Italian speaker makers have always had a thing for solid walnut, the stuff must grow on trees over there, and it certainly makes for a beautiful and extremely solid cabinet, as a rule it’s used on standmounts but for the first time in its extensive history Sonus faber have built a floorstander from this lovely wood. The reason why large cabinets have not been made from walnut in the past is that it’s a material that changes shape over time, unlike MDF and plywood which are inert, solid wood is not so stable. Sonus faber have got around this by using modern wood drying methods, placing internal ribs within the cabinet and fixing them with flexible glue, that and having tighter tolerances on the CNC machining used to make the shape seems to have done the trick.
The result is one of the most attractive and elegant speakers I have had the privilege of using. It’s not just the walnut that makes this the case, the use of dark marble from Port Saint Laurent in France for the plinth base is a fabulous touch as is the line of brass around the bottom of the cabinet, and the leather facing on front and rear baffles. All Sonus fabers are luxurious but the Maxima Amator is understated as well which makes it very appealing. But it’s not just a beauty it’s also a two-way which seems like a restrained use of drivers in a speaker at this price point, but two-ways have a distinct advantage over multi-way designs when it comes to the all important characteristic of timing. Sonus faber, which make a lot of floorstanders with greater than two-way operation, consider this mode to be part of their brand identity and a purist approach to loudspeaker design.
Back in black: the Sonus faber engineering team
This model has a so-called interactive fusion filtering crossover (IFF) with a crossover point at 2.1kHz which is lower than most two-ways because the tweeter employed, which is a whopper, goes down lower than most. This is beneficial because it takes this difficult transition point between the drivers below the critical midband where it is most easily detected. The crossover isn’t a gently sloped 1st order as found in more affordable two-ways but a third order, 18dB/octave type which reduces the overlap between drivers, its components are visible to all through a clear window in the back of the cabinet which is a first in our experience. This is where the matt gold plated single wire terminals are as well and even they appear to be custom made.
The drive units consist of a 28mm tweeter with a damped apex dome, neodymium magnet system and a rear chamber made from solid spruce wood. The organic materials theme continues in the woofer which has a cellulose pulp (paper) and natural fibre cone in a die-cast aluminium basket. These are the same drivers seen in the company’s Elector Amator III standmount. Spikes can be threaded into brass inserts in the marble plinth and small receptor discs are supplied so that you don’t scratch your wooden floor, carpets have to grin and bear it, but you don’t have to spike of course and it’s not something we recommend.
With expensive speakers there is a tendency to expect a big bang result, an instant dramatic revelation, but this is not that type of product, it’s far more subtle and its qualities take a while to become apparent. Yet it didn’t take long before I was hooked on its even handed tonal balance, excellent fine detail retrieval and powerful musical engagement. What particularly appeals is the roundness of tone that the Maxima Amator delivers, maybe it’s the solid wood that does this but you don’t often get this quality without resorting to tube amplification. I used the Moor Amps Angel 6 which is devoid of thickening or smoothing tendencies and just tells it like it is, with some speakers that can result in a slightly lean balance but it wasn’t so here.
The flip side of this can often be speakers that have a nice warm, rounded sound but lack the agility to keep up with dynamic and fast paced music, this Sonus faber has no problems here either. Given enough space between it’s the reflex port (near the top of the cabinet) and the rear wall, the pace it delivers across the band is spot on. This was particularly evident with a Grateful Dead live performance of Cumberland Blues (Europe ’72) where the brilliance of the playing from all quarters is made very clear by this speaker, every instrument can be followed even the quieter ones that are often masked by the energy of the guitars and keyboards. The bass line is particularly appealing, it seems to plod a little at the start but is boogieing away with the best of them when things get going.
With the more up to date vibes of Arve Henriksen’s Cartography where his trumpet is surrounded by a haze of electronics and percussion, the Maxima Amators were able to bring out the feeling in the playing which is not something that happens very often with this piece. When the percussion gets going at the end of the first track it’s spectacular, the slow build giving this crescendo extra impact. The nuance’s of Joni Mitchell’s version of Pork Pie Hat are elaborated very effectively as well, the higher notes she sings on this can cause some speakers to lose their composure but not here, the Sonus fabers give the full extension of the voice without any suggestion of stress in doing so. They also bring out the melodies in a song that speaks out against the racism that existed in the music business in the time of Mingus and his contemporaries. On Radiohead’s Decks Dark, a track I use with nearly every product reviewed, the Maxima Amators emphasised the metronomic precision of the beat, the drum kit’s acoustic reverb making a strong impression in the context of the reverb added with effects. The piano also comes out really well, its shining notes rippling into the distance, then the kick drum comes in toward the end its thud really makes an impact. It was the most involving rendition of this piece I’ve heard in quite a while.
Later on I put Lumen Drones’ debut on, this is an unusual band where hardanger fiddle plays over a post rock backdrop of drums and guitar,. What makes it stand out is the ECM recording that is radiant and solemn in this speaker’s hands, truly beautiful in fact. It inspired me to play a Nordic favourite in Bugge Wesseltoft and Henrik Schwarz’s Duo, the opener, imaginatively titled First Track (Live from Berlin), was totally cosmic thanks to this speaker’s ability to produce an engulfing soundstage where the keyboards and electronica expand out to the corners of the room, this was a total immersion experience that went deeper than I have experienced for some time.
Sonus faber have created a fine speaker in the Maxima Amator, it’s beautifully executed and perfectly detailed in all respects but more important than this is the ability to totally engage the listener, body and soul. This may be an expensive two-way but it soon becomes apparent that it delivers value for money on all counts.