After spending the first 24 hours with the new Sonus faber Lumina III loudspeakers, here’s what I came up with.
First, imagine you’re not an audiophile. You’re just a consumer looking for a nice pair of speakers for your probably mid-fi system, although your friends and family think it’s already pretty fancy and that you’re “really into your music.” You think to yourself that a nice pair of towers would probably suffice, slim and petite enough to blend into your surroundings and pretty enough to show everyone you have a bit of class. How about a pair of three-way towers? Made in Italy, so they’re much more attractive than a mere veneered box? Yeah? These Sonus faber Lumina IIIs are exactly what you need.
They’re $2199/pair, and maybe that’s a little more than you wanted to spend but hey, made in Italy! That costs extra, and look how beautiful they are. To the average music loving non-audiophile, a slim, petite three-way tower speaker is a pretty ordinary thing, and the sales floor of most audio dealers have members of this very common species strategically placed all through the sales floors of their stores. I see ‘em all the time, lurking like anxious introverts on a Bourbon Street sidewalk during Mardi Gras. But this Sonus faber Lumina III? They’re a cut above, aren’t they?
I’ll take ‘em. You’re gonna throw in some speaker cable, right?
Okay, now imagine you’re an audiophile, one who’s pretty knowledgeable about what’s going on in the industry. You look at the new entry level Lumina line, you see those reasonable prices and you think Sonus faber* is romancing that mid-fi crowd. You see the high-resolution photos on the internet, zoom in on the cabinet construction, and then proclaim you’ve found where corners are cut: the enclosure is fairly basic, but it is wrapped in the typical Sonus faber leather. The baffle is ply, covered in a nice veneer. It’s well done, but they’re not the complex and formidable Sonus faber enclosures you’ve known all these years. Much of that cost-cutting, however, is simply achieved through right angles and not inferior components.
Without a perfunctory listen, you dismiss the Sonus faber Lumina IIIs as not quite at your level. You want something more ambitious. How about the Aida? Can I hear those?
All of that ran through my mind during my first day with the Sonus faber Lumina III. I sat there, in amazement, knowing that both of these viewpoints were completely and utterly wrong. The Lumina III is perplexing, bewitching and confounding, and it made me brush up against a mild existential crisis. What am I missing here?
The Lumina Line
When I reviewed the excellent Sonus faber Olympica Nova I loudspeakers last year, I made a special arrangement with the company—I received them well before they were announced so that I could finish and publish a review on the same day the press release came out. It was kind of fun—I had to keep it a secret.
The Lumina III review was supposed to go the same way, but Covid-19 and the dismantling of domestic shipping services within the US conspired to keep them out of my hands until the day after the announcement. Once I realized that all deadlines were moot, I sat down and relaxed and spent some real time with these speakers.
The Sonus faber Lumina line was introduced with three models: the $899/pair Lumina I, which is a small two-way monitor, the $699 Lumina Center I, which is a center channel model, and the flagship of the line, the $2199/pair Lumina IIIs. Sonus faber splits up the Lumina moniker and defines the purpose of this new line like this: LU is for luxury, MI is for the minimalist design and NA is for the natural sound. I know some marketing person came up with this, but it’s a fairly accurate description of the product itself.
In addition, each Lumina model matches well with the Sonus faber Gravis subwoofer line, and the company is pushing all these models together as a stunning yet affordable home theater system.
The Sonus faber Lumina III is a fairly petite floorstanding speaker, not heavy at all at 35 pounds per, which suggests another reason why these speakers are so affordable (MInimalism!) The ply on the baffle can be covered with wenge or walnut, or in gloss black. I was immediately interested in the wenge from the press photos but I got walnut, which is still gorgeous. You can also get them in matte with maple inlays, which sounds like something I’d dig. And, of course, the rest of the enclosure is covered in that “iconic” leather. (LUxury!)
The Lumina line borrows plenty of technologies from the more expensive lines, another reason for the affordable MSRPs. The tweeters are the same DAD (damped apex dome) models used in the Sonetto series, as are the 5” midrange drivers. The 5” paper cone woofers are new, designed to match well with the mids. The Sonus faber Lumina III is a three-way, four-driver design with a sensitivity of 89 dB and a 4-ohm impedance and a frequency response that goes down to about 40 Hz.
I had no problem running the Luminas with either a 25 wpc pure Class A solid state amplifier, or one that was 100 wpc AB but heavily biased into A. Of course, this was the same amp, my reference Pureaudio Duo 2 connected with Furutech Speakerflux, Lineflux and Powerflux to the AudioQuest Niagara 3000 power conditioner.
Feels like I’ve been setting the Sonus faber Lumina III up for failure, what with all these references to its modest cost and its minimalist build. At best, I’ll probably say that the Lumina III is a great pair of speakers for $2199. It might say it over and over. That’s almost what I expected to do when they first arrived.
Right out of the box, these speakers prompted an immediate double-take. As I mentioned, I had no idea they were going to sound so good. Not good for $2199, but really good. In my reviews, I tend to award points for products that possess strong value OR products that sound great to my ears. Once in a while, something comes along that receives both awards. That’s rare.
I thought the Sonus faber Lumina III would definitely be a candidate for the former award. And I’m not going to say that a $2200 pair of petite three-way floorstanders will give you everything that you could ever want. But in this rare and glorious case, the Lumina qualifies in both categories—well, it comes closer to that perfect compromise than I could have wagered.
The first impression of the Sonus faber Lumina III was relaxed, open and lifelike. (Finally, NAtural!) For the last few months I’ve been spoiled by a series of extraordinary two-way loudspeakers—Joseph Audio, Stenheim, Vimberg and my own Brigadier Audio BA-2s. I thought the Luminas could be sherbet between the courses, a chance for me to get grounded in reality before waxing rhapsodic about yet another $12K monitor I can carry with one hand. I had to keep an open mind. I had to forget about all those other speakers for a few weeks.
My first thought on the Sonus faber Lumina IIIs was that they didn’t feel out of place in my current set-up. I started thinking about those other speakers, and I asked myself what they did that these Luminas couldn’t. There were some obvious signs right from the beginning—the soundstage wasn’t quite as limitless as with the others, and I was missing the last bit of detail from high-resolution digital recordings and LPs.
Instead of focusing on that, I started obsessing over what the Luminas did so well. I’d have to say low bass. I’m sure it’s the down-firing port at the bottom of these slim towers, but the bass had…wait for it…slam. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned bass slam before. But the Luminas seemed to refine my idea of slam, that tangible and physical sensation of a very low note that is clear as a bell. This happened with during the “Private Investigation” Test—if you love that Dire Straits song, you’ll know what I’m talking about. That first, somber bass pluck in the second half of the song, almost a trademark with Jon Illsley, is so pure and soft and yet potent.
I kept staring at those 5” drivers and the slim, almost diminutive profile of the Sonus faber Lumina IIIs. Staring, that is, in disbelief. That downward firing port, it seems, is a stroke of genius.
The treble was also sweet and extended. That DAD tweeter, I realized after a few weeks, reminds me of some of my favorite ribbon designs. And everything in between? Well, if I walk away from this speaker with one word on my mind, it’s coherence. The Sonus faber Lumina IIIs had a manner to their groove, a feeling that every part of the music moved together as a single machine. This feeling of coherence was very noticeable with some of the complex and dynamic contemporary jazz titles I’ve reviewed, great sounding records such as Reflections of the Eternal Line from drummer Florian Arbenz, or John Daversa Quintet’s Cuarantena. The gobsmackery of that bass slowly fit into its cubbyhole within the greater whole, and that’s when I figured out that this speaker was special in a very honest way.
I’m not talking the kind of special where you say things like they punch above their weight, or they’re the best value at their price point. Nor are they giant-killers. I’m no longer interested in these cliches, anyway. What I’m saying is that the Sonus faber Lumina IIIs are so satisfying, and in so many ways, that you might not care if they’re affordable or not. It won’t matter.
My audio mentor Gene Rubin once taught me an import lesson in buying audio gear, and I suppose it can be applied to most things in life. I was trying to choose between two $1000 integrated amplifiers from two different brands. One was the top-of-the-line integrated with tons of features and power. The other $1000 integrated was the entry level model from that manufacturer—it was low in power and minimalist in execution. Gene explained that the former amp was the best integrated that company could make, an amp designed around features and not necessarily sound quality. The latter amp, the li’l guy, benefitted from all of the R&D of the upper-tier products from that company. That’s the amp I bought, and I had it for a very long time.
I thought about that frequently while listening to the Sonus faber Lumina III loudspeakers. When a speaker manufacturer with several products well into the five-figure range decides to bring out an affordable model, you know they’ve learned a few tricks along the way. By “tricks,” I’m not referring to outsourcing or using cheap, inferior parts. As I noted with the Olympica Nova Is, Sonus faber is going through changes—more ideas, more fresh ideas, slightly different sound. They’re no longer making great speakers that often serve as opulent furniture for the well-heeled—they’re making great speakers at multiple price points, and for audiophiles.
Solid engineering is always about simple yet elegant solutions. By sticking to those ideals, Sonus faber has come up with a truly remarkable $2200/pair of loudspeakers. The Lumina IIIs easily win any “best value” award Part-Time Audiophile offers. I’ll have to go digging in the archives. Wait, I got one.
I’m left with only one question—what do those $900/pair Sonus faber Lumina Is sound like?
*By now you’ve noticed that I’m not capitalizing “faber.” Yeah I know, it’s how it’s spelled. I’ve been spelling it wrong for many years.