- review -
" Imaging, imaging, imaging.
That's what I thought when I first heard the Sonus Faber Electa Amators reviewed by Jack English last October. How could such small speakers create such a wide, deep soundfield? John Hunter, president of Sumiko, Ltd. and importer of Sonus Faber products, was amused but not surprised at my reaction. I did the natural thing and begged for a review pair.
Instead, he sent along the $1800/pair Minima FM-2, the Amator's baby brother. These 13-lb minimonitors are the company's smallest model. Of all the Sonus Faber speakers, John predicted that the tiny Minimas would best match my big listening room. I was skeptical, but hooked by what I'd heard in the Amator.
The hook went deeper when I wandered into Sumiko's exhibit at the June 1992 SCES and heard the company's flagship speaker, the $14,000/pair Extrema. Martin Colloms (Vol.15 No.6, p.136) was correct; this is a marvelous speaker, dynamic, fast, detailed, as transparent as Quads, with loads of bass. Even better, the Extremas are rhythmic, explosive, and dynamic on real music (see below). Yet the Extremas were among the smallest loudspeakers making big sound at the show. Perhaps Franco Serblin is right, and "less is more" in a minimonitor (see Sidebar 1).
A ProAc Tablette-sized minimonitor, the Minima was Sonus Faber's first loudspeaker and has been in production for the past eight years. the Minima shares common design elements with other speakers in Sonus Faber's product line: a simple 6dB/octave crossover housed in the finest handcrafted walnut cabinets made.
The Minima is a two-way, 6-liter ported speaker, using a 4.4" (110mm) cellulose-acrylate-cone midrange/woofer, built to spec by Denmark's Skannings Audio Technology, with a Hexacoil voice-coil, and a Dynaudio Esotar T330, 1.2" (28mm) silk-dome, ferrofluid-cooled tweeter. The first-order crossover is set at 2kHz. A prominent 1" circular port opening from the back of the cabinet is formed by a tube that stops just short of the tweeter's rear. The Minima physically resembles the more expensive, larger, $4500/pair Electa Amator but does not go as low or as loud.
Sonus Faber cabinetry eschews straight lines and right angles in favor of slopes, curves, and smoothly rounded edges. Though produced long before the Extrema that Martin Colloms praised, the Minima's sculpted cabinet, built of seven slabs of solid Italian walnut, has the same "Italian designer quality." Though much smaller and lighter than the Extrema (the Minima weighs about a seventh as much), the same attention to detail is evident. Different glues are used on the front and back of the enclosure. The leather facing that forms the gasket for the drivers provides a dispersing surface to enhance midrange dispersion. Fourteen-gauge solid copper wire is used for internal wiring, and all connections are soldered. While the Extrema employs finger-jointing to lock-miter the cabinet sections together, the Minima's solid walnut parts are assembled, held in a jig, and glued. The finished cabinet has a smooth, satiny, deep walnut color and delicate grain, all set off by a delicate grid of fine grooves along the top and sides, and a heavily beveled and sculpted front that narrows to frame the driver section.
Sumiko's Stirling Trayle supplied two sets of stands for the Minimas. First he sent Sonus Faber's $950/pair adjustable stands, built originally for the Electa Amators. They are shipped in a small, heavy (55 lbs!) carton. Inside, one finds Torx-headed wood screws, massive cultured-marble bases (footnote 1), two all-steel top plates finished in a black enamel crackle finish, and adjustable solid walnut pillars. Each stand has two inner, moveable pillars and two stationary, outer ones. Speaker height is adjusted by tightening four internal bolts that reach through slots in the walnut posts. Stirling suggested that the Minima would image best if the stands were set at a 30" height. This involved removing the two bottom bolts and sliding the internal sections up so that, when reinserted, the lower bolts would pass entirely beneath the walnut slide. The final assembly is very heavy and rigid, and devoid of any detectable audio resonance.
For someone purchasing $1800 Minimas, however, a $950 pair of stands may be too pricey. For this reason, Sumiko now markets the $350 Franklin and Lowell (F&L) stands. Although they do not have the designer look of sculpted walnut and stone, they do raise the Minimas 30" from the floor, and feature a nonadjustable hollow rectangular metal post, a solid metal top plate, and polished marble bases, all held together by high-quality Torx-head woodscrews. There are no spikes for this stand. Empty, the F&L's column rings faintly when tapped. This can be eliminated by filling it with sand or lead shot. All listening tests were carried out with both the Sonus Faber Adjustable and F&L stands, the latter sand-filled.
- SOUND -
The Minimas passed all my usual subjective listening tests with flying colors. I played pink noise to determine the optimal listening axis. Midband colorations were not evident, and the sound was natural over a wide listening area. This was confirmed by the sit-down, stand-up, walk-around test. The sound remained uniform, changing character only when I was standing right above the speaker. I broke the Minimas in over three months, but even over this long a time I heard little change in sonic character.
I set up the Sonus Fabers at the narrow end of the room, 4' from each side wall and 3' from the back, with my listening seat 8' away. This is closer than usual, but it allowed me to reproduce the same sitting distance in the study. Using the second Stereophile Test CD's warble tones, I was able to confirm that the Minima had usable response down to 80Hz, with some response just detectable at 60Hz and no evidence of doubling. (This last had not been not the case with the B&W Matrix 805's in the living room.)
Still, the Minimas were unlikely to produce deep bass in the bigger room; hardly surprising, considering the 4" midrange/woofer. A better bass balance was obtained in the study. Terry Bozzio's kickdrum and Tony Hymas's synthesizer were surprisingly lively in the study on Jeff Beck's "Behind the Veil" (Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop, Epic EK 44313). I found the Levinson No.27 and KSA-250 amplifiers to best reproduce the punch of Bozzio's kickdrum when driving the Minimas. Rimshots, kickdrum, and drumhead sounds were highly dynamic and clearly defined. The bass was rhythmic, with a mild jump factor. Even so, this was limited bass performance, and could not compare to such three-way or four-way full-range systems as the Snell E/III or A/IIIi.
The midrange is the Minima's strength; this came through best on voice, clarinet, and piano solos. Voices and strings sounded natural, floating free of the speaker positions.
The Minima is the first monitor loudspeaker I've auditioned that reproduced the human voice as naturally as the Spendor BC-1.
On the first Blue Nile LP, A Walk Across the Rooftops (Linn LKH1), the lead singer's voice was rich, full, and three-dimensional, standing apart from the music and special effects. Even with this warmth, the singer's tiny inflections of expression were clear and evident. Classical music, whose reproduction depends on midrange accuracy, was the Minima's forte. Chopin's Scherzo in b-flat, Op.31, as played by Anna Maria Stanczyk on the first Stereophile Test CD, had a marvelous, rich, warm quality that was totally involving.
The Minimas resembled their Sonus Faber brethren in one other key area: their ability to image. On the same Chopin recording, the Minimas placed the pianist's manager's post-performance "Well done!" comment at the extreme left of the stage, showing these minimonitors' ability to re-create the proper soundstage perspective. This was also heard on the second Stereophile Test CD's "Mapping the Soundstage" (track 10). LA's voice changed its apparent location in my listening room, just as JA described last June (Vol.15 No.6, p.202). The Minimas' imaging abilities could also be heard on the instrumental finish to Richard Thompson's "Why Must I Plead" (Rumor and Sigh, Capitol CDP 7 95713 2). There, the acoustic guitar's sonic image was located just outside the right speaker. Only the Minimas and Quad ESL-63's have gotten this right.
Despite their superb imaging, the Minimas were not as transparent as other top loudspeakers. Regardless of speaker placement, speaker cable, or amplifier, in neither room did the Minimas achieve the see-through clarity I heard from the Extremas at the 1992 SCES. Of course, this is an unfair expectation; the $14,000 Extremas are the only minimonitors I've heard that can produce Quad-like transparency. (In addition, I was not driving the Minimas with the same, no-compromise equipment or cables Sumiko used with the Extremas at the CES, such as the $20,000 SME Model 30 turntable with an SME Series V tonearm.)
The Minima's midrange strengths were also evident playing Richard Stoltzman's recordings of clarinet concerti. My daughter plays the clarinet, and uses the listening room to rehearse for auditions. Compared with a real clarinet, most speakers playing CD-sourced clarinet music just don't cut it. For example, my current standard, the Quad ESL-63, is just okay, sounding dry and distant when reproducing Stoltzman's tone. The Minimas sounded warmer if slightly duller and drier than the actual clarinet, but were more involving than the Quads. The Minimas' ability to reproduce clarinet tone made subtle miking differences evident. For example, the close miking of Stoltzman playing Copland's Concerto for Clarinet, Strings, Harp, and Piano (L.L. Smith/LSO, RCA 7762-2-RC) revealed the instrument's reedy, warm timbre far better than the distant miking of Eddie Daniels playing Weber's Clarinet Quintet in B-flat, Op.34 (Reference Recordings RR-40CD).
The Minima's treble response was smooth and sweet, rolling off gently. Perhaps this was more evident than usual because its midrange emphasis gave the Minimas a tipped-down sonic balance overall. Nowhere was this sweetness more evident than on the LP of the Glory soundtrack (Virgin 90531). In the opening cut, "A Call to Arms," the choir spread from wall to wall, rich, sweet, and airy. On the other hand, this sonic balance did not favor the direct-injected bass guitar on Stereophile's Test CD 2. Corey Greenberg's guitar was warm, but lacked extension in the treble and bass, particularly compared to the B&W 805.
The Minima's treble response first showed the strain when the speaker was driven at high levels in my big room. The sound of vibes hardened and became zingy, as heard on Joe Beck's "Unspoken Words" (The Journey, DMP CD-481). Vocals, otherwise a strength of this speaker, became peaky, particularly on soprano choral works. Moving to the smaller room greatly reduced these problems.
- SUBWOOFER TO THE RESCUE -
The Minimas got a major transfusion of bass extension when teamed with the Muse Model 18 subwoofer (see review, Vol.14 No.7). The Model 18 was positioned so the Minimas were situated at the Muse's midpoint, front-to-back. The result was terrific. With the Muse, Blue Nile's lead singer moved behind a screen of music in "A Walk Across the Rooftops." The snaredrum registered with a swiftness, suddenness, and startling quality I had not heard before. On the same album, "Tinseltown in the Rain" resounded with waves of deep electric bass, and the synthesizer on "Rags to Riches" was startling. Kickdrum and drumhead on "Tinseltown" also felt very solid, as if in the room.
The Muse subwoofer also gave extension to the Minimas' dynamic range. Full orchestral works put excessive demands on "barefoot" Minimas, particularly in my big living room. Turn on the Muse, and the sound became lush, the soundstage full in The Age of Gold, a wonderful LP featuring Leopold Stokowski conducting the Chicago Symphony (RCA Red Seal LSC-3133). Corey Greenberg's Real Music Test (Vol.15 No.7, p.112) also proved revealing here. James Hetfield's bittersweet ballad, "The Unforgiven" (Metallica, Elektra 61113-2), caused the Minima considerable treble angina, until the Muse subwoofer picked up the energy in Newsted's bass and Lars Ulrich's drums. Then the harmony between the guitars could be appreciated.
- COMPARISONS & CONTRASTS -
The Minima's overall sonic balance was tilted down in the treble, with a warm midrange and a lean bass register. These emphases, while not objectionable, meant that the Minima was no threat to such full-range speakers as the Hales, Quads, or Proac Response Threes. In this instance, "less" did mean a narrowed range.
Although this sonic personality may appeal in certain rooms, the Minimas' relatively high price may be a deciding factor for some audiophiles. These listeners should place the $200 PSB Alphas (see JE's review, Vol.15 No.7, p.117) higher on their shopping lists. However, there are other considerations, particularly sonic ones. Lesser-priced minimonitors may not match the Minimas' imaging and midrange abilities, or their ability to reproduce vocalists, orchestral string tone, and clarinet timbre. Speakers of equal sonic quality are the similarly priced ProAc Response Two (Vol.15 No.7, p.109), the B&W Matrix 805, and the Acoustic Energy AE-1 (Vol.15 No.6, p.193).
- CONCLUSION -
As the smallest of the Sonus Faber minimonitors, the Minima is not the optimal model for those playing full-range organ music or Metallica-like thrash [without subs], or those with cavernous listening rooms [without subs]. "Less is more" doesn't quite apply. On the other hand, these minis favor classical music and vocal and instrumental solos, where they are among the most musically involving minimonitors I've heard. They can be used with either the Mark Levinson No.27 or a Krell KSA amplifier and the Franklin and Lowell stands. Add a subwoofer for big rooms. [add 2 for stereo].
At their best, the Minimas imaged beautifully, playing with a naturalness that allowed hours of listening without fatigue. Here smallness paid off; less was really enough. For a seventh its price, the Minima gives its owner a bit of the Extrema's magic: Italian sculpted-wood cabinetry, outstanding imaging, and captivating musicality.
The Minimas' balance of strengths (tremendous naturalness and ability to involve the listener in the music, great imaging, low listener fatigue, midrange smoothness, excellent dispersion), even when set against their weaknesses (reduced transparency, peakiness when driven hard in large rooms [without subs], cost), lead me to place them at the top of the Restricted-Bass Class C in Stereophile's Recommended Components."
-review by Larry Greenhill in Stereophile.
Two-way, stand-mounted, reflex-loaded,
Dynaudio Esotar T330 28mm
silk-dome tweeter with ferrofluid cooling.
Proprietary Skannings 110mm cellulose-acrylate
cone with Hexacoil voice-coil built to S.F. specs.
70Hz-20kHz +/- 3dB
8 Ohms nominal
6.5 Ohms Minimum
12.1" H, 8" W, 9.5" D
13 lbs each
Sonus faber s.r.l., via A. Meucci 10,
36057 Arcugnano, Vicenza, Italy
− Established 1973 −
"love what you listen with"
Los Angeles, California USA
FOR SALE - TRADE
HOME / Master-Index
* AllegroSound et al assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of products, services, info, etc.
website design & original content ©AllegroSound, Los Angeles USA. All rights reserved.
− Established 1973 −
"love what you listen with"
Los Angeles, California USA