The Sonus Faber Concertino Loudspeakers
System: 10 liters two-way bass reflex
Twelve by twelve are the dimensions of my listening room (w/ an 8ft. ceiling). Yeah, we all know the horror stories concerning small listening room anomalies but controlling the standing waves in a smallsquare room has been a regular butt kicker! (Thank God for the zdp-1, the room lens and the echobuster products!)
I’ve been fortunate enough (thanks to my lovvvvvin’ wife) to have a dedicated listening room which is actually our spare bedroom. Many of my audio buddies who have a similar living situation, a studio apartment, or a small multipurpose living room, have expressed their need for information concerning good audio in ‘confined’ spaces. To which I submit my first review concerning the all-important question: What’s a good loudspeaker?
For a little over a couple of years now the Sonus Faber Concertinos, along with its’ family – the Concert Series, have been out on the US market (distributed by Sumiko). I remember first hearing about these little babies from a fellow musician (drummer) who was also a salesman (God forbid!) for a local NY audio retailer. "Come on down to the shop", he shouted across the bandstand "you’ve got to hear these new monitors we’ve been using in our small home theater showroom". "What’s funny, he continued is that a lot of audio engineers (you know, the guys who record the stuff we listen too so dearly) are picking them up like crazy". They all say " Now that’s the way we hear it during playback in the control booth". "Oh really", I thought.
Touched for the Very First Time
About a week later, I showed up for an audition. As per my request, my friend had setup one of the smaller showrooms (these spaces are sometimes so dreadful sounding with the clutter of electronics & speaker pairs all around). The Concertino’s appearance really stood out from the crowd. They look so classy – an interior decorator’s mix of walnut side panels and black leather surround. Browsing through the company’s brochure, I see that "…speaker designs are inspired by the concepts of stringed instrument construction" (Hey, there’s a thought, "Let’s build speakers – which reproduce sound – the same way they build instruments – which produce sound"). Yeah, but looks (and construction) ain’t everything…
He slaps in one of my favorite CDs, Michele Camilo’s "One More Once" (Columbia – CK 66204), that’s the one with the big band, into an Arcam CD player. Anthony Jackson’s contrabass guitar volume swells & muted B-string thumps on the intro to "Suite Sandrine, Part III" fill the room with some impressive low end. Not overwhelming, of course, but just the way I hear it in the studio when I myself am laying down tracks. Then just before the funky brass vamps in, a single triangle tap pans back-and-forth across the soundstage with butter sweet ease. "Ooh, that’s nice". The following onslaught of horns and percussion is a real workhorse for any loudspeaker system. The Concertinos had me doing the dread-locks-flying-in-face seat dance. While still recovering from the previous wave, Billie Holiday’s "Lady in Satin" (Columbia CK 65144) was slipped into the mix, I remarked "Now that’s midrange detail and then some", as the first track, ‘I’m a Fool to Want You’, just knocked me back into the leather seat. I was quick to turn to my friend, "You know I have to take a pair home to really test the waters". "Sure, I’ll have a pair ready for you in a couple of days".
Procrastination Is the Enemy of…
A year later (O.K., maybe a good excuse would be something like "Man, all those tours, gigs, studio dates and rehearsals kept me so busy I just couldn’t get out to the shop … Yeah right!), I ran into my drummer/salesman friend on the street. "Just pickup the speakers tomorrow. You know they’re still one of our top sellers". Also, around the same time I stumbled upon Lewis Lanese’s fine review of the Concertinos big brother, the Concertos.
A pair of fixed height (27 ½"), sand fillable, iron/walnut, spiked stands accompanied the speakers (the adjustable stands were currently out-of-stock). This height wasn’t a problem since my listening chair places my ears at level with the Concertino tweeters (but I do recommend the adjustable stands to allow for greater tonal flexibility). I hooked the speakers up to my then current system – Rega Plant CD player, Naim Audio NAC 92 preamp, Flat-Cap Power Supply & NAP 90 stereo power amp. If the speakers allow, which the Concertinos do, I almost always chose to bi-wire (I tried listening both ways but there was a little better imaging with the bi-wire termination). This is a very kind system to vocals, strings and all things midrangy. The Italian speakers mated well with the all-British front end.
As you would think, the 12 × 12 requires some thought on speaker placement. Upon consulting the Owner’s Manual, a nearfield speaker setup is suggested to even out the overall frequency response (eliminating excessive early reflections and bass reinforcement) and to "place some air" around the speakers. I first placed the speakers about 30" out from the front wall and 35" from the sidewalls with a slight toe in. This produced an amazing sense of immediacy, like being front row at the live event. But I could somehow sense that the room was still part of the equation. That 50-100 Hz region was slightly booming (This was verified with my trusty Digital Sound Level Meter (Radio Shack Cat. No. 33-2055) and the test signals from Stereophile’s Test CD 2). I wanted to get rid of the room! So after a couple of moves, I settled on 43" from front wall, 30" from sidewalls and a 35-degree toe in. This presented the best compromise between a good center image and a realistic soundstage. Oh, and just to let you know, behind my listening chair is a wall of bookcases – filled to the brim with nerdy college engineering textbooks, audio mags and musician bios - measuring 7 ft. tall by 12" deep, or as I like to refer to it, my poor man’s diffusor.
Let’s Turn Off the Lights, Fire Up a Couple of Candles and Throw On Some Ella & Louie
During this time, I had just purchased "The Complete Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong on Verve" 3-CD box set (Polygram 314 537 284-2). Ella’s feathery-like flow captures you quickly on ‘Isn’t This a Lovely Day?’ The Concertinos caress every note making it feel like a Sunday at twilight time. Satchmo’s haspy growl is so there that you just want to laugh along with him. Over the next two weeks I enjoyed tossing Marvin, Sarah V, Sinatra, Robert Johnson and Mr. Marley (Bob that is) at the Concertinos. Cut after cut, I kept finding myself more involved with the essence of the vocalist. Oh, by the way, my wife isreally enjoying these speakers too.
How Low Can You Go
Now it was time to test the bottom with Ray Brown, John Clayton and Christen McBride’s "SuperBass" (Telarc20 CD-83393) recorded live at Sculler’s Jazz Club in Boston. The three acoustic bassists dangled within their own spaces as the second track ‘Blue Monk’ started to quake. Details of fingerboard slides and dips made me want to reach for my old beat up upright standing in the living room. But atlas, the mini Concertinos could not produce those voluptuous bass bodies convincingly. As mentioned by Lanese, here is where the inclusion of a subwoofer may be necessary (depending on your tastes of course). Not to stir you wrong, these little boys can deliver enough booty-shakin’ lows that my wife and I were dancing all over the apartment while checking out some thumping club grooves from D-Influence’s "Good 4 We" (east/west records america 7 92122-2).
My friend’s inevitable phone call came. "So, how you like ‘em". "I’ll bring you a check tomorrow".
To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade…
When I chose to upgrade my system last October (about 95% revamped), the question aroused: "Should I change the speakers?" The Concertinos, like the rest of its’ family, thrives on power. All along, they were sitting back waiting for that hefty, single-ended, class A, Pass Labs. The Naim Audio amp just didn’t have the balls to deliver. In addition, the transparency of the Aleph 0s opened up new levels of resolution. The speakers were able to breathe a little easier. I tried out the new Mapleshade CD (I love the sound of this label’s live 2- track recordings) from Hamiet Bluiett and Larry Willis "If Trees Could Talk" (06332). That baritone sax of Bluiett was hitting me right square in the gut. Even with the added kick, the speakers held up (negligible clipping) during full volume throttle (who listens like this anyway in a small room, unless of course you still live in your parent’s attic with your beer-drinking, guitar-crunching buds! Oh-oh, flashback!) I’m really flyin’ high with my Sonus Fabers! The Concertinos are staying for now.
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