In 1980, an Italian dental technician named Franco Serblin decided to combine his love for music and musical instruments with his talent for fine woodworking to create a unique high performance loudspeaker. Serblin’s “Snail” loudspeaker made a statement, both sonically and visually. With hand-made crossovers and expertly crafted wooden cabinets, the Snail made a strong impression on the high end audio industry. Only ten pairs were made and the high price put it out of the reach of most consumers.
The acclaim from the Snail project allowed Serblin to form his own speaker company. Thus, in 1983, Sonus faber was born. 39 years later, now owned by McIntosh Group, the company is still thriving in Serblin’s home province of Vicenza, Italy. And the company still makes most of its products entirely by hand by skilled Italian craftsmen (and craftswomen).
Based on the fundamental principle that natural materials (like paper, silk and solid wood) lead to more natural sounding speakers, Serblin teamed up with like-minded audiophiles and craftsmen to help design and manufacture beautiful-looking — and beautiful sounding — loudspeakers. The company’s fame grew out of its unique and elegant loudspeaker designs and refined, musical sound quality. Although Serblin left the company in 2006, and sadly passed away a few years later, the company continues to carry on the tradition of high performance natural-sounding speakers in beautiful cabinets.
In order to bring vertical integration of their supply chain in house, the company acquired Italian cabinet-makers De Santi Woodworking last year. Located in nearby San Martino di Lupari, De Santi had been making Sonus faber’s speaker cabinets since 1986, and Stefano De Santi, the company’s previous owner was brought in as Sonus faber’s Head of Woodworking. The De Santi staff has remained in their roles and Sonus faber plans to increase staff to satisfy growing demand.
Last month, I was invited to tour Sonus faber’s loudspeaker factory and saw the attention to detail and expert craftsmanship which is evident today in the making of each Sonus faber speaker. Crossovers are wound, wired and soldered by hand. Wooden cabinets are assembled and finished with care. Leather, both natural and man-made variations, are hand-trimmed and glued into place with loving detail. And finally the drivers and crossovers are installed into the cabinets. After assembly, the company tests each speaker to assure its performance before shipping them off to distributors around the world.
Driver design has evolved over the years, while still adhering to the principle of using natural materials like paper and cellulose-based midrange drivers and woofers and silk dome tweeters. “Natural materials lead to natural sound.” This is the mantra of Sonus faber.
The so-called “Voice of Sonus faber” has been maintained throughout the company’s line-up by adhering to careful alignment of time, amplitude and phase between the tweeter and midrange driver. When the sound from both drivers arrive at the ears at the same time, same level and in correct phase, the sound is more natural and organic, and the soundstage locks into place. This is why you’ll see very similar spacing between tweeter and mid/bass drivers across all of the company’s speakers.
While Sonus faber speakers have long been coveted by audiophiles who appreciate their superb sound quality and fine craftsmanship, the cost of entry has been mostly out of reach to mainstream audiences. Sonus faber speakers previously sold for anywhere from $2,500 to $140,000 a pair. This has changed recently with the company’s release of the entry-level Lumina line of loudspeakers. The Lumina I bookshelf speaker starts at just $899.99 a pair and features the same DAD (Damped Apex Dome) silk tweeter found in the company’s more expensive Sonetto series.
As with all Sonus faber speakers, the Lumina I features a gorgeous hand-made cabinet and natural materials. The Lumina I has has been getting rave reviews including from our own Ian White (read more in his Sonus faber Lumina I review).
Another recent product introduction from Sonus faber is the Omnia wireless speaker ($1,999.99). This fully powered wireless speaker is designed to bring music into more spaces. Its elegant modern design fits in nicely with contemporary living spaces and its sound quality is top notch as well.
The Omnia recently won not one but two of the prestigious Red Dot design awards in the “Audio” and “Innovative Product” categories. You can read more about it in our Sonus faber Omnia review.
Sonus faber has other products in the works. The company is preparing to launch a new flagship speaker line later this year, which I had the pleasure of listening to on my tour. Product details and pricing are still under wraps, but from my listening, I can tell you that the company will have another winner on its hands. Listening to a variety of sources, driven by McIntosh power amplifiers, the two-channel system’s transparency and musicality were exceptionally clean and detailed. Live recordings captured the performance space in three dimensions, male and female vocals came through effortlessly, drums and cymbals had excellent impact and dynamics and deep bass was clean and precise. These speakers will be on the pricier (and larger) end of the scale, but if my initial impressions are accurate, they will be well worth the investment.
We were also treated to an immersive home theater demo featuring the company’s Olympica Nova Wall on-wall speakers ($4,500 each). These speakers feature the company’s “CI-Fi” (Custom Installation Fidelity) design principle. They aim to make home speakers stand out in both beauty and sound quality without taking any actual floor space. The system was comprised of nine on-wall speakers at listening height, another six speakers in the ceiling and four powered subwoofers providing the low end.
This 9.6.4 channel immersive surround system used a Trinov surround processor, again feeding McIntosh power amps to create an enormous three-dimensional soundfield that extended beyond the confines of the listening room. Demo material included a variety of Blu-ray clips from films including “Across the Universe,” “The Art of Flight” and “Man From Uncle.” Dynamics were top notch and the action completely enveloped the viewers, adding to the excitement and emotional impact of the scenes. For those who don’t want to sacrifice floor space for sound quality, the Olympica Nova Walls are worth a look and a listen.
From its inception, the company has used musical instruments for its design inspiration. One can’t help but notice that the curves and edges of Sonus faber’s speakers resemble the form and curves of a violin or lute. Over time, Sonus faber has released limited edition “Homage” speakers dedicated to Italy’s finest violin-makers: Guarneri, Amati, and, of course, Stradivari. These loudspeakers showcase the company’s audio design expertise combined with expert woodworking. The Homage speakers eschew traditional speaker grilles in favor of fabric strings in front of the drivers. These strings are designed to be acoustically transparent, so as not to interfere with the speakers’ sonic performance.
Sonus faber recently branched out with its audio expertise to provide the sound system for Maserati’s MC20 sports car and, more recently, the Grecale high performance SUV. Even within the confines of a moving vehicle, the voice of Sonus faber rings true. With 21 speakers and 1285 watts of Class D power, the High Premium sound system provides an exceptional listening experience, both while parked and while touring. And its elegant milled aluminum speaker grilles are inspired by the strings of a violin. You can read more about that system here: Sonus Faber High Performance Speaker System Comes Wrapped in a Maserati Grecale.
As the world emerges from a global pandemic, and as the company makes a move toward the mainstream consumer, big things may be on the horizon for Sonus faber. From my brief experience on the inside, and exposure to their commitment to high quality design and fine Italian craftsmanship, I’d say the future looks bright indeed. Bravo and buona fortuna, Sonus faber.