Most-Read Opinion Articles (Last 365 Days)
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- 2013-06-01 - The Best of Munich's High End 2013
- 2013-07-01 - My Favorite Products of 2013 . . . So Far
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- 2014-02-01 - The Best of CES 2014
- Category: Monthly Column
- Created on Sunday, 01 September 2013 00:00
- Written by Doug Schneider
On July 22, 2013, during my two-day tour of the Sonus Faber factory in Vicenza, Italy, I was afforded a rare opportunity: I was able to sit down in the corporate listening room of Paolo Tezzon, head of R&D, and listen with him to the Venere 3.0 and Olympica III loudspeakers, two of the company’s newest designs. (You can read about my trip to Sonus Faber at SoundStage! Global.)
The Venere 3.0 (Venere, which means Venus, is pronounced VE-ne-ray) and Olympica III are both four-driver, three-way designs: one tweeter, one midrange, two woofers. As well, the sizes of the speakers’ drivers looked comparable, the crossover points are said to be pretty much the same, and the cabinets are of similar sizes and shapes. Visually, they’re cut from the same cloth.
But while there are some similarities, the Venere 3.0 and Olympica III are anything but identical. The Venere 3.0 sells for $3498/pair in the US in Black or White lacquer, and for $3998/pair in a veneer of real wood called, well, Wood. The Olympica III sells for $13,500/pair in either of its finishes: Walnut or Graphite. In short, the Olympica III sells for more than three times the price of the Venere 3.0. For that, you get things like: superior, Sonus Faber-designed drivers, including their Damped Apex Dome tweeter, similar to what’s used in the Aida; a far better-built and more lavishly finished cabinet (the Veneres are built in China) that includes woodworking seemingly beyond the abilities of anyone outside Italy (how did they get so good at that?); leather on the baffle and top panel (a Sonus Faber hallmark); slick metal trim, footers, and accents; and SF’s new slot port with metal deflector, which I must say is pretty cool, something that’s not insignificant -- ports aren’t inherently cool. There are other differences, but that’s enough to give you an idea of just how different these two models are.
The Olympica III also sounds better than the Venere 3.0 -- during that listening session in Vicenza, I heard a clearer midrange, tighter bass, more refined highs, a deeper soundstage, and better-defined images on that stage. All told, the Olympica III is better than the Venere 3.0 in pretty much every way.
But while the Olympica III betters the Venere 3.0 across the board, it doesn’t do so by as much as the difference in price might lead you to expect. Nor does that difference make the Venere a “bad” speaker; in fact, quite the opposite. Just as they’re cut from the same visual cloth, the Olympica and Venere are cut from the same sonic cloth -- when Paolo Tezzon played them for me, their tonal balances, the upper- and lower-frequency extremes they reached, and their overall soundstaging seemed roughly the same. In resolution and detail, the Venere wasn’t that far behind the Olympica. The Venere 3.0 and the Olympica III do similar things; the Olympica simply does them all a little better.
How much better? It’s difficult to quantify the kind of improvement that spending an additional $9502 for a pair of Olympica IIIs will buy -- what sounds “20% better” to me might sound 80% better to someone else. That said, I’ll say this: to my ears, the Olympica III seemed 25% to 30% better in most respects. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it does indicate that improvement in performance decreases in proportion to the increase in price -- which is par for the hi-fi course, where returns rapidly diminish for speakers costing more than a few thousand bucks per pair. The Venere 3.0, while not as good as the Olympica III, can actually be considered a steal when you juxtapose the great difference in price with the comparatively small difference in performance. Were I shopping in the Venere’s price range, I’d definitely consider buying a pair -- and if I had a lot more money, I’d just as seriously consider the Olympica III: its combination of build, styling, and sound seems fabulous.
What’s probably most important to take from all this are that the Venere 3.0 and Olympica III are damn good speakers at quite different price points, and that Paolo Tezzon’s consistent approach to speaker design has created a Sonus Faber “house sound” not only within but across model lines. To me, this is a very good thing. My impression of the Sonus Faber speakers of long ago was that they lacked any sort of consistent house sound -- their sonic signatures varied significantly, and a more expensive model didn’t always sound better than a less expensive one. Nowadays, if you buy a more expensive Sonus Faber, you get more. That’s how it should be.
Last April, Jeff Fritz reviewed the Venere 3.0 for our sister site SoundStage! Ultra, so there’s no reason for me to dig deeper into it here -- he did a very good job of describing that speaker. But the Olympica III hasn’t yet been reviewed anywhere. Although I was able to listen to the speakers in their designer’s room, as set up by him, I’d like to get a pair in my own listening room and compare them to some competitors. So as soon as I’d returned from Italy, I requested a review pair. Stay tuned . . .
Finally, those “naked Italians.” Sophia Loren? Sonia Braga? Monica Belluci? Sorry, no. I was thinking about music.
That afternoon in Vicenza, Paolo Tezzon played a track that bowled me over: the Police’s “Roxanne,” performed by singer Petra Magoni and double-bassist Ferruccio Spinetti, aka Musica Nuda (Naked Music). The track comes from the duo’s self-titled first CD, released in 2006 (how did I miss it?), which features mostly covers of pop songs and standards -- for example, “Eleanor Rigby,” “I Will Survive,” “Blackbird,” and an eight-plus-minute “Imagine.” Magoni and Spinetti strip down music to the core in ways reminiscent of bassist Rob Wasserman’s Duets, which has long been a favorite disc of mine -- but Musica Nuda is even better recorded.
In “Roxanne,” Magoni is placed at the center and toward the front of the stage, Spinetti somewhat back and slightly to one side. Both pairs of speakers accurately re-created the stage, and nicely revealed details of the recording venue, though the Olympica IIIs projected images with more focus, and the soundscape with more detail. The recording’s strikingly wide dynamic range was expertly rendered by both models, but the Olympicas stepped somewhat ahead by sounding more incisive, forceful, and, ultimately, realistic.
In fact, the music was so realistic through the Olympica IIIs that the sound remained vividly in my mind long after it had finished playing -- which is why I’m talking about this recording here. Undoubtedly, many have already discovered Musica Nuda’s music -- they’ve released seven albums and a DVD -- but I suspect that many more, like me, haven’t heard of this group or this CD. I just ordered a copy for myself, and you probably should, too. Thanks for the tip, Paolo!
A trip to Italy for a visit to Sonus Faber’s factory, a listening session with their lead designer, a shoot-out with two of their newest loudspeakers, a new musical discovery -- not a bad way for an audiophile to spend a few days. I can only hope that, some day, I can do something similar again.
. . . Doug Schneider