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Written by Douglas Schneider Douglas Schneider
Category: Monthly Column Monthly Column
Created: 01 November 2021 01 November 2021

Sonus Faber was founded in 1983 by Franco Serblin, in Vicenza, Italy, although Serblin, who left the company in 2008, had been making speakers prior to that. One of his most memorable creations, the Snail, debuted in 1980—an all-in-one satellite-subwoofer system named after the way it looked.

Sonus Faber factoryThe Sonus Faber factory, September 2021

The Snail speaker system made such a lasting impression that it’s sometimes called the Sonus Faber Snail. However, Sonus’s first product was the Parva loudspeaker—a compact two-way design with a soft-dome tweeter and a midrange-woofer with a Kevlar cone, mounted in a solid-wood cabinet. Kevlar never became ubiquitous in Sonus Faber speakers, as it did for Bowers & Wilkins, but solid wood did. One of Serblin’s initial design goals was to make loudspeakers that would also look beautiful in a home.

An evolutionary step forward in 2010

There are many fans of the Sonus Faber brand; me included, but I didn’t get there overnight. While I’d admired some of the company’s early speakers because of the unique designs—most notably, the Extrema loudspeaker, which came out in 1991—there’s not a single pre-2010 Sonus Faber speaker whose sound I liked, nor one whose looks really impressed me. The speakers I heard always sounded grossly colored, and wildly inconsistent—no two models sounded alike. And despite all the fine woodworking, I always thought the company’s products looked too chunky and heavy, and a little gaudy, too. As a result, I never really paid serious attention to the brand.

Sonus Faber speakersEarly Sonus Faber speakers (left to right): Electa Amator (1987–1997), Minima (1984–2000), and Parva (1982–1990)

That changed in 2010 with the debut of the Guarneri Evolution, a stand-mounted design, and the Amati Futura, a floorstander. Both models showcased the exceptional design skills of two people who have now become synonymous with the Sonus Faber name: Livio Cucuzza and Paolo Tezzon. At that time, Cucuzza was in charge of industrial design and Tezzon looked after the acoustics. Both are still with Sonus Faber, though Cucuzza is now VP of product design, so he’s in charge of overseeing all product creation, while Tezzon currently holds the title of Brand Ambassador. This is a high-profile brand-representation role, but he is still involved in the final “voicing” of the current speaker designs.

Guarneri EvolutionGuarneri Evolution speakers at High End 2011

With the Guarneri Evolution and Amati Futura, Cucuzza brought striking beauty to the brand, while still respecting the design heritage; and Tezzon instilled a more natural sound in both models, which made them, for me, more pleasing to listen to. But of the two models, it was the Amati Futura that stood out and, in my opinion, set the stage for what Sonus Faber has become. In fact, that speaker—not the first-gen Aida, which came out a year later and turned many heads because of its size, attractiveness, and sound—had such a profound impact on me that I set out on a mission to learn more about what had changed at Sonus Faber, and what the future would bring.

The golden era

I struck gold in May 2013 at Munich’s High End event, where Sonus Faber was showcasing its new Olympica series: speakers priced much lower than the Guarneri Evolution, Amati Futura, and Aida. It was there that I was able to corner Cucuzza, express to him what I thought about the company’s recent work, and drop the strongest hint imaginable that I wanted to visit Sonus Faber in Italy to learn more. In other words, I basically invited myself over—and it worked.

Livio CucuzzaLivio Cucuzza with Olympica loudspeakers at High End 2013

In July 2013, I traveled to Sonus Faber’s main factory, which had moved from Vicenza in 2003 to a very cool-looking, violin-shaped building in nearby Arcugnano. It’s where the company remains. I spent a considerable amount of time with Cucuzza and Tezzon, and saw firsthand how the speakers were made. This showed me what it was that made the company tick. I saw that behind Cuccuza’s and Tezzon’s design work were ultra-passionate people on the factory floor who understood Sonus Faber’s history and its stature in the market, and had the desire not only to carry the brand forward in the same positive way, but also to support and strengthen it.

Amati FuturaAmati Futura loudspeakers under construction, July 2013

I was also able to spend time with Fiore Cappelletto, who was the brand’s marketing manager at the time, and Marta Vecellio, who’d just come on as his assistant. Today, Cappelletto is running the automotive audio marketing division of the McIntosh Group (the entity that owns Sonus Faber and sister-brands McIntosh Laboratory and Sumiko), while Vecellio is now in the marketing manager role for Sonus Faber.

Although Vecellio was a brand-new employee at that time, and Cappelletto had only been there for about a year, it was obvious that even though they weren’t designing the products, they were as committed as Cucuzza, Tezzon, and the rest of the team; they clearly wanted to push the brand as far forward as they could by getting the correct messaging out to the world. All told, the trip was a smashing success, which I wrote about at length on SoundStage! Global.

Marta VecellioMarta Vecellio, March 2014

In March 2014, I was invited back to Sonus Faber, but it wasn’t for the same thing—it was for the company’s 30th-anniversary celebration (Sonus Faber was actually 31 years old at the time, but who’s counting?). During that trip, which I also wrote about on SoundStage! Global, I was able to visit the factory again, but this time there were several hundred people present for the tour, so there wasn’t much more I could learn. But it was a blast. The company launched the extremely-limited edition Ex3ma loudspeaker (just 30 pairs were produced!), and the visit was capped off by a massive party that celebrated the brand’s milestone and served to usher in a new era of growth. Shortly after the event, the McIntosh Group was born, which, besides the other brands mentioned, also saw Audio Research brought in the fold (although this brand was sold last year to a private buyer).

Cucuzza Tezzon CappellettoLivio Cucuzza, Paolo Tezzon, and Fiore Cappelletto in March 2014

Sonus Faber today

In August 2021, I received an invitation to visit Sonus Faber again during the final week of September, which I readily accepted, mainly to see what had transpired in the last seven years. Seven journalists from other publications were invited as well. When we all arrived, I learned I was in a unique position within the group—I was the only one who’d been to Sonus Faber before, so I could compare what I saw then to what I saw now.

Sonus FaberMarta Vecellio (with back toward camera) explaining the company’s product history to the group of journalists

This trip also allowed for something I didn’t get to do in 2013 or 2014—visit two local woodworking companies, De Santi and Bisma, that build the cabinets for Sonus Faber. These side visits allowed me to learn more about how Sonus Faber operates and answered a question that’s been on my mind for many years: how can Sonus Faber—and Italy in general—produce wood products of such high caliber? The evidence of that quality is in pretty much any speaker model in the Sonus Faber product line, now and before. The answer was not what I expected. . . .

I was told that De Santi builds the cabinets and completes the matte-finished speakers, while Bisma puts the last touches on the gloss-finished cabinets. But what surprised me about both companies’ facilities when I walked through was that their equipment was no better or worse than I’ve seen in numerous wood shops around the world. I figured they’d have special machinery that no one else had in order to produce such superlative work. So how, then, are they able to produce wood cabinets in Italy with a finish quality that rivals anything made anywhere else?

Hand craftingHandcrafting a Sonus Faber speaker

I learned from Cucuzza, and from those running the shops, that the high quality doesn’t come from the machinery, but from two other things: the people doing the work—they care deeply about the products they’re making—and strict quality control, which includes the rejection of many nearly finished cabinets that other companies might deem acceptable. So while subpar cabinets can and do get made in these facilities, they simply don’t make it out the door and into the public eye. Instead, what’s delivered to consumers is the best of the best from skilled craftspeople, many of whom have been working for these companies for a long time. And that makes a lot of sense when you think about the Sonus Faber company name, which, Cucuzza told me, translates roughly to the tagline used for marketing: Artisan of Sound. In fact, the workers at these places are artisans.

At the Sonus Faber factory, things were more or less like what I’d seen in 2013 and 2014, but it was obvious that some changes had been made to step up production to accommodate the booming product demand the company has been experiencing. The COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t appear to have hurt Sonus Faber—not at all.

Aida assemblyCompleting a pair of Aida loudspeakers

For example, what was the loudspeaker R&D lab on my previous visits is now a “boutique” production area reserved for the company’s Reference line of loudspeakers, which are all floorstanders. These are the Il Cremonese and Lillium models, plus the two flagships: the Aida, which is the company’s production flagship model, and a model called The Sonus Faber, which debuted in 2009 and is still produced in very limited quantities for select dealers around the world that ask for it. (The Sonus Faber loudspeaker is a pre-2010 model. I don’t really like it. But obviously not everyone agrees with me about the older Sonus Faber models because there’s still a demand for it.) Very close to this production area is a small listening room, which wasn’t there on my previous visits. During this trip, it was used to demonstrate two of the company’s newest speaker models, the Lumina V and the Maxima Amator. Tezzon himself led the listening.

Paolo TezzonPaolo Tezzon, 2021

The main production area is now used for the entry-level Lumina models, the next-level Sonetto series, and the higher-grade Heritage Collection, Olympica Nova, and Homage Tradition lines, as well as the Gravis series of subwoofers. What was abundantly clear to me on this trip was that Sonus Faber is producing way more speakers than it did in 2013 and 2014—not only the quantity, but the number of individual model types as well. There’s a wider range of prices, too: from $899 for the Lumina I to $250,000 for that huge flagship, The Sonus Faber (both prices are per pair in USD).

Homage Serafino TraditionHomage Serafino Tradition loudspeakers being built in the main production area

I could see more expansion at Sonus Faber’s secondary facility, which is directly across the street from the main factory. When I first visited in 2013, it was mainly home to Cucuzza’s design lab, with space for him and other industrial designers and engineers, but also included what, at the time, was a small marketing department. That space has now increased in size by at least 100% to accommodate an increased number of industrial designers, engineers, and marketers—and the entire speaker R&D team, along with the anechoic chamber they use for measurements, which used to be in the main building. The facility is now equipped with a large listening room that can accommodate testing for all the company’s speakers. Other than in the listening room, I couldn’t take pictures of the facility due to the confidential nature of the activities there, but I can say that they had quite a bit on the go.

For our visit, the design lab’s listening room was used to demonstrate Sonus Faber’s Palladio line of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, combined with subs from the company’s Gravis series. That setup sounded fabulous and, because focus was put on it during this tour, it signaled to me that Sonus Faber is now attacking the custom-install market with the same fervor that it’s been attacking the traditional two-channel audio market for almost 40 years.

Julia Livio MartaMcIntosh Group’s Julia Lescarbeau with Cucuzza and Vecellio in Sonus Faber’s main listening room

But that foray into the lucrative custom-install market hasn’t been at the expense of the company’s two-channel products, as some might fear. During the tour, I was privy to some of the new projects the company is working on—some deliberately shown to me, others that were unveiled accidentally—that demonstrated to me that two-channel sound certainly won’t be sidelined, and that everyone on the Sonus Faber team knows what the company’s roots are. That’s all I’ll say—for now.

Looking to the future

I found this latest trip to Italy as fun as the first and second ones. To get there I flew into Venice, as I’d done previously, and then was transported to Vicenza to meet with the seven other journalists in the group. We stayed in a fab boutique-type hotel called Palazzo Scamozzi, which is in the heart of Vicenza, and is only about 15 minutes by car from the Sonus Faber factory. You couldn’t ask for a more beautiful, picturesque, or inspiring setting.

VicenzaVicenza, September 2021

Once the company tour started, however, it was obvious that the Sonus Faber folks were dead serious about what they were showing us, and the true intent of our trip became readily apparent: to showcase the company’s growth into a world-class speaker maker that can deliver premium products over a wide price range for diverse markets around the globe. But while they were showcasing a progressive, expanding, forward-thinking company, it was obvious to me that the people working at Sonus Faber in the year 2021 are deeply aware—and respectful—of the company’s history and what gave rise to its initial success. The attitude of all the people there was inspirational—and left me hoping I won’t have to wait seven more years until I can go back again.

. . . Doug Schneider
das@soundstagenetwork.com