Northern Italian loudspeaker manufacturer Sonus faber made quite a splash with its statement Aida loudspeaker a few years ago. If I recall correctly my TAS colleague Neil Gader ventured all the way from Los Angeles to Venice—Italy, not California!—to witness the rollout. Now comes the Lilium, a smaller dual-chamber, 3.5-way loudspeaker that may weigh less than the imposing Aida, but is not a loudspeaker to approach lightly, either. John Quick of dCS, a former strength and conditioning coach at Boston College, and I, no slouch in the weights department, uncrated the Lilium, hefted it into the air—and promptly decided that in this instance discretion was very much the better part of valor.
Due to its orthogonal structure, the weight of the Lilium is unevenly distributed. The speaker wants to squirm sideways out of your hands when you carry it, which is why I waited until Sumiko, which distributes the Lilium, could send two genial representatives, Dave Stafford and Allan Haggar, to complete the install. After I flagged a friendly neighbor who happened to be strolling by my garage, the four of us transported the Lilium into my basement, with Dave carrying one end in his lap as we descended. You can look at this two ways: Sonus faber needs to figure out a way to make the darned thing easier to move or, more charitably, you’re getting an incredibly solidly built loudspeaker for your shekels.
Was the hassle worth it? Indubitably, as P.G Wodehouse’s Jeeves liked to say. This is not merely a very nifty looking loudspeaker with a fine finish and relatively small footprint. The Lilium is also an extremely nimble and explosive-sounding loudspeaker, one that marks a big step forward for the Sonus faber brand. I know there are those out there who pine for the older days before Fine Sounds acquired the company and when the late Franco Serblin headed the outfit.
But it didn’t take long at all to hear what the Lilium brings to the table, particularly as Stafford and Haggar—both, not so incidentally, accomplished piano players—set it up with precision and care. Once you have the speaker set up on its base, it’s quite easy to move around and tweak its position, at least if you’re on a hardwood floor, as I am. Since Stafford and Haggar visited me, a number of changes in my system, including the addition of the Stillpoints Ultra 6 footers, have upped the musical ante in my system, which only made it even easier to discern the Lilium’s sonic characteristics.
The bulk of the Lilium makes sense when you consider how much technology Sonus faber has packed into it. The front baffle features a 1" damped apex-dome tweeter, a 7" midrange driver, and, not least, three 7" woofers made with a lightweight sandwich-cone structure, tuned to cover frequencies below 250Hz. There appear to be three crossover points: 80Hz, 250Hz, and 2500Hz.
In a separate enclosure, the Lilium also boasts a passive-tuned radiator with what the company deems “zero vibration transmission” that employs a “powerful long-throw motor.” To get the most out of the loudspeaker it is imperative to mount the Lilium on its custom stands or you will stifle the performance of the passive radiator, which requires a bit of distance from the floor to operate properly. You can boost or cut its output via a dial that is mounted on the rear. The speaker itself is constructed with three cabinet walls and copious internal bracing to minimize standing waves. This loudspeaker truly represents a lot of high technology, including premium (and pricey) silver/gold/oil Mundorf capacitors in the crossover. To get the fullest sense of the craftsmanship that went into this loudspeaker, I urge you to consult the very detailed description on Sonus faber’s own website. With a sensitivity of 92dB and nominal impedance of 4 ohms, the Lilium was a fairly easy load to drive for my Ypsilon SET 100 Ultimate amplifiers.
Drive isn’t a bad word to use in connection with the Lilium because, like a fine Italian sports car, it displayed laudatory finesse and alacrity. It’s not designed to blow you out of the room with its power, though it has plenty of that. Instead, what came across to me right away was the purity and resolution of the sound. In the past I’ve always enjoyed Sonus faber loudspeakers, which sounded musical, though often a little dark, syrupy, and rolled-off. I suppose you could argue that audiophiles have gone a little bonkers in the transparency and fidelity department, but I don’t really buy it. The search for higher resolution is one I happen to welcome, and the Lilium helps provide more of it.
The more a high-end audio system can capture the micro-details, the more lifelike it sounds. A welter of things contributes to that sense of verisimilitude—pulse, intonation, accents, a sense of hall spacing, and so forth. Listening to Sir Charles Mackerras’ Telarc recording of Mozart’s Gran Partita with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, for example, provided me with a reminder of this phenomenon. The suppleness of the ensemble came through with unprecedented vividness as did the intonation of the woodwinds, particularly the clarinets. With the subtle nuances delivered by the loudspeakers, the dancelike character of the partita became palpably audible.