ful ren­di­tion of one of my favourite Dy­lan songs, The Times, They Are A’Changin’, the pia-

no keys again were por­trayed with a mes­mer­iz­ing ra­di­ance and warmth that made them sound both be­liev­able and beau­ti­ful. Cym­bal play on this track in­volves a lot of light pat­ter­ing and the Venere 2.5 did not mask the metal­lic char­ac­ter. The singer’s whis­pery voice was man­i­fested in a car­nal way ver­sus a more foren­sic ex­po­si­tion. This track in­cludes the use of an Af­frican kora, which is a string in­stru­ment that has a unique sound. The Venere 2.5 driv­ers were up to the task of de­liv­er­ing the kora with speed, while re­veal­ing the ten­sion in the strings and their tex­ture. Tonal den­sity is not a weak­ness in the Venere 2.5; mu­sic comes across with de­tail and full­ness. The bass was full bod­ied though a lit­tle over­ripe to my ears, car­ry­ing some ex­tra bloat and lack­ing some de­tail; how­ever, the trade-off be­tween full­ness and warmth ver­sus ar­tic­u­la­tion was quite ac­cept­able and re­ally didn’t re­duce my en­joy­ment of the track. I also found that the 2.5 could im­age very well – I was able to lo­cate voice and in­stru­ments in space both in width and depth, with some variation in height and the im­age re­mained sta­ble, which al­ways in­creases my ap­pre­ci­a­tion for a speaker. In com­par­i­son to my much more ex­pen­sive ref­er­ence loud­speak­ers, the Au­dio Physic Sitara 25 ($5,000), the Venere 2.5 had a fuller tonal char­ac­ter, al­beit with some veil­ing of de­tail and lost trans­parency, as well as some round­ing of tran­sients. That said, over­all the Venere 2.5 was thor­oughly en­joy­able in its own right and with­out a di­rect com­par­i­son th­ese de­tails would likely be over­looked. Given the sub­stan­tially lower price of the 2.5 and the need for it to ac­com­mo­date both stereo and home theatre ap­pli­ca­tions this is un­der­stand­able and per­haps ben­e­fi­cial, given the typ­i­cal sys­tem and source ma­te­rial they might be paired with.

I moved to a Cold­play al­bum, Viva La Vida and the track named 42. Here, the im­mense sound­stage that this record­ing can pro­duce was ca­pa­bly han­dled and served up by the Venere 2.5. On this track the pi­ano keys took on a lit­tle ex­tra full­ness, grand and gong-like in their por­trayal, while stretch­ing across the huge sound­stage. This sound­stage reached sub­stan­tially be­yond the out­side of the speak­ers, pro­duc­ing height and an en­velop­ing sound­stage. Chris Martin’s voice had invit­ing warmth to it. The bass was dense with a lit­tle mid-bass plump­ness. As the track picked up, I was quite en­thralled by the dy­nam­ics and the abil­ity of the Venere 2.5 to sort through the com­plex­ity of this piece. The 2.5 han­dled dy­nam­ics with aplomb though I did per­ceive a slight soften­ing of tran­sients.

Mov­ing to the al­bum, The World’s Great­est Au­dio­phile Vo­cal Record­ings, and the track Span­ish Har­lem by Rebecca Pid­geon, I found Rebecca’s voice came through with an at­trac­tive tone, not as light, airy and an­gelic as I’ve typ­i­cally heard it but still delightful. I per­ceived some calm­ing of the higher fre­quen­cies and some down­play of the sur­round­ing air, re­sult­ing in greater fo­cus on the main ele­ments within the song – the voice and in­stru­men­ta­tion. All the sig­nif­i­cant de­tails to en­joy this ren­der­ing were there. As men­tioned, her voice had a lit­tle more warmth but not to the de­gree that it might raise ob­jec­tion and I ex­pect that some might pre­fer this ren­der­ing. I also found that her voice was a lit­tle more for­ward in the mix, giv­ing way to a more per­sonal feel and less the­atri­cal qual­ity. On the track, Isn’t She Lovely, the gui­tars were ex­posed with lovely rich­ness and colour, giv­ing up only a touch of sus­tain and tight­ness that I’m used to hear­ing with my Sitara 25. This ex­tra den­sity from the Venere 2.5 is very at­trac­tive and in­volv­ing in its own right.

On the Tron Legacy Sound­track, the open­ing drum strikes on the track “Rin­zler” were im­pres­sive in their weight and dy­nam­ics and en­er­gized my room, with the re­verb en­light­en­ing the sound­stage. The im­pres­sion was of full­ness and power. There was some per­ceived slow­ing of pace though any­thing lack­ing in speed was com­pen­sated for by heft. On the track, the Game Has Changed, the open­ing drum syn­the­sized beats were ren­dered with ex­cit­ing slam. There was good depth and weight to the bass notes with only some mar­ginal loss in ul­ti­mate grip and ar­tic­u­la­tion on the low­est notes, which I would guess would fall around 50 Hz and down. It also seemed like bass was quickly abated be­low the 50 to 40 Hz range, which is this speaker’s rated fre­quency range. I sus­pect th­ese per­for­mance lim­its are a re­sult of tun­ing as well as en­clo­sure coloura­tion, i.e. the hol­low­ness I men­tioned ear­lier when wrap­ping the side of the cabi­net.

The Venere 2.5 is a re­mark­able, mul­tipur­pose, sub-$3,000 loud­speaker that most cer­tainly punches above its af­ford­able price in per­for­mance. It’s a ver­i­ta­ble Swiss Army knife in its ca­pac­ity and de­liv­ers the goods across a wide range of mu­sic gen­res, in­clud­ing movie sound­tracks. Dur­ing my time with the 2.5, I noted its knack for ac­com­mo­dat­ing lessthan-op­ti­mal up­stream sources, in­clud­ing poorer mu­sic ma­te­rial and equip­ment. This in no way im­plies that the Venere 2.5 is opaque to sources; rather, the Venere 2.5 ex­em­pli­fies a lovely bed­side man­ner by bal­anc­ing truth with kind­ness. In essence, this speaker can make the most of what you give it – for­giv­ing that which needs for­giv­ing, while telling of greater qual­ity sources – a qual­ity of much ap­peal. I have men­tioned a few lim­i­ta­tions in the Venere 2.5 and though buy­ers would do well to con­sider th­ese, it must be noted that th­ese ad­mo­ni­tions never de­tracted from the mu­si­cal en­joy­ment the Venere 2.5 pro­vided – I al­ways wel­comed my next lis­ten. If you haven’t yet heard them – seek them out for an au­di­tion, they may be just the speaker you’ve been in search of. Con­grat­u­la­tions to Sonus faber for bring­ing some­thing new to the stage!

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