The latest generation of reference-quality, multi-driver loudspeakers approaching the state of the art have several things in common: cabinets that go to fanatical lengths to reduce and control resonances; sophisticated crossovers utilizing very expensive high-quality parts; advanced isolation schemes to decouple the speaker from the floor; and more. When skillfully applied, these design elements can lead to loudspeakers that are far less colored and lower in noise than their predecessors. Significantly reducing and controlling the cabinet’s resonances lets the drivers reproduce music with more clarity and inner detail, as well as more truthful timbre and accurate soundstaging. Perhaps because of their seductively warm tonal balance, Sonus faber loudspeakers have always struck me as being designed more for music lovers than audiophiles (not a bad thing). However, when I first heard the Amati Futura at the 2011 RMAF producing one of the best overall sounds of the show, I knew that this was a breakthrough for Sonus faber. Having lived with these beautiful 3.5-way floorstanders since then, I must say that these are speakers that both music lovers and audiophiles can love.
BACKGROUND AND TECHNOLOGY
The Sonus faber Amati Futura pays homage to Andreas Amati, credited with creating the first four-stringed violin, as well as defining its form and proportions and the construction techniques used for over three centuries to produce the most glorious-sounding instruments the world has known. Both Antonio Stradivari and Andrea Guarneri apprenticed with Amati’s grandson and believed that every element of the violin had an impact on the sound, from the type of wood used, to its internal structure, lacquer, glue, etc., and so do the designers of the Amati Futura. Every aspect of the Futura’s exquisite form appears to serve some meaningful sonic purpose to reduce or control resonances and let the drivers do their jobs.
The Amati Futura is the third-generation Amati loudspeaker following the original Amati Homage and Amati Homage Anniversario. Like those earlier models, the Futura uses a patented lute-shaped cabinet, inspired by Stradivari, with beautifully curved walls sloping to the back that help limit resonance. In the tradition of world-class Italian furniture-makers, this has to be one of the most drop-dead-gorgeous loudspeakers out there. Strips of beautiful selected woods are optimally arranged in layers to create a constrained-mode enclosure; sub-structural ribs are strategically placed to help reduce spurious vibrations; and even the glue and the seven layers of lacquer finish have been carefully selected for their sonic attributes.
Aside from its lute-like shape, the Futura is a complete stem- to-stern reworking of the Amati, with a larger, higher-volume cabinet, all new drivers, and new technologies. It is the first in a series of Sonus faber loudspeakers to benefit from lessons learned in the development of the company’s flagship loudspeaker, “The Sonus faber” (reviewed by Robert Harley in TAS 216), as well as technology migrated down from it. The Futura is mechanically decoupled from the floor via its ingenious, elastomer-based suspension system. Its Avional exo-skeleton clamping-structure connects the beautiful CNC-machined top and bottom plates via the dual fins at the back, mass-loading and stiffening the enclosure while sending vibrations to the base of the loudspeaker and away from the front baffle. Sonus faber’s patented Stealth Reflex system helps keeps the footprint of the Futura relatively compact, produces more extended low frequencies, and enables the ports to be dead-quiet.
The Amati Futura’s design and build-quality are exemplary, and its drivers are custom units that have been selected for their sonic naturalness. The lovely natural high frequencies are handled by an Evolution 1.1" Ragnar Lian silk dome which is isolated from the enclosure. The midrange unit, mounted in its own internal enclosure, has been created from a new formula of natural fibers. Its powerful magnet system is combined with a 1.7" voice coil and triple Kellog/Goeller copper rings to reduce distortion and make it “eddy-current free.” The elastomer-damped, dual 8.75" aluminum-magnesium alloy woofers combine a long- throw magnet system and an eddy-current-free 1.5" voice coil for enhanced low-frequency dynamics and linearity. To optimize their performance, one woofer rolls-off before the other. The crossover network uses a progressive-slope architecture and the highest-quality parts, including Mundorf Supreme capacitors and Jantzen inductors.
In the quest for better transparency, transient speed, tonal neutrality, and inner detail, some next-generation loudspeaker designs may depart from a company’s “house sound,” crossing the line and drifting into hyper-detail and leanness—essentially losing the sonic recipe that made its earlier models so musically appealing in the first place. Let me assure you that although the Amati Futura (along with The Sonus faber and the Aida) is more detailed, transparent, quick, and tonally neutral than previous generations of Sonus faber loudspeakers I have heard, it is even more musically engaging and mesmerizing, moving one closer to the sonic truth of a live performance. Massed strings, female voices, and woodwinds still have body and richness, but they also have more realistic timbre and transparency.
Indeed, the sound of instruments and voices is absolutely palpable on all types of music on One: Open Reel Selections of Opus 3 Analogue Recordings—from Duke Ellington to Eric Bibb to George Bizet. And if you want to be aurally seduced, listen to LPs of Shelby Lynne’s “reach-out-and-touch-you” voice on Just A Little Lovin’ [Lost Highway] or the lovely tenor sax on The Genius of Coleman Hawkins [Verve]. With the Amati Futura, it’s easy to listen far longer than planned.
The Futura has several other formidable strengths besides being among the very best at reproducing the sound of massed strings and voices. You’ll not only hear instruments with air and body arrayed with focus across a broad stage, but more ambient cues from the hall itself (These effects can be enhanced still further with the addition of a REL G-1—see sidebar). The depth of image goes right to the back wall, and the speaker disappears like a great mini-monitor.
While not at all bloated, there’s a lot of sonic meat on the Futura’s bones, aided by its extended bass, which goes down to the mid-20Hz range with considerable authority, dynamic punch, and control—more than one might expect given the modest size of the cabinet. It offers a full, rich sound with a very solid foundation on all kinds of music, particularly power orchestral and jazz, as well as solo piano. I was amazed at its deep-bass extension, weight, and dynamic explosiveness on a fun new HDCD from Reference Recordings entitled Horns for the Holidays with the Dallas Wind Symphony. The percussion sections on Stravinsky’s Song of the Nightingale [Chesky Records RC10] and Debussy’s Iberia [RCA] were quite thrilling, with real snap and force and no blurring of the leading edges of transients—similar to what you’ll find in the concert hall. These attributes also extended to jazz and rock recordings, where you’ll notice the Futura’s transient speed and subtle detail with brushes on snare drums, sticks on high-hats, and strikes on kick drums.
While the Amati Futura has a relatively high sensitivity (90dB) and performed admirably with the PrimaLuna DiaLogue Sevens, I preferred using those amplifiers in ultra-linear mode instead of triode mode, as the Futura benefited from the additional power and perked up even more when mated to the Audio Research DS450M power amplifiers which produces 650 watts into the Futura’s 4-ohm load. The biggest difference was in macrodynamics and bass authority and control, which were terrific with the Audio Research amplifiers. Since the Futura’s recommended power-handling tops out at 300W, I was careful not to overdrive them, but this beauty can play very loud without losing control or hitting a dynamic ceiling.
As good as the Amati Futura is, and its combination of stunning looks and gorgeous sound is hard to beat, it falls short of the state of the art in a few areas, but I admit that I like its design tradeoffs. Although far better in this respect than previous Sonus fabers, the Futura’s tonal balance remains slightly on the dark side of neutral, giving the sound a touch of added richness and warmth, which can be very appealing. The Futura’s top end is slightly rolled-off and some may want a little more sparkle and extension, but this benefits many digital recordings and complements the rise in most moving-coil cartridges very nicely, preventing aural fatigue. Its microdynamic performance is very good, but some electrostatic speakers like the Quad ESL- 2905 and ESL-2805, are slightly better than the Futura (and many other, more costly dynamic-driver loudspeakers), and come alive more readily at low volumes. However, the Amati significantly outdistances the Quads when it comes to macrodynamics, bass weight, and power, as it should at about three-times the price. As with many high-performance loudspeakers, careful setup is required to get the most from this loudspeaker.
The Futura is up against some fierce competition in its price segment, with some others also offering inert cabinets, high-performance drivers, advanced crossovers, and effective approaches to decoupling the speaker from the floor. However, the Amati Futura more than holds its own against them in soundstage width and depth, ambience retrieval, bass power and articulation, and natural timbre. For many, its ravishing sound on massed strings, woodwinds, and vocals combined with its delivery of subtle details may tip the scales in its favor.
The Amati Futura is a breakthrough product for Sonus faber—a stunning loudspeaker in both form and function. It not only skillfully applies principles developed by the most influential of the Cremona violin craftsman, but also fuses them with proprietary technological innovations and know-how migrated from the company’s flagship loudspeaker to a more compact package at a much more accessible price. While not inexpensive, the Futura offers a level of refinement and performance that bodes well for the company’s future direction. Bravo!
SPECS & PRICING
Type: 3.5 way vented floorstanding loudspeaker
Frequency range: 25Hz to 30kHz
Impedance: 4 ohm nominal
Drivers: 1.1" soft-dome tweeter, 7" cellulose-fiber midrange, two 8.75" aluminum- magnesium-alloy cone woofers
Crossover frequencies: 80Hz, 220Hz, 3.2kHz
Dimensions: 16" x 45.7" x 25"
Weight: 122 lbs.
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Berkeley, CA 94710