“A rare tal­ent in­deed”

FOR Big, bold sound; re­fined and ag­ile; good build AGAINST More an­a­lyt­i­cal al­ter­na­tives for sim­i­lar price

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Temptations -

High-end Italian speaker spe­cial­ist Sonus Faber is rightly con­sid­ered hi-fi aris­toc­racy. Since it was founded in 1983, the com­pany has de­liv­ered an ar­ray of tal­ented prod­ucts, quite a few of which have be­come part of hi-fi leg­end. These are in­vari­ably the com­pany’s top-end mod­els, the no-com­pro­mise de­signs that are as much about lux­ury build and ap­pear­ance as they are about the sound.

Yet Sonus Faber also makes more af­ford­able of­fer­ings – still pre­mium, but without price tags that could hang off a new car. The Venere range is made up of these, and the S (for Sig­na­ture) floor­standers are the range top­pers.

The nuts and bolts

They are un­de­ni­ably big, stand­ing a touch over 1.2m high, and are im­pos­ing but stylish. The two stan­dard fin­ishes are gloss white and gloss black, but for a £200 pre­mium you can have the wal­nut op­tion as used on our re­view sam­ple.

Build qual­ity is good, though not out­stand­ing for the price. Still, we’re im­pressed with the el­e­gance of the heav­ily con­toured side pan­els, and the neat­ness of the fin­ish. We’d have liked the metal plinth to be at­tached to the speaker’s base with bolts rather than wood screws, but it feels se­cure enough.

There’s no short­age of drive units here. Along­side the un­usu­ally large 29mm soft­dome tweeter there’s a 15cm ded­i­cated midrange unit and a trio of 18cm bass driv­ers. Take a closer look and you’ll find plenty of in­ter­est­ing en­gi­neer­ing. That dome tweeter is iso­lated from the front panel to pre­vent vi­bra­tions gen­er­ated by the larger driv­ers spoil­ing its sound. The midrange uses a Curv cone, made from a mix of polypropy­lene and tex­tile, and used for its mix of rigid­ity, low weight and damp­ing prop­er­ties.

The trio of bass driv­ers are alu­minium coned for rigid­ity and, like the midrange unit, ben­e­fit from a die-cast chas­sis de­signed to be sturdy and open as pos­si­ble (for im­proved air­flow). The speaker’s crossover net­work is care­fully cal­i­brated to man­age the sig­nal han­dovers at 250Hz and 2.5khz.

A large-di­am­e­ter down­ward-vent­ing port is used to tune the bass, mak­ing the Venere S less fussy over place­ment than ri­vals with rear-fac­ing de­signs. In our test room, we sim­ply po­si­tion the speak­ers well away from all walls and an­gle them in slightly to­wards the lis­ten­ing po­si­tion.

There is scope to play around with the spike height, which changes the dis­tance be­tween the port and the floor, but re­sults are de­pen­dent on the type of floor cov­er­ing. The Veneres are ca­pa­ble of an im­pres­sive amount of bass, so those with smaller rooms should look down the range, or to one of Sonus Faber’s other highly re­garded stand­moun­ters.

Most speak­ers at this level de­mand tal­ented part­ner­ing kit and, while their rel­a­tively high sen­si­tiv­ity (90 db/w/m) means that you don’t need a mus­cu­lar am­pli­fier to get room-fill­ing vol­ume lev­els, the Venere S’s 4ohm nom­i­nal im­ped­ance and trans­par­ent na­ture mean they’ll re­ward qual­ity elec­tron­ics.

We use our ref­er­ence Naim NDS/555PS streamer and Gamut D3i/d200i pre/ power com­bi­na­tion for much of the test, with Linn’s out­stand­ing Kli­max DS 3 streamer, Clea­r­au­dio’s In­no­va­tion Wood turntable and Au­dio Re­search GSI75 in­te­grated amp help­ing out.

Once up and run­ning these are like­able per­form­ers. They have a for­giv­ing, full-bod­ied pre­sen­ta­tion that works well with a wide range of record­ings. Stream­ing ser­vices such as Tidal aren’t the last word in sonic qual­ity, but the choice of mu­sic and ease of use make them es­sen­tial for many peo­ple.

En­joy the mu­sic

We listen to A Seat At The Ta­ble by Solange Knowles and like what we hear. The Venere S de­liver a firmly an­chored sonic pic­ture – sta­ble and solid. The pas­sion­ate but low-key vo­cals are ren­dered with flu­id­ity. They’re full­bod­ied and ar­tic­u­late, but most of all, sound nat­u­ral. Mu­si­cally there’s plenty of punch and the speak­ers con­vey the chang­ing mo­men­tum of the al­bum well.

Sens­ing the speak­ers are ca­pa­ble of more, we switch to mu­sic stored on our NAS drive. We start with Orff’s Carmina

Bu­rana and en­joy the scale and author­ity of the per­for­mance. We hear huge dy­namic swings with no short­age of mus­cu­lar­ity, im­pres­sive re­fine­ment thanks to a sweet and rounded top-end and a pleas­ing de­gree of agility. The pre­sen­ta­tion is or­gan­ised and re­tains com­po­sure even when the record­ing be­comes dif­fi­cult – while the re­sults aren’t wholly neu­tral, we like the un­fussy, for­giv­ing tonal bal­ance.

The stereo imag­ing is sta­ble and nicely lay­ered. It isn’t quite as ex­pan­sive as some ri­vals, but re­mains pre­cise. It’s worth spend­ing some time get­ting the speaker po­si­tion­ing just right, as this as­pect of the per­for­mance is strongly de­pen­dent on get­ting that op­ti­mised.

Play­ing The Hand That Feeds by Nine Inch Nails shows that the Venere S can party. There’s plenty of at­tack, cou­pled to a sure­footed sense of rhythm – an area that Sonus Faber hasn’t al­ways nailed over re­cent years. This is an ex­cit­ing and

“This is a per­for­mance that gets us past the me­chan­ics of hi-fi and takes us into the realms of just hav­ing fun”

en­ter­tain­ing per­for­mance – one that gets us past the me­chan­ics of hi-fi and takes us into the realms of just hav­ing fun.

These speak­ers are more about en­joy­ing mu­sic than analysing the record­ings. The Venere S dig up a good, but not out­stand­ing, amount of de­tail, but it’s the way they ar­range and present it that makes them so ap­peal­ing.

Rather than get an­noyed by the al­most demo level of pro­duc­tion on Bruce Spring­steen’s Terry’s Song we’re taken in by the heart­felt lyrics as the Boss mourns the loss of his friend. These tow­ers spot­light the emo­tion in his voice and ar­range the sparse mu­si­cal back­drop ex­pertly around it. The im­pres­sive level of re­fine­ment means that the record­ing’s hard edges never in­trude on things.

It wouldn’t be hard to find an al­ter­na­tive pair of sim­i­larly priced floor­standers that dig deeper into the record­ings and present the sound, par­tic­u­larly at low fre­quen­cies, with even greater pre­ci­sion. There are few, how­ever, that man­age to de­liver the mu­sic in such an ap­peal­ing man­ner.

These are speak­ers that are more likely to have you think­ing about the mu­sic you’re go­ing to play next rather than the short­com­ings of the record­ing you’re hear­ing. That’s a rare tal­ent in­deed.

The Venere S’s trans­par­ent na­ture means it re­wards be­ing part­nered with tal­ented equip­ment

The im­pos­ing but stylish Venere S’s come in gloss white, gloss black and wrapped wal­nut fin­ishes

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