The Sonus faber Maxima Amator loudspeakers (website) have taken me by surprise. I was so zeroed-in and focused on the idea of the perfect two-way bookshelf monitor, a longtime passion of mine, and now I have this feeling that someone with an Italian accent is leaning close to me, whispering in my ear: “Have you thought about a nice two-way tower? Maybe that’s what you’ve been searching for all this time.”
It’s an interesting argument—while the floor-standing approach may introduce a couple of problems since it’s less of a point source design and its increased size and mass might create an obstacle when it comes to the “disappearing act,” I’m sure to enjoy a loudspeaker that reaches further into the lowest frequencies than your average shoebox monitor. I’ve also been dialing in one of the largest listening rooms I’ve ever had at home. I’m allowing some big speakers and big amplifiers to crash at my pad over the next few months, so I’m about to get a crash course in perspective.
To tell you the truth, I was also getting tired of dealing with stands. I have a pair of 24” stands and a pair of 28” stands, but they can be a little inadequate when it comes to coaxing the most performance from larger and heavier monitors. (I’ve since decided to hang onto the Acora Acoustics SRS-G granite stands to further assess some of my favorite two-way bookshelf two-ways, so stay tuned for more reviews of transducers you can cradle in your arms like a baby.) That’s probably the second biggest reason why people prefer towers to bookshelf monitors. Stands are problematic to say the least.
When Sonus Faber first announced the Maxima Amator I started thinking wow, this might be an interesting wrinkle to explore. Two-way floorstanders. I like it. Maybe this will take me a little further along on my journey. Maybe it’s really just about two-ways and not so much the li’l enclosures that sit on li’l stools.
But in the case of the Sonus faber Maxima Amator, it’s not just about being a two-way floor-standing speaker. It’s about being a two-way floor-standing speaker in a solid wooden box, something I hadn’t considered remarkable before these speakers arrived.
The Story So Far…
My history with Sonus faber, as I’ve explained before, is sort of complicated since I represented one of their main competitors for many years. I kept my distance, in other words. Read about them? Sure. It was my job. But listening? I’d be marked as a spy if I walked into their room at a high-end audio show. I once took a listen to a pair of small Sonus faber monitors at a Magnolia Hi-fi inside a Best Buy, but that’s a secret.
When I came to Part-Time Audiophile in 2018, one of my first duties was editing Scot Hull’s review of the Serafino Tradition. I immediately thought, “Sonus faber, eh? Interesting.” Not long after that, I reviewed the Olympica Nova I. Then the Lumina III. Now, as I’ve mentioned, I have the lovely two-way Sonus faber Maxima Amator in the system. I’m no longer hiding my appreciation for this company.
Oh, did I say lovely? I meant gorgeous, but not in the usual sense of the word because there’s gorgeous, and there’s Sonus faber gorgeous. While we’re all familiar with some of the late Franco Serblin’s more ornate offerings, the Sonus faber Maxima Amator is both wildly beautiful and understated with its simple, clean lines. The expanses of solid wood flow up and down the sides of this loudspeaker unimpeded, from the top down to the striking Italian marble bases. The front baffle is, once again, covered in leather. But since there are only two drivers, the Sonus Faber Maxima Amator looks anything but busy or overdone from the front. Those lines, and the proportions of those lines, are nearly revolutionary in the way they appeal to the eye.
Sorry, I get distracted when I’m in the same room as these speakers.
So yes, this is my third Sonus faber review in less than three years. That first review of the Olympia Nova I two-way monitors ($6,500/pair without dedicated stands), was compelling to me since these monitors were far more neutral in balance than I expected. The Nova is not lean nor analytical by any means, but it certainly wasn’t a warm, overly opulent sound either, one I used to firmly associate with Italian speakers.
The second Sonus faber review, of the Lumina III 3-way towers, was even more intriguing. Yes, these were three-way towers, made in Italy with SF’s usual drivers, and yet the Luminas were only $2,199/pair. They achieved this through simpler cabinet design and construction—all right angles—and these loudspeakers were so good for the money that they won our Best Value Award for 2020.
Now we come to the Sonus faber Maxima Amator. This is the Sonus faber speaker I’ve always imagined, not a new direction nor a clever way to introduce value into a product line not known for being frugal, but a statement of luxury, fidelity and, most of all, sheer friggin’ beauty.
Outside the Sonus faber Maxima Amator
It’s a fairly petite two-way tower design, slim and petite like the Lumina. But the Sonus faber Maxima Amator weighs almost 100 pounds per side. (The Lumina IIIs are less than half that.) But this is more like those storied designs of yore, the thick and substantial solid wood enclosures, the leather baffles, the attention to detail outside—and, surprisingly, inside as well thanks to a clear glass window on the lower back of the speaker, next to the binding posts, that allows you to peak at the beautiful handmade crossovers inside.
The whole concept of producing the Maxima line, in Sonus faber’s words, is to “look back to see ahead.” The designers wanted to produce a two-way floorstanding speaker in a solid-wood enclosure, a project that was once started but eventually abandoned. As Sonus faber explains:
“The two-way design has been a strong piece of brand identity for Sonus faber products. In general, hi-fi enthusiasts deem the two-way loudspeaker system as one of the purest systems achievable. For this reason, the Maxima Amator was a fun project for us, serving as the glorification of successfully merging two speakers to achieve a unique emotion with the maximum representation of the “Voice of Sonus faber” – a goal to achieve natural sound.”
The Sonus faber Maxima Amators cost $15,000 per pair. By looking at these photos, you might think that’s a little steep for a floor-standing two-way. See the Amator close up and personal and you’ll definitely shut your piehole while you bask in its earthly glow. It’s Sonus faber, after all.
Inside the Sonus faber Maxima Amator
The Sonus faber Maxima Amator sits at the top of the Heritage line, accompanied by two small monitors: the Minima Amator II and the Electa Amator III. Yes, you’ve probably heard of those two before, but the Maxima Amator is a very new concept—again, we’re talking about mating a two-way design in a solid wood floor-standing enclosure as the novel concept here, not the building of another swanky mini-monitor.
Sonus Faber had challenges in the design—since solid wood changes as it ages, they needed to construct a cabinet with very tight tolerances while accommodating flex over time without breakage. The design team employed new techniques in drying the wood and developed a flexible adhesive for the internal bracing. In addition, new CNC methods were used to achieve that perfect fit and finish.
Sonus faber employed their IFF crossover system to achieve the perfect synergy between the two drivers. As Sonus faber explains:
“The result is the IFF Crossover “Interactive Fusion Filtering” the perfect sonic performance beyond our proven classic implementations. This is the heart and the brain of Maxima Amator that allows us to to obtain a total fusion of the two drivers for an extremely natural and fluid sound reproduction.”
The woofer is the 7” MW18-XTR-04 and the tweeter is the 1.1” H28-XTR-04 DAD, crossed over at 2100 Hz. Frequency response is rated at 35Hz-35kHz, and the efficiency is 88 dB with a 4-ohm impedance.
A few have asked me about those gorgeous Italian marble bases that come with each Sonus faber Maxima Amator. They’re vibrant and colorful and just everything Italian marble is supposed to be. I also found it interesting that the Maxima Amator arrives with the bases permanently affixed. That means you won’t have to screw these babies onto the speaker bases. The less you touch them, the better they’ll be.
I instantly had a concern, perhaps the only real concern I have with the Sonus faber Maxima Amators as a whole. This marble is so gorgeous and so colorful and so vibrant that they really stand out in the room. They’re designed to do exactly that. But I also wondered if some owners will have to buy new rugs, or new flooring, or a new room remodel so that everything will go with the Amators.
I only bring this up because I placed the speakers on an ornate rug for some photos, and boy did that clash. Yet when I placed them on the faux-wood flooring, which is fairly solid, WOW! They come alive! THEY POP!! This isn’t a problem with most speakers, obviously. But a new owner of the Sonus faber Maxima Amator probably has a bit more style and panache than most. They will appreciate this. They’ll make it work.
I had one more question for the Sonus faber team about the bases. Are these bases on this model fairly consistent with the entire production, or is each speaker a unique work of art? The answer from Sonus faber:
“The marble is Port Saint Laurent, a very exclusive quality of marble. Its coloration is so particular, that it’s almost impossible making two sets of bases looking the same. So yes, each Maxima Amator pair is sporting a very unique base.”
In other words, you might need to preview the pair you want to buy. But I’ll bet that whatever comes out of that box, you’ll think it’s stunning.
The last few speakers I’ve reviewed—Volti, Acora and now the Sonus faber Maxima Amator—have deviated from my normal (or at least favored) speaker placement. The Volti Audio Razz wanted to be spread as far apart as possible, and toed-in so they would cross right in front of the seating position. The Acora Acoustics SRB wanted to be far apart as well, but with no toe-in. And the Amators? Well, they want to be pulled out from the wall just a little more than usual.
I’ve never listened to a rear-vented speaker that was so precise in its contouring of the bass frequencies while being spaced from the back wall. It’s easy to dial it in, but I was surprised at how far I had to bring them out to do it. This wasn’t an issue at all with me—my current listening room is big enough to give a big pair of speakers space if they need it, and my furniture can easily be pushed around to accommodate and type of transducer that enters the dojo. I also don’t want to suggest that those alluring dimensions are negated by their need for more room. But if you want to find out what the Sonus faber Maxima Amator can really do, you’ll need some real estate.
The Sonus faber Maxima Amator was paired mostly with my reference Pureaudio amplification: the Control preamplifier and the Duo2 stereo power amplifier—a homage to Gary Morrison. The Amators also had a small overlap with the Rotel MICHI integrated amplifier that just arrived, and it was an exciting match with lots of energy and power. Finally, I used the Amators during my recent comparison of the Bryston 4B3 and 4B-ST amplifiers. So I had everything from 25 watts per channel pure class A to 300wpc of big iron. Wouldn’t you know it? I liked the Pureaudio set in Class A mode, 25 wpc, the best.
Listening to the Sonus faber Maxima Amator
The Sonus faber Maxima Amators were used in several evaluations and comparisons during their stay, most notably when I compared the Bryston 4B3 power amplifier to the older 4B-ST version. I relied upon the Amators to deliver the tricky differences between the two amps. (If you read the review, you’ll know that both amps had intriguing and differing strengths that I found attractive.) I also used the Amators when I compared my ZYX Bloom III to its big brother, the Ultimate Airy X.
That means the Sonus faber Maxima Amators had that warmth I need/love/want but I still had a very clear three-dimensional exposure to the musical event. Despite its appearance as a somewhat diminutive two-way tower (44” by 12” 14”), the Amators had a confident sense of scope and could deliver a giant soundstage with deep, satisfying bass in a rather large room, just like a much bigger speaker with a more complicated array of drivers and crossovers.
The Amators also excelled at soundstage width, something I don’t usually obsess over. I found lots of information coming at me from the sides, but this was in the form of natural reflections and decay and not some gimmicky circuit that promises 180 degrees of fun. I consistently heard the highest frequencies in percussion expand and flow around the room and bounce around the walls—not of my listening room, but of the original recording venue. There’s your disappearing act.
I mentioned the potent bass, surprisingly so from a 7” woofer in a svelte enclosure, and that 35Hz figure again sounds conservative. I mentioned that the bass could be boomy if the Amators were placed close to a wall. The boominess could be remedied through toe-in as well, but that introduced a new variable of coherency between the two drivers. But there is a right spot, it’s easy to locate, and when you get there you’ll be treated to sublime bass that relays every note with precision and clarity.
The stuff in between, however, is what delivers the feels. There’s an organic wholeness to the sound—partly because of the two-way design and the IFF crossover, and partly that inner warmth is delivered consistently throughout the Amator’s frequency range. But mostly it’s all about the box. I know what a solid wood enclosure contributes to the sound, and why Sonus faber worked so hard on the entire Heritage Collection.
Here’s why solid wood enclosures make such rewarding speaker boxes—they age over time. Long periods of time. We’re not talking about 48-hour break-ins, or getting in 100 hours of burn-in before taking your first listen. I’ve owned speakers with lots of solid wood in the enclosure. They don’t take a long time to break in and sound right, they just keep getting better and better over the months, the years, whatever.
So as much as I enjoyed these Sonus faber Maxima Amators right now, if I held onto them for a year or two or ten I’d be enjoying them even more. Think about that if you’re one of those audiophiles looking for that last pair of speakers you’ll ever own.
Honestly, there were many times I looked at the Sonus faber Maxima Amator loudspeakers and thought, these aren’t the very “best” speakers I’ve ever heard. However, they might just be the best speakers for me and what I want from high-end audio.
I love everything about this speaker–the heartbreakingly beautiful finishes and materials, the small footprint, the huge sound, and all the warmth and hope of my favorite music preserved in a way that makes me remember how this music sounded on the Amators, and nothing else.
So I liked ‘em. A lot. It shouldn’t be surprising, but it is. These last few months have been quite enlightening for me as an audiophile—I’m falling in love with brands I never thought I’d fall in love with, brands like Parasound and Bryston and Technics and Luxman and, at the top, Sonus faber. I have to send them back because there’s more I want to hear, but I’m still bummed.
Every few months another incredible two-way speaker shows up and a new romance begins. But I’ll look back fondly on this time, and I’ll remember the music I heard with the Sonus faber Maxima Amator.
The only question is this: are there plenty of fish in the sea, or will this always be the one that got away?