Life is full of surprises and the new Sonus faber Lumina III floor standing speaker system is one of the better ones. Having greatly enjoyed the much smaller shelf mount Lumina I it would have been easy to think of the taller version to be just an extension of this. But as you’ll discover, Sonus faber speakers are all about character and the Lumina III highlights this in some very exciting ways.
So what makes the larger Lumina II better than the little Lumina I’s? The first impression is that the lucidity of the much smaller model is retained and taken further, with even more projection and space. The higher efficiency and greater dynamics are immediately obvious. As is bass, and we’ll discuss the qualities associated with this a little later.
With all Sonus faber speakers it’s the ‘voice’ that makes them special and, in the case of the Lumina III, the voice is something rather unique. The reputation of Sonus faber is built on the quality of the midrange and an unerringly natural and organic quality that few have ever matched. This means that human voices, especially, but also stringed instruments can communicate much more to us – not just the intelligibility of lyrics but also the emotion and humanity underpinning the performance. The moment you hear a pair of Sonus faber’s, it doesn’t matter which model, this will become obvious.
This has led to the assumption that Sonus faber’s are ideal for some genres, especially classical and jazz, but may not be strictly accurate, or incisive enough for listeners that favour rather more acidic, modern or challenging genres. Which, if you have followed my writing, is very much me. Just as there are a range of musical genres, there are a range of voices and the Lumina III certainly has it’s own.
This is the Sonus faber for anyone who loves the sound of electric guitar. Never before have I heard a speaker that so effortlessly opens up the layers of sound created by such instruments, their amplifiers and speakers in a live or recorded performance. And this is the key difference between acoustic stringed instruments and electric – it’s not just the cousin of a violin or cello but a wild mix of components, induced feedback, effects and distortion amplified and reproduced in the real space of a venue or studio with often large and powerful speakers.
To say you’ll be excited by these speakers is an understatement. There’s drive and energy, a real ‘liveness’ that captures the visceral elements of performance. Heavily distorted overdriven guitar sounds authentically fierce – just as is should. Not harsh or edgy but just like the live sound of big tube amps hammering away. They can growl – bringing out the real character of the guitar – the sludge metal of Myrkur/Chelsea Wolfe collaboration ‘Funeral’ is a mess of heavy layered guitar overlaid with doom laden vocals. Yet the Lumina III unwinds this and puts you in the front row.
This doesn’t mean you have to be playing at ear damaging levels – the wonderful thing about the Lumina IIIs is that they literally light up at any volume level with clarity and presence.
There is more to enjoying the sound of a speaker than a single instrument. I’ve focused on the performance with guitar as it highlights the distinct voice and character of the Lumina III’s. The trick with Lumina is that while there are some stand out qualities, the overall performance is also very high. They carry the Sonus faber brand and so have a to live up to some serious expectations.
The midrange qualities I’ve highlighted also bring out the best in the reproduction of acoustic guitar – without the layers of electronic distortions to unwind, the natural harmonics of an un-amplified guitar can be easier to handle, yet conversely the organic character of an instrument made of wood means we’re very sensitive to any colourations induced by a speaker system.
Vocals are also lifted. Our hearing is most responsive to the human voice, in part through evolution, so while an analytical approach to speaker design with ruler flat frequency response is seen as a goal for many, it’s not the end point.
There’s an undeniable lightness of tone that I attribute to the paper cones. The articulate presentation of the Lumina makes lyrics easier to understand and more engaging. The classic Sonus faber sound of the past offered an often honeyed interpretation and while Lumina doesn’t completely abandon the heritage, it also reveals a more modern approach which may be better suited to both digital, todays electronics and tastes.
Let’s have a quick look at how the technical aspects of the Lumina design contribute to what we hear.
The choices made in driver construction are the obvious place to start when comparing the smaller Lumina 1 to the floor standing III. While the two models share the same silk domed damped apex tweeter, the array of 3 drivers below this are larger than the single unit used to deal with both midrange and bass in the shelf mount Lumina I. The upper unit in the Lumina III deals exclusively with midrange and features a fixed pole piece. The two lower drivers of the same size have subtly branded dust caps – all of the cones are a proprietary light paper pulp. The use of natural materials is key to Sonus faber’s aim of producing an organic and realistic sound with continuity of tone across the audible range.
Light and possibly intentionally under-damped paper cones are a feature, not a bug. No matter who builds a speaker driver and regardless of what materials are used, all cones get ‘excited’ at certain frequencies. Some designers turn to damping which, in theory, reduces unwanted resonance but can also suppress detail. But damping inevitably increases the weight of a cone, slowing down it’s response and adding overhang. Other cone materials or mechanical solutions come with their own bag of problems.
Sonus faber have always used the natural qualities and character of both cone and cabinet materials to enhance sound rather than fighting against it. Hence the distinct character of the brand.
Hidden within the cabinet, the cross-over network gets less attention. Yet I believe this is critical to the Lumina III’s performance and takes it ahead of any similarly priced or proportioned speaker.
Being a true three way speaker system, the cross-over must split the sound up at two points as well as controlling the extremes of high and lower frequency. Add to this the complexity of timing – high frequencies by their very definition travel much faster than low. Factor in the high voltage and current that this network must deal with. Don’t also forget the cross-over choices influence the impedance your amplifier has to deal with, ie the ease or difficultly with which it can control the speaker. Let’s not even get started on the interactions of all these elements.
So now you’ll understand that cross-over design is in fact critical. Sonus faber have their own unique solution called Paracross Topology™. This is found in the very best and most costly Sonus faber models and is also a key point of difference between the two Lumina models.
For the technically minded it’s a “semi-balanced” crossover design circuitry, where some reactive components (Capacitors and inductors/coils) are placed on the negative rail of the circuit. The crossover design is less sensitive to radio-frequencies and provides a better definition.
Why are radio frequencies that we can’t hear a problem? This isn’t a 5G conspiracy theory. As any radio listener well knows, the airwaves are being swamped by multiple transmissions – cell phones, wifi networks, satellite TV and more. Add to this the many modern devices the emit interference – lighting and switched mode power supplies in many appliances being obvious offenders. It all adds up and can’t be ignored. And within the crossover itself the quality of parts plays a big part in the end result. This is why the Lumina sound is so striking.
Rather than tilting the frequency range upwards to provide the impression of detail, Sonus faber’s crossover delivers remarkable transparency which in turn allows the qualities of the drivers to be revealed. In short you’ll hear music coming out of the Lumina which is simply lost in other speakers.
Bass is always one of the reasons to select a larger speaker system and again the Lumina benefits from a unique approach. In Sonus fabers’s own words the “Stealth Reflex” system, is an innovative “para-aperiodic” interpretation of the tuned load. It allows reduction of acoustic volumes dimensions, it provides greater extension in low frequencies response and reduction of distortions, it also eliminates spurious wind noises, typical of traditional reflex systems.
The Lumina III is a relatively compact version of the floor standing genre, slim and rather elegant with the cabinet sides wrapped in a black leatherette there is no visible porting. But if you up-end the speaker you’ll see a large diameter down firing port. This also means that the use of the provided spikes is mandatory (which is why protectors for uncarpeted floors are included.
With brand new speakers it can be hard to gauge the bass performance at the outset. As with almost all audio components there is a run in period, and with the Lumina’s and I was expecting a similar trajectory to the equivalent Sonetto model. But again we were surprised. Every so often the Lumina lets loose with a really deep bass. It’s only there on some recordings but it’s almost subterranean and totally out of keeping with the size of the speaker. It’s a whole lot of fun. Again, not strictly accurate but part of the definite character of the design.
Over time, the sound of the Lumina does trend towards that of the Sonetto, becoming smoother and sweeter as the drivers ease up. Yet the deep bass, combined with a more agile and vivid presence, always remains.
The Lumina III is an easy speaker for amplifiers to drive and get the most out of. The 4 ohm specification is really not a factor these days with any competently designed amplifier being perfectly happy. The way that Lumina projects sound outwards with both lucidity and agility encourages you can select matching components on the basis of quality rather than quantity.
The vivacious and expressive character is Italian in the very best way. Likewise the emphasis on design reflected in both aesthetics and technology. And finally the history of Sonus faber as a brand – it’s a unique combination. To have this all in an affordable floor standing speaker that has both presence and projection is remarkable.
This is one of those rare occasions where I conclude that the bigger model is better in all regards. This takes nothing away from the smaller Lumina I – it’s the quieter and more cerebral sibling. Both are welcome additions to the Sonus faber family. And hopefully soon, to your own home.