24 June, 2011

Overview: Sonus faber Franco Serblin

Overview: Sonus faber

I made the acquaintance of Sonus faber as soon as I came to HK in 1992. A good colleague has a pair of Electa Amator I, and I like it and started to pay attention to the brand. But it took me two decades to learn to not capitalize the second word.

This overview is about older Sf products only, for reasons mentioned below.

Sonus faber = Franco Serblin, for me at least
I have always supported the concept of auteur, so, since Sonus faber now is without its founder Franco Serblin (since 2005), I am afraid, at least to me, Sf has ceased to be Sf. Its official website is uninformative, and doesn't even mention Serblin, talking about re-writing history.

Franco Serblin (official site) has now a new company, and THAT is the company to watch. Its Ktema speakers I have heard at the 2010 HK show and it was wonderful (my report, 6moons review, ).

Considering the classic status of that older generation of Sf, not much info is available on the internet. I urge you to see this informative remnant product webpage from 1997, before it is gone.

L: Signum; R: Concertino

Concertino and Signum
The first pair of Sf I owned was the humble first-generation Concertino (tnt review), the smallest in the series. Personally I thought it was the best in the series. The somewhat bigger Concerto has a more textured sound, but less lively to my ears. And I never did quite like the floorstander Concerto Grand Piano, its passive radiator always sounding a little artificial to me. What a bargain then, and why is hifi so expensive now?

Casting a huge soundstage and performing on a par with the venerable LS3/5A, the Concertino matched beautifully with all manners of tube amps, but the most miraculous thing about them is that they will work with SET amps if your room is not too big! 300B, yes.

I have not heard the subsequent iterations of this one-of-a-kind "AV" series.

The next pair I got was the Signum, which I regret selling to this day. It was discontinued very soon for reasons I am not familiar with. Compared to the older offerings, like the Amators, the sound was more modern and tipped up in the treble. I think this one demands a tube amp.

Guarneri
This may be the most famous Sf product ever. I have heard them many times, but they rarely sounded good. The best was in a second-hand shop, driven by vintage McIntosh MC30 (fabulous amps). The dedicated stands look good but I don't think they are practical. Best violin sound among Sf? I don't know, but in terms of all-rounded merit, I think this ranks low.

Pic: Electa Amator II with the passive radiator at back

Electa Amator I and II
stereophile review of I
I have heard many pairs of these and they remain a clear favorite. The original (I) version sported an expensive Dynaudio esotar tweeter, and not only my colleague had it, but also my good friend tkl (remember Audioboard?). The sound was wonderful, phenomenal string sound, mid-range magic and great bass. MkII caused some consternation since the tweeter was changed and a passive radiator was added, much like its bigger brother Extrema, a speaker I have never had the good fortune to won. Of course, I acquired a pair of II and still have them among my prized possessions (my review here). Have I heard better bookshelves? Different, yes, better, no.

Larger Speakers designed by Serblin
My own interest was, and is, in the state-of-the-art smaller speakers. When it comes to larger speakers, as my own inclination is for horns, I'd not choose Sf (Extrema would be the extreme for me, and its footprint is big!). I have rarely heard good Cremona or Amati, but there was one notable exception, at my friend simcity's place I did hear his excellent pair of Amati (picture below; report here).

I am not familiar with all the later variations, Hommage etc, the names confuse me. Don't you hate updates?

Loudspeaker stands
I like the adjustable stands, wonderful, and they match with everything I throw at them. But when it comes to those stands with marble base, no; let me be frank, I don't like them, esthetically and sonically. And then there were many Chinese replicas, so beware.

Tube or Solid-State?
IMHO, you are not getting the best out of Sf if you are not using at least some tube equipment. A tube preamp is mandatory (as with almost everything). Why buy something famous for its portrayal of strings and then use it with solid-state?

Cables/Yter (official site)
For me, Sf works with simple professional cables, like my Gotham and Belden. Results with boutique cables are often disastrous. If you have to go upmarket, Serblin's own Yter is a good choice.

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