A Tale of Two Cities

Recent product launches in London and Edinburgh show how it's done!

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A Tale of Two Cities

We’ve been holding out on one of the two recent launches, in part because our counterparts over at The Absolute Sound covered the Sonus faber launch so well. But the recent launch of the new Homage Tradition range from the Italian brand, and more recently the launch of the Moon 888 amplifiers, highlights a recent and important change in the way audio products are presented and marketed, and it’s good for everyone!

These were two high-profile launches, one of a high-end trio of loudspeakers, the second a pair of no quarter given £125,000 power amplifiers. Both were placed in prime location spaces; the first in swanky Central London dealer KJ West One, the second in a private room in Edinburgh’s Scotch Malt Whisky Society, which was then followed by public session in the Loud & Clear Edinburgh store. Both placed an emphasis on a public/private launch, with members of the press given an exclusive preview in advance of the invited public visit. In part, this reflects a change in the dynamic of the audio media itself, and in high-profile launches this now includes mainstream newspapers and appropriate tech bloggers. But the days of a dozen audio journalists from half a dozen countries rocking up at the opening of a crate seem to be over – that’s what shows like Munich are for.

A quick look at the products themselves. The three strong Sonus Faber Homage Tradition loudspeaker range replaces the popular Amati 3.5 way floorstander and two-way Guarneri standmount with similarly named (but very different) models. These are joined by the all-new smaller 3.5 way Serafino, with a Vox centre channel expected later in the year. Serafino follows the other models in the Homage series, in that it’s named after an Italian master violin-maker, this time Santo Serafino. As ever with modern Sonus designs, the lute-shaped design is richly finished in metal, leather, and wood, with a new dark wenge finish joining the ever-popular red walnut. The overall look is reminiscent of classic Riva Ariston launch (in the process, the trio are an unofficial land-lubber’s tribute to yacht designer Carlo Riva himself, who died last month at the age of 95). The loudspeakers feature a number of innovations from previous models, too, including a ‘Stealth Ultraflex’ wave-shaped ducted rear port, clever decoupling, low resonance ‘Silent Spike’ mounting system, and a carbon-fibre stand for the Guarneri. In listening at KJ West One’s base, the Amati and Guarneri were both extremely impressive in terms of producing a sound that retains much of the lush and lovely sound of classic Sonus faber models (including the Guarneri Homage and Amati Futura these new models replace), but with a sense of pace and increased dynamic headroom that makes them appeal to the most modern of audiophiles. Priced at £13,600 per pair for the Guarneri, £18,000 for the Serafino, and £23,500 for the Amati Homage Tradition.

A speaker costing close to £25,000 is one thing. A pair of £125,000 mono power amps is quite another. Moon’s new 888 – first seen at CES in January – is a departure for the brand, more commonly associated with high-performance audio from the attainable to the ‘spendy’. Prior to the 888, the company’s most outré design was the 880M mono amps, and you can buy almost four pairs of 880M for the price of a pair of 888. Designed as a statement of intent at Moon, the 888W per channel monoblocks are designed with an output capacity of 8kW, can run balanced or single-ended, feature 350,000µF of reservoir capacitance, have some of the most innovative and effective heatsinks in audio, and include very clever rhodium-plated speaker cable terminals that lock down on spade lugs more effectively than any kind of termination we’ve seen to date. The result is an amplifier that can effectively drive any loudspeaker effortlessly, with the kind of chassis that dissipates heat and vibration as efficiently as a race-car. Played through a full Moon system into a pair of YG Sonja 1.3 using custom Studio Connections cables and Quadraspire racks made specifically for the huge 888s, this system played with grace and effortless power long into the night, both before, during, and after the consumption of quite a lot of cask-strength whisky.  

So, why does everyone benefit from these kind of events? Frankly, like many in the business, I’ve grown somewhat uncomfortable at the idea of a closed launch to the press. Trade-only events like CES work for some devices, but if manufacturers take the time, trouble, energy, and expense to set-up and install a system, it’s only fair that the demonstration is made to the greatest number of people. OK, so presenting the speakers to a mix of press and actual human beings is probably not a good idea, because (disregarding the musty smell and mild case of rabies inherent to all audio critics) the press will monopolise the event, asking questions and demanding interviews and photo calls. Having sat in on a couple of truly mixed press conferences, there’s a sense of frustration that sets in on the public’s part because of the rounds of questions getting in the way of the audition.

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