Paolo Tezzon - Sonus Faber
Sonus Faber is one of the most recognizable brands in high-end speaker market. The company was founded by charismatic Franco Serblin and it has built its reputation mostly on audiophile monitors. Massive boxes finished in real wood and leather have earned favor with music lovers around the world in a relatively short period of time, turning a small factory into the rank of a place where real works of art are born. One doesn't even need to know about technical matters to see the artistry of Italian designers and craftsmen. A few years ago the catalog has been fairly stable and divided into three main lines. Top models rarely changed, while slightly larger movement prevailed in the lower series.
For several years the company is experiencing something like a renaissance, because new models successively appear in its offer and even now the countdown to the next release continues. All this is the perfect excuse to talk to the man responsible for the development of new models. Paolo Tezzon is head of R&D at Sonus Faber. He's 38 years old and his adventure with the brand began 10 years ago. He started in the marketing and quality control department, but after the year 2006 he was assigned to work on new designs. If you want to know what's going on in the company and what are its plans for the future, this is your man.
You have released many new models recently and this is still going on. Can you tell us something about the new products that we have seen to this date and maybe something about those which we will see in near future?
Of course I am always working on new projects but there are few things I can tell you about before they are ready and available on the market. I can only tell you that something very special will be launched within a few days. Maybe when you'll be reading this interview a new, special Sonus Faber will be already available. Something very special will be also ready for the Munich High End show.
When celebrating special anniversaries, some manufacturers like to make gifts not only to themselves, but to brands loyal fans and customers. Are you planning to release some special, limited versions of your loudspeakers?
You'll see something very interesting within few days! I guess you'll consider it a gift.
Sonus Faber is not the oldest loudspeaker company in Italy, neither is it the one which sells the greatest volume of them. But somehow this brand is the most recognizable. Pretty much every audiophile knows these speakers, and many non-audiophiles too. How did you achieve that?
I believe that Sonus Faber achieved its position among all the other Italian loudspeaker manufacturers because of its very special approach to music reproduction, and because, since the company's early days, everything on a Sonus Faber speaker clearly shows how much passion, how much love is placed in it. But it was also because the company was able to put some of the best values of the Italian culture into a loudspeaker system. I mean things such as care for detail, use of precious materials, design intuitions. Finally of course it was a matter of the sound presentation. In an age when everybody was searching for the perfect measurements and flattest frequency response, Sonus Faber speakers maybe were measuring not that flat but sounded charming, natural and human, more real under many respects.
Your speakers are always like works of art, but also the company's headquarters is an interesting and beautiful building. Is it important where the speakers are built? Do you think it's also something of an inspiration to the designers?
Yes of course! We are working in a beautiful building basically made of iron, glass and wood, with lots of natural light. Such environment inspires us or at least leads us in the right soul disposition for creativity.
I remember asking guys from Unison Research, who is responsible for the looks of their amplifiers. I expected it to be some design studio like Pininfarina or Bertone, but they said that they've just gathered around everyone from the factory and came up with these shapes. They said it's just in their blood. Is it the same with you? Are you learning this sense of style or do you have to be born with it?
Well, it's not exactly the same right here. Of course Sonus Faber heritage and tradition is in our blood as well. We live in the company, we breathe the Sonus Faber spirit every day, so we can say that it's not only in our blood but also in our DNA and in our soul. But even if the company had in the past such a naïve approach to design like the one you described, now we have grown a lot and we have a huge, professional design department lead by Livio Cucuzza, who's taking care of the design for the whole Fine Sounds Group.
Can you tell us a little bit about what it's like to be working at Sonus Faber? An ordinary day at work, if you like. Be honest, do you have some great restaurant near the factory where you all go for lunch?
Of course it is fantastic to wake up every day and work in such a beautiful place, surrounded by trees, nature and hills. My everyday activities can differ a lot from one day to another. Sometimes it's about meetings with workmates and discussing strategies, other are about measurements or listening sessions, modifications and ideas with partners and suppliers. But yes of course, there is a couple of very nice restaurants on top of the hills surrounding the factory:)
Can you describe the process of designing a loudspeaker? What comes first - the sketch, the drivers or perhaps the customer research and technical figures?
Describing the whole process would be very long and boring. But it might be interesting for you that the very first thing is a brainstorming between our boss Mauro, Livio and me, which normally starts from a customer research. Of course it might happen that it starts from an exceptional or amazing driver so that we decide to build a whole speaker around it or a beautiful sketch so that we decide to realize it and make it work. Then comes a very basic idea about a loudspeaker system having a certain amount of driver units with a certain size, which immediately means, as a consequence, a certain amount of volume to deal with. It's only at the stage that two different process' start in parallel - the design development within that volume and the speaker development for the volume.
Sonus Faber was always known for using wood, but now you seem to have moved on to more modern materials. The Venere series looks different, almost aircraft-like. Is it a big change or maybe under the skin these speakers are still very traditional?
Of course we added a lot of different materials to wood in the recent years, particularly I am thinking about the use of different metals, always in combination with wood, for realizing even better performing hi-end cabinets for our top of the line projects. Venere is kind of a different story, its shape and looks are connected to the fact that we are addressing a slightly different kind of customers, younger and with more modern furniture in their houses. This is the reason for a more clean, basic and modern design. The whole Venere line has been a big change for us because of a really different way of managing the production process. But from the material point of view the Venere speakers are made of HDF wood which is only painted in different ways, or in the wood finish made by covering the HDF cabinet with walnut wood. So they are also traditional under many respects.
In recent models we have seen more and more curves and non-parallel lines. Is this because of the design, or more related to the sound performance?
Of course both design and sound performance benefit a lot by having non-parallel side cabinet panels which means curves instead of straight lines. This is why all the designs that followed our flagship - Aida - feature dual curvature side panels. Nothing is better for avoiding internal standing waves than this solution.
What is more important in designing loudspeakers - measurements or listening tests?
They both matter the same. You can't design a state of the art loudspeaker without listening sessions, you can't do it without accurate and precise measurements as well.
Some people say that the heart of a loudspeaker is actually the crossover. Do you agree?
Of course a good designed crossover network, fine tuned to the speaker units and their enclosure, can truly make a big difference. But if you are dealing with poorly designed speakers, even the best crossover won't make any miracle. It is also true the other way round. Amazing speaker units with a poorly designed crossover network or with a wrong dimensioned and resonating enclosure can be a disaster. For me everything matters the same.
You are also known for designing an audio system for Pagani Huayra. Quite a big step. Did you have some experience in car audio before?
We had some previous experiences in making car audio systems prototypes in the past, but the Pagani project was so particular and so extreme that I can honestly say that it was really the first experience, simply because it was unique.
Many speaker manufacturers have expanded their catalogs by introducing headphones, iPhone docks, soundbars and computer loudspeakers. Are you planning to do the same?
Maybe in the future you'll see something unconventional with the Sonus Faber brand.
How about active wireless speakers, like Dynaudio Xeo or Focal Easya?
This is also a possibility!