Sonus faber may be a small Italian speaker company, but you can literally see its influence in the curvy look of various B&W, KEF, Magico, Tannoy, Wharfedale and countless other speakers.
Thanks to Sonus faber, the box is out and round is in.
Franco Serblin founded Sonus faber in 1983 to build speakers that played music instead of merely reproducing it. The company has recently brought in a new designer, Paolo Tezzon, and the Liuto is the first of his designs I’ve sampled.
Tezzon’s definitely on the right track. The Liuto’s sound is at once very different and is still very Sonus faber. The Liuto’s tweeter is something of a departure for the company. Over the past decade or so most of their speakers have used “ring radiator” tweeters. Tezzon’s 1-inch fabric dome tweeter is more conventional in design, but its sound, all the way up to a claimed 25 kilohertz, is excellent. This is one high-resolution tweeter that’ll never hurt your ears.
The midrange driver is unique. It features a woven, thermo-molded polypropylene cone, which is something I’ve never seen or heard before. Sure, plain vanilla molded polypropylene cones have rightly gone out of favor, mostly because they had a rather noticeable hollow, “plastic” coloration. Yet Tezzon’s woven, thermo-treated polypropylene cone sounds smooth, detailed and lifelike.
The 9-inch aluminum/magnesium alloy woofer sports a “coaxial anti-compressor phase plug.” This machined aluminum device was designed to reduce cavity resonances that build up behind the woofer. That makes sense—think of a woofer as a pump that moves a lot of air—and pressure build-up directly behind the woofer would interfere with the woofer’s movements. Not on the Liuto’s woofer, though. Similar devices have been used on Sonus faber’s higher end speakers for years.
All three drivers are made in Denmark and built to Tezzon’s exacting specifications.
Looking straight down on the top of the Liuto’s cabinet you can’t help but notice its curves mimic those of a classical lute (liuto is the Italian word for lute). The shape has graced a number of Sonus faber speakers, but instead of the company’s traditional solid-wood cabinets, the Liuto’s is milled, medium-density fiberboard. Its high-gloss, black-lacquered flanks are of more than cosmetic interest; its rounded sides minimize the speaker’s resonance. Inside, strategically placed structural ribs further quell cabinet resonance, because unlike musical instruments, the best speaker cabinets are acoustically dead cabinets. They let the tweeter, midrange and woofer “speak” for themselves.
The Liuto’s front baffle is covered in buttery soft faux leather, and again the goals were functional and aesthetic. The leather connotes pure Italian style and also serves as a gasket material to seal the driver frames to the cabinet. The Liuto is 40.6 inches tall, 9.3 wide and 16.3 deep.
The cabinet’s sides taper in to the rear and meet a one-piece, milled-MDF fitting that further strengthens the entire cabinet. The custom-made, all-metal speaker wire connectors accept bare-wire ends, spades or banana plugs. Which reminds me, the Liuto is an 8-ohm speaker, which means it’s easier to drive than previous 4-ohm Sonus faber designs.
The Liuto line also includes a center speaker, the Smart ($1,698 each). OK, technically, it’s an LCR speaker that can be wall- or stand-mounted in either vertical or horizontal orientations. Get (five) Smarts and a sub and you’ll have a rather shrewd and shapely home theater system.
The Liuto Monitor ($2,998/pair) is a small bookshelf speaker. Sonus faber offers stylish floor stands for the Monitors. It came as something of a surprise, but Sonus faber doesn’t offer a matching Liuto subwoofer. No worries, Sonus faber’s U.S. importer Sumiko Audio recommends using a REL R-205 sub ($1,195) with Liutos destined for home theater duty.
You can order a set of Liutos in any color you want, as long as the color is black.
The Liuto is very much an audiophile speaker, but it really came to life with rock and roll. Don’t get the wrong idea, it’s no slouch with classical and jazz, but this Italian speaker was a seriously gutsy performer. Spin a James Brown CD and you won’t be able to sit still.
I was knocked out by the way the Liutos brought a less-than-stellar-sounding CD, namely Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Live in Europe to life. Remastered in 1987, it’s a rather lifeless and dull-sounding affair, but the band totally rocks out. Fogerty screams his guts out and the band’s performances are a little sloppy, but the feel is awesome. Cranked up to a healthy volume, Live in Europe is rock and roll heaven over the Liuto. Don’t let the sophisticated design fool you, this speaker kicks butt!
But can the Liuto boogie? To find out I popped on “Classical Thump” from the S.M.V. Thunder CD. S.M.V. is a bassist super group with Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten. This track features the most amazing syncopated plucking and thwacking by two of the players. The Liuto’s feel-it-in-your-gut thump and transient speed were to die for.
Combining clarity and impact is a rare talent, so the Liuto really shines with jazz. With the Dave Brubeck Quartet at Carnegie Hall CD the band’s intricate and pulsating poly-rhythms had me going from the start. This live recording from 1963 captures the band at its peak, and if you ask me, they were more entertaining live than they were in the studio. The Liuto brings out the live vs. studio differences more than most speakers in its price class.
To finish up I couldn’t resist the obvious: a wonderful new CD, Eduardo Egüez: Baroque Lute from MA Recordings. The precision of Egüez’ lute fingerings and his every breath were vividly presented. This is a solo instrument recording, but the soundstage was wide and deep. So while the Liuto didn’t inflate the lute’s sound or size, I heard the instrument’s sound filling a large concert hall.
With a name like Liuto I expected that, but the Sonus faber Liuto proved Italy can make a great rock and roll speaker. A great rock and roll band? I don’t think so.
CONTACT: 510.843.4500, sonusfaber.com
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