High-end audio is about the faithful reproduction of music. But high-end audio gear is about other things, too, such as materials and their applications in audio components. If we’re talking about speakers, those materials could consist of anything from wood to composites to fiberglass and carbon fiber, or metals such as aluminum, and even pours such as concrete.
No other company in the history of high-end loudspeakers has embraced the use of disparate materials in their products in quite the same way as the Italian firm Sonus Faber. From my perspective, Sonus Faber’s corporate DNA consists of equal parts passion for high-fidelity sound, precision build quality, and natural material use. The natural materials I’m referring to could be thought of as the raw elements of the company’s corporate culture, and this obsession with materials weaves its way into each and every product that comes from their Arcugnano, Italy, headquarters.
Sonus Faber Maxima Amator
Of all the Sonus Faber product lines—Lumina, Sonetto, Olympica Nova, Homage Tradition, Reference, Gravis, and Palladio—it is perhaps the Heritage Collection (including the Electa Amator III, Minima Amator II, and Maxima Amator speakers) that best embodies the notion of material obsession—specifically the use of solid woods rather than veneers. I spoke with Sonus Faber’s VP of product development, Livio Cucuzza, about Sonus Faber and all things material.
Jeff Fritz: Sonus Faber has long mastered the use of disparate materials in the creation of their loudspeakers. Just from memory, these have included solid hardwoods and veneers, leathers, MDF and plys, aluminum, carbon fiber, and dyes and paints. How do you choose which materials go into which products? And more specifically, how did you decide what materials would go into the design of the Heritage Collection?
Livio Cucuzza: We believe in diversification. We believe that diversity is a value, especially in terms of materials. Sonus Faber has a long history of using natural materials, and we tend to use them in ways that exalt their properties, trying always to maintain focus on our target. This is how we selected the solid wood for Maxima’s enclosure. Our target was to achieve musicality, that peculiar character that Sonus Faber’s customers recognize and love in our products. Solid wood, as with any other material, has its own acoustic behavior, producing a particular pattern of harmonics that contribute to the “magic” of the Maxima Amator and the Heritage speakers in general.
JF: Can you discuss the difference between the aesthetic characteristics of a material and its acoustical properties? Do certain materials have a particular “sound,” or does it all depend on how a specific material is used in a given application? Or does it have more to do with how those materials are prepared?
LC: It goes both ways. Materials have their own sound characteristics; you can either exalt them or try to mitigate them. The art of our craft is to build cabinets that are really well balanced, mechanically and acoustically. Everything matters, really—from the selection of the raw wood to its preparation, to the glues and ensuring the right amount of time is spent on each phase. Working with solid wood is quite similar to producing good wine—a perfect mix of art and science. Visit our production facility and you’ll see that some processes are only possible if they’re executed by expert hands.
Livio Cucuzza in one of the Sonus Faber listening rooms
JF: Sonus Faber is renowned for expertly combining multiple materials in a single product. What amazes me is how these materials are combined, both physically and aesthetically. What do the Sonus Faber designers take into consideration in these material marriages? Is there a material you’ve considered using but later concluded that it didn’t fit within the Sonus Faber aesthetic?
LC: It’s happened more than once. Most of the time it happens when we’re using only one material all around, and we’ve produced something we didn’t like that resulted in “too much of one characteristic.” These experiments were amazing on certain tracks, but they weren’t satisfying in terms of overall musicality. There are few materials that can produce good results when used to excess in a product. For our purposes, we find that solid wood is one of them. From my perspective, there’s always an unspoken rule in designing things: when they look right, they normally perform right. I’m not talking about personal taste, well-proportioned things are universal. Someone can say, “This isn’t my style,” but the proportions and the presence of a product are universal. There’s a balance in nature; it’s true for almost everything you can find on this planet.
JF: Can you discuss the aging of materials and how those considerations are taken into account? What should customers expect over a decade of use? Should they plan on having to maintain the finish using specific cleaning methods or application of oils or waxes?
LC: In every Sonus Faber product, there’s a little label attached to the binding posts that says the product is made with natural materials, so imperfections and aging are part of its beauty. Wood in particular is a live material; it has a history before it arrives at our door and its journey will continue after our production and in the customer’s environment. However, there’s no maintenance required. All our woods are painted with transparent, water-based paints, so only some attention is necessary in terms of the cleaning procedure; avoiding acids and aggressive products is crucial.
JF: What are you most proud of with respect to the Maxima Amator?
LC: The overall musicality. Some say that Maxima is magical. I think that’s true.
My history with Sonus Faber
The last Sonus Faber speaker I reviewed, back in February of 2020, was the Olympica Nova III. But my journey began long before that—with a review of the Amati Futura (now discontinued) in April of 2012. It’s safe to say that, from first contact, I’ve always greatly appreciated Sonus Faber speakers.
As much as I’ve admired the Sonus Faber speaker models I’ve mentioned, the Heritage Collection is especially enticing. And though I’d love to give you a reason based on a particular sound profile they produce, I realize I’m drawn to them because of a primal attraction to the materials that make up the speakers themselves. The solid walnut exterior, the brass accents in the base, the use of marble . . . I almost ordered a pair of Electa Amator IIIs when I read Hans Wetzel’s review. The only thing that stopped me was the fact that I’m a floorstander kinda guy. I do own a pair of Monitor Audio Studio standmount speakers that I use in my A/V system, but when it comes to my main rig, I’ve always gone the floorstanding route.
So it’s the Maxima Amator’s entry into Sonus Faber’s Heritage Collection—as the third and most recent model in that series—that marks my next steps with the brand.
You probably know the details by now. The Maxima Amator ($15,000 per pair, all prices USD) is the only floorstander in the three-model Heritage Collection, measuring 44.1″H × 11.8″W × 13.8″D and weighing 83.7 pounds each. The speaker is a two-way design, utilizing a 1.1″ Damped Apex Dome (DAD) fabric tweeter and a 7.1″ paper-coned midrange-woofer. The specs are about what you would expect from a smallish two-driver floorstander: 4-ohm impedance, a sensitivity of 88dB/2.83V/m, and a frequency range of 35Hz-35kHz. Hans Wetzel described the unique crossover in his review: “The centerpiece of the Maxima Amator is its crossover, which is found in no other Sonus Faber loudspeaker. Its Interactive Fusion Filtering (IFF) network is noteworthy for several reasons. First, it operates in series rather than in parallel, as in most crossovers, with the high-pass filter affecting the low-pass filter, and vice versa: each driver’s voice coil becomes part of the other driver’s filtering circuit. Sonus Faber argues that this results in better integration of the drivers’ outputs.”
You can’t boil this speaker down to its specs, however. For me, at least, the numbers are the least interesting aspects of its design. As much as I was drawn to every model in the Heritage Collection, even among the other Sonus Faber speakers I admired, something about the Maxima Amator spoke deeply to me when I read the initial press release and saw the first photos come out of Italy.
Have you ever just seen an audio product and instantly wanted—no, needed—it? The immediacy of the experience was exactly like this with me and the Maxima Amator.
So I ordered a pair. And they arrived in the last week of July.
Unboxing my pair of Maxima Amator speakers was a study in details. If there’s a company in the high end that understands the importance of the entire buying experience, it’s certainly Sonus Faber.
Prime example: Contained within one speaker’s accessory box was a small book dedicated solely to the Maxima Amator. This photobook contains a wealth of detail you may never have realized went into the development and construction of the speaker.
Inside the front cover, the pages are marbled just like the base of the speaker—a nice touch that’s really not necessary, but it demonstrates the company’s attention to detail in relation to every aspect of your product experience, even before you see and hear the speakers themselves. The opening section of the photobook is devoted to “Research,” with highlights that include the use of computer-aided design, prototyping, and acoustical testing. As much as the Maxima Amator uses old-world materials, there’s a bevy of advanced loudspeaker engineering contained within those natural-walnut wall panels.
The next section is titled “Proportion,” where shape, materials, and parts intersect to make a beautiful whole.
“Soul” encourages the owner to look deep inside their speaker by viewing the crossover network, which is visible behind the binding posts on the bottom-rear of the speaker.
The fourth section, “Avant-Garde,” showcases how the main elements of the speaker—the reference-class drivers and the company’s latest thinking on crossover design—combine to create the sound that the designers were listening for.
“Made in Italy” illustrates—literally—what makes a Sonus Faber a Sonus Faber: the Maxima Amator is not so much produced as it is crafted. The company’s craftspeople, by the looks of it, take an uncommon level of pride in their jobs, and it’s obvious to anyone who’s paying attention.
“Team Work” is dedicated to the collaboration of a group of people equally committed to making something special—the Maxima Amator—while the final section, “Emotion,” captures the end of the process that finalizes the design: the listening tests.
As I poured over every detail of my pair of Maxima Amators, many things caught my eye. The first were the marble bases, literally the first things you uncover as you remove the plastic and cloth coverings. Appearing somehow different from the Maxima Amators I’d seen previously—both in press materials and in the product photos from our own review—the marble on my pair, a crisscross lattice of gold and brown veins, seemed unique.
This was both surprising and exciting, and it underscores the heightened appeal of natural materials over the potentially mundane consistency of manmade finishes.
The solid walnut sides and top are rich and substantial in their appearance—and just as importantly—perfect in their application. The leather-covered front baffle and rear panel meet the wooden elements with uncanny workmanship, and the brass accents at the base of the speaker are beautifully yet tastefully applied.
The Maxima Amator is built by hand, and when you run your fingers along the wood and leather, you can almost sense the person who worked on it and the pride they must have taken in getting the details just right. I concluded that these speakers were built by a highly skilled craftsperson who cared deeply about their work—because it could be done no other way.
The last elements I want to mention are the binding posts and the clear glass panel that exposes the crossover network. Although you may initially find this feature a bit gimmicky, it’s something I greatly appreciated because it shows that the beauty of these instruments ultimately isn’t only skin deep. As with people, it’s what’s on the inside that really counts, and so it is with this speaker. I can say with instant pride of ownership that the Maxima Amator is beautifully made through and through.
I was expecting an absolutely beautiful speaker. What I received actually exceeded my expectations.
I never formally review a product I’ve purchased, so you won’t read about the Maxima Amator in the Equipment section of SoundStage! Ultra unless you click on Hans’s review. But next month I’ll detail the setup of my own pair in my room and give you some listening impressions. For now, I’ll just say that an itch has been scratched.
. . . Jeff Fritz