The Fine Sounds Group, parent company to Sonus faber and iconic high-end audio brands McIntosh, Audio Research Corporation, and Wadia, rolled out the red carpet to its global distributors and a handful of audio journalists for a two-day event at Sonus faber’s HQ in Arcugnano, Italy, in March. Linked to the 30th anniversary celebration of Sonus faber, the purpose of the event was two-fold: first, to describe the current state of affairs as well as the road forward for all the Fine Sounds brands; second, to unveil a new mystery Sf loudspeaker. The highlight of the two-day affair was a gala candlelit evening on the grounds of a Palladian villa in a setting that can only be described as lavish and quintessentially Italian. Standing before a PowerPoint presentation, Fine Sounds Group CEO Mauro Grange and other executives and division heads emphasized the conglomerate’s remarkable success at navigating the rough waters of a global recession and its aggressive future goals and initiatives.
The highlight of the evening, beyond the copious and delizioso Italian cuisine, was the unveiling of a new Extrema loudspeaker, christened Ex3ma (the numeral standing in for “tre”). Many recall the 1993 original, a benchmark for the art of the two-way compact. Radical for its day and fussy about amplification, the Extrema needed a patient hand to sound its best. But when all the stars aligned, few speakers of the day could match its dynamics and tonal voice.
While clearly honoring its forbear (oddly no mention was made of its designer, the late Franco Serblin), the new version is in many ways even more extreme. Built of carbon-fiber, aluminum and wood Ex3ma is a puzzle of complex geometric shapes reminiscent of the radar-defying Stealth fighter silhouette. Far more gorgeous to behold in person than to describe in words, this is Sf’s contribution to the state-of-the-art of the small loudspeaker. Overflowing with technology it uses a carbon-fiber monocoque damped with wood and Rohacell layers with thick cladding of red spruce sourced from the Val di Fiemme region, famous for the supplying the finest violin tone wood. With the monocoque acting as the support structure, the wood side panels are able to resonate in the same way a musical instrument would—one of Sf’s original acoustic philosophies. Two grades of aluminum are employed in key areas, avional and ergal. The former bolsters the front and back panels while the latter is used in concert with a gun-metal alloy known as “red brass” for the basic structure of the transducers and baskets. The 30mm tweeter is a beryllium/DLC dome (Diamond Like Carbon), a diamond-coated beryllium dome created through the process of vapor deposition. The 7** mid/bass driver (above top) is a laminated diaphragm of nano-carbon and DLC/beryllium, with an added dampening foam between the layers. Around back is the Electro Magnetic Brake Auxiliary Bass Radiator system (above) to manage the low-frequency spectrum. Not to be confused with a traditional passive radiator, this ovular carbon-fiber sandwich/flat-piston diaphragm is electronically adjustable via a four-position “brake” for LF damping. Other specs: Internal wiring is all Shunyata. The progressive slope crossover point is 2.3kHz. Frequency response is 40Hz–40kHz; sensitivity, 88dB; nominal impedance, 4 ohms; dimensions with dedicated stand, 43** x 14.2** x 22**: weight, 90 lbs. with stands.
We were treated to a brief listening session run by Research and Development Manager Paolo Tezzon. Like its predecessor Ex3ma projects a large soundstage belying it’s relatively small size. Utterly boxless with no artifacts suggesting the presence of the rear-mounted radiator, its full-bodied midrange has a hint of the enriched, ripened sound Sonus has been known for, but this Ex3ma is a more precision instrument aimed at its competitors. The top end is very fast, highly detailed, and perhaps a bit over-etched, though that might have been more attributable to the demo material and fittingly extreme volume levels. Bass response is tuneful, dynamic, and accurate down its stated 40Hz limit. Overall, a thoroughly musical achievement that honors the original.
The new Extrema is limited to thirty pairs worldwide, sold factory-direct and priced at 30,000 Euros or roughly $40,000. By the time my plane departed, I was told, the entire run had been spoken for mostly by the attending distributors. Why only thirty pairs? Like the vaunted flagship, The Sonus faber of a few years ago, this is a state-of-the-art excursion meant to demonstrate not only a commitment to the future but to reestablish the brand as a tech-driven and cutting-edge marque that can play on the same lofty stage as the Raidhos, Rockports, TADs, Wilsons, and Magicos of the world. Look for much of the Ex3ma technology to find its way into less extreme models in the future.
All told, beneath the glitter, and glam (and food and wine!) of the event, the unstated purpose was to present the Fine Sounds Group as a faithful steward of its quartet of iconic brands—one that is playing for the long term. The takeaway is that FSG is throwing its full support around its acquisitions and will continue to leverage the strengths of these brands to further improve market share.