Sonus Faber Stradivari Homage
A three-way design in a unique elliptical enclosure

$40,000.00 pr

Design Considerations - from lute to violin
The shape of the lute inspired the Guarneri. This form is how Sonus faber conceived and realize a highly musical compact monitor to be as close as possible to an acoustic point-source. The shape of the lute also inspired the Amati. Additionally, increasing the radiation area and increasing the extension of the lower frequency spectrum achieved the proper reproduction of full-scale orchestral scores in a more lifelike and believable scale. Moving forward to reproduce a new kind of musical stimuli, much research for Stradivari was focused on the study of the acoustic source in an infinite plane. Just as the radiation of sound from the violin’s “piano armonico” (harmonic plane) is projected so is the sound from Stradivari. By consequence, if the lute inspired Guarneri and Amati, the Stradivari is by the violin.

A three-way design in a unique elliptical enclosure featuring 2pi radiation and a symbiotic tuning system. Each driver is loaded into a tunable cavity, open in the case of the midrange and low frequency drive units, sealed for the high frequency unit. The crossover employed has been developed not only for purity of transition but specifically for enhancing the performance of the amplifier/loudspeaker interface.

Main Acoustic Enclosure
With the Stradivari the acoustic properties of the driver/cabinet interaction has been brought close to theoretical perfection. The curved external walls are constructed using multiple layers of wood with damping inserts placed between adjacent structural layers. Each wood layer is quality-graded and carefully oriented by density and grain for optimized performance and appearance. Additionally, a special sub-structure of reinforcing ribs is incorporated internally to virtually eliminate any spurious vibrations. The result is an enclosure of exceptional beauty and stiffness, free from undesirable resonances and coloration. By dedicating this project to Stradivari, we could not avoid addressing one of the most famous and mysterious secrets of the great Maestro — the lacquer finish. Great care was taken to find a process that appears both unique and original, air permeable and respectful to the character of the wood. Interestingly enough, this precious lacquer process is quite supportive to the acoustic nature of the speakers sound.

High Frequency Spectrum
The silk ring radiator employed is simply the finest version available from this family of drive units. Compared to metal membrane versions they exhibit a far broader bandwidth and wider dispersion while maintaining the inherent advantages over traditional dome shaped diaphragms. A carefully controlled frontal radiation pattern from the dual-wave diaphragm is due to a proprietary dual-toroidal wave-guide. This wave-guide, inspired by the concentric ripples generated by a drop falling on a still water surface, harmonically integrates the radiating diaphragm into the curved, virtually infinite, front baffle. The back wave of the diaphragm is loaded into a crafted wooden acoustic labyrinth, eliminating any unwanted reflections and colorations. Wood was chosen for it superior damping qualities when compared to either metal or plastic.

Mid Frequency Spectrum
A 150mm transducer was chosen for its extremely high dynamic linearity and many other qualities traditional to Sonus faber. The midrange spectrum is in fact the “soul” of the Stradivari system. Special care was taken to create absolute synergism between the character of the high frequency radiator and the electro-acoustic properties of the mid frequency driver. Inspiration came from the “Anima”, a little known device found within a violin. The Anima is what connects the top surface of the violin’s body to the bottom surface and without it; a violin simply would not be a violin! Internal to the Stradivari enclosure is a cardioid-shaped chamber that controls and dampens the reflections to the rear of the transducers cone. Its walls are “compression-held” by the front and rear of the outer structure and much like the “Anima”, it controls mechanical resonances for the most uncolored musical reproduction.

Low Frequency Spectrum
The dual 260mm drivers that comprise the low frequency system of the Stradivari employ cones made from an exotic aluminum/magnesium alloy that exhibits a great stiffness to weight ratio. These cones are treated with an elastic coating to further prevent any residual coloration. Additionally, a natural rubber surround delivers an optimal mechanical termination that allows for extra long cone excursion. Wooden coaxial anti-compressors remove any cavity compression effects and assists in the ventilation of the voice-coil, providing effortless low frequency extension. To avoid any mechanical modulation these drivers are housed in a tuned volume within the enclosure, isolated and decoupled from the mid and high frequency units by this separate sub-baffle. The transducers, within this properly loaded acoustical environment, are capable of true pistonic action and extraordinarily accurate mechanical behavior.

The basic design approach incorporates both a multi-slope circuit topology and thoughtful control of both amplitude and phase over the entire musical spectrum. The chosen crossover transition frequencies are at the boundaries of the human voice spectrum, roughly 300Hz and 4,000Hz. Since the vast majority of acoustical musical instruments have their fundamentals below 4,000Hz, this transition point is the most seamless and least disruptive to musical harmonics. Another special aspect of the crossover design is the unique implementation of the filter structure that controls component micro-phonics and last but not least, the nature of the conductor in the signal path. To prevent harmful vibrations for affecting the integrity of the sound, the crossover is completely cast within a vibration inhibiting resin material. Additionally, the signal path from the crossover is enhanced by the use of a connection terminal made from a precious alloy of silver and palladium. Developed specially for this application and based on concepts of nanotechnology.

System Type:
Three-way elliptical design with virtual 2pi radiation and symbiotic tuning system
Acoustic Enclosure:
Multi-layered, constructively damped elliptically shaped enclosure formed using hand-selected wood layers, quality-graded, and oriented for optimized resonance control. Sub-structural ribs strategically placed for absolute rejection of spurious vibrations.
High Frequency Spectrum:
33mm ultra-dynamic and linear Neodymium ring radiator with exclusive dual-toroidal wave-guide. Natural wood acoustic labyrinth rear chamber with mechanical anti-resonator synergistically designed and integrated.
Mid Frequency Spectrum:
150mm ultra-linear drive unit. CCAW / Kapton and eddy current free voice coil. Dynamically linear magnetic field motor incorporating Kellog and Faraday rings. All moving elements optimally ventilated for resonance free response. Designed synergistically with its vented chamber.
Low Frequency Spectrum:
Dual 260mm lightweight aluminum/magnesium alloy cone drivers in an acoustically amorphous vented chamber. Dual Faraday copper ring long-throw motor system with 2pi eddy current free voice coil for ultra dynamic performance and linearity. Coaxial anti-compressors made of wood are employed to remove cavity resonance and distortions.
Special multi-slope circuit topology with optimized phase/amplitude response. Crossover points at 300Hz and 4kHz. Terminals and wiring use silver/palladium alloy with “nanotechnical” structure.
Sensitivity: 92dB, 1W/1m
Nominal Impedance: 4 ohms
Power Handling: Minimum amplifier 30W, Maximum Amplifier 300W without clipping.
Frequency Response: 22Hz - 40kHz
Dimensions: 650 x 500 x 1360mm (WDH)
25.6 x 19.7 x 53.5 in. (WDH)
Weight: 150 Kg/pair - 330.7 lbs/pair without packing
195 Kg/pair - 429.9 lbs/pair shipping wieight

A Review By Michael Fremer, January, 2005
For Stereophile

Yamaha once made a loudspeaker shaped like an ear. I felt sorry for the guy (especially if he was an audiophile) who had to write the ad copy explaining why a speaker shaped like an ear would sound better than one shaped like a shoebox or a wedge of cheese. An ear-shaped loudspeaker makes about as much sense as an eyeball-shaped television. But what about a loudspeaker that is designed like a musical instrument?
When Sonus Faber's Franco Serblin began creating his Homage series of loudspeakers (footnote 1) to honor the great violin makers of Cremona—Amati, Guarneri, Stradivari
—his design inspiration curiously turned out to be not the violin but the lute. Speakers shaped like instruments make about as much sense to me as speakers shaped like ears, but in the case of the curvaceous lute shape, the claim that fewer parallel surfaces result in fewer standing waves seemed to make sense. Whether that was Serblin's real reason, or he just likes the lute's looks, his designs have been extensively copied.

For his final Homage model, the $40,000/pair Stradivari Homage (named, of course, for Antonio Stradivari), Serblin's instrumental inspiration actually was the violin. The Strad's tall, unusually wide and shallow speaker cabinet forms a graceful, narrow ellipse. Black-lacquered concave endcaps suggest the violin shape. This is one speaker that looks equally attractive (or ugly) from all sides. Some visitors to my room found its looks odd—"like a piece of toast," said one. From a listener's perspective, the wide front baffle is unusual—especially if you're used to modern narrow-baffle speakers designed to reduce cabinet diffraction.

To me, the Stradivari—with stained-lacquer wood stacks, center leather-covered insert, and gently raked profile, all reminiscent of Sonus Faber's Amati Homage—looks graceful and dramatic from all angles. Every line seems to have a purpose. As with many things unfamiliar, the more time I spent with it, the more appealing its looks became, and the more I was able to appreciate its many subtleties of design. No doubt a good part of your $40,000 goes to pay for the speaker's looks; if you don't like what you see, chances are you're not buying, even if you like what you hear.

What's the big idea?
The Stradivari is a three-way speaker with two stiff, lightweight, 12" aluminum/magnesium-cone woofers custom-built for Sonus by SEAS. These are crossed over at 300Hz to a 6" Audio Technology pulp-cone midrange driver (Scan-Speak and Dynaudio were both founded by Audio Technology founder Ejvind Skaaning), which in turn hands over the signal at 4kHz to a custom version of Scan-Speak's silk ring-radiator tweeter. This features both a proprietary dual-toroidal waveguide designed specifically for the wide baffle, and a wooden acoustic labyrinth rear-wave damping system designed by Sonus Faber. The rear-ported woofers are tuned using the entire internal volume of the enclosure, while the tweeter and the ported midrange unit are contained in a substantially braced, cardioid (heart-shaped) subenclosure, compression-held in place by the main enclosure walls.

The main enclosure is constructed using a wood laminate, with constrictive damping inserts in between additional front-panel layers of laminate, in the style of the Amati Homage, which was built of stacks of solid maple. The interior of this enclosure, too, is strongly braced. A series of photos supplied by Sonus shows how the laminated wood is clamped in order to achieve the curved shape—clearly a time-consuming, labor-intensive process that is reflected all too faithfully in the retail price. Also like the Amati, the Stradivari Homage is painstakingly hand-stained and -lacquered, in a difficult process that Sonus Faber says that only a small number of craftsmen are capable of performing.

The Strad is available in the familiar violin-like red-orange finish used on the Amati, and in a more subdued slate-gray finish. Easily the most beautifully constructed piece of loudspeaker cabinetry I have ever seen or touched, it looks dramatic and statuesque from any angle. Pictures don't do it justice. When you (and a helper) pick it up, you can almost feel the wrapped-tight energy required to hold the structure together, as well as its solidity and physical integrity.

Sound with no strings attached
When I visited the Sonus Faber factory, in Arcugnano, Italy, last winter, I spent an hour listening to a pair of Stradivaris in Franco Serblin's listening room while he conducted some business with Sumiko's John Hunter. The room was significantly larger than mine and far more reflective, but the speakers stood in free space far from any wall. Hooked up to them were an Accuphase SACD player and a David Berning ZH270 output-transformerless tubed power amp with two inputs and a volume control. The Strads are rated at 92dB efficiency, so a 70Wpc amp should have had no trouble driving them. It did so with ease.

Music, system, room, and speakers were all unfamiliar to me, but now that I've had the Strads in my room for a few months, I know I could have pretty much written the review back in Arcugnano. I spent that hour in an emotional zone, soaking in the music and sound, hardly paying "reviewer attention" at all. It's rare that I can be sucked in so deeply under such circumstances, but I was. Had Serblin's meeting taken another few hours, I would probably have just continued to sit there, contentedly listening. That's what happened at home.

I set up the Stradivaris myself and found them not particularly fussy to optimize. Later, when John Hunter and Patrick Butler paid a visit to get the speakers maxed out to their satisfaction, they ended up moving them only slightly, but they also changed the rake angle using the spiked feet, which greatly improved the Strads' already impressive overall coherence. The pair ended up close to where almost all speakers sound best in my room: a few feet from the front wall, about 8½ feet apart. I was told to leave the elastic string-type speaker grilles off for best sound, so I did. This is one speaker that deserves to be seen and appreciated uncovered.

When you're accustomed to narrow-baffled speakers, being confronted by two wide expanses of wood can be jolting. Because the Stradivaris have more of a "room divider" presence than most moving-coil–based speakers, they affect room acoustics even when silent. I could "hear" them. I wondered how music—especially the imaging and soundstaging—could not be affected. As I sat down to listen for the first time, the visual cues took me back to 1986, to the first time I heard Harry Pearson's Infinity IRS system, which presented another set of wide-baffled (line-source) speakers just a few feet away from the listening position in a very small room.

But once the music started, skepticism went out the window—in New Jersey as it had in Italy. In some ways the Stradivari's overall tonal presentation reminded me of the much less expensive Krell Resolution 1 (see my review in the November 2004 issue), though more accomplished in every way, and more extended on top. The sonic picture the Stradivaris produced was impressively large, especially in terms of height, though the tweeter is only a little more than 3' from the floor. The tweeters never gave away their locations, driver integration was as good as I've ever experienced in my room—especially for a full-range speaker—and the first sensation was of a velvety-smooth richness and unforced physicality with no particular tonal color. The immediate communicative essence was identical to what I'd heard in Italy months earlier.

Without subjecting it to analytical scrutiny in order to figure out what was causing it to happen, this speaker, more than any other I've reviewed, communicated music's emotional content. Listening to the Stradivari was a sensual experience—more in the chest than in the head.

Appreciating this wasn't based on checking off items on an audiophile's list of performance parameters. The seamlessness of the sonic whole discouraged that kind of exercise—even in the mind of a veteran reviewer. That first day of listening to the Stradivaris at home, I felt what I'd felt in Sonus Faber's listening room. I also felt it the last day, and every day in between. If you get a chance to listen, don't expect to be bowled over or wowed or to have your molecules rearranged. Be prepared to fall in love.

Part of the Strad's emotional appeal was its sonic physicality. It goes very low—it's spec'd to reach 22Hz. Even in my moderately sized room, it responded down well below 30Hz, though without much output. Above 30Hz, with test tones and, more important, music, the speaker responded with impressive bass authority—something I could not get the Amati Homage to do in my room (though I have heard it so in others).

Check out The Trumpets that Time Forgot (SACD, Linn CKD242), a gorgeous, spacious recording featuring selections by Richard Strauss, Edward Elgar, and Josef Rheinberger for two trumpets and organ—in this case, the mammoth Hereford Cathedral Organ, built in 1892. The Stradivari's rendering of the organ's lowest pedals was visceral yet well controlled. The recording is on the warm and distant side, yet the speaker delivered the bass notes and the distinct sense of the large space without blurring the two or throwing mud into the mix. The trumpets had just the right balance of brass and air to be credible, and the organ's upper registers were cleanly delineated. The Krell was very good at this too, though not quite as well organized (no pun intended), and not with the same solidity or purity of tone. My reference loudspeakers, the Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 7s, give greater emphasis to the brass and better delineate the distance between the trumpets and the church walls, but they don't plumb the depths; they therefore miss the organ's lower pedals and can't convey the space nearly as well.

While experiencing the Stradivari's bass performance, the word I kept coming back to was solidity—exactly the word I couldn't use to describe the bass performance of other Sonus Faber speakers I've heard, reviewed, and owned. Those speakers concentrated more on getting bass textures and tonality correct. The Strad changed that—as well it should, for $40,000!—and did so without sounding overdamped or mechanical.

You won't be disappointed with the deep, tactile, well-controlled, pitch-perfect, solid bass the Stradivari could deliver. It reproduced standup bass properly sized, with a convincing balance of string pluck and woody resonance, and electric bass with mesmerizing rhythmic nimbleness. This speaker could do jazz, rock, and classical equally well and without apology.

The Stradivari's rendering of Speakers Corner's recent "must-have" reissue of János Starker's prized Mercury Living Presence set of J.S. Bach's Suites for Solo Cello (3 LPs, SR3-9016) provided a memorable listening experience. The instrument's fundamental frequencies range from around 70 to 750Hz. The 300Hz woofer/midrange crossover sits near the middle of that sensitive range, yet the Stradivaris' rendering of the sound of the cello was easily the most convincingly three-dimensional, solid, and silky-rich I've ever heard it reproduced. When Starker dug in, the bow scrapes never sounded metallic or hard, yet textures were never glossed over. As you might imagine, male voices, which share that range, were equally well served; there was plenty of natural body, but no chestiness, nasality, or bloat.

Overall, the Stradivari delivered the most satisfying, balanced bass and midbass performance I've ever had in my room—perhaps most convincingly in the way notes faded, decayed, then cleanly stopped. The bass was never "one-note," and never sounded artificial or mechanical. Instead, it was rich and tactile without sounding sluggish or sloppy. And it was there in ideal proportion to the rest of the spectrum.

It's no coincidence that Franco Serblin chose to run the midrange driver between 300Hz and a highish 4kHz. That is the fundamental range of the female voice, and if you listen to a lot of it, you will love this speaker. It was magical, whether reproducing Sandy Denny, Joni Mitchell, Mary Black, or Renata Tebaldi. Instead of sibilant, ghostly, throat-centric images, the Stradivari produced, fleshy, solid, full-bodied ones.

How many times have I mentioned Harry Belafonte at Carnegie Hall or the Weavers' Reunion at Carnegie Hall? The Stradivari reproduced the vocals, male or female, more convincingly as real flesh and blood than I've ever heard them sound, and without becoming soft, warm, and cloying over time. In fact, in conjunction with the baffle arrangement ,this Audio Technology driver—the same brand Rockport Technologies uses for the woofer and midrange in the Antares that I reviewed in August 2002—produced the most delicate, textured, coherent, and believable midrange performance I've yet heard—positively addictive, and to a great degree responsible for the Stradivari's ability to mesmerize and convey music's emotional center.

Crossing over at 4kHz to the Scan-Speak ring-radiator tweeter means the midrange driver handles almost all instrumental fundamentals and the tweeter sees almost entirely harmonics. It also means the cone midrange handles higher frequencies than usual, which with a 6" unit might have a tendency to beam, leading to anomalies in both frequency response and imaging. Whatever John Atkinson's measurements of the Stradivari may reveal in this regard, I noted ultrastable imaging and a subjectively seamless midrange/tweeter transition. It could be that the lush midrange is partially a result of a slight depression near the crossover point. I'll take it!

The Scan-Speak ring-radiator tweeter is a well-respected design featuring a neodymium motor system and a die-cast aluminum chamber, which Sonus replaces with a proprietary wooden chamber as well as adding its own waveguide faceplate. While not sounding quite as supple as Dynaudio's Esotar, the Scan-Speak subjectively offers more uniform off-axis dispersion and greater high-frequency extension.

In this application, I occasionally noted a slight sparkle, perhaps caused by a narrow, high-Q peak in, I would guess, the 10kHz region. Or it could have been the tweeter's response relative to the possible dip at the crossover point. Whatever caused this subtle, not always audible sparkle, it gave the Stradivari's top end an open, airy, transparent sound without adding crispness or edge. I've heard cymbals and other percussion instruments reproduced with more edge and bite, but with a loss of some shimmer. The Stradivari reproduced more of the true "meaty" sound of cymbals that you hear live.

Putting it all together: The Stradivari Homage is a full-range speaker with a big, deep, solid, supple bottom end; a tactile, lush, velvety midrange; and an extended, well-behaved top—all brilliantly integrated by one of the world's premier speaker designers. Above all, what made the Stradivari special over the long haul was its uncanny seamlessness.

Which is not the same as saying it didn't have a character. Some may find the balance too lush, the transient attack somewhat less than sharp, the resolution of inner detail a bit lacking compared with some of the "fastest" loudspeakers out there. But there are tradeoffs with any design—the fastest speakers usually have a threadbare midrange and somewhat stunted harmonics.

Given the Stradivari's drive-units and the attention paid to its cabinet, you might expect exceptional dynamic abilities. You wouldn't be disappointed. Like all great, large, expensive speakers, the Stradivari delivered the musical goods with a confident grip at both ends of the scale, and without breaking a sweat. Most noticeable were the low-level dynamics, especially in the bass and midbass region, where, at the ends of familiar bass lines, the speaker seemed to reveal a last bit of decay that had been previously obscured. Played at high SPLs or at a whisper, the Stradivari remained open, extended, velvety-smooth, and in complete control.

The Stradivari's wide baffle produced a singular sonic picture. Instead of the more common narrow-baffle, low-diffraction sound, in which a speaker "disappears" to leave behind a ghostly apparition of a three-dimensional sound picture, the Stradivari presented a more weighty, unusually solid picture that seemed to be a three-dimensional curtain wrapped behind the baffles and extending well back into virtual space. While more conventional baffles have produced wider, more transparent soundstages and perhaps more focused and upfront images, none has delivered such a solid and physically believable three-dimensional soundstage in my room—aided, I'm sure, by the Stradivari's rich, palpable midrange.

Expensive, exquisitely built, with high-quality drivers and crossover components, and superbly finished with a stylishness of which only the Italians seem capable, Sonus Faber's Stradivari Homage is, in my opinion, the finest loudspeaker Franco Serblin has designed, and the most accomplished his company has built. That was his goal, and he has succeeded.

I know many owners of the Guarneri Homage who have told me they think it a better-balanced speaker than the Amati Homage, even if it can't go nearly as low. I don't think Guarneri partisans will feel that way about the Stradivari. For whatever reason(s), the Amatis didn't like my room enough to deliver a credible bottom end. (The Aerial 20T, which I've heard deliver the low-frequency goods elsewhere, had the same problem when I reviewed it in the April 2004 issue.) But the Stradivaris and my room proved to be the best of friends, delivering nearly ideal bass, though I'm sure greater extension and more forceful expression are possible in a bigger venue.

Rated at 92dB efficiency, depending on the phase angle, this 4 ohm speaker shouldn't be difficult to drive. It sounded rich and lush with a brute of a solid-state amp in my room, and with a relatively low-powered tube amp in Italy. I'd stay away from soft-sounding cables and cartridges, but your tastes may vary.

Like the far less expensive Krell Resolution 1, the Stradivari is in some ways old-fashioned in its emphases on the music's physicality and weight, on harmonic richness over resolution of inner detail, and on ear-popping 3D imaging, which has become a fixation among designers—probably, in part, in an effort to create a compelling "picture" to compete with video (call me crazy). Yet the Stradivari also resolves detail and delivers microdynamics, allowing the listener to hear the very last drop of decay and the lowest-level musical gestures with great clarity and without compression. Its balance is notably rich in the midrange, but with its prodigious and well-controlled midbass and low bass and its clean, smooth top end, the sensation of having everything in good balance is achieved with ease.

Beyond the sonic particulars, and more difficult to describe and explain, was the Stradivari's ability to convey music's emotional content. The speaker was not the most analytical and revealing design I've ever heard, but it was illuminating enough. It was, however, the most emotionally communicative speaker I've ever heard. Can a speaker have "soul"? I don't know, but this one comes the closest to making me think so.

A parade of great and expensive loudspeakers has marched through my room in the past year, with more to come. Though some were a less good match for my room than others, all have performed brilliantly, if differently. Each did some things extremely well. For instance, the mbl 101E's overall high-frequency performance remains unmatched in my listening experience, as does the Aerial 20T's high-frequency resolution and transient delivery. For $11,000/pair, the Krell Resolution 1 is the biggest bargain in full-range, "CinemaScopic" speakers I've heard. Yet, overall, I kept going back to the $39,000/pair Rockport Antares as my favorite—until the arrival of the Stradivari. Now it's a toss-up. For $40,000, you should have it all, and with all varieties of music. With the Antares and now the Stradivari, if you can afford them, all is what you get. As with the Antares, I envy the audiophile who can afford to listen to, look at, and own a pair of Sonus Faber Stradivari Homages. A stellar achievement.

Sidebar 1: Specifications

Description: Three-way, floorstanding loudspeaker. Drive-units: Scan-Speak 1" silk ring-radiator tweeter, Audio Technology 6" pulp-cone midrange unit, two SEAS 12" aluminum/magnesium-cone woofers. Crossover frequencies: 300Hz, 4kHz. Frequency range: 22Hz–40kHz. Sensitivity: 92dB/W/m. Nominal impedance: 4 ohms.
Dimensions: 53.5" (1360mm) H by 25.6" (650mm) W by 19.7" (500mm) D. Weight: 165 lbs (75kg).
Finishes: violin red, slate gray.
Serial number of units reviewed: 003.
Price: $40,000/pair. Approximate number of dealers: 12.
Manufacturer: Sonus Faber, 36057 Arcugnano (Vi), Italy. Tel: (39) 444-288788. Fax: (39) 444-288722. Web: US distributor: Sumiko, 2431 Fifth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710. Tel: (510) 843-4500. Fax: 510) 843-7120. Web:

Footnote 1: The Guarneri Homage and Amati Homage were reviewed in July 1994 and June 1999, respectively. —Ed.

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