Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviewers' ChoiceI’m somewhat ashamed to admit that, after two decades in this industry, my experience with Sonus Faber speakers has been rather limited. Some of that comes down to happenstance, but a lot of it is a function of specialization. Given the choice between a $5000 preamp and a $5000 pair of speakers, most publishers are going to give me the preamp to review. Even the company’s affordable Sonetto line is a bit pricier than the territory in which I tend to stomp around. But a $2799/pair (all prices USD) tower speaker is totally my jam, so the Lumina V—the new flagship of Sonus Faber’s entry-level Lumina collection—has been my crash course in the company’s style and sound.

And spoiler warning: I’m a smitten kitten.

Sonus Faber

But before we get into all the fawning, let’s talk a bit about the speaker in more dispassionate terms. The Lumina V is a three-way floorstander with a 1.1″ viscoelastically decoupled Damped Apex Dome tweeter, a 5.9″ cellulose-pulp and natural-fiber midrange driver, and two 6.5″ custom-sandwich natural-fiber woofers for the bass.

The bulk of the cabinet is wrapped in black leather, but the front baffle comes in your choice of three finishes: Wenge, Walnut, or Black. Tucked underneath the cabinet and out of sight is a gargantuan down-firing port. Total specified frequency response is 38Hz to 24kHz, and sensitivity is specified at 90dB SPL (2.83V/1m). The Lumina V has a nominal impedance of 4 ohms, which means you might not want to power it with a flea-watt amp. Sonus Faber suggests amplification in the range of 50 to 300Wpc.

Sonus Faber

The company developed a new crossover network for the Lumina V called a “Hybrid IFF-Paracross” solution, which consists of an IFF (Interactive Fusion Filtering) crossover (borrowed from the company’s Maxima Amator) at 2600Hz and a standard parallel crossover at 260Hz. Sonus Faber’s VP of product development, Livio Cucuzza, told me that this is the approach the company will be applying to all of its speakers going forward, including higher-end models.

Perhaps the most noteworthy difference between the Lumina III—the previous top of the line—and the new Lumina V is the presence of a lute-shaped internal chamber for the mid driver and tweeter. This brings the internal shape of the cabinet—at least for the mids and highs—closer to the traditional cabinet shape for Sonus Faber, and the company says that it was designed to “maximize the structural rigidity and the acoustic performance of the midrange and simultaneously reduce standing waves within the acoustic load volume.”

Sonus Faber

Setting up and dialing in the Lumina V

For initial impressions of the design, build quality, and initial setup of the Lumina V, make sure to check out my unboxing blog post from a few weeks back. I do want to reiterate a few things I said in that post, though, and dig a bit deeper.

The speaker’s down-firing port of course means that even if you normally eschew carpet spikes, you’ll need to use them to get the most out of this speaker. Each speaker comes with four spikes, as well as four spacer nuts and four metal spike pads.

My initial inclination was to simply screw the spikes straight into the bottom of each speaker, but doing so resulted in insufficient lift, so my medium-pile carpet was effectively plugging the port. Positioning the spacer nuts about halfway down the threads of the spikes raised the cabinets off the carpet enough to let the ports do their thing. I also experimented with shorter spike lengths in the back and longer in the front, just to give the speakers a bit of backward tilt and aim the tweeters closer to ear level (the center of the tweeter is right at 36″ from the bottom of the cabinet, and my ear height in the office chair from which I do most of my listening is closer to 48″). Truth be told, though, after laboriously A/B testing between fully erect and a more aloof stance, I didn’t hear significant sonic advantages to either approach.

Sonus Faber

Positioning the speakers in-room required a bit of tweaking, but not nearly as much as I expected. They didn’t seem to be as fussy about forward/backward positioning as I suspected they would. They did, on the other hand, reward a slight wiggle forward and a bit of left/right adjustment with improved bass clarity and consistency.

I should state up front that my two-channel listening room is pretty well treated with acoustical panels. If yours isn’t, you might have to experiment with toe-in a bit. In my room, the speakers seemed to be really happy with any reasonable amount of toe-in, so long as I kept it consistent between the two. And, of course, I’m not recommending that you just plop the speakers wherever and expect them to sound their best. But if you already have spots in your room where speakers sound great, chances are good that you won’t have to deviate from those spots too much when placing the Lumina Vs.

I also experimented a bit with electronics during my time with the speakers. I was, at first, between review units and had to rely on my own integrated amps. Out of the gate, I connected the speakers to my Peachtree Audio nova220SE and found that to be quite a good pairing.

Sonus Faber

I then threw my Denon PMA-150H into rotation, and while it sounded great, I felt I was missing something in terms of bass authority and dynamics, and I couldn’t push the speakers as hard as I liked. The PMA-150H is a great little amp if you don’t need a lot of power, but I’m guessing based on what I heard that the impedance curve of the Lumina V has some significant dips at the low end of the audible spectrum, and the Denon, for everything I love about it, doesn’t like that sort of thing.

After a week or so with the Luminas, I connected them to the Musical Fidelity M6si that I have in for review. As with the Peachtree integrated amp, this proved to be an excellent pairing, so I used the M6si for the bulk of my critical listening.

So how do these puppies sound?

I promised in my unboxing blog to beat the living snot out of the Lumina Vs, and true to my word, the first track I threw at them was “Spoonman” from Soundgarden’s Superunknown (20th Anniversary) (24-bit/96kHz FLAC, A&M/Qobuz). In addition to being an outright sonic assault of monumental proportions, this track is a fantastic torture test for bass-reflex speakers, because if the port isn’t well designed, the bass can devolve into one-note territory, or some notes can be noticeably overemphasized and some swallowed. It’s a tricky song to get right on anything other than a 2.1 system with a well-positioned subwoofer.

The Lumina Vs lapped it up and dared me to crank the volume knob higher. From the first note, the speakers proved more than capable of handling the slam of the galloping rhythm section with composure. As verse turns to chorus, though, the character of the bass changes. It becomes less loping and more complex. A sprint instead of a gallop, if you will. It’s another opportunity for a tower speaker with low-frequency extension this deep to stumble, to get muddy. But the Lumina Vs seemed just as content to crank out tight, nimble upper bass as they did deep, bone-shaking lower bass.

Sonus Faber

“Spoonman” isn’t all bass and no treble, though. There are tons of little details sprinkled throughout the mix. Shakers. Toms and snares and crashes. Wood blocks. Of course, the cutlery hinted at in the title. It all blends together into a wonderfully holographic mix, and this was the track I used for the bulk of my tinkering with placement and toe-in. As I hinted at above, though, the Lumina Vs delivered a really wonderful soundstage and fantastic image specificity no matter how I positioned them—within reason, of course. Dispersion was wide and even, and the sweet spot was generous, to say the least.

Chris Cornell’s inimitable voice is also unsurprisingly the centerpiece of the mix for “Spoonman,” and I could tell from listening to a few seconds of his vocals that the Lumina Vs weren’t playing any tricksy games with tonal balance. Especially in the critical midrange, there was a wonderful neutrality to the sound, and although the bass was robust, it wasn’t out of proportion. I also didn’t hear anything silly going on above 8kHz.

Another great bass torture test (although one that you’ll generally see me pulling out only for subwoofer reviews) is Björk’s “Hyperballad,” from her album Post (16/44.1 FLAC, Atlantic/Qobuz). As I mentioned in my review of the Emotiva Airmotiv RS13 sub, the bassline for this one is basically just a series of sinewaves bouncing around between 40-something cycles and 70-something cycles, so if there are any appreciable spikes or dips in a speaker’s bass output, this track calls your attention to them like isopropyl alcohol on a deep papercut.

Sonus Faber

I’ve heard pretty good dedicated subwoofers that didn’t handle the track with as much finesse and authority as did the Lumina Vs. I’ve also heard more than my fair share of ported speakers chuff like choo-choo trains with this cut, but if there was any port noise coming from the bottom of the speakers, I didn’t hear it. (I also ran some slow frequency sweeps just to be sure, and nope. No appreciable port noise).

There’s also quite a bit going on in “Hyperballad” across the rest of the audible spectrum. Björk’s vocals can sound a bit sibilant and edgy through many an otherwise fine speaker, so that’s something I always listen for. I had absolutely no complaints with the handling of the vocals or any other aspect of the track, from the brushy sequenced percussion to the swirly, bloopy, nebulous electronic instrumentation that permeates the cut.

Next, I loaded up “Looky Yonder” from Odetta’s Odetta Sings of Many Things (16/44.1 FLAC, Legacy Records/Qobuz). This one isn’t exactly the height of high-fidelity, but it’s another great track to use if you’re looking for harshness in the upper midrange and treble. Her vocal on this cut is incredibly dynamic, and at times she pushes her voice almost to the breaking point. Almost. The Lumina V’s mid driver and tweeter delivered these rapturous outbursts with utter precision and control, though, and nary a hint of cone breakup.

Here’s another track that you’d never hear in a million years at an audiophile show, but if a speaker can’t get this one right, it’s of no use to me. The song is the title cut from Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Let Me Get By (24/48 FLAC, Concord Music Group/Qobuz), and there’s only one way I can describe it if you’ve never heard it before: imagine if you threw equal parts B.B. King, Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers Band, and Janis Joplin into a cast-iron skillet and stirred the mixture on medium-low heat until it thickened up into the perfect roux. All 13 members of this blues/rock/soul/R&B/jam band are vying for equal attention from the first note to the last, so it’s an incredibly dense mix, packed to the gills with everything from walking bass to noodly Hammond organ to a full brass section. Tweak any element of that mix too high, or bury it just the weensiest bit, and it devolves into chaos. It’s also the perfect track to load up if you’re trying to find a speaker’s cabinet resonances.

Sonus Faber

But if I were on the other side of the church/state wall and responsible for demoing the Lumina V, this is the track I would turn to time and again. It proves, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the speaker just does everything right, from tonal balance (especially in the midrange) and dynamics to dispersion, imaging, and soundstaging. Try as I might to pick nits, there’s simply nothing to criticize here. This is what a full-range speaker should sound like. Full stop.

How does the Lumina V compare to the competition?

At $1399.99 each, the GoldenEar Triton Three+ tower is almost identical to the Lumina V in price and overall performance characteristics. I have to admit, I do like the folded ribbon tweeter of the GoldenEar a lot, but directly on-axis the Triton Three+ is a bit too enthusiastic at the top end of the audible spectrum for me. Ever-so-slightly off-axis, though, the speaker just sounds fantastic, and it cranks out bass even deeper than the Lumina V thanks to its integrated active subwoofers. For that reason, you need to have mains outlets nearby. As much as I love the sound of GoldenEar’s speakers, they’re all also uglier than sin.

Focal’s Chora 826 is, if not in exactly the same neighborhood in terms of price, at least in the same ZIP code at $1095 each. It’s a gorgeous little three-way bass-reflex tower, every bit as lovely as the Lumina V, although a bit flashier and more modern in its design, which may or may not work with your interior depending on your aesthetic. What sets the Sonus Faber apart from the Focal, though—at least sonically speaking—is that the Lumina V’s horizontal dispersion is noticeably more even, and its vertical dispersion is substantially better. With the Lumina V, I didn’t have to worry too much about the height of the tweeter in relation to the height of my ear. With the Chora 826, I had to spend a good amount of time getting it just right to get the most out of the speaker.

TL;DR: Should you buy the Sonus Faber Lumina V?

In short, if you’re looking for a speaker with a really distinctive voicing, you won’t find it here. The Lumina V seems much more interested in getting the fundamentals right than being easily identifiable in blind listening tests. There are a lot of superlatives you could use to describe the speaker’s sound, from its rich and robust bass to its wonderfully detailed high end and butter-smooth midrange, from its excellent soundstage width and depth to its spooky image specificity.

Sonus Faber

But the truth is, when you’re listening, no one aspect of the sound stands out over any other. The Lumina V simply sounds like a well-designed and well-engineered speaker should sound. The new crossover design and internal lute-shaped chamber reportedly give it a significant sonic advantage over the Lumina III, but given that I haven’t heard the III, I’m not in a position to make direct comparisons.

Based on sonic performance alone, though, the Lumina V earns its asking price any day of the week. When you throw in niceties like the leather cabinet covering, the attractive wood-finished or gloss-black baffle, the magnetically affixed grille, and the fact that the whole kit and caboodle is handmade in Italy, for goodness’ sake, the Lumina V seems like a ridiculously good value.

. . . Dennis Burger
dennisb@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Source: Oppo BDP-95 Blu-ray player
  • Power protection: SurgeX XR115 surge eliminator/power conditioner
  • Amps: Peachtree Audio nova220SE integrated, Musical Fidelity M6si integrated
  • Speaker-level connections: ELAC Sensible speaker cables
  • Line-level connections: Straight Wire Encore II analog interconnects

Sonus Faber Lumina V Loudspeakers
Price: $2799 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

Sonus Faber SPA
Via Antonia Meucci 10
36057 Arcugnano (VI)
Italy
Phone: (39) 0444-288788

Website: www.sonusfaber.com