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The Sonus Faber Amati Homage

Love and the Language of Music

Greg Petan

14 September 2003

Specifications

Three-way, Floor-standing loudspeaker.
Dimensions:46" high by 10 1/2" wide by 22 3/4 deep.
Weight: 154 lbs each
Price: $22,000/pair.
Manufacturer: Sonus Faber, 36057 Arcugnano Italy.
Tel: (39) 444-288788
Importer: Sumiko, 2431 Fifth Street, Berkley CA 94710
Tel: (510) 510-843-4500

Over the last fifteen years, I have auditioned at least fifty pairs of speakers. From entry-level mini-monitors to full range, floor-standing, assaults on the state-of-the-art, I have listened to everything and anything I could get my hands on. You see, as a young, eager, and teachable audiophile, I was taught that speakers, more than any other part of the component chain, affect the overall sound quality and character of an audio system. These unique burdens that speakers bear include: Accommodating the size of the room in which they are placed, the infinite variety of personal aesthetic tastes of the consumers, and the symbiosis the speaker must have with the amplifier. Armed with these facts, I was shocked by how few speakers left any indelible impression, and horrified that the vast majority had been utterly forgettable. The most noteworthy manufacturers, such as Avalon Acoustics, Talon Audio, and JMlab, produce speakers that remain the high water mark for me. The latest nominee vying for inclusion in that rarefied club is the $20,000 Sonus Faber Amati Homage.

Of the speakers that initially impressed me, most possessed a fatal flaw or two that would eventually reveal itself, leaving me unsatisfied and sniffing like a hound for the next contender. Whether a matter of tonal balance (most high-end speakers strike me as too lightweight or bright), a lack of pure resolving power, or the inability to move air in the bass, something nearly always reared its ugly head. It is a heavy load to tow if you are going to be the reference speaker that resides in my system. In addition I have an enormous room that eats a speaker's dynamic power like a head-banger eats Oreos after a Metallica concert. Could the Amati Homage navigate its way through the ultra-treacherous sonic obstacle course I erected? You bet it could. As effortlessly as my buddy's Porsche 911 came rolling off the assembly line, the Homage cleared nearly every parameter I have set up over the years in an effort to help me define the ultimate speaker's performance.

The Amati Homage is, in every way, the embodiment of what passion for music, guided by technical expertise, may yield. The fruit of designer Franco Serblin's fiery passion, the Amati represents the best of his efforts to produce a full-range (down to 24 Hz) speaker. The fit and finish of the Amati is so beguiling and so flawless that you really must see it in person to appreciate its striking beauty. Crafted from layer upon layer of maple and a high viscosity polymer, the Amati is honed into a wing-like shape, its profile is slim yet solid. 7 layers of furniture grade, high gloss lacquer tops it off and begs to be cared for and caressed. The high gloss black back portion of the speaker is crafted from a solid piece of maple and seamlessly integrates to the whole, creating a striking visual contrast to the cherry stain.

X-brace steel speaker stands screw into the bottom of the speaker, which raises some minor criticisms. First, the screws that attach the stands to the bottom of the speaker go directly into the bare wood of the speaker, rather than some threaded sleeve of metal or Teflon. If you need to remove the stands more than two or three times, you're more than likely going to strip the wood, leaving the connection of the speaker to the stand compromised. Second, I wish the stands were finished in the same high gloss as the speaker. This would make for a more seamless aesthetic. Back to the positive tip, the speaker grills are ingenious: A series of black elastic strands held together by a top brace and a bottom brace that, when stretched and inserted, create an acoustically transparent grill-very cool. (Word is, Franco is working on a design that will be called "Stradivarius." This will be a monster in size, price, and I'm sure, performance.)

The two 8-inch paper/carbon fiber bass drivers per side are manufactured by Scan-speak, as is the 7-inch paper/ carbon fiber mid-range driver and the 28mm non-fero-fluid tweeter. The front baffle is wrapped in leather for the purpose of diffraction as well as for aesthetics. The use of this material produces an incredibly suave presence. Why don't more manufacturers use leather? It is so elegant. Setup was a breeze, as I found the Homage rather complicit in positioning. This is a relief, considering some speakers practically require a degree in physics to figure out were they should be positioned. I settled them four feet from the front wall, with no sidewalls within fifteen feet. This free-air setup yielded a sound that resembles what I have previously heard from the Homage in a much smaller room. This sonic consistency indicates a nicely controlled dispersion pattern and leads me to believe that they will work well just about any were.

Within the first hour of listening, the Sonus Faber Amati Homage lobbied hard in the effort to join that exclusive fraternity of world-class speakers that I hold near and dear. So superior in the level of musical involvement and communication to nearly all those that came before, it was as if the Homage began to shift my magnetic poles, causing me to forever spin on an altered axis. I've had similar near instantaneous transformations with other parts of my system. My first experiences with the Linn Sondek CD12 and Jeff Rowland Coherence preamp worked me over on a molecular level, permanently altering my audiophile DNA.

What was it precisely about the Amati that managed to so effortlessly impress? First off, the Homage is so much sweeter in the upper-midrange and into the treble than any speaker I had heard before. Music that lives in this critical area is more colorful than I have experienced in other designs. Violins, sopranos, and woodwinds of all sorts, simply flower with the Amati Homage. Compared to other speakers that harden and flatten out textures, creating a tangled bottleneck of harmonics, the Homage manages to unravel and render a kaleidoscope of lilting, blossoming timbre. Listening to Rosanne Cash singing "Temptation" from her debut 10 Song Demo (CDP 7243) is a vastly different experience through the Homage. Roseanne's voice soars, while retaining its color and pitch, sounding more organic and less reproduced or mechanical than through speakers of lesser design.

The rich, harmonic presentation of the Amati Homage would be diminished if its delivery came at the expense of transparency; gratefully, the two coexist nicely. While there is perhaps a touch of coloration involved in the voicing of the Homage, and I'm talking a very small nudge in the direction of warmth, it is so artfully blended into the presentation, that it simply doesn't interfere with its ability to reveal a ton of information. Spatial relationships and image size within and around the sound stage are rendered with salient precision, yielding perhaps only to the Avalon Eidolon, which may be singular in the area of sound staging and imaging within this particular price range.

Another unique aspect of the Homage is its ability to render the music with a sense of vividness. This is tied to, but not mutually exclusive to, what we commonly refer to as palpability or presence. While many speakers are able to create a reasonable facsimile of an image in space, the homage takes it an important step further. With the Homage comes a textural vibrancy, a fission of energy and sense of life that is difficult to describe yet undeniable to the ear. For instance, when the instrument or voice is set into action, there is a resonant glow created within and around the image which fleshes out the picture, diminishing the all too familiar "cut paper" razor sharp outline or "carved out of marble" imaging I have experienced with even some of the costliest designs. As if touched by a wizard's wand, the Homage vaporizes these inanimate traits and replaces them with living, breathing flesh and bone. As a result, harmonic textures remain pure, while expanding and contracting within the dynamic envelope like real instruments. This deepens the level of musical involvement beyond what I have experienced previously, and moves reproduced music far closer to the ideal. Listening to Earl Wilde playing the Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor on Chesky (CD50), there is such energy and action within the image of the piano. This inner detail is seamlessly integrated to the whole, never overpowering the harmonic bloom and tonal color. The same phenomenon can be experienced on the finale of Sheherazade (RCA09026); as the gentle, pleading cry of the violin brings the frantic action to a conclusion, the resonant energy, even during the quietest passages, remains vibrant, pure and alive.

If there is an area of contention, it may exist from the 40hz region on down. While the Homage could never be called slow or smeared in the bass, it possesses more bloom and less sheer wallop than say, the Wilson Watt Puppy 7, B&W 800 Signature or the Talon Khorus X. On Bass spectaculars such as Stanley Clark's East River Side Drive (EK4789), the level of impact is slightly reduced. Track 5, "Working Man", through the Homage is a bit mellower and less intimidating than through the Talon Khorus X, which plumbs the depths with the best of them. Being the lover of bass heavy music, I would've thought this would be more of a concern. Thankfully, the Homage manages to integrate its parts into an undeniably involving whole, leaving me relatively unscathed by any quantifiable dynamic shortcoming it may have in the bass. Then again, my room is enormous and just swallows up bass impact. A room with more compact dimensions may suit the Homage more comfortably, allowing for some deep bass reinforcement.

Conclusion

There seems to be two camps concerning what makes a great speaker. On the one hand, there are those speakers that shoot for total neutrality. While this is a singularly worthy goal, more often than not, this results in a speaker that only "approximates" neutrality by way of subtractive colorations. I have heard a ton of systems that feature this emphasis, and I am usually left feeling cold and detached from the music. On the other hand, there are those speakers that take a few too many liberties with the tonal balance and timbre in an effort to please or cushion the ear.

Then there are those all too rare products that manage to straddle the line. These speakers are equal parts technical masterpiece and artistic achievement.
The Sonus Faber Amati Homage falls clearly into this vastly under-populated third category. Intense musical communication is delivered upon a sea of technical mastery, leaving the listener immersed in a kind of sonic elixir rarely experienced in the world of high-end speakers.

Admittedly, the Amati Homage is not the newest design. Nor is it the most affordable speaker on the market. It is, however, one of the best, if not the best speaker I have ever heard, regardless of price or vintage. For those that place musical nirvana ahead of high-end obsession on their list of priorities, the Amati Homage will most likely be the final stop on your road to musical bliss.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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