Sonus faber has been branching out over the last few years through its product offerings and beyond—in addition to celebrating its 35thanniversary this year. There were the introductions of its Homage line and Aida flagship redesign, before that, its lifestyle all-in-one Sf16 and chic Prana headphones. And at a recent event at the unique 1900 Building venue in Kansas City, MO, the Italian high-end loudspeaker manufacturer forayed further into uncharted territory with a new, affordable line of Sonetto loudspeakers—and the first installation of Sonus faber speakers in such an ambitiously versatile commercial application.
I’ve attended a few McIntosh Group (of which Sonus faber is a part) press and listening events at the company’s historic late-19th-century townhouse in NYC in the last couple of years. This time around a number of Sonus faber dealers, employees, and a handful of audio press folks were invited to celebrate the recent launch of the new Sonetto line of loudspeakers at a special venue of a different sort: the 1900 Building. The splendidly bright-white ’60s structure replete with clean, bold arches originally housed the former factory headquarters for Lee Jeans, but today serves decidedly different functions.
Thanks to the creative vision of Steve Karbank (pictured above) of the Karbank Real Estate Company this striking structure now hosts a variety of public and private events, from concert series and listening events to bar mitzvahs and wedding receptions. There are even loudspeakers in the garden and patio courtyard areas. (The building is LEED-certified and there’s even a wonderful foodie-worthy restaurant on site that features award-winning Chef Linda Duerr’s cuisine with fresh seasonal and local ingredients…and yes, the restaurant also has a good sound system and gently reflective room acoustic treatment.)
Steve, who is an enthusiastic and generous music lover—and also happens to be a fan of Sonus faber loudspeakers—decided to renovate the unique space and turn it into a great-sounding multi-purpose venue. For much of the audio installation Steve consulted with the Director of the Kansas City Symphony to optimize the acoustics within the 1900 Building’s three main enclosed rooms, the largest of which holds concerts that can accommodate up to 64 musicians onstage.
In an unorthodox move, Steve also specified Sonus faber speakers and McIntosh electronics to be installed on site to fulfill the audio needs within the venue’s full-function AV production setup. I was told that the Sonus faber folks were surprised yet pleased at this first-time request for its speakers to be used in a commercial application. Ryan Anderson and his team from Elevated Electronics also consulted with Karbank to help assemble and install systems for “crossover” use in the service of live musicians (think pro-audio crossovers, monitoring, etc.). They explained that the systems were still a work in progress—no one understands this better than audiophiles! At the time of our visit to the 1900 Building there was an extensive suite of McIntosh electronics on tap in the control room and a number of Sonus faber speakers installed in various rooms.
The 1900 Building’s concert series is held in the facility’s largest space, which happens to be an acoustically tricky room. It’s of an irregular shape with large glass windows comprising part of one side wall and the rear wall. There’s a heavy beam spanning the room that “divides” the lower-ceilinged front part of the room closer to the stage from the rear section with higher ceilings. To more fully experience the acoustics of the space, attendees were treated to three short solo performances from a trio of outstanding young professional musicians: violinists Laurel Gagnon and Igor Khukhua, and cellist Mansur Kadirov, pictured below.
This impressive mini-concert also functioned as a demo of the McIntosh MC452 stereo amplifier and MX160 A/V processor (for some room correction) ahead of five Sonus faber Vox center-channel loudspeakers, two in the front section positioned high on the wall on either side of the stage and three in the back, mounted on the beam sectional wall. Apparently the room’s biggest challenge was to get those point-source speakers to sound good from all seats.
We were encouraged to get up and “be a rude audience” and move around the space to listen in different parts of the room. I preferred the sound closer to the stage; it’s where I generally tend to sit at classical or chamber concerts. However when I moved further back I was struck by the degree of clarity, transparency, and timbral naturalness of the live music heard through the rear Sonus faber Vox monitors. The lack of coloration was (dare I say it?) surprising. The sound was just as live music should be: clean, pure, and immediate—with seemingly undetectable distortion.
I was informed that for the purposes of the Vox demo the volume of the monitors had been turned up slightly above their usual levels that would deliver a more seamless sonic experience. In short, they were exaggerated a bit for effect. But this seemed to detract little if any from the enjoyment of the live music. Everything seemed to come together to make this a remarkably good-sounding room all around despite its idiosyncrasies.
In Part 2, I’ll report on the event’s demos of and details on the new Sonus faber Sonetto collection of affordable speakers.