When Morel’s Fat Lady (reviewed by JV, Issue 209) touched down on North American shores in 2009, few could accuse the Israel-based company of lacking a sense of humor. The high-tech flagship with its robust, operatic curves was aptly named, and much to Morel’s delight people were soon remarking, “It ain’t over until the Fat Lady sings.” For sing she did, and eloquently, with every carbon fiber of her voluptuous enclosure. Except, it wasn’t over. Not by a long shot. It turns out that the Fat Lady has family in the form of the Sopran, Morel’s slimmer follow-up. In fact the Sopran reflects the same showcase technologies that vaulted the Fat Lady to prominence—albeit at roughly one-third the cost.
While this five-driver, bass-reflex floorstanding design doesn’t make quite the same entrance as the head-turning Fat Lady, its fluid, contemporary looks are similarly unforgettable. The Sopran silhouette is absent any sharp corners and represents a complex series of swooping curves that dramatically narrows toward the uppermost portion of the enclosure and then broadens and deepens into a round top chamber housing the midrange and tweeter drivers (isolated internally in their own sub-enclosure). From the cabinet’s gently sloping front baffle to its ported back, each bend and arch is purposefully executed. It is a key Morel design strategy for diffusing internal standing waves and negating the need for absorptive materials within the enclosure. Morel’s aim is to fine-tune the internal architecture of the cabinet—not unlike the body of a musical instrument—to perform in concert with Morel’s proprietary transducers. The added benefits of the curved surfaces are superior rigidity and a reduction in diffraction. At floor level the cabinet terminates in a textured-leather-covered base, which houses the Sopran crossover, isolating the delicate circuitry from internal backwave pressures during playback—one of Sopran’s advancements over the Fat Lady.
Unlike the naked baffle design of the Fat Lady, the more modest Sopran comes with circular, perforated metal grilles over its transducers. Characterized as more or less acoustically transparent “lotus” designs, they magnetically secure themselves to the outer frame of each driver, and Morel provides a powerful, handheld, circular magnet to aid in their removal. However, while they are attractive in a Zen fashion, they are not “more or less acoustically transparent.” I much preferred listening without them. Indeed, I wondered why the grilles were included at all? In Morel’s view the Fat Lady was for advanced high-enders who like to celebrate the technology—visually as well as audibly. But the “naked driver” approach did have its detractors, so Morel now places the option of grilles or no-grilles squarely in the hands of Sopran owners.
Morel fanciers already know that transducer design is the company’s claim to fame. For the Sopran, engineers developed all-new 6" drivers that swap the exotic carbon-fiber/Rohacell composite diaphragms of the Fat Lady for more prosaic damped-polymer composites. I was told that to make up for the small loss in diaphragmatic stiffness, Morel opted for titanium (rather than aluminum) formers and thereby gained a degree of lightness. The drivers are each specifically aligned for the volumes they encounter and tuned to their respective ports. The midrange unit sports a large, three-inch voice coil with hybrid ferrite-neodymium magnets surrounded by a full copper ring to reduce eddy-current distortion. The rubber surround has been made lower and narrower, tuned for moderate excursions and flat response. (The woofer’s surround is taller and wider, allowing for the larger excursions that low bass demands.) The tweeter is Morel’s 1.1" Acuflex soft dome.
For prospective owners I should note that the Sopran took a few weeks to break-in, longer than I normally experience. And early on, it did sound a little shouty and lacking in top-to-bottom coherence. However, this changed dramatically—and for the better. (JV reported he had the same experience with the Fat Lady.)
My sonic impression of the Sopran was one of immediacy, laser focus, and stable dynamic energy across nearly the entire audio spectrum. The Sopran doesn’t lay back in a shy or recessive manner—very little in the way of micro-or macro-detail escapes it. Rather its tonal character is more forward and analytical. Its presentation is not unlike the precision of a professional monitor but without the commonly associated mechanical coolness. The Sopran can be sheer magic in the way it responds to music’s colorful palette of dynamic contrasts. I was wowed by just how well the Sopran resolved the harmonic details and resonances of the delicate harp figure that runs throughout The Wasps Overture from the recent Reference Recordings disc. Or, the softly mixed banjo that accompanies the Eagles during the track “Twenty-One” from their Desperado album [Asylum/HDtracks]. This degree of low-level detail and transparency is one of the Sopran’s primary virtues.
The Sopran excels at intimacy. The speaker is preternaturally responsive, so that when Mary Stallings leans into the microphone during “Sunday Kind Of Love” on Live at the Vanguard [Concord], the speaker instantaneously tracks her movement, reflecting the authentic stops and starts of her phrasing without overlaying its own material or electrical colorations. Every gentle pianissimo is just as defined and grounded as the loudest fortissimo.