Sonus Faber Olympica III
Many manufacturers of audiophile devices occupy a specific area of the market and introduce new constructions, designed to catch the attention of people listening to silver cables. However, there are some companies able to make their way in the world not only for audio freaks, but for other people as well. Sonus Faber is certainly one of them. This brand needs no introduction for audiophiles, but people interested in design, art and even motoring may also know it, because it is responsible for the Pagani Huayra car audio system. Its speakers can be seen not only in stores with amplifiers, but also in museums and art galleries. It is not surprising because the Italian designers treat their sets as works of art. Uncompromising approach to design coupled with a respect for tradition and modern technical solutions is particularly visible in the most expensive loudspeakers. That is why the set of Olympica III arrived to our office. This is the top model from the series named after the Olympic Theater located in the city of Vicenza.
This is not the first time when Sonus referred to Italian history and certainly not the last. Olympica line can be treated as an extension or development of Cremona series, but here we are dealing with even more advanced constructions. In some way Olympicas fit in the space between the Cremona series and totally hi-end projects such as Amati Futura, Ellipsa, Sonus Faber or Aida. It clearly stands out from the cheaper Venere line created with more common materials. These speakers may be the quintessence of Italian style and sound for audiophiles. But how do they sound exactly? Let's find out.
Design and functionality
The speakers arrived in hard, bombproof boxes, the size of which forced us to consider renting the space in a office nearby. Why slender speakers were packed in boxes with a cross section similar to a square? I figured it out during unpacking. The reason is simple - they don't have the legs which can be unscrewed. Here the four stabilizers are part of a single, relatively thick aluminum panel, which was mounted within the structure of the enclosure. The user only has to screw in massive, strong spikes, which are longer on the front and shorter at the back. This ensures proper deflection and results in better coherence between drivers. The procedure for unpacking and assembly of speakers was not easy. Fortunately the employee of Sonus Faber brought us the boxes and showed us how to deal with them. Thanks to him the installation went quite smoothly and we avoided the loss of life or equipment.
The first impression is stunning. The real work of art stands before us. Looking at the photographs, you can say that Olympica III is a more pampered equivalent of Cremona floorstander. Boxes with classical proportions sloping to the rear, three-way system with two woofers, leather-covered front, curved side panels made of horizontally placed planks of walnut... Theoretically everything is correct, but the pictures do not tell the whole story. Several times I had the opportunity to take a closer look at Cremonas. I've always said it is one of the most beautiful speakers created by Sonus Faber. I did not like more expensive models so much. But I must admit that Olympica III is definitely better, more beautiful and more refined. It is just another step on the road to absolute perfection. Just look at the upper surface. First of all, it is not symmetrical - one of the side walls is noticeably longer. The metal edge extending around the circumference of the upper cover in place of the bonding of wood and leather emphasizes it. In many other speakers, it would be just a flat plate or wire placed on the leather to cover the place where it's cut, but here it is probably a whole lump of metal embedded in the wood and reaching much deeper than can be seen from the outside. It seems to me it's stainless steel machined in a very elegant way. I bet that this element is made on CNC tools, because its shape is very complicated. The line is curved and asymmetric. The edge, visible from the outside, is inclined to the center - a flap of leather covering the upper wall is placed a few millimeters below the edge of the walnut wood. Even such detail makes you think how much work the Italian designers put in such trifles, not to mention the concept of the whole speaker.
The second eye-catching solution is metal strip with tiny holes, on the back of the speaker. This part is directed to the side - in a different direction for each of the speakers. That is why side panels extend up to the end of the enclosure. In the Cremona series they were masked by painted black strip. Here the Sonus Faber designers used cleverly curved profile covered with leather. This profile is oriented at an angle in relation to the front wall, so the two speakers look like a pair in a very natural way. Wiring can be a bit easier because the sockets twist slightly towards the amplifier (if the rack is located between the speakers). The designers decided to fill the space between the planks of walnut with thin slices of maple wood to eliminate the presence of black elements. They probably wanted to live up to the tradition and emphasize the convex shape of the side walls. All joins are absolutely perfect. You can drag your finger over it without feeling a slightest bulge or break.
But what is the mysterious, punctured strip? This is a solution replacing a traditional reflex tunnel. The long, vertical crack was probably equipped with a system for distribution of pressure escaping from the interior of the speaker while membranes are moving. Holes were not made on the entire length of a speaker. They start to end at the base of the cabinet, passing into a smooth metal surface where the company logo was applied. The inscriptions can be also found on nuts of speaker terminals, connected by jumpers. Nuts have protruding lobes, so tightening them is not a problem when you use spades. The presence of two pairs of terminals can be seen as an incentive for bi-wiring and bi-amping. During our review we used normal, single wiring plugged in to the upper pair of speakers terminals.
Huge spikes with pads are packed in separate sheets of foam. The spacing of spikes is so large that the speakers don't waver even on a slightly uneven floor. The grilles are also pretty special. Instead of plastic frames with spread material and other similar things, Sonus uses two metal beams connected by flexible links. The best way to mount them is to push the bottom bar in the holes, hold it neatly with one foot and slowly stretch until the upper beam also goes into its place. It looks very elegant and has minimal impact on the sound.
How to sum it all up? The constant multiplication of enthusiasm makes no sense. Probably you will understand what I mean, if you look at the pictures. But even the best images do not tell even half of the story, which can feel during real contact with Sonus Faber speakers. During the photo session our colleague came and said that Olympica III can be bought only with one's eyes. This made me think, that people buy exclusive lamps, cheesy but pricy radios, couches with patented lace design and other useless trinkets. I thought it would be much better to decorate a house with Sonus Faber products, even if they never played music. But would it be a great loss? Do these beautiful speakers can sound half as good as they look?
From my experience the most high-end speakers often try to knock down the listener down. Such sets often are an extreme example of the application of the philosophy and knowledge of the company. Many of them are therefore based on refining some aspect of the presentation to perfection, while neglecting others. It might seem that hi-end products should offer the best of everything, but life shows that designers are absorbed in some vision and they often forget about maintaining the correct proportion and common sense. Especially if their past achievements tuned them so optimistic that they don't have to think about money. People look at images in magazines and think that these speakers sound divinely, but in fact, some of these products are really freaky. They work on shows, but not at home, where all that matters really is the ability to play music in such way, that you want to listen to it over and over again. More intelligent designers assume that the client who decides to buy such a speakers is certainly a wealthy man – driving a German limousine, living in a large house, who can afford hi-end electronics and wiring and probably listens to jazz. After all, all rich people listen to jazz, don't they? So we have more and more classic sets with classic looks, designed to work in the living room of 40-60 square meters. With bold bass, warm midrange and clear treble.
Olympica III landed in completely different conditions. I am not a wealthy man and I do not have a big living room or home, or even a German limousine. My listening room is 18 square meters at best, and these speakers had to fit in it and be subjected to the same review procedure as all other products. They stood at the longer room wall, at a distance of approximately 2.5 meters from each other and 0.5 meters from the rear wall. They were connected to the hi-fi system I use every day. It is a mid-range Naim, very decent power supply by Enerr and top Cardas wires. It's not crap, but as for the speakers priced like these, I could have certainly connect something more expensive. When plugging wires, I was excited and full of anxiety at the same time. Will Olympica III not suffocate in such a room... Will my devices be good enough for them... And you know what? It all worked and the speakers played with all their splendor!
All doubts disappeared in a single moment. Sonus Faber speakers sent out a clear signal that I should not be afraid of them, because they did not come to cause problems. Their task is to paint the music in a beautiful, true and addictive way. I was curious, and even sincerely amazed, so I began to torture them with various music material to target drone bass or other disturbing effects that after all have the right to appear in these conditions. But I discovered nothing else but the fact that listening absorbed me more and more. I made only only adjustment. I turned the speakers a bit more to the center - so that the axes of the speakers crossed a few feet behind my head. I thought that this configuration is optimal, and from that moment on I went to the stage of listening for nothing but my own pleasure.
Unlike many high-end constructions, Olympica III did not try to stun me with powerful bass, hyper-clear treble or other unnatural effects. Italian floorstanders sounded rather normal and classic. Some may seem that there is nothing special in this sound, but it is not true - everything is in its place, and audiophiles know that's not so easy to achieve. Tonal balance is excellent, perhaps with a slight emphasis on the lowest bass and midrange. The vocals and most instruments are not in the background, so we do not need to catch them from the booming medium bass or coarse sprinkle of detail, which are not half as important as what is happening in the center of the band. Timbre is slightly warm, so the sound is not only well balanced but also pleasing to the ear. Interestingly, it interferes in no way with the speed, dynamics and clarity. Midrange driver reacts to impulses instantly, which allows to show subtle sound temperature contrasts of vocals and diversify details at a very high level. Tweeter can also show much, but designers also remembered that the treble must be perfectly timed with the midrange frequencies. The dome does not impose, but sounds perfectly - airy, clean and spatially. It stays in perfect harmony with the rest of band all the time.
As for the bass, I can say only one thing - it is absolutely masterful. Before listening I was wondering if the Italian engineers really had to invent the wheel once again. After all we already have a sealed and ported speakers, dozens of patented shapes of resonance tunnels, transmission lines, push-push speakers, passive membranes, open baffles, and other things. In a few minutes I realized that their effort was not in vain. Apparently, they were able to develop a way of tuning the cabinets, which combines the best features of all known sound systems. The bass was deep, respectively fast, fleshy, compact, colorful and free of irregularities. There was no hum even in the acoustic conditions, which for many large speakers appeared to be difficult. At the end of the review I swapped speakers with each other, because I thought it may be relevant because of the asymmetric design. But almost nothing has changed. I was even hoping to catch them rumbling, because until that moment I could almost fall in love with them. I can not afford it, so I wanted to be a nitpicker. But no flaws were revealed, even when I almost forced them to sound bad.
All my observations were confirmed when I decided to watch a movie. I chose “The Proof” with music by Stephen Warbeck. The movie was very good, but every moment the sound enchained my attention. That evening the Olympica III presented sound so addictive that right after the movie finished, I played all my favorite soundtracks. I won't even start to write how delighted I was. Such exaltation is not appropriate for a person of my age. In my life I listened to many expensive speakers, terribly costly speakers and horrendously pricy speakers. I can honestly say that I was not overjoyed at most of them. Some sounded so natural that it was even boring. Others were too offensive and focused on selected elements of performance. Exhibitions and occasional meetings with such high-end constructions usually confirm my belief that I would not use these speakers every day. Contrary to appearances I believe that it's much easier to find sets of natural, sustainable and universal performance in slightly lower price ranges. But Olympica III sounded sensational from the beginning, and they were getting better and better every day. They made it in conditions for which the typical speakers at high price would be offended, announcing their displeasure with boomy bass, crappy soundstage or weak dynamics. I pack them to the boxes when I still have enough common sense. One more evening with these speakers and I would be in a huge debt for some time.
Build quality and technical parameters
Usually we take the speakers to pieces during the review in our magazine, but the Italians secured the drivers from dismantling by applying masking rings. Typical resonant tunnel doesn't exist, and unscrewing the narrow plate with the speaker terminals would be a good idea only if we had a very small camera. That is why we had to stick to the manufacturer's specification. The Olympica III is a three-way speaker with four drivers placed at the front. Enclosures are made of interleaved slices of walnut and maple wood. The shape of the cabinets is curved in all three planes. The alternating thickness breaks the resonances of the whole structure. The treble comes from 29-mm tweeter with a very interesting DAD design (Damped Apex Dome). In a nutshell, the vertical bar at the peak point is in touch with the soft dome via a small piece of damping material. This solution is designed to combine the advantages of conventional tweeters and ring radiators. The speaker was designed by Sonus Faber engineers, and it is driven by neodymium magnet. 15-cm unit with a cellulose membrane and CCAW coil is responsible for the midrange. Magnetic system uses triple Kellogg-Goeller rings. Natural fibers such as kapok and kenalf are added to the cellulose. The membrane was coated with a transparent layer of damping material to eliminate the interference. Bass comes from two units with a diameter of 18 cm. They look very similar from the outside, but in fact they are closely related to the woofers used in the Aida flagship model. Membranes have a sandwich structure, and 1.5-inch coils are powered by magnets providing long jump and very good linearity. Crossover points were set at 250 and 2500 Hz, and filters were equipped with circuitries which optimize the amplitude and phase. The Olympica III are nominally 4 ohm speakers with quite high efficiency. Sonus Faber clearly suggests combining them with amps with a power capacity of 50-300 W.
Naim CD5 XS, Naim NAC 152 XS, Naim NAP 155 XS, Cardas Clear Light, Enerr AC Point One, Enerr Symbol Hybrid, Enerr Holograph, Audioquest NRG-2, Ostoja T1.
I promised myself that I will limit my admiration, but in this case it is hard not to get carried away. The Olympica III speakers jumped on top of my personal list of speakers to purchase in the future. Many people would buy them because of their exterior, even if the sound was just a bonus. After two weeks of listening I know that I would buy them only by the sound performance. I am not a high-end fan, but these speakers are worth their price, even though it's high. That's how good they are.
Speakers type: floorstanding, three-way
Sensitivity: 90 dB
Impedance: 4 ohms
Frequency response: 35 Hz - 30 kHz
Dimensions (H/W/D): 111,4/40,3/50,8 cm
Weight: 44 kg (one piece)
Manufacturer: Sonus Faber