Sonus faber Sonetto III

Learn about what makes new Sonus faber Sonetto range so alluring. For some people it will be the attraction of the brand, for others the individual aesthetic. But above all else it’s the sound quality that will lead to the choice of Sonetto.

Our review of the new Sonus faber Sonetto floor standing loudspeaker system.

Sonetto is seen as Sonus faber’s ‘Democratic‘ range which may seem a modest enough description but, in the context of Italy’s history, can carry a much greater weight. It’s a strong statement about trying to deliver better sound to the masses. It also goes to the heart of Sonus faber’s reputation for craftsmanship by a team of skilled designers and workers participating together towards a common goal. This stands in contrast to the model of mass production with the exploitation of labour for profit.

For 30 years Sonus faber has advanced this cause and while there are flagship models that are undeniably exclusive and luxurious, the experience and revenue gained in the production of these allows for the continued employment of the Sonus faber workers in the Vincenza factory. And results in the superior quality and design of the Sonetto range being within the reach of many more music lovers.

Sonus faber speakers have a unique voice that is often seen as a benchmark for other designers to aspire to. Yet for Sonus faber the voice is just the starting point and they have continually improved upon the original concept.

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To appreciate and understand the Sonetto range it helps to have an idea of where they come from and the ethos behind the design.

The appreciation of history

The Sonetto range is the result of an organic design process. On one side they have consistently worked to improve their entry level speakers, from the original Concerto models, the Venere and most recently Chameleon ranges. You can see subtle references to all of these in the Sonetto models. There are also clear references to, and design elements taken directly from, the upper end ranges such as the Olympica. These threads are woven together and incorporated with aspects that are unique to the Sonetto range giving them a character all of their own. The appreciation of history allows us to go beyond the derivative to produce something uniquely individual and appealing.

Sonetto is deliberately designed to work in the broadest possible range of settings and match with a wide array of systems. The voicing of Sonetto and the range of models allows to you to appreciate any genre of music in a new and fulfilling way. I’ll illustrate how this is so for you with our own experiences.

We’ve chosen the middle of the Sonetto series as our representative example – the Sonetto III is an elegant and slim floor standing model that is bracketed by two smaller shelf or stand mount models (I and II) and two larger and more ambitious floor standing designs (IV and V).

As with all Sonus faber speakers the woodwork is an obvious standout. The Sonettos feature a heavily grained walnut veneer which is laid horizontally with a contrasting narrow vertical strip for the rear. The effect is unique and graphic, immediately setting them apart. The brushed alloy trim rings on the drivers are another visual statement and while there are grilles to moderate this, we’ve taken a real liking to the face they present.

The top panel is inlaid and stitched leather, embossed with the Sonus faber brand

The overall aesthetic  is clean and understated with the matt wood finish rather than a gloss, carefully engineered binding posts and bespoke floor spikes which elevate the speaker base allowing the downwards firing port to breathe.

Understanding the Voice of Sonus faber.

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Not the Sonetto but the flagship Il Cremonese. Note the obvious similarities in the treble and midrange array.

Let’s define the ‘voice’ of the Sonus faber Sonetto range – it is the unmistakable product of speaker configuration for the mid and high frequencies. More specifically the combination of the silk dome tweeter which is centrally damped and the midrange transducer featuring a proprietary natural fibre and paper blend air dried diaphragm. These natural materials enhance the quality of the all important midrange – especially voices and stringed instruments. There is a direct derivation from the more costly lines and having heard these, there is an undeniable aural DNA made obvious in the Sonetto.

These qualities are common to all models. The physical variations in cabinet size and bass drivers  do however mask a critical point relating to sound quality between the smaller 2 way and larger 3+ way floor standing models.

Smaller two way speakers always work to sound bigger than they are and there is a real art to giving this impression. Sonus faber are masters at this. The first model I ever heard; the original Concertino, stunned me with its performance which bettered our benchmark floor-standers, not just in midrange quality, but also the perceived depth and richness of bass.

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A Sonus faber crossover network

But assuming quality is maintained, larger 3 way speakers can provide this bass AND improve midrange, as the drivers operate over more defined ranges and the middle driver doesn’t have to carry the load of bass reproduction. The counter to this is that the crossover network that separates the frequencies sent to the respective drivers its by necessity more complex. Sonus faber address this with unique and patented crossover technology dubbed ‘Paracross Topology’. This is used in all Sonus faber ranges – the high grade parts and design are intended to ensure the best dynamic range and highly defined musical detail.

In a departure from previous practice the bass drivers are using a special aluminium alloy diaphragm. The benefits of this approach have been well proven by Monitor Audio and we’ve comprehensively explored this in our articles on comparable models such as the Studios, Silvers and new 5G Gold series.

So, just how well do the Sonettos live up to their promise and how to they compare, not just to their own other designs but also to other manufacturers class leading designs?

We intentionally choose the IIIs to both represent the range and also provide a foil to our recent Monitor Audio reviews. The IIIs are more affordable and compact than the MA Gold 300s but also sit well above the Studios and Silver 300s in terms of price – so they have to bring something special to the party.

While I have a real affinity with the technology and design priorities that drive Monitor Audio, Carolijn has a stronger attachment to Sonus faber simply because of the sound and I’ve been rather out of favour since selling our Cremona Auditors – to be fair these were a beautiful speaker in every regard and gave us faithful service as we’ve evolved both the business and component range.

The Sonetto IIIs have restored harmony in our household as they both deliver the classic Sonus faber sound but also advance the causes of resolution, dynamics and broad compatibility.

Straight out of the box, the Sonus faber imprint is undeniable. The lucid yet easy rendition of vocals with an unforced projection to occupy the room space just makes your shoulders relax and you’ll immediately understand what Sonus faber is all about.

From there it just gets better. The new alloy coned bass drivers do certainly take longer to warm up and move, from a level of restraint,  to matching the ease of the midrange. But there is no lack of extension. That said, it is more subtle than many similarly sized speakers where there can be a bit of an arms race going on. Sonus faber seem to deliberately take their best smaller two way designs as the reference and the extra capacity and drivers in the Sonetto III’s are there to augment the upper frequencies rather than overpower you. In fact on paper the frequency range covered by the IIIs is identical to that of the smaller stand mount IIs with both sharing a nominal lower 3db point of 42Hz.

But this is just one number and is countered by the higher efficiency and power handling of the floor standers. And as we have pointed out with a 3 way design there are payoffs in enhanced midrange clarity and a more open and expansive sound. The use of two smaller but faster bass drivers improves the definition of the bass with better articulation and control.

These qualities are all readily apparent and while they don’t detract from how good the smaller speakers are, if you choose the floor-standers you will genuinely get more.

Despite our exposure to ribbon tweeters, the high frequency characteristics of the the Sonus faber silk dome are exemplary – the damped centre point design seems to greatly reduce distortion and there isn’t a hint of listening fatigue.

The lightness and ease of the midrange and treble when combined is something quite special – the Sonus fabers almost dance around the music and vocals have never been clearer. We’ve been pulling out well played records and suddenly finding whole passages of lyrics are now intelligible whereas before they just seemed to be on the verge but remained indistinct. There is a certain rightness to the sound of the composite paper midrange – it’s there to be heard in the same way that materials used other speakers inevitably have some form of signature.

The Sonnetto III’s have a character all of their own and a district identity within the range. The smaller speakers pick up on the heritage of their predecessors – the classic Sonus faber small models such as  Signum, Concertino and Auditor. The IIs tip their hat to the Electa Amator and Concerto with a warmer presentation.

The  floor-standing IIIs are tonally in the same camp as the smaller models, being responsive and light on their feet – the bass isn’t designed to compete with mass market tower speakers aimed at EDM fans. What the relatively small bass drivers do is allow explosive dynamics and compression free volume levels that we’d never expect or even try to get from a smaller speaker. There is also much better vertical soundstage.

Celebrating individuality.

Award winning Sonetto speakers by Sonus faber #totallywirednzSome speaker designers strive for a form of accuracy that is the elimination of character. Ruler flat response and control of resonance by engineering. Which can produce technically ideal yet strangely un-involving results. Sonus faber intentionally work with materials and design to enhance their qualities. While you could call this a colouration, the flip side is that it can really bring music to life and this is what Sonetto does.

So you get remarkable projection of the midrange – there are layers peeled back in vocals especially and the sound carries out into the room in a way that every Sonus faber owner will appreciate. The emphasis on the ‘voice’ is paired with an organic softness to the sound. This has taken me a little while to adjust to, having been in awe of the laser like accuracy and attack of some speaker systems.

So while I initially missed the searing assault of hard edged guitars, the impact of drum rim shots and pile-driver bass – all of which combined to paint a picture of photorealistic clarity – I’ve become more and more enamoured with the impressionistic delivery of the Sonus fabers. Impact is not so much lost as countered by articulation and this really gets to the heart of music.

This slight softening allows you to listen through the music and appreciate what is some quite remarkable resolution. There is a texture and layering in the midrange that is by no means smoothed over.

These qualities are made obvious in all the different system set ups we have tried, both digital and analogue. The latter seems to take the art metaphor even further. The Sonettos carry emotion in a way I’ve seldom heard and in many ways are the best I’ve personally experienced.

IMG_0713.jpgCarolijn really appreciates the less hard edged approach taken by Sonus faber and find it makes much of the music I tend to listen to far more enjoyable. Those who know me will understand that I can be a little uncompromising and my tastes mirror this.

There is a real divergence between what Sonus faber and other brands are doing – a few years ago it was a difficult choice between the similarly pitched Venere and Gold (4G) models from Sonus faber and Monitor Audio – they shared so much. Now Sonetto and Gold 5G are utterly distinct from each other and I’m not going to be drawn into choosing which is best – both are absolutely true to their aims and each company very clearly tells you  what their speakers do.

This divergence of approach as been mirrored in other recent components we have reviewed – the Well Tempered Phono Stage and NuPrime MCX power amplifiers being obvious examples. In audio there are well worn paths which lead to a certain sameness – there are only so many variations of the design of a class A or AB amplifier for instance and while you can get lost in the intricacies of component section and internal layout, you have to do something radically different to make real progress. Hence the success of NuPrime’s switching amps.

Is this an alternate reality? Anyone can get entrenched in a certain sound that they become used to and so think that this is ‘right’ and then when looking to upgrade just go for more of the same – it’s why people tend to stick with a particular brand of car. In audio you might pick up on products with more power, or more detail but still remain in relatively narrow confines in terms of ‘the sound’.

But it’s the difference that makes Sonus faber special and they make no apologies for it. I love that they are so brave and confident, and the Sonettos are the perfect embodiment of this for me. Having started listening with a bundle of preconceptions which were immediately challenged, I’ve now moved on to listening to them for my own pleasure.

These differences will provoke plenty of divergent opinions – I get a lot of feedback from clients all around the world not just on the components we review but also comparisons made with their own systems and other brands. Some is confirmation bias but more and more I’m finding a willingness, and even enthusiasm, to embrace and appreciate different approaches as a way of getting more enjoyment out of music.

Even within the confines of the Sonetto range there is a remarkable degree of choice in terms of the character of sound you’ll get. While the voice is central and consistent, the physical differences in the models allow this, and  other qualities to be expressed in individual ways. As we have pointed out the floor standing IIIs that we have examined in detail share the same arbitrary frequency response as the smaller stand-mount IIs – yet the larger midrange in these delivers its own interpretation. Likewise the greater capacity and extension produced by the V and VIII provide experiences that surpass the smaller and possibly more elegant IIIs.

As with all speakers, the quality of sound you deliver into them and the abilities of the amplifier do influence the ultimate quality. The character of the Sonettos doesn’t obscure the differences between amplifiers – if anything it allows more of the individuality of electronics to shine through. From our own listening we find the Sonettos to be a relatively easy speaker to drive – they do certainly appreciate some good power delivery but these days with most speakers being both efficient and capable of handling surprisingly powerful amplifiers, you can’t make any generalisations based on that particular number.

It’s the ease of presentation that really makes the difference with Sonus faber – you don’t have to wind them out to enjoy what they do and I’ve been finding that most of our listening is happening at quite modest volume levels – there are obvious benefits here to both domestic bliss and the preservation of hearing.

For some people it will be the allure of the brand, for others the individual aesthetic, the sound we have described, or a mixture of all three that will lead to the choice of Sonetto. While we have come to the Sonettos some 9 months after the initial release of the range, it’s been a genuinely rewarding experience to rediscover Sonus faber and enjoy a speaker that very much operates on its own terms. This is what originally captured us and eventually led to the Auditors being our resident speaker for so many years.

To now find an affordable floor standing model that delivers all we value from the brand but also takes us to new and unexpected places is everything we could ask for. And we’d like to think this hold true for you too.

Sonus faber Sonetto III floor standing loudspeakers – NZ$7000 the pair including GST

Other models in the range…

Sonetto I shelf or stand mount $3000

Sonetto II stand mount $4000

Sonetto V floor stander $9000

Sonetto VIII flagship model $12,000

Carolijn’s perspective…

John’s review of the Sonetto III loudspeakers comprehensively delves into their tonal qualities, unique voice, and the Sonus faber heritage and design philosophies from which they descend. To build upon this and help deepen your understanding of these paradisiacal speakers here are my perceptions…

These must be the must ‘huggable’ speakers made. They are an earthy speaker with a natural beauty that is aesthetically pleasing but without being supercilious. I am describing our wood finish pair. The matt wood grain, gently curved lute shape, soft embossed leather top, understated badges – all perfectly proportioned, makes for an exceedingly tactile object. But we know that this is not solely for the purpose of capturing our eyes but rather that every aspect of Sonus faber design is with the purpose of creating music. The Sonus faber craftspeople do this with extraordinary skill, perfecting every detail, resulting in very fine musical object for your home.

My sense of what I am hearing through the Sonetto IIIs can be summed up by two qualities – that of anticipation and visual representation. John’s review notes my attachment to the Sonus faber sound. This is due the Sonus faber characteristic of refined musicality. From the very first Sonus faber speakers we listened to, ‘musical’ has been the describing word. In this they are gentle on the ears yet always captivating. When I say anticipation it is as if the music breathes in and out. The mind is ready and desirous of the coming ebb or flow, rise or fall. These are speakers to move the soul. I noticed too how singularly ‘visual’ the sound from these speakers is. To use an analogy, just as Renaissance masters perfected perspective these speakers have a striking command of aural space. It makes listening to them fascinating and involving – you’ll find yourself throughly absorbed in place and time. 

So the ‘Italian Poetry’ phrase used to describe Sonus faber loudspeakers simply sums it up so perfectly. 

Further thoughts…

After a full 3 months of listening and experimentation with a range of systems, my appreciation of the Sonetto IIIs has only increased. The run in period is a very real thing and I don’t think we’ve yet got the full measure of these speakers.

Both bass and midrange, and the balance between them continue to improve – at first a tightly reined in bass put greater emphasis on the higher frequencies but as this has opened out and extended, the Sonetto’s have taken on a warmer character. At the same time the vocals and mid frequency instruments have benefited from a progressive increase in detail which is leading to many ‘I’ve never heard that before’ moments.

In terms of system matching, the character of the Sonetto seems to work extremely well with NuPrime’s IDA-16 and and Evolution series amps – both excel in transparency and accuracy and the Sonetto IIIs take this and flesh it out rather nicely.

The midrange and high end detail is proving to be very close to that of the Olympica series so it is timely that these have just been upgraded to the ‘Nova’ range which will restore the hierarchy of performance and price within Sonus faber’s line up; it’s a measure of progress made that both Sonus faber and Monitor Audio have both produced new series which effectively replace a range at higher price points.

These competitive forces, both internal as designers try to build on their previous best, and external as they compete with other brands, are delivering remarkable gains in performance. It’s also becoming clear that these gains are attributable to a level of investment in both design and manufacture that the smaller operators can no longer keep up with. While both Sonus faber and Monitor Audio were founded by talented individuals and built up from a very small scale, the demands of the modern market have really changed things.

The Sonetto really is a precision instrument – so much has to go into every part and aspect of the design for them to sound as they do. Yet by making the most of both heritage and economies of scale (remembering that the Sonus faber brand is part of a much larger group), you get a far better speaker than would have previously been possible at this level.

What other people think…

As we have explained, the distinct characters of both the range and individual models will lead to a range of responses – I’ve found these are a speaker you have to take time to appreciate – both the run in period and divergence from what other brands deem important make this so, and I can read between the lines that some reviews have been undertaken in a shorter timespan than would be ideal.

But there are some writers that I have real respect for, that have taken the time to get to the heart of what Sonus faber have done with the Sonetto range, so here are some extracts and references for you to read which will cover both different models and provide another perspective from our own…

‘However, for those more rooted in the now and who actually listen to music, this fast, rhythmically adept, and intrinsically enjoyable presentation will likely prove more attractive than the rose-tinted sound of yore.’ Alan Sircomm HiFi +

‘Due to some terrific design and engineering, the Sonus faber Sonetto III produces much bigger sound than a speaker its size has a right to. If you’re tight on space and thought you’d have to settle for a bookshelf design, think again. The Sonetto IIIs could well be the answer. And if you have placement restrictions, the Sonettos are more forgiving than most floorstanders. The Sonetto IIIs have such a wonderful ability to reproduce lifelike midrange and midbass that you’ll often forget you’re listening to speakers.’  Home Theatre Review.

‘So then, did the Sonus Faber Sonetto II speakers cause me to change my listening preferences forever? Well, not exactly; but the invitation to explore that a bit of extra romance and sonic panache was delightful. In fact, these speakers are just exceptional. I think of the Sonus Fabers as mood speakers- as in, they put me in the mood! I can close my eyes and visualize myself cruising down the canals of Venice under the light of the stars, or maybe being serenaded along with mia amore by an Italian tenor in the town square. If that doesn’t make you want to smile, then I don’t know what would! Bellissimo!’ Part Time Audiophile.

‘Overall, the Sonetto II proves a highly impressive standmount. It has an endearing character that makes music fun, whatever you choose to listen to – and yet it doesn’t sacrifice basic accuracy in doing so. It has a fine tonality, great rhythmic bounce, decent dynamics for a smallish standmount and commendable soundstaging with especially impressive depth perspective.’ HiFi Choice.

‘The Sonus Faber Sonetto V is a serene speaker, which offers delicate treasures to the listener’s ears, but still knows how to be authoritative, especially in the lows. Its superb linearity allows it to be paired with a multitude of different amps’ son-video

‘Sonus Faber Sonetto V is the most complete floor-standing speaker we have tested in the price range so far. If you have space and advice, this is a couple of speakers you can enjoy for years. No matter if you dig Metallica or Mozart. They handle everything, and it makes them the almost perfect all-round speakers for people who spend a lot of time on music.’ reviewzorro.com

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