On more than one occasion before he passed away, my mentor Harry Pearson voiced the fear that today’s computer-based loudspeaker and electronics designers were in peril of losing touch with the sound of the real thing, and that high-end audio was, in turn, in peril of losing its indispensible connection to the sound of acoustic instruments. Francesco Rubenni (pictured above), the 42-year-old guiding light behind the Italian high-end loudspeaker company Rosso Fiorentino, is one of those immensely likable, passionately dedicated, and highly talented young men who remind you that not all audio engineers have lost their bearings when it comes to the absolute sound—that, at bottom and at best, this business is about more than making money. It is about pursuing the ideal of highest fidelity to the sound and expressiveness of real instruments in a real space.
That Francesco pursues this goal with inborn Italian style is to be expected; he is, after all, a native of Florence, who named his company after one of that city’s most famous Renaissance Mannerist painters, Rosso Fiorentino (Giovanni Battista di Jacopo, known as the “Red-Headed Florentine”), and whose listening studio, La Sala del Rosso, is located in a beautiful, walled villa just outside Florence, Bisarno’s Castle. From the lush gardens outside the building to the historic architectural and decorative details inside, right down to the arched-wood acoustic treatments in La Sala, it’s hard to imagine a more idyllic setting for enjoying music.
Given that Francesco is a trained musician (a percussionist), who studied harmony and composition in Florence before taking a degree in electroacoustical engineering at the University of Salford (the Royal College of Advanced Technology) in Manchester, England, it is also unsurprising that Rubenni (in concert with Florence’s Head of Culture and other Florentine musical luminaries) regularly hosts evening recitals by distinguished jazz, acoustic rock, and classical musicians in La Sala del Rosso. Indeed, Francesco’s beautiful (and exquisitely designed and treated) “red room” is as much a performance and recording space as it is a high-end-audio listening spot—an area expressly designed for making music as well as reproducing it.
After spending five years in Manchester studying transducers, acoustics, and psychoacoustics, Francesco designed high-efficiency horn loudspeakers for the company GEA before founding Rosso Fiorentino in Firenze in 2006, in cooperation with the ultra-sophisticated Florence-based loudspeaker company B&C Speakers (which supplies drivers and complete speakers for fully one-quarter of the world’s pro-audio market—see JM's sidebar below). At Rosso, Francesco’s goal was to synthesize the sound of the Italian electroacoustical school (e.g., Sonus faber) with that of the English school (e.g., KEF, Spendor, B&W), while also incorporating the dynamic range and sheer SPLs of the horn speakers that are Rubenni’s first loves. (Remind you a bit of Magico’s Alon Wolf?)
That Francesco has succeeded in his goals was apparent on listening to his flagship five-way, three-box Florentia loudspeakers in La Sala del Rosso on a recent visit to Florence. Weighing nearly 400 pounds each and priced around $100,000 the pair, these stately transducers appear, at first, to be examples of form following function. But as befits a manufacturer that handcrafts in Italy, high style also comes into play with several paint and custom-leather finish options.
If there were one other high-end loudspeaker that the Florentia reminded me of it would be Carl Marchisotto’s Nola Concert Grand References, in that the Florentia combines a sealed-box bass section (with powered 12" B&C woofers) on its bottom, with a separately housed, open-baffle, dipole MTM array (CS Millennium midrange, Scan-Speak ring-radiator tweeter, and ribbon supertweeter) on its mid-level, and a sealed-box upper-bass unit (with a 10" B&C driver) on top of its gorgeously finished, slightly tapering stack. Each of the three enclosures is made of the combination of materials—HDF, aluminum, glass, rubber, and marble microchips—most appropriate to the resonance-free reproduction of its segment of the frequency spectrum.
Point-to-point wired with high-purity silver wire and the finest Mundorf caps, coils, and resistors (as well as proprietary Rosso Fiorentino parts), the Florentia has the rich tone color and vast soundstage of Marchisotto’s flagship speakers. More importantly, it has the beguiling musicality of the Nolas without, if I may say so, the low-end noise (although Marchisotto’s latest iterations have much reduced box-coloration in the bass). There was a reason why HP used Nolas as his references through most of the last two decades of his life. They sounded (and sound) like music. So, equally, do the Rosso Fiorentinos. Their dark, rich timbre was exceptionally pleasing on everything from Holly Cole and Leonard Cohen to Holst’s The Planets, as was their superb imaging, excellent transient speed, large soundstage, and powerful, well-defined bass (down to about 40Hz). A psychoacoustician as well as an audio engineer, Rubenni has designed a slight Gundry dip into the Florentia (à la the aforementioned British School loudspeakers or, for that matter, Raidhos and Magicos), which makes them anything but aggressive in the upper mids and lower treble.
While the pricey Florentias are (currently) Francesco’s most ambitious efforts, the Rosso line—which is subdivided into the Flagship, Reference, Prestige, and Classic Series—comprises a large selection of more affordable options. Particularly attractive, sonically, aesthetically, and commercially, is the new Giglio stand-mount two-way (with 1" textile-dome tweeter and 6½" fiberglass-cone mid/woofer), which not only sounded great in La Sala del Rosso, but also sounded fabulous at the 2015 Munich High End show. But then I’ve not heard a Rosso speaker—from the Florentia through the Siena through the Volterra to the Giglio—that hasn’t sounded beautiful and powerful.
A visit to the little workshop in Florence where Rosso’s speakers are constructed helps to show why. All the drivers are hand-selected for their respective duties. All the boxes are hand-built and artfully damped and finished. All the wiring, soldering, and assembly is done manually by expert Florentine technicians. At Rosso Fiorentino, Old World craftsmanship is put in the service of advanced scientific techniques (including computer-assisted modeling), and both are put in the service of musical expressiveness, by a designer who is as much a practicing musician as he is an audio engineer and psychoacoustician. If this isn’t a formula for high-end excellence, I’m not sure what would be.
I will be reviewing a Rosso Fiorentino loudspeaker in the near future. In the nonce, rest assured that—like Nolas or Raidhos—these beautifully made transducers will please the classical, jazz, and rock music lover equally well. They are, after all, the fruits of a gifted young man who loves music as much as he loves designing equipment to reproduce it. —Jonathan Valin
Nestled in the Tuscan hills just a few miles away from Florence is B&C Speakers’ large, modern factory and operational headquarters, boasting high-tech robots and cheerful-looking employees, alongside plenty of natural light and spectacular landscape views of Cyprus trees and rolling hills. Following our listening session at La Sala del Rosso and a stop at Rosso Fiorentino’s small-batch, hands-on manufacturing HQ, we talked with B&C’s CFO and Director of Investor Relations Simone Pratesi, who provided us with a behind-the-scenes tour of B&C Speakers’ operations.
A well-established public company (in Italy) since 2007, and Rosso’s esteemed “partner in crime,” this longtime maker of precision-engineered transducers is considered an industry leader in the manufacture of compression drivers (for horn-loaded loudspeakers). As JV previously stated, B&C serves as supplier to more than one-quarter of the world’s loudspeaker companies.
It began from humble origins in 1946 when its two founders began making paper cones in their kitchen. Today, B&C produces about 800,000 drivers a year. With its factory operations situated less than a mile from Rosso Fiorentino’s home base, B&C is a close-knit collaborator in more ways than one. Working with Rosso marks B&C’s first foray into consumer audio; typically the company works like an “industrial tailor,” according to Pratesi, providing customized drivers built per pro-audio clients’ specifications (and across a range of diameters—from 5 to 21 inches) that must be able to maintain elasticity and withstand tough conditions through the humidity of outdoor concerts, hot sweaty nightclubs, etc. For those applications, the maker has developed a proprietary impermeable-type of coating that covers the woven paper membranes. B&C Speakers also functions as a kind of prototyping center, turning out approximately 150 to 180 new products each year. Its headquarters even has not one, but two anechoic chambers inside. R&D is taken seriously here.
Incidentally, an additional innovative brand is percolating under the same roof as B&C: Architettura Sonora Applied Acoustics—uniquely designed (and highly attractive) weatherproof outdoor speakers housed in ultra-modern spherical and sculptural enclosures made of stone and other naturally heavy-duty materials. As of press time, the line is being distributed in three countries: France, England, and Spain, with more venues to come.—Julie Mullins