Sonus faber, I thought I knew you—that we had an understanding. What happened? You’ve seduced me for years with romantic, walnut-and-leather-accented, luteshaped loudspeakers inspired by the 18th century craftsmanship of the Cremonese master luthiers. Speaker designs that were so much a part of the fabric of this industry that they seemed destined to endure, timeless in and of themselves. So when I caught my first glimpse of your sleek and contemporary Venere line—available in six, modestly priced models (including center channel and wall-mounted numbers)—I felt the sting of betrayal. The Model 1.5, the baby of the line and the subject of this review, looks as if stepped off a Milano runway, quickly tossed back an espresso doppio, and bopped by MacWorld—so au courant it could be in a Roche Bobois catalog. But the more time I spent with this compact two-way, the more my longing for yesterday began slipping away. Venere, Latin for Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, represents a new direction for Sonus faber in this price category. And true to its name I think I’m smitten.
Whether it’s adorned in either a glossy arctic-white or a piano-black hand-rubbed-lacquer finish, Venere is all about flowing lines. It sports multi-radius arched side panels, a gently angled front baffle, and a playfully upswept “ducktail” top panel of tempered glass with Sf ’s logo screen-printed on it in silver foil. However you look at it, Venere is a game-changer for Sonus faber, and its market positioning is clear. Entry-level Millennials anxious to put the finishing touches on their digital media systems or home theaters should start lining up now.
As refreshing and easy on the eye as the Venere lineup appears to be, it didn’t just materialize out of nowhere—many of its styling and design cues key off Sonus faber’s lavish $120,000 Aida floorstander. Beyond the Aida-like side-panel curves, there are the softly curved corners designed to eliminate diffraction artifacts, the general driver architecture, and the new, larger soft dome. Also the lack of parallel surfaces not only increases structural rigidity but reduces internal resonances. The Venere’s beauty is more than skin-deep—the enclosure is an MDF composite sourced by Sf not only for its acoustically inert properties but also to meet California’s stringent emissions requirements. The base of the front baffle houses a narrow, slotted, foam-filled port. To the rear, speaker terminals are nicely offset from one another for easy access and are doubled up for bi-wiring or biamping. The quick-release magnetically-attached grilles are also well done.
The twin drivers are entirely designed by Sonus faber Lab and manufactured by its cadre of suppliers. Final assembly and finishing occurs in China. Central is the silk-domed 29mm tweeter (made by the German company DKM). It’s inset into a deep oval-shaped waveguide to increase output, maintain linearity, and make its dispersion at the lower end of its passband more closely approximate the woofer’s dispersion at the transition to the tweeter. The 6" mid/bass driver uses a trademark Curv cone, and it too is set into a shallow of the front baffle. “Curv” refers to the innovative variant of the polypropylene cone Sonus faber developed. It’s a woven, self-reinforcing material that features better internal damping and higher rigidity than mineral-filled polypropylene. It also offers higher resistance to temperature extremes with greater stiffness and tensile strength. Its stiffness-to-weight ratio results in exemplary roll-off properties.
The Venere’s crossover point is set at 2kHz, and sensitivity is a relatively low 85dB, a predictable trade-off for a speaker of modest internal volume that is expected to produce authentic bass response.
The stands are purpose-built for the Model 1.5, constructed of a tempered glass base and parallel MDF uprights that terminate in a steel top-plate that mounts to the underside of the Venere. They’re rigid; they establish the correct listening height with the adjustable aluminum footers; and they couple to the floor providing the proper amount of rearward tilt to acoustically timealign the drivers. I consider them a mandatory option. Caveat to D.I.Y. enthusiasts: Due to the convoluted instructions the stands may take more than a few minutes to assemble, but I’m told a clearer guide is being considered.
Going in, I assumed that the Model 1.5 would have the default sonic traits of many small, two-way compacts: There would be riveting detail, cavernous dimensionality, and a cat burglar disappearing act. But such attributes are often accompanied by wobbly bass and a lack of dynamic reserves, deficits often masked by a brighter-than-bright top end. (Fact is, it’s much easier for a small speaker to top-load a tweeter with detail than pressure a little woofer to sputter out a series of organ pedal points.)
Here’s what I didn’t expect. First was the darker, relatively even midrange tonal balance and the refreshingly unhyped treble, not the aforementioned rising top that I’ve learned to dread. I also didn’t expect the volume of air that the Model 1.5 seemed to set into motion in my room particularly during symphonic recordings. There was a sense of the physical nature of music reproduction in the way it conveyed the thicker body of a cello, the rippling skin of a timpani, the darker resonances of a large piano soundboard, or the complex textures of a contrabassoon.