Sonus faber Domus Series Speaker System
I don't think I've ever before referred to a speaker as "sexy," but Sonus faber's new Domus line is definitely hot stuff. Yeah baby, the Domus Series' enticing curves—sheathed in supple black leatherette, poised on spiked feet—will get audiophiles all hot and bothered. That's because they make for pretty sexy sound, too.
Franco Serblin founded Sonus faber in 1983 in Vicenza, Italy, to craft speakers that played music instead of merely reproducing it. For him, the art of speaker and musical-instrument design has everything to do with controlling resonance. Think about it: The sound of a guitar, violin, or any stringed instrument is generated within a carefully tuned resonating acoustic chamber. That concept inspired the form and function of Serblin's designs, which synthesize the best of old-world craftsmanship with finely tuned technology.
Sonus faber has historically christened their speaker models after venerated musical-instrument makers—Stradivari, Amati, and Guarneri—but the Domus moniker comes from Latin, meaning a private family residence of modest to palatial proportions. The line includes the svelte Wall Domus wall-mount model, the Concertino Domus bookshelf speaker, the Center Domus, the Concerto floorstanding speaker, and the magnificent Grand Piano Domus tower speaker. The lute-shaped designs bear a striking resemblance to the company's Cremonas ($8,995 per pair) and the new Amati Anniversarios ($27,500 per pair).
Sonus faber has derived the Domus Series' ring-radiator-type tweeter from the one used in the Cremona speakers. The woofers and midrange drivers also benefit from trickle-down technology—the vented phase plug (that's the silver bullet-shaped part in the center) was originally designed for the Stradivari speaker. Faux leather completely covers each Domus speaker's front, top, rear, and bottom surfaces. It not only looks and feels nice, the leatherette's grain is said to minimize surface diffraction, and the material also serves as a sealing gasket for the drivers. Decoupled teak wood or curved high-gloss-black side panels suppress cabinet resonance and serve to goose the Domus' ogle factor up a couple of notches. All of the Domus models feature ported designs and come fitted with high-quality binding posts.
Sonus faber offers optional floor stands for the Concertino and the Center speakers that mirror the Domus' curves and are as beautifully constructed as the speakers. The Wall Domus comes with a custom bracket that allows for 30 degrees of arc adjustment with the speaker mounted on the wall or the ceiling. The Grand Piano model sits on a stabilizing base outfitted with spiked feet.
Improving My Fluency in Italian
For this review, I stuck with my Pioneer DV-45A DVD player, Sunfire Theater Grand III surround processor, Ayre V-6x power amp, and REL Britannia B2 subwoofer; all were wired with a combination of Monster Cable and Analysis Plus' Silver Oval cables. After a few days of moving the speakers to and fro, I wound up placing the Grand Piano towers a foot further out into the room and much wider apart from each other than my standard positioning. The sound wasn't bad in the normal spots, but the Domus really appreciated the extra breathing room. The Grand Pianos definitely wanted to be angled in, firing directly toward the sweet spot. Viewed from the side, you can adjust the tower's front-baffle rake angle via its floor spikes—and, once I had everything perfectly tweaked, the Grand Pianos' image height and focus were considerably more lifelike than what I'm used to. The Center Domus perched on Sonus faber's floor stand, angled up to focus on the primary listening position. I used a set of stand-mounted Concertinos as surround speakers, situated out to the sides of my home theater. (They can also serve as front speakers.) If your experiences are anything like mine, you may have to work a little to get the most out of these speakers, but the extra effort will pay huge dividends—they're that good. The speakers' sound also benefited from extended breaking-in.
The Domus sound is flavorful and three-dimensionally solid, with a luscious and full-bodied low end. When I played a bunch of Miles Davis CDs, the speakers projected a vast soundstage populated with living musicians. The Domus speakers let the horns sound brassy, the stand-up bass was big and woody, and the drums had plenty of snap. A superb new recording of boogie-woogie piano, Rockin' the Spirit, put the speakers to the test, and they reproduced the scale and dynamic of its namesake. OK, the Grand Piano speakers couldn't quite pull off that feat (no speaker can), but their production of piano sound was well above par.
The Westminster Choir's recordings were absolutely spectacular; on Like as a Hart, I could easily follow each individual singer's voice within the St. Ignatius Loyola church's vast acoustic space. The sound arising from just the two Grand Piano Domus speakers was utterly holographic. I can't imagine how a surround recording could have possibly added to the sound's believability.
In the end, I felt that the Domus speakers were balanced a tad richer than reality, but that warmth serves to flatter dialogue and vocal tonality. If you get a chance to hear these speakers, try to spend at least a little time with Norah Jones' Come Away With Me CD or, better yet, the SACD. I got goose bumps listening to the title track and "Seven Years."
I've always loved the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, but the DVD-Audio's surround mix sounds a little contrived. For some reason, when I played it through the Domus speakers, I had a change of heart. The surround mixes snapped into focus, and the Boys' soaring harmonies were to die for. Fully convinced of the Domus system's musicality, I was more than a little curious to see how the magic would translate to home theater.
The speakers' dynamic range and crisp articulation of detail were on full display during the extended plane-crash scene from Flight of the Phoenix. The fearsome impact managed to shake, rattle, and roll the contents of my home theater. I then played the now-famous dance/
drum scene with Ziyi Zhang from House of Flying Daggers, and they just sat there with their mouths agape, taking in the experience. Yeah, I probably played the dance a little—OK, a lot—louder than I should have. But each solid thwack on the drum, followed by its resonant boom, was just so satisfying. It doesn't hurt that the scene also looks positively gorgeous, but the sound of thundering drums, each one so perfectly rendered in space, demonstrated the entire Domus ensemble's remarkable spatial coherence.
I could go on gushing about these speakers. Did I mention that they're positively gorgeous? If you're like me and find the Domus speakers' elegant proportions, sumptuous leatherette, and exquisite finish downright irresistible, just close your eyes and listen. Sure, their bravura sonics will take you in, but the Domus speakers may cross over from guilty pleasures to the realm of downright sinful abandon.
• Voluptuous styling
• Sumptuously balanced, if not neutral, sound
• Yummy leatherette cladding