We live in a simplified, sound-bite culture today, and although this adds in so many sweeping generalisations as to make the statement only just not fully invalid, effectively the Sonetto is the cabinet and port system of the Venere with the driver units and crossover of the more upmarket Olympica range (albeit with a wholly new bass unit), built from the ground up in Italy. This is a little like saying a Rolls-Royce is the drive train of a BMW 7-Series with a new body and some refinements, but there’s a nugget of truth in both, and in the case of the Sonus faber loudspeakers, this pithy little sound-bite works to the Sonetto’s advantage. The point of listening now is three-fold; does combining the two make the best – or worst – of both worlds, is the resultant Sonetto closer to Olympica or Venere in performance, or has Sonus faber gone after a different sound altogether?
In fact, all three conditions are met in the listening session. The Sonetto V is the best of all worlds, as it does seem to combine what was good about the Venere – a sense of ‘directness’ and purpose of sound... and the lower price, of course – with the increased refinement and top-end openness of the Olympica models. In addiition, I would put the sound in a new place for Sonus faber in absolute terms, but closer to the Olympica than the Venere in the Sonus faber canon. Disregarding the price point and the place of manufacturer for the moment, its sonic positioning makes it more than just another Sonus faber range. It makes it the sign of a designer moving beyond the company’s comfort zone, to reach a new audience. That’s a bold move.
OK, so the Sonetto V is still very much a Sonus faber design; it’s the first at the price that features the configuration of Damped Apex Dome and natural fibre midranges that the company dubs the ‘Voice of Sonus faber’ more commonly found on the Olympica, Homage, and Reference collections. That gives the Sonetto V a sense of openness, top-end extension, and overall refinement that are characteristics of the ‘Made in Italy’ lines, and shines through here, too. This is especially noticeable on female vocals, such as ‘Seven Joys of Mary’ on Maddy Prior and June Tabor’s Silly Sisters [Chrysalis], where those tight folk harmonies are beatifully rendered without ever sounding hard, harsh, or brash. The influence of the cabinet is minor by comparison to its bigger brothers, and seems centred on slight reductions to image width and depth rather than tonal or timbral changes.
However, where the Sonetto V departs from the Sonus faber norm is in the bass, where this loudspeaker goes for speed over depth. In fairness, it has pretty good bass depth, too, but the Sonetto V is a tauter, faster, more expressive performer. Jaco Pastorius’s fretless bass work on ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ [Joni Mitchell, Mingus, A&M] is effortlessly expressive here. All 36 of his fingers (how the hell else could he do that?) can be heard plucking away at that poor Jazz Bass as he tortures it into making uncanny sounds no-one else has ever produced. Here, those notes are all about the attack and release, emphasising the percussiveness of his playing rather than simply going for bass depth. This is dynamic, detailed, and above all fast bass, which is something of a departure for Sonus faber, especially for those who still equate the brand with that lush, louche bass sound of the company’s past. To those, who want every loudspeaker to be a homage to the Elector Amator, the Sonetto V will be yet another loudspeaker not to buy. However, for those more rooted in the now and who actually listen to music, this fast, rhythmically adept, and intrinsically enjoyable presentation will likely prove more attractive than the rose-tinted sound of yore.
Perhaps the biggest departure from old is the ‘fun’ element. Sonus fabers have been increasing moving toward a sound that is cleaner and less dark sounding, and the Sonetto continues that tradition, but perhaps more importantly adds in a touch of fun with rock and roll that has sometimes eluded Sonus faber in its quest for musical beauty.