Sonus faber Olympica Nova III Loudspeaker

More Than Skin Deep

Equipment report
Sonus faber Olympica Nova III Loudspeaker

It’s a ritual that plays out every time loudspeakers arrive here for review. After they’ve been unboxed, roughly positioned, and are breaking in with Flim & the BB’s set to infinite repeat, I’ll ask my wife for an opinion regarding their appearance. For 40 years, she’s been the arbiter of what’s attractive and what isn’t in all save one room of our home—the one with the audio system. Though there have been a few exceptions—the JWM Alyson AML IIs, fashioned from mango hardwood and reviewed back in Issue 282, or the sleek granite SRC-1s from Acora Acoustics covered more recently—mostly, my spouse is unimpressed. “They’re speakers!” she’ll observe with a decidedly exasperated tone of voice, turn on a heel, and depart.

It was a different story with Sonus faber’s Olympica Nova IIIs. Standing in the doorway of the listening room, my wife took them in and announced, dispassionately, “These could go in the living room.” Of course, if the speakers did migrate there, we couldn’t actually listen to any music, as the amplifiers, cabling, and other audio paraphernalia required to produce sound would not be invited along. So my evaluation of the Nova IIIs proceeded in the usual place. But the compliment was duly noted.

Sonus faber’s Olympica “collection” was introduced in 2013, the first of the Italian manufacturer’s loudspeaker lines to incorporate drivers designed entirely in-house. The whole Olympica range was updated late last year, hence the Nova designation. There are three floorstanders as well as two center-channel options and a wall-mounted surround for home-theater applications. Priced at $13,500 per pair, the Nova III is the middle model of the floorstanders—a three-way, four-driver system standing 43½" tall. The company has always been proud of the visual impression its loudspeakers make, noting a kinship to fine musical instruments, specifically old Italian ones. Many Sf products have been given names that refer to the great violins crafted in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries: There have been Cremona, Amati, Guarneri, and Stradivari models. Like earlier Olympicas, the Nova III has an asymmetric lute shape that assures the lack of any parallel flat internal surfaces, a key design goal.

Though the general look of the new Olympicas hasn’t changed much, the structure of the enclosures has advanced considerably over the original series. The cabinet is now fabricated from eight layers of bended wood set into an aluminum “exoskeleton,” a methodology that has trickled down from the pricier Homage and Reference lines. This woodworking technique results in a very rigid cabinet, and strategic internal bracing further increases the strength of the enclosure. CNC-machined aluminum plates are incorporated into the top and bottom surfaces. According to Paolo Tezzon—until recently Sf’s Chief of Acoustics, Research, and Development, now the company’s “brand ambassador”—the metal elements of the Nova III’s enclosure “act like a clamp over the wooden structure, making the whole thing virtually resonance-free.”

As I said above, the drivers are all designed by Sonus faber, the parts manufactured by Dr. Kurt Müller GmbH & Co in Krefeld, Germany. The top of the frequency range is handled by a 28 mm (1.1") silk-dome tweeter featuring Sf’s Damped Apex Dome technology. A solid piece of die-cast aluminum that applies local dampening to the dome is part of the driver’s construction; it’s said to improve the anti-phase behavior inherent to this type of tweeter. The 150mm (6") midrange driver is Sf’s pride-and-joy, an air-dried blend of cellulose pulp plus kapok and kenaf fibers that give the diaphragm a slightly rough surface to provide damping and better distribute cone resonances. The two identical 180mm (7") woofers are connected in parallel. Their diaphragms have a sandwich construction with external layers of cellulose pulp surrounding a layer of syntactic foam to fulfill the widely sought goal of loudspeaker driver design—low mass and high rigidity.

The loading of the Nova III enclosure—and most currently available Sonus faber loudspeakers—is an aperiodic design, a kind of hybrid of infinite baffle and bass-reflex. There’s a port, but it’s partially obstructed. The Nova III’s resistive port is Sf’s ominously named Stealth Ultraflex system, a length of extruded aluminum with fins that extends vertically from the top to the bottom of the speaker. A slot between two of these fins allows the internal volume of the enclosure, both the midrange and woofer sub-compartments, to communicate with the outside world. The vertical vent is located at the rear of one of the curved sides of the Nova III and the speakers can be positioned in a room with the ports facing in toward each other or out toward the sidewalls. Users are advised to try both orientations, as one will generally be preferred in terms of low-frequency performance.

The Nova III’s crossover is a progressive slope design, with crossover frequencies specified as 250Hz and 2500Hz. The boards employ Jantzen inductors and capacitors that have been newly designed by Sf in partnership with ClarityCaps. (There are actually two crossover networks, one for the tweeter/midrange section and one for the woofers. Each is located near to the relevant drivers and mechanically insulated from the main cabinet with elastomers.) The company bestows yet another trademarked name on the crossover’s circuitry, anointing it as a Paracross Topology. (See Sidebar for Paolo Tezzon’s elaboration on the theory, implementation, and benefits of this design.) The two sets of 5-way binding posts have robust metal nuts with a grabable ridge that facilitates the secure connection of speaker cables. I also found the jumpers connecting the two negative and two positive terminals exceptionally easy to remove and reinsert, so experimenting with bi-wiring or bi-amping is a breeze.