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Standmount loudspeakers
Sonus faber Minima Vintage

Price: 2499 USD (pair)

Manufacturer: SONUS FABER S.P.A.

Via Antonio Meucci, 10
Tel. 0444/288788

WWW: Sonus faber

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Photos: Wojciech Pacuła

It is not easy to establish when exactly was Sonus Faber founded. If you check company's website you will find out that company exists since 1983, Larry Greenhill in his review of FM2 Minima in „Stereophile” mentioned that company was created in 1981, but some people mentioned in the Internet also year 1980. The only thing Frank Serblin said was that he thought that he created his first design in 1980. Then in 1990 he was joined by Cesare Bevilacqua, who took over company's finances. Another important date in company's history – 1993, a year when the most famous model of Sonus Faber loudspeakers – Guarnieri - was introduced. But the first Sonus Faber product was called Snail – two small „satellite” speakers mounted on long extension arm with subwoofer placed in the middle between them. All made of wood. Soon after that another design was ready – standmounted Parva speakers. Serblin was sure of one thing already then – small loudspeakers sounded best and he always favored them (taken from: Franco Serblin: speaker builder or Zen master?, a conversation with L. Greenhill, “Stereophile”, April 1993; HERE). In 2007 Franco Serblin sold his company to private Italian holding - Quadrivio SGR and focused on his new project - Ktêma loudspeakers (there is a chance that I will get them for a test in the near future). These are huge, floorstanding loudspeakers so it looks like he changed his mind regarding small speakers being the best ones. Minima Vintage speakers were created already after company changed its owners. What is also quite interesting is that same holding that acquired on Jan 25th 2008 also another famous audio manufacturer – American company Audio Research.

I guess it's not a big risk to claim that Minima is quite an important element of Sonus Faber image. It's been manufactured almost from the very beginning of SF's existence. After 8 years of this model being present on the market company decided to prepare a new version - FM2 – and presented it during CES in Las Vegas in 1992. Then there were couple of years when Minima was not offered to customers and finally this year it was reentered again to company's portfolio. In fact nowadays you will find only one model in Vintage Collection - Minima Vintage. It is quite small, two-way speaker. Its 120 mm mid- lowrange speaker comes with cellulose acrilate cone driver with vented basket design. Tweeter is a 28 mm ultra dynamic silk soft dome ferrofluid driver. Crossover point is set at 2 kHz with first order crossover (6 dB/octave). Their sensitivity is quite low at 84 dB which brings to mind associations with Harbeth P3ESR and maybe also BBC's LS3/5a. Nominal impedance reads 8 Ω but I think it might not be quite plane and occasionally it would drop lower. This Vintage model is almost identical to its predecessor with only few details that changed. The woofer's basket is now round and it wasn't, and on the back of the speaker you will find leather now – previously it was made of wood.


Discs used for test:

  • Die perfekte Räumlichkeit, Stereoplay 10/10, sampler, CD.
  • Anja Garbarek, Briefly Shaking, EMI, 8608022, Copy Control Disc; review HERE.
  • Clifford Brown, Clifford Brown With Strings, Verve, 558 078-2, Verve Master Edition, CD.
  • Clifford Brown, Clifford Brown With Strings, Verve/Universal Music Japan, UCCU-9525, gold-CD.
  • e.s.t., Leucocyte, ACT Music+Vision, ACT 9018-1, 2 x 180 g LP; review HERE.
  • Eva Cassidy, Imagine, Hot Records, G2-10075, CD.
  • Jean Michel Jarre, Oxygene, Dreyfus Disques/Mobile Fidelity, UDCD 613, gold-CD.
  • Kings of Leon, Only By The Night, RCA/BMJ Japan, BVCP-40058, CD.
  • Kraftwerk, Minimum-Maximum, EMI, 334 996 2, 2 x SACD/CD.
  • Laurie Anderson, Homeland, Nonesuch, 524055-2, CD+DVD; review HERE.
  • Lisa Ekdahl, Give Me That Slow Knowing Smile, RCA/Sony Music, 46663-2, Opendisc.
  • Lisa Ekdahl, When Did You Leave Heaven, BMG Sweden AB, 43175 2, CD.
  • Paula Cole, Courage, Decca, B0008292-02, CD; review HERE.
  • Peter Gabriel, So, Virgin, SAPGCD5, SACD/CD.

Japanese issues available at CD Japan.

Having at the same time at my disposal four pairs of small speakers – apart from SF also Harbeth P3ESR, Everything But The Box Terra II Pro and RLS Callisto III it was easy to see/hear/understand a bit different message from each designer (in this particular case from Frank Serblin). I just placed Minimas on proprietary Stand2 and started to listen to the music and I quickly realized that these babies were different than the others – the distance between them and listener could be much bigger than in the case of EBTB, they offered much more colorful sound than Harbeths but were less neutral sounding. Sonus Fabers offer more spectacular sound than the other speakers tested for this „High Fidelity” issue. Some tricks were used that on one side made them less neutral sounding but on the other allowed a guy like me with his so eclectic music collection to really enjoy most of it. Plus they do one more very special, unique thing that I will describe in a moment.

The basic information for prospect Customers is that Minima Vintage are not so neutral, linear speakers as Harbeths are (true that these are very unique in this aspect even regardless price level), or not even as RLS Callisto III. There is a slight emphasis on mid-bass, and part of the midrange – around 2-3 kHz. This is a deliberate effect that makes sound more open. Thus each recording sounds more lively, fresh, dynamic than usually. This „interference” is not something with great impact on sound – it's more like a „push” in the right direction. Dynamics is really good although when comparing it directly to Harbeths I realized that it was achieved at the expense of the density of bass range (it was not so rich) – closed enclosure of P3ESR really came handy in this regard. Surprisingly it was Minima Vintage that subjectively played „louder” and offered more palpable sound. Part of this impression came from the use of bass-reflex port. Fortunately BR port was not overused – it was well integrated with the woofer. Such designer's approach effected in twofold consequences. On one side recordings like Minimum-Maximum by Kraftwerk, or Briefly Shaking from Anja Garbarek offered more panache. You could really FEEL low frequencies and when, at the beginning of Autobahn, Kraftwerk's guys started an engine it sounded like a real, powerful, loud one. And when in Sleep from Jan Garbarek's daughter synthetic deep bass started it kept the pressure on my ears for some time and not just hit them for a second. None of these recordings were shown with the proper bass foundation, as it would have taken a much bigger woofer to do that, but the compromise offered by speakers designer was more than satisfactory, sometimes even exciting. That is also why Herbie Hancock's piano from Paula Cole's Lonelytown (Courage), had such a palpable sound, pedaling co-existed extremely well with the sound of hammers hitting strings, and all that together created excellent, intimate ambiance of this recording.

I mentioned already that one of the tricks is a slight emphasis around 2-3 kHz range. This didn't enforce nor emphasize sibilants but the sound seemed bit brighter than from my reference speakers (at the moment) – Chario Academy Sonnet. I could tell that voices of Carmen McRea and Julie London at Carmen McRea were bit more distinct, like shifted a notch up when I listened to them via Sonus Faber speakers. Same goes for Peter Gabriel's voice from So. The point is that these voices were not brightened or didn't sound sharper – they were somehow more „lively”.

This requires special attention when choosing electronics for these speakers because some electronics will have more influence on the speakers sound timbre then others. My choice wouldn't be some very precise sounding electronics like Cambridge Audio Azur 840A, or Denon PMA-2010AE. My bet would go on some devices offering slightly warm sound. Although some reviewers, like guys from „Hi-Fi Choice” thought that Minima Vintage offered a warm sound („Here it sounds expressive, subtle and unboxy, with a typical Sonus faber warmth and grace.” Issue 312), I couldn't confirm these findings after my audition in my reference system. But of course in totally different system and room maybe you can get a warm sound and then CA and Denon should not be excluded from potential partners list.

But there was another quality of the sound that in fact might have effected the opinion of HFC guys – Minima's sound was „sweet”. In both meanings of this word: „nice” and „smooth/gentle”. Transient attacks were slightly softened/rounded – „slightly” being a key word here. This resulted in incredibly smooth top end, that delivered lots of information but never got aggressive. Credit for that goes to Esotar tweeter. So now we are finally getting to the key element of this design, that could be easily used in loudspeakers at 50 kPLN price tag or even with more expensive designs. This particular tweeter is one of the best soft dome ones in the world that I know. I treat separately these two elements – shape [dome] and material it's made of [silk] – as I know fantastic metal tweeters like the ones from SEAS in Harpia's Dobermanns, or Focal in Wilson Audio Sasha or beryllium Focal in JMLabs, but also ceramic ones like in Isophon Vescova. On the other hand a dome is just one solution but there are also some other great ones like AIR drivers used by A.D.A.M. (HM2 HERE) and Burmester, also ribbon speakers like Raven used for Wings by Ancient Audio and RAAL in Tivano from AVCON. None of these drivers is perfect, each has its own proprietary sound or sonic character. But all of them are fine examples of drivers that are surely ahead of majority in terms of sound quality. What is the point of using such technologically advanced, expensive solutions if there is this one, used for not so expensive Minima Vintage - a fantastic, trusty tweeter from Dynaudio. It looks like it should be used much more commonly, but it isn't, why? I am not a designer, nor sales guy, so I might only express my non-professional opinion. I think that first of all this tweeter is not so easy to get, and secondly it doesn't work that well in any and every design. Resolution offered by this tweeter in incredible. In this particular implementation it results in a mixture of very sweet but precise sound. I would say that Minimas are bit more sweet than precise but it is not so obvious. I couldn't believe how much more information this monitors delivered to me than twice as expensive Chario Academy Sonnet. The size of the cabinet implies some limitations that don't allow Esotar to reveal its full potential. But considering the price and the size – these babies are absolutely fantastic!

Listening to violin recordings using these loudspeakers is an enlightening experience that reminded me of their „bigger brothers” - SF Guarnieri Homage (see HERE). I was truly moved each time I listened to this instrument. Those mentioned slight emphasizes in bass and midrange make sound not so linear as with Harbeths, that on the other hand seemed well balanced and offered bigger sound – I mean instruments seemed bigger. It's not a big difference but when comparing this sound to much bigger Chario it is easy to tell that Harbeths are more capable of imitating a bigger sound than SFs are. It seems that better impulse response of closed cabinet combined with the characteristic of Harbeth's driver offer a „deeper” sound. Sonus speakers create very precise, well differentiated soundstage, but they lack a bit of this panache that the competitor offers. Italian speakers can offer very intimate, close sound but deeper down the soundstage less precise they become.

Each loudspeaker's design is a set of choices and compromises. Such small and relatively inexpensive (considering build and finish quality) cabinets are effected by the laws of physics even more than most speakers. And that makes so important the personality and a vision of the designer, his personal “sonic signature”. Serblin's design might not be so old as BBC LS3/5A – the archer of P3ESR, but it is surely not a new thing neither. If we look at it from this point of view we realize that some things in audio business were invented long time ago and at the present many manufacturers are struggling to achieve same thing. Tweeter used for Minima Vintage is outstanding and that's a key factor to such a great sound. The design, the look of these speakers together with spectacular sound create an extraordinary proposal for Customers who need to remember about only one limitation of these speakers – their small size. Although they are different than Harbeths, EBTBs and RLSes, but they still belong to the same group of products that allied with proper electronics and placed in proper room will fulfill almost any dream of their owner. „Almost” makes a difference but in this particular case this difference is not so big…


The newer version of Sonus Faber Minima called Vintage looks almost identical to its predecessor. These are really small size shelf speakers that measure 200 x 330 x 275 mm (WxHxD; together with speaker binding posts). It's a two-way ported design with BR in the back panel. It's their cabinet that distinguish them among other speakers – it is made of precisely matched , beautifully finished solid walnut layers , with rounded or curved edges, and leather covering front and back panel. Leather is supposed to help dump resonances in midrange, and to disperse high frequency waves. At the bottom you will find some kind of washers or bases – required when you just place speakers on the stands but also necessary if you want to bolt speakers to stands as underneath there are metal sockets where bolts go in. Own Sonus Faber's stands are highly recommended.

A front of a tweeter is almost as big as woofer's. Tweeter is a 28 mm soft silk dome ferrofluid driver with metal front. As a woofer works 120 mm cellulose acrilate cone driver with vented basket design. The shape of the latter is bit different than it was in its predecessor – now it has a rounded edge. Sonus Faber say that both drivers come from Denmark but both have been modified to meet SF's requirements. Tweeter is in fact a legendary Esotar Dynaudio T-330, and woofer is made by Skannings Audio Technology – with is special Hexacoil. There are only single binding posts made exclusively for Sonus Faber with its logo on them and shaped in a special „Sonus Faber” way. I've learned that there is a first order crossover (6 dB/octave), and crossover point is set at 2 kHz.

Technical data (according to the manufacturer):
System: 2 way vented box loudspeaker.
Cabinet: solid walnut layers, leather on the front and the back of the cabinet
Tweeter: Dynaudio Esotar T-330, ø 28 mm
Woofer: Skannings Audio Technology, ø 120 mm, with cellulose acrilate cone driver  
Crossover: first order design, optimized phase characteristics for optimal space/time performance, crossing point 2.000 Hz.
Frequency response: 55 Hz-25 000 Hz
Sensitivity: 84 dB SPL (2,83 V/1 m)
Nominal impedance: 8 Ω
Power handling: 25 W/100 W
Finish:natural solid walnut with medium gloss ecologically sensitive lacquer.

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  • CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air (previous it was Prime, tested HERE)
  • Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC (tested HERE)
  • Cartridges: Air Tight Supreme, tested HERE, Miyajima Laboratory Waza, tested HERE.
  • Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III with Re-generator Power Supply; version II tested HERE)
  • Power amplifier: Tenor Audio 175S, tested HERE and Soulution 710
  • Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom version (reviewed HERE)
  • Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann (tested HERE)
  • Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, 600 Ω version (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • Interconnect: CD-preamp: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, article HERE), preamp-power amp: Wireworld Platinum Eclipse
  • Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, tested HERE
  • Power cables AC (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
  • Power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip (reviewed HERE)
  • Audio stand Base – under all components
  • Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD (article HERE)
  • Pro Audio Bono platform under CD