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SONUS FABER
Signum Loudspeakers
 


Sonus sonorous
A review by AudioFile
As we promised you last week, readers, here's a spanking new Italian speaker making its world debut. SUJESH PAVITHRAN has AudioFile's first exclusive review for the year
TIME to debunk the myth ... or rather, to correct perceptions. The smaller Sonus faber loudspeakers, despite the acclaim accorded them by critics, have on numerous occasions been perceived as lacking bite in the bass department. That is, not enough bass.

To illustrate, an audiophile associate, having heard a pair of Concertos that I was running in for a while, recently remarked, "Nice sound, but no bass ... whaddya expect-lah, Sonus faber!" I think it's fair to assume that the hackles of numerous Sonus faber owners have been raised by similar remarks, made by well-meaning, but somewhat tactless, knowledgeables.

And, of course, there's also the familiar litany about Sonus faber speakers being difficult to drive, a notion the company tries hard to dispel in its literature. Ironically, most Sonus faber dealers recommend esoteric high-end amplification for the range of speakers, which must only reinforce this belief.

Enter the Signum ....

Like every other Sonus faber you've encountered so far, this spanking new model--which, I'm told, is a replacement for the Minima Amator--is a sumptuous piece of hi-fi art. In terms of size, it's a David ... but a David designed to fell the Goliaths in the price range.

 
 
Features

The Signum's familiarly exotic cabinet, constructed from struts of solid walnut with internal copper and lead bracing, is pure bred Sonus faber. I'm still getting used to the leather-wrapped front and rear baffles, but they're not as offensive--with the black cloth grille off--as I used to think they were a decade ago.

A two-way reflex design and ported at the rear, the Signum sports a 20mm silk-dome tweeter and 150mm fibre-glass multi-coated mid-bass driver, crossing over at 2.5kHz. Both transducer units are customised ScanSpeak designs, and the tweeter is physically protected by a raised, three-spoke grille.

Sensitivity is 87dB, but the 4ohm load the Signum presents should not drain modestly-powered but well-designed amplifiers--power handling is quoted at between 30 to 150 watts.

Significantly, the manufacturer claims frequency response down to 40Hz (and 22kHz at the other extreme), surprising for this eight-litre box which weighs in at 21kg for a packed pair (yes, they come in a single box). In the Signum's case, the speaker appears to be actually approaching this frequency floor, if not actually nudging it.

Recommended placement is well away from side and rear walls, toed inwards for optimum results. Bi-wiring facilities are provided, but the gold-plated terminals also come with metal jumpers should you opt not to do this. As for the amplifier, well, you can use a Krell if you've got the money to spare, or you can go alternative. Away with the norm, I say!

Performance

The Signums arrived at a time when I was making a few changes to the resident system, so my overall conclusion is reflective of this. But a good speaker is a good speaker, and this, the Signums turned out to be, whatever amp I was using to provide the juice.

Are those cries of outrage from the back of the class, then, as I list, among the driving amps, a Unison Research Simply Four, an Audiolab 8000S (yes!), a Cary Audio SLP-50/CAD-50M MkII pre-monoblock combi and a surprise little package called the Houston Mini-1998, from Hong Kong manufacturer Top International Electronic? All integrated models and guess which was the only solid-state unit? Alternating on signal-carrying duties were van den Hul The Wind and Straightwire Black Silk.

Sources included Theta Data/ProPrime transport-DAC combi, a Philips CDR 765 CD recorder and Michell Gyro Dec/Morch DP-6/vdH MM1 vinyl set-up, run variously through Ensemble Digiflux, Straightwire Virtuoso, Nordost Blue Heaven and Audio Note connects.

A word about stands--although the Signums work more than reasonably well sited on conventional stands, one of Sonus faber's two dedicated units is strongly recommended. Having used the speakers both on my wooden stands and Sonus faber's fixed height model, I must report that the latter considerably tightens lower end performance. On the downside, these stands add almost two grand to the Signum's already not-so-modest price tag.

Right, to cut to the chase without further ado ....

Bass response on the Signum suggests a healthy dose of steroid injections. And yet, despite the generous depths--for such a compact bookshelf design--into which the low frequencies delve, there's no loss in control, articulation or dynamics. A suggestion of warmth here does add some character to the Signums, although I suspect this quality may have been slightly exaggerated because all the amps I used possess such leanings.

Acoustic bass recordings were reproduced with faithful adherence to the performing nuances; even on complex percussion recordings, the Signums didn't show signs of losing their grip over the lower extremeties.

This complemented the somewhat startling vocal presentation, the singer being finely and delicately etched out of the instrumental backdrop and made to seem as if standing up front on the soundstage. This worked superbly with vocal-driven jazz, folk and pop (even rock!) recordings, especially also because the amps allowed a certain degree of mellowness to seep into the midrange. I suspect the less forgiving Krell KAV-300i, while driving the Signums to their extreme capabilities, would render mediocre recordings unplayable.

Yet, despite the transparent nature of the Signums--amp and other ancillary changes were duly obvious during delivery--and their bold staging and layering abilities, the Signums are hardly fatiguing ... unless, of course, you do a Hardy and max the amp's volume knob.

No, these are speakers with all the poise of thorough-breds, and the trappings of High End monitors--they communicate with the listener on both cerebral and emotional planes. There's no additive distraction from the upper registers--it's just that the rasp of a trumpet in higher octaves is merely sonic art imitating life.

The Signums empathise with the inherent nature of the recordings, reflective tunes being imbued with the right level of intimacy, and more urgent pieces reproduced in all their dynamic glory ... you certainly won't find these speakers lagging in rhythm or timing.

Conclusion

These strongly individualistic speakers make very good sense, appealing to the soul of the listener without in any way infringing upon his sense of objectivity. And the bass performance is quite the complete works.

The only drawback is that a pair of Signums will set you back a shade under seven grand and the dedicated stands, another two. Serious money ... but for speakers that can only sound better as you upgrade the rest of the system.

Well, this one could be staying home for a while ....

Model: Sonus faber Signum loudspeaker

Price: RM6,800 per pair (plus RM1,900 for dedicated fixed-height stands)

Review sample courtesy of AUDIO IMAGE (03-756-3077), 7 Jalan 19/29, 46300 Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

For: Lovely bass, given its size; subliminally communicative; unrestrained presentation; superb midrange focus.

Against: You'll spend too much time with it ....


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