The Secret Is Out: Olympica Nova 1
A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had a top-secret pair of speakers in the house from Sonus Faber (details here). I couldn’t say they were Sonus Faber, of course. I was asked to take a couple of photos of my system, and I had to shoot around the mystery speakers. I admit there was something a little exciting about that.
As a former distributor, I know how to keep quiet about future product releases. I’ve had the pleasure of testing out many new products from my manufacturers, new products that even my dealers weren’t aware of, and I learned—sometimes the hard way—that it’s best to keep your mouth shut until said product is rolling off the assembly lines. You want to anger dealers, customers and nearly everyone else in the industry? Two words: production delays.
I’ve never had to keep quiet about a product I was reviewing, however. The social media side of me was frustrated because I’m used to announcing changes as they are made to the main system. I’m trying to generate excitement. I’m trying to get people to say, “I can’t wait to read what you thought about [insert product here].” But not this time. I signed contracts. I gave Sonus Faber my word.
But now the cat’s out of the bag—you’ve undoubtedly already seen the title of this review. The lovely 2-way monitors I’ve been enjoying are the Sonus Faber Olympica Nova Is, and this review was timed in conjunction with the debut of the entire Olympica line at this year’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. As this review first appears in Part-Time Audiophile, I will be at the unveiling of the entire Olympica Nova line at RMAF. I’ll be the guy with the knowing smile on my face. Yeah, I’m very familiar with these. I can answer your questions, too. Queue starts to the right.
The new Olympica series, based on the original Olympica line from Sonus Faber, features a number of innovations—new drivers and crossovers, new cabinet designs and new approaches to enclosure bracing and tuning. Eight layers of curved wood make up the walls of the Olympica Novas, and the upper plate is made from die-cast aluminum. The design is ported using Sonus Faber’s new Stealth Ultraflex (details here) technology, borrowed from the most expensive models, which uses a piece of aluminum to control the airflow.
The cabinets for the new Olympica line are asymmetrical, which adds to their significant beauty. Sonus Faber says this shape assists with both bass response and the achieving optimal performance in the room. The literature states that “this is an original design concept inspired by nature, as the lines follow the flow of a circular spiral motion, achieving a more organic cabinet structure.” It’s a stunning shape, framed by that shiny aluminum top plate, especially when you view the Novas from above.
The new Olympica line features the Nova V ($16,500/pair), the Nova III ($13,500/pair), the Nova II ($10,000/pair) and the entry-level Nova I, which I received, which retails for $6500/pair. The dedicated stands for the Nova I retail for $1200/pair. An on-wall version and a center channel will be released a month after the four main models.
The Nova I is a small two-way bookshelf monitor that uses the same pulp cone found in the Homage Tradition line, and a 28mm silk dome tweeter that features Damped Apex Dome (DAD) (details here) technology. The crossover network uses Paracross technology to reduce sensitivity to radio-frequency interference, lowering the noise floor. As Sonus Faber declares, the Olympica Nova I is a combination of old traditions and new technology—an approach that sounds European to its core.
Taking a Stand
Before I talk about the performance of the Sonus Faber Olympica Is, I want to mention those stands. They’re wonderful. I can’t imagine anyone not coming up with the extra grand to buy them. They’re beautiful, in a surprisingly understated way. These Italian loudspeakers are usually famous for their ornate beauty, yet the Olympica Nova I, mounted on its stand, is simple and elegant. The Nova Is attach to the stands via two screws on the mounting plate, making them incredibly rigid and solid and balanced. All of the hardware—cones, cups, screws, are beautifully machined.
I mention this because I had to represent speaker stands before, and it’s a tough gig. First of all, stands tend to be bulky and heavy, which makes them expensive to ship. At the same time, the MSRP needs to be low enough to entice consumers to make the purchase instead of using stands they already own. The problem with offering stands in the $500 to $1000/pair range is that once you unpack them and start to assemble them, you look at all the parts spread out all IKEA-like and you say to yourself wow, that’s a lot of money for some MDF and some hardware.
With these stands, I’m thinking the opposite. This is a lot of stand for $1200. I know you can buy a decent pair of 2-way monitors for a grand, but that’s not the point. You’ve finally decided to pull the trigger on a pair of Sonus Fabers—are you really going to cheap out here? No, you’re not.
In my listening room, most 2-way bookshelf monitors wind up positioned at roughly the same spot. Sure, I fine tune and measure and play around, but in most cases new speakers wind up right on the Xs on the floor. In this position, however, the Olympica Nova Is were a bit bass shy right out of the box. Tonally the Novas sounded right in every conceivable way, but I wanted a little more ballast down in the hold.
After 100 hours or so of break-in, the bass improved, but I knew I could get more. So I pushed them toward the back wall a little more than usual, playing a game of compromise between soundstage depth and bass response, and I finally secured optimal placement with the Novas placed about a foot wider from each other than usual, and within two feet from the back wall.
I used two amplifier set-ups for the Nova Is—the 220wpc Unison Research Unico 150 hybrid integrated amplifier and the PureAudio Duo 2 power amplifier and PureAudio Control preamplifier. The time was almost evenly divided, and both were good matches—the powerful (220wpc) Unison provided nice control in the bass, and the PureAudio pair provided more detail. The two amps are different enough from each other to help me get a grip on the Olympica Nova I’s sound.
My first impression revolves around the huge and particularly well-defined soundstage the Olympica Novas offered. We’re not just talking about wide and deep. The Novas did a wonderful thing—they replicated the size of my own listening room on the other side of the wall. The illusion was clear. I could easily imagine a stage of equal size beyond the speakers where the performers stood and played. The wall boundaries were clearly fixed in space on both sides of the mirror.
That sounds strange, right? But that’s what I found most intriguing about that sound, the projection of a known finite space that was perfectly natural. Do we really expect a lone note played in the middle of the Mojave? Those boundaries I sensed replicated the feeling of being in a room where music is played. It was a distinctive sound, one that seemed perfectly logical and natural.
On the Smoking Flowers’ new acoustic album Snowball Out of Hell, the overall sound should remind the listener of a live performance with no audience. This album captures just Scott and Kim Collins on a stage, stripping down the arrangements on some of their most recent songs and covering most of the remaining musical parts themselves. You’ll notice I said stage—I don’t know where they were standing in the studio, but the soundstage is so clear and three-dimension that I can easily imagine the stage, and everything about it. I can almost see where the drinks are sitting on those little club tables.
Another astonishing thing about the sound of the Sonus Faber Olympica Nova Is: that treble. Remember the first time you heard really hi-rez digital? In my mind I had equated higher resolution with more detail, but instead I hear a silkiness to those highs, a delicacy that’s seductive instead of analytical. The Nova Is enhanced that high-frequency extension in a way that made me think of how those lone sounds weren’t isolated out in space but rather part of a seamless whole that went all the way down to the lowest bass frequencies. I guess that’s called coherence, but my mind kept thinking about blending and swirling and floating. The high frequency performance of the Olympica Nova Is was utterly romantic and alive.
I’ve made it to the end of this review without waxing too rhapsodic about the Sonus Faber’s incredible cosmetics, and there’s a reason. I spent many years representing Italian high-end audio brands, and I know how to market them appropriately. Italian. Hand-made. Old-world craftsmanship. Ferrari. Sistine Chapel. Sophia Loren. Audiophiles do want beauty in their homes, and they want to show their friends that they didn’t just buy speakers, they bought these. Just look at them. They’re from Italy.
At the same time, I feel that Sonus Faber has toned down that ornate look of the past with something that’s more modern and streamlined and will blend more easily into your home as well as your lifestyle. Make no mistake, the beauty of the Olympica Nova I is staggering, especially when you get right up on it and sniff around. But from the listening position you might not be as obsessed about the looks as much as the beautiful sound.
I’ve had a lot of experience with premium stand-mount two-ways—if I have a wheelhouse, that’s it—so it’s easy to get lost in the endless comparisons. The Sonus Faber Olympica Nova I stands apart from the crowd in my mind for two reasons. One is that amazing and tangible soundstage, one that really exposes and reinforces the tiniest details in the music. The second is that sweet and silky treble, which is natural and effortless. They require a bit more effort when it comes to positioning, especially when it comes to coaxing low frequencies to bloom in a particular space, but as an audiophile you’ll know how to get where you’re going.
If you’re a music lover who just wants to add a measure of beauty to your home, Sonus Faber has always been a smart choice. With the Olympica Nova I, however, you can be both people, an aesthete and an audiophile. You don’t have to choose one or the other.
And don’t think twice about getting the stands.