Home entertainment aficionados know that the best way to build an exceptional home system is to take a holistic approach, selecting the very best components that they can afford in each category, then orchestrating them together to achieve an effect that is greater than the sum of the individual parts. This attitude means some of the more common pitfalls can be avoided, such as the false economies derived from buying sub-standard cabling, or picking up speakers that’ll be blown apart by your new AV receiver if you crank up the volume. Despite this, the prevalent thinking regarding loudspeakers is that they should play a ‘neutral’ role in your home entertainment setup, relaying the sound faithfully and clearly but not ever making a contribution of their own.
Happily, this is not a view shared by all loudspeaker manufacturers. Enter Sonus Faber, and their ‘Homage’ series of loudspeakers, which they rather poetically describe as attempting to “breathe life into the melodious weft of the fabric of music”. Ethereal descriptions apart, as Michael Thornton-Smith of Sonus Faber distributor International Dynamics observes, the speakers “bring voices to life, adding warmth to music that a more neutral speaker doesn’t achieve”. Nothing short of revolutionary in audio circles, this philosophy for loudspeaker making – of actually influencing the original source audio – is encapsulated in their very name, ‘Sonus Faber’, meaning ‘handmade sound’ in Latin. Their mission is to make sound ‘sensed’; a more “lifelike positioning”, says Thornton-Smith, to “create a three-dimensional listening experience”.
Labelled ‘homage’ because they pay tribute, in quite striking ways, to three renowned Italian stringed instrument makers of the same ‘school’ who lived between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, the superlative line, from bottom to top-end, creates its own history, not quite following the chronological appearance in the world of the great men themselves (Amati, Stradivari, Guarneri). Everything from the underlying technology to the aesthetic appearance is designed to mimic the sound boxes of the timeless musical instruments that inspired their creation.
The series starts with the ‘entry-level’ Guarneri Memento, a tribute to the master Luthier (lute maker) and contemporary of Stradivari, who was considered the greatest violin maker of the Amati line. Next in the series comes the Amati Anniversario (lute again), dedicated to Guarneri’s mentor, Andrea Amati, who is credited with giving modern day violins their current form. Some of his instruments, crafted in the sixteenth century, exist to this day. Last and latest is the high-end Stradivari (violin, of course), taking the name of Antonio Stradivari, whose late-seventeenth/early-eighteenth violins have attained priceless status today.
Described as the embodiment of advanced technology fused with old-world artisan craftsmanship, the most immediately striking aspect of all three loudspeakers in the Homage range is their resemblance to the musical instruments themselves. Take the top-end Stradivari (pictured) as an example: built from multiple layers of grained hardwood and finished in the same lacquer used on stringed instruments, its convex sides and slightly pinched waistline are strongly resonant of a violin. What else, we ask Thornton-Smith, would you describe as their most outstanding features? “In a visual sense,” he responds, “the use of leather on the baffles, and of elastic strings as grilles on the top models, mimicking the musical instruments, but sonically, it’s the three dimensional imaging, like an electrostatic speaker might create.”
Feedback from owners and reviewers suggests that the Sonus Faber trio does, indeed, lend a little of the musical instruments they resemble, complementing the character of the recordings. Starting at a whistle-worthy $18,999 a pair for the stereo bookshelf Guarneri Mementos, the range climbs to the Stradivari stereo floorstanders, chiming in (or maybe that should be ‘plucking out’) $65,999 for the brace. The approach is bold, almost revolutionary, and “only a handful” of each is sold a year, according to Thornton-Smith, but it’s clearly an approach that has met with resounding success.