Sonus faber Sonetto 1: Mightily musical midgets

Small and relatively affordable – at least by Sonus faber standards – yet beautifully finished and cleverly engineered, there’s a lot to like about the Italian brand’s entry-level bookshelf speaker. But what really stands out is the sound

By Deon Schoeman

Mentioning Sonus faber evokes images of fabulously executed, handcrafted loudspeakers, with enclosures more akin to musical instruments than mere speaker boxes, and a reputation for an inherent, intoxicating musicality.

Many of the Italian marque’s speaker models are indisputably high end, with price tags to match. But recently, Sonus faber has started producing speakers that are more accessible, while still embracing the brand’s core values.

The Sonetto range is the latest to join the Sonus faber family. The line-up consists of floorstanders, stand-mounts and even centre and wall-mounted models.

Of course, the arrival of more affordable models begs the question whether that affordability has been achieved by short-cutting, and whether the result is still worthy of the Sonus faber brand.

Sonus faber is adamant that the Sonettos are worthy of the brand and its ‘Made In Italy’ craftsmanship. It claims that the newcomers benefit from the workmanship and technology employed in dearer models, while greater economies of scale allow for more accessible pricing.

AT FACE VALUE

The Sonetto 1 is the most compact member of the new Sonus faber range. It’s a small, two-way bookshelf speaker that’s been designed to offer versatile placement options, thanks to its front-exiting reflex port.

It may be small, but the execution and attention to detail immediately earmark it as something classier than the norm. It’s also unmistakably a member of the Sonus faber clan, thanks to the tapered, lute-inspired cabinet shape, the leather-clad top panel, and the classy real-wood veneer.

Unless you look closely, you may mistake the Sonetto 1s for infinite baffle, sealed-enclosure speakers. That’s because the front-firing reflex port is cleverly incorporated into the cabinet’s integral base, which is finished in a matt black to be even more unobtrusive.

The front baffle is seamlessly integrated into the overall enclosure, and hosts a 2 9mm tweeter and a 150 mm mid/bass driver, both proprietary designs. The tapered shape makes for a very narrow rear, which is home to dual pairs of attractively executed binding posts to facilitate bi-wiring.

The Sonetto 1s are supplied with light, stiff protective grilles that locate magnetically onto the cabinets. Detailing is exquisite, including the embossed Sonus faber logo on the leather-clad top panel, and the brushed alloy accents around the tweeter and mid/bass driver.

UNDER THE COVERS

While the Sonetto 1 is a distinctive, beautifully executed speaker, the design is a good example of form following function.

The enclosure’s tapered shape addresses standing waves, while the clever reflex port arrangement sees the flared port aperture incorporated into the integrated base of the speaker, and exiting at the front.

This allows the speaker to be located close to walls without any danger of the port interacting with rear walls, or being obstructed. The smoothly flared, horizontal shape of the aperture slot also prevents port noise.

The purpose-designed driver array is headed up by a 29 mm tweeter featuring a specifically damped, waveguide-equipped silk dome that addresses early break-up and anti-phase behaviour. The tweeter is visco-elastically decoupled from the baffle.

It’s accompanied by a 150 mm natural fibre/cellulose pulp cone mid/bass driver offering both a light and stiff construction, and boasting inherent damping. The so-called Paracross crossover network is a semi-balanced design that locates the capacitors and coils on the circuit’s negative rail. The crossover point is at 2,5 kHz.

A glance at the technical specifications shows a nominal impedance of 4 ohms and an 87 dB sensitivity, suggesting the desirability of decent amplification with ample headroom.

SETTING UP

The Sonetto 1s were placed on damped and spiked stands, symmetrically positioned in a free-standing configuration away from side and rear walls and toed in slightly more than halfway towards the listening position.

They were bi-wired to our Parasound Halo A21 power amp, controlled in turn by our reference Primare PRE32 pre-amp.

The source signal was mostly provided by a Lumin D1 network player with integrated Tidal support and access to both a Lumin L1 and a Synology DS214se NAS hosting lossless music libraries. A Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite CD player provided physical media playback support.

The Sonettos arrived brand new, and were afforded a week or so of intermittent break-in time before any committed listening commenced.

SOUNDS LIKE

The diminutive size of the Sonetto 1s may suggest an equally diminutive sound, but nothing could be further from the truth. As it turns out, they muster a generosity of both tone and image that is quite at odds with the humble physical presence of these compact Italians.

While they sound both detailed and accessible, aided by the kind of transparency that completely disguises their point source role, it is the room-filling talent of these standmount speakers that surprises and delights most – at least initially.

These are no shrinking violets in sonic terms: instead, they deliver their musical wares with a gusto and enthusiasm that exposes the inherent energy and rhythm of the music to thrilling effect.

Not only that, but the Sonus fabers present the music on a broad and boldly brushed soundstage that is both capacious and seamlessly dimensional. The result is a music picture spread wide and deep, with an almost palpable presence that makes for an enveloping listening experience.

Any concerns that the Sonetto 1s would sound tonally anaemic were quickly dispelled: there is plenty of bass response on offer, which not only added a solid, well controlled and punchy foundation to the sound, but also a wholesomeness that again suggested something bigger than a compact two-way bookshelf speaker.

In fact, what you hear will make you look around for the hidden floorstanders: it’s a full, open and embracing sound with plenty of verve and excitement, but underpinned by impressive refinement, clarity and control.

Yes, there is a slight warmth and an inherent smoothness to the delivery, but the trebles never sounded rolled off, preferring a clear and resolute upper-frequency delivery, and a satisfying linear handover between the tweeter and the mid/bass driver.

That ability to produce a full, all-encompassing sound was ably illustrated while listening to futurist jazz outfit The Comet Is Coming’s latest set, Trust In The Lifeforce Of the Deep Mystery.

On ‘Birth Of Creation’, the bass clarinet of Shabaka Hutchings finds itself in sonorous conflict with the sweeping synths and deep, vibrant electronic bass lines produced by Dan Leavers, while drummer Maxwell Hallett’s inventive beats add structure and pace. It’s immersive but tonally taxing music, with bass bin-sized low frequencies and a densely populated mix.

The Sonettos always sounded up to the task, though, delivering those low bass notes with remarkable substance and composure, while allowing a close and thorough examination of the intricately interwoven synth score, and ensuring the organic timbre and texture of the clarinet remained gloriously intact.

The generous soundstage and ability to cast the music in a three-dimensional mode allowed full access to the finest, most subtle nuances of the music, while the Sonettos also displayed composure and precision in affording the richly embroidered music enough room and air.

Pianist Jan Lisiecki’s fresh, invigorating reading of Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No.1 in G Minor,accompanied by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, is as fluid as it’s joyfully accessible.

The first movement, in particular, is energetically light-hearted, and while the piano’s solo role is never in question, its relationship with the orchestra is closer and more cohesive than is often the case.

The recording captures the performance with an honesty and clarity of purpose that always sounds real and immediate.

The Sonettos easily rose to the challenge, reflecting both the brilliance of Lisiecki’s piano and the orchestra’s majestic ebb and flow. Indeed, the inherent transparency and generous staging of the speakers allowed the full impact of the orchestra to be experienced.

At the same time, their ability to resolve fine detail added a revelatory sense of accuracy and realism to the listening experience, but without robbing the music of its liquid flow and emotive appeal.

On Patty Griffin’s latest, eponymous album, the singer’s tender, almost vulnerable vocals are showcased on a series of sparsely instrumented, beautifully arranged tracks. ‘What I Remember’ pairs those fragile, emotive vocals with a fluidly rendered classical guitar, and the result is mesmerising.

The Sonetto 1s brought Griffin’s vocals vividly to life, to the extent that her presence was almost palpable. They laid bare every breath, every grain of timbre, each layer of vocal texture, creating a powerful sense of immediacy that brought the singer right into the listening room.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Sonetto 1s afforded the music plenty of air and dimension, always sounding larger and more generous than a small bookshelf has any right to be, while that punchy, controlled bass added equally astounding authority.

While their compact size will make them easier to accommodate in smaller rooms, the little Italians have more than ample energy and presence to be used in larger spaces, too.

Their inherent class, however, demands equally classy amplification: they thrive on a diet of generous current, which allows their propensity for pace and bass to be explored to full effect.

By the same token, they’ll reward high-quality source material with an eloquent and detailed performance, but are compliant enough to make almost anything sound approachable and enjoyable.

Beautifully crafted in the best Sonus faber tradition, cleverly constructed, and versatile enough to deal with anything from female vocals to full-flight electronic jazz, the Sonetto 1 is the kind of loudspeaker that never ceases to surprise and delight.

VITAL STATS
Speaker type: Two-way bookshelf, bass-reflex
Drive units:
– 29 mm DAD dome tweeter
– 150 mm natural fibre cone mid/bass driver
Bi-wiring: Yes
Impedance: 4 ohms nominal
Sensitivity: 87 dB (2,83V/1 metre)
Frequency response: 45 Hz – 35 kHz
Recommended power : 30 – 150 watts
Dimensions (HxWxD): 359 x 219 x 305 mm
Weight: 5,5 kg each
PRICE
R26 000 (excluding stands)
SUPPLIED BY
HFX Systems

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT
Lumin D1/L1 network player
Primare PRE32 pre-amp
Parasound Halo A21 power amplifier
KEF LS50 loudspeakers
XLO Reference interlinks
TelluriumQ Blue speaker cable

SOFTWARE
The Comet Is Coming – Trust In The Lifeforce Of the Deep Mystery (Impulse 44/16 FLAC)
Mendelssohn – Piano Concerto No.1 in G Minor – Jan Lisiecki/Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (DG 44/16 FLAC)
Karen O/Danger Mouse – Lux Prima ( BMG 96/24 FLAC MQA)
Patty Griffin – Patty Griffin (PGM Recordings 44/16 FLAC)