Sonus Faber’s reverence for the Old Master violinmakers of Cremona is well known. Their craftsmanship has been the guiding light for the Italian loudspeaker manufacturer providing insights and inspiration for every model—particularly its exquisite Homage Series, the Amati, Stradivari, and Guarneri. In effect each Sonus Faber speaker exists not only to honor a culture of old world craftsmanship but also to keep alive a rigorous and proud tradition. It’s a brilliant message but in the time I spent with the newly updated Sonus Faber Cremona M, I wondered if it’s a mixed one. That is, by defining its speakers in such artful even mystical terms, by seeking inspiration from fine musical-instrument woods and lute-like conformations and lavish luthier-style details, has Sonus narrowed its own appeal? Does it have the same relevance to a younger crowd as it does to a silk-shirted class of fifth-row-center snobs, the caviar-and-bubbly crowd, and genteel Vivaldi sophisticates?
Given my experience with the Cremona M, I can tell you that dusty stereotype of a Sonus client couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, there’s the traditional sweet and civil side to the Cremona that does for a piccolo trumpet or a harpsichord what Perugia does for chocolate. If you’re listening to some soft jazz like Diane Reeves or Mary Stallings, that warmth and sweetness can make you feel as poshly pampered as a Pomeranian. But this particular Sonus Faber also reveals a more explosive, electrifying side, one that doesn’t flinch from deep-impact rock and full-throttle metal. Translation: This cultured Italian kicked some serious gluteus maximus in my listening room.
For avid Sonus watchers there are few visual differences between the new M and its predecessor. Standing tall and slender, the M is still a three-way, four-driver, bass-reflex design that stands about 45" high on its raked, fully spiked platform. Sonus tradition prevails throughout. There’s the leather-covered tapered baffle designed to minimize edge diffraction. The curvilinear maple side panels are satin finished, flawless and buttery to the touch. They reach back to the narrow black, scalloped rear panel which houses a pair of ports, the larger to reinforce the dual woofers. The smaller vent supports the midrange transducer, which in turn joins the tweeter in its own isolated sub-enclosure. As for construction quality, I’ve personally seen these things built, and take it from me they are as robustly braced and assembled as something out of a high-tech shipyard. A heavy steel, satin-black plinth installs beneath each loudspeaker and includes adjustable spikes with protective pucks (for wood flooring) that allow the user to adjust the rake angle for time alignment. (For the full story of the all-new transducers, see the sidebar.)
Darkly alluring, curvaceous, and full-bodied across the octaves…I get how un-PC this reads. But if the sonic character of the Cremona M could be translated into a purely feminine form, this loudspeaker would resemble Gina Lolobrigida. From top to bottom, the Cremona M seems to exist to permit music to stir the emotions. High frequencies are open and airy. They are also expressive over a wider sweetspot, an aspect that contributes to a stronger than normal sense of orchestral layering, and dimensionality that is more in tune with a small monitor than a mid-sized floor model. However, I learned early on that although the Cremona is not temperamental in terms of power, the smoothness and warmth of the tweeter is easily affected by clinical electronics. Something on the order of the Pass Labs INT-150, known for its warmer solid-state sound, makes for an exquisite match.
The M’s midrange is decidedly neutral and is augmented by low-frequency response that extends into the mid-20Hz range. To be honest, nothing less than voluptuous really describes the midbass/upperbass region. But it’s more than mere gorgeous timbre. Very simply, the Cremona M moves air, and a lot of it. And by doing so it reminds you of the physical nature of sound—how it impacts the music and the listener. Admittedly I’m spoiled by the near-seamless point-source-integration that two-way compacts can generate. Nonetheless I was impressed at the inter-driver coherence that this four-on-the-floor array produced. In my small room it just hinted at the vertical orientation between tweeter and woofer. Give the Cremona M a bit more elbow room between it and the listener and it’s likely that even this small seam will close completely. On balance, imaging was very stable, and thanks to the M’s near full-range extension and superb low-level resolution it sets a soundstage with the obsessive precision of Martha Stewart preparing a dining room table at Thanksgiving.
Perhaps looming the largest in the Cremona M’s overflowing portfolio are its va-va-voom dynamics and musical scale. It is nearly totally free from compression, effortlessly combining dynamic power with the preservation of low-level musical detail. It has the ability to hang onto very-low-level bass notes, like the rumbling section of bass viols that begin stirring in the first verse of “Defying Gravity” from the Broadway cast recording of Wicked [Decca]. And when Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich drops his foot on the bass-drum pedal for the first time during “Nothing Else Matters” [Vertigo, 45RPM EP], I heard and felt the entire drum, the transient impact, the fundamental and its decay perfectly in time with the jackhammer whump of the electric bass. It’s not often I’ve heard this level of timbral and harmonic sophistication at such powerful dynamic moments but, mama mia, here it was. Many speakers go through various states of denial when it comes to reproducing a true sense of orchestral dynamic weight in the lower octaves. This is the territory where an orchestra flexes its muscles and generates the thrust that brings a soundstage and proscenium to life, or with the right material scares the daylights out of you [e.g., “Mars,” The Planets, Previn, EMI]. In fact, in my room only the Revel Performa F52 has performed comparably in terms of extension and output and footprint.
Alas, some may be shocked to learn that the Cremona M is not the perfect speaker. True, there are few loudspeakers that are absolutely impartial mediators of reproduced sound. The Cremona M does have its own subtle voice, as well. Whether it can be construed as a flaw depends mostly on personal bias, but I will state that placed in perspective these weaknesses are relatively minor compared with the sweeping scope of the Cremona’s accomplishments. That said, bass viols, electric bass, and tympani have a fuller, more resonant quality that I felt could benefit with being a bit tighter, a little more controlled and composed—a twitch quicker off the line. Again this could be ascribed to my smallish room, but not entirely. The other area where I have a small tonal nitpick is revealed during female vocals. When k.d. lang sings “Hallelujah,” there’s a narrow, dry band of energy in the transitional range between the upper-mids and lower treble that focuses and isolates the leading edge of lang’s voice [Hymns of the 49th Parallel, Nonesuch]. With a male vocal like Sinatra [Only The Lonely, Capitol], the M adds some throaty articulation but also masks some of the deeper vocal resonance, the larger aura of sound subsequent to the initial transient.
The Cremona M is a speaker that’s far easier to fall in love with than to dispassionately admire. Its flaws are trifles compared to its versatility and emotionally stirring musicality. In a market where two-way compacts reach into the $20k+ range with relative ease, the Cremona M’s not insubstantial cost seems, well, almost reasonable. Of course at these levels much is rightfully expected. In the case of the Cremona M much is received. It’s one of the most rewarding loudspeakers I’ve ever had the pleasure of reviewing.
Cremona M in Detail
Sumiko’s John Hunter, North American distributor of Sonus Faber, summarized in one word the critical evolution from Cremona to Cremona M: drivers. Most important is the Scanspeak-derived midrange (used in the Elipsa), which Hunter feels defines the character of the new speaker. He explained that this transducer uses “randomized charred wood slivers that are amended into the paper-drawing process. These tiny wood elements act like tiny diffusers, refracting and re-directing the high frequencies, scattering them in many different directions, and preventing the build-up of resonances on the cone of the driver.” The goal was improved clarity and timing cues, and I can’t argue with the result. Like falling dominoes this change precipitated a tweeter upgrade of the existing ring radiator, which received a larger inner dome, allowing a slightly lower crossover point and avoiding over-driving the new midrange driver. And finally to keep up with the speed of the new midrange and tweeter duet, Sonus added a pair of new magnesium 7" drivers with an aluminum pole piece.