Sonus faber Toy/REL T1 Speaker System
Leather-Clad Pleasure Toy
What’s in a name? If a 1960s-era General Motors marketing consultant had suggested a car brand-named Toyota, he’d have been laughed out of the room and probably lost his job. “Are you crazy, man? No one’s gonna buy a car with toy in the name!” No one at GM is laughing at Toyota today. The car brand was named for its founder, Kiichiro Toyoda, so the company had a reason to toy around with the designation.
Sonus faber, the Italian manufacturer of some of the world’s most beautiful, expensive, and pleasing-sounding loudspeakers, was under no such obligation. It probably chose the Toy name because of the pint-sized surround speakers used in this array. To my recollection, it’s the smallest speaker Sonus faber has ever manufactured. Rest assured, there’s nothing toy-ish about the tiny Toy, or the floorstanding Toy Tower for that matter.
Cheeky Name, Cheeky Construction
For some reason, once-cozy home kitchens have now morphed into grotesque copies of industrial, restaurant-style cooking factories. And yet, no matter how beautiful it looks, having a loudspeaker anywhere in your home has become a source of shame in mainstream, non-audiophile America. While Sonus faber’s expensive audiophile speakers remain snazzy pieces of superbly crafted furniture that are meant to be seen as well as heard, the company has moved into a line of less expensive, high-performance speakers that are designed more to be heard than seen. This began with the Grand Pianos in 2002.
Keeping the size and cost down was part of the game plan for the line that’s intended for multichannel use. In order to do this, Sonus devised unique, cost-efficient, black-leather-clad cabinetry. A folded MDF center section comprises the front baffle, back, top, and bottom, while sculpted, decoupled “cheeks” seal the open sides. The cheeks are designed to control resonances and minimize standing waves within the cabinet. The look is at once handsome and unobtrusive, which is particularly useful when the speakers flank a video screen. Your eyes should be drawn to the screen, not to the loudspeakers. On the other hand, when the lights are on, you don’t want to look at butt-ugly speakers, which the older Grand Pianos and the new Toys certainly are not.
At just 3 feet tall, 10 inches wide, and 11 inches deep, the three-way Toy Tower is relatively small for a floorstander. But it’s substantial compared with the 11-inch-tall, 7-inch-wide Mini-Me-sized Toy surround. The surround would probably make a swell desktop computer speaker or pair well with an iPod when used with an external amplifier.
Both Toys feature a rear-ported 4-inch coated cellulose cone driver and a 1.5-inch ScanSpeak ring radiator tweeter, the same brand tweeter that Sonus faber uses in its more expensive Cremona line. The Toy Tower adds a 7-inch rear-ported Nomex (a DuPont-developed Kevlar variant) cone woofer. The relatively large, dual-front-ported Toy Center uses two 4-inch cone drivers that flank an offset 1.5-inch ring radiator.
The Toy Tower crosses over at 400 hertz and 4,000 Hz and is rated down to 45 Hz. The Toy, crossed over at 4,500 Hz, is said to be good down to 60 Hz, while the Toy Center, crossed over at the more common 2,000 Hz is rated down to 55 Hz. Clearly, without a subwoofer, you won’t get much deep bass. However, when I ran the Toy Towers full range, the bass they did produce was clean and honest. It did not sound bumped up to give the impression of more bass than it actually produced.
Sonus faber importer Sumiko also sent me a compact REL T1 subwoofer. REL’s game plan is to run the sub off the front L/R amp or speaker terminals, which requires you to run the speakers full range. (That’s a potential problem for small satellites that have limited power and bass handling capacities, but it wasn’t in my experience with the Toy Towers.) A line-level input accepts bass/LFE information from surround processors and AVRs. Individual control of each input allows for smooth integration of both into the final sonic picture.
The compact, gracefully styled T1 fires its active 10-inch woofer downward and an equal-sized passive radiator forward. With careful placement and meticulous attention to level setting, the T1 can disappear and create the impression of very large L/R speakers—or if you’re sloppy, some kick-ass mid-’70s-style Cerwin-Vega lease busters.
The 21st-Century Loudspeaker Reviewer’s Dilemma
With effective DSP-based room-correction programs like Audyssey now standard on even modestly priced A/V receivers, should you review a speaker system pre or post correction? You tell me, because I don’t know the correct answer. Most systems allow easy on/off, so I auditioned the Toy system both ways. With the room correction on, midband coherence seemed to improve somewhat, as if a small hole had been filled in, but the overall tonality changed very little.