The story of the Sonus faber Lumina II bookshelf speakers is also the story of “Yulunga,” perhaps my favorite reference track of all time. That old demo track from Dead Can Dance’s Into the Labyrinth has become a staple at high-end audio shows, and I take at least partial responsibility for that. Stop laughing. I still have people in the hi-fi industry remind me that the first time they heard this song was in one of my exhibit rooms.
[We will give Jonathan Scull some credit, as his repeated mentions of “Yulunga” in his Stereophile reviews back in the day were the reason why we bought it in the first place–Ed. And yeah, it’s still me talking.]
I had the Sonus faber Lumina II set up for failure. I’d been spending the previous weeks with the Qln Prestige One speakers, and one of the many things these Swedish loudspeakers do well, for a small two-way monitor, is deliver the goods on the bottom end. The Qlns are a fabulous monitor for a relatively affordable price of $6500/pair USD, and I recently spent an evening with these speakers listening to Into the Labyrinth. It had been a while, and it was still as memorable as the first time I heard it.
There’s that part on “Yulunga,” a couple of minutes in, where the big bass drum/gong/whatever comes in, soft and deep and gentle, but still tremendously subterranean. The Prestige One nailed it, perhaps better than any two-way I’ve heard save for truly expensive two-ways like the Vimberg Amea. The sound of that enormous drum head being struck, yet still as softly as if Shirley Horn herself held the mallet, was just so perfectly round and possessed so much of the inner workings of such a precise collision.
What does this have to do with the very small and very affordable Sonus faber Lumina II monitors, the ones so small that they can’t even cover the top plate of the speaker stands I’m currently using? As soon as I swapped out the Qlns with the Luminas, I realized that I still had “Yulunga” cued up and ready to go. This might not go well, I thought. This is where I’m going to trip up these little leather-clad boxes from Italy. But at least I’ll have a firm idea of their lower limits moving forward.
That single drum beat, the first one up, the first one that signals that this entire album is such a gem of a recording—it can tell me almost everything about a speaker because it never ever sounds the exactly the same to me. Some, but still relatively few, give it the appropriate weight and clarity. Some make it sound soft and bloated and without precise definition in space. Once in a while, a little guy around the size of the Sonus faber Lumina II takes a swing at that big bass sound and misses completely. I suspected that yes, it’s possible that the Lumina might not even get on base.
So this is now a story about the Sonus faber Lumina II, “Yulunga” and baseball? Well, let me put it this way—the Qlns may have gone yard with that whack of the drum, but the little Lumina IIs hit a stand-up double and scored a couple of RBIs. I looked at these tiny little speakers producing such a rich, satisfying sound that I felt like throwing my notes and my clipboards into the air and wondering, once again, why I suddenly dig these latest Sonus faber designs so much.
Why the Sonus faber Lumina II?
Why would I want to review a small pair of bookshelf speakers from a manufacturer’s “budget” line, even if that manufacturer is Sonus faber? Looks like I answered my own question there, but it’s really a simple explanation.
When I reviewed the Sonus faber Lumina III last year, the flagship 3-way tower that retailed for a crazy low price of $2,199/pair USD, I couldn’t believe how beautiful they sounded. The Lumina line, as you probably know, is made in Italy, using drivers that Sonus faber uses in their more expensive lines. You even get the leather baffle. The prices of the line are so low because the cabinet construction is so simple. It’s a simple box consisting of nothing but right angles, the only wood a single piece affixed to the front baffle. It’s more than attractive, just not the ornate hand-carved piece of furniture that you’ll find elsewhere in the Sonus faber factory.
At the time of that review, only two Lumina models existed—the aforementioned III and the I, which was a tiny 2-way bookshelf monitor that sold for just $899/pair USD. I really wanted to hear that model, because the Lumina III was such a tremendous value (it won out Best Value Award for 2020), and I thought the Lumina I might set a new standard for sub-$1,000 dollar speakers.
A few months passed, and I was invited to review the even newer Sonus faber Lumina II instead. My first thought was that it might be a two-way floorstander, something deliberately in between. But it wound up being, from the photos I’d seen up to that point, almost identical to the Lumina I. Accordingly, the Lumina II retails for just $1,200/pair USD. (Note: the Lumina II was announced on June 15 along with the new flagship Lumina V, a big floorstander that costs just $2,800/pair USD.
When the Sonus faber Lumina II arrived at my home, I was a little taken aback at how small they were. You know, this Sonus faber streak I’ve been on, where everything I’ve heard from them lately appeals to me almost immediately…is this where I start using qualifiers like “strong value” and “really good—for the money”?
Yulunga knows the answer.
Inside the Sonus faber Lumina II
The Sonus faber Lumina II loudspeaker has a slightly larger vented enclosure (12” by 7.1” by 10.3”) than the Lumina I, with a slightly larger 150mm woofer and their 29mm DAD tweeter, which happens to be used up and down the Lumina line as well as in fancier Sonus faber lines. Each Lumina II only weighs 12.5 pounds, which felt carefree and yet a little funky after all those ultra-heavy little monitors I’ve been reviewing.
The Lumina II is 86 dB sensitive with a 4-ohm impedance, which is fairly average for a two-way of this type. After I pulled these tiny speakers out of their single, still light packing box, I was only concerned with one spec right away—I wanted to know how low these go. Cuz they’re really small, like LS3/5a small, or even Harbeth P3-ESR XD. The magic number for the Sonus faber Lumina II is 55hZ. If I remember correctly, most LS3/5as go down to about 70 Hz and the Harbeth slightly higher. So we’re okay, I thought, since I still enjoy those two loudspeakers.
Then there’s the matter of this strange bottom section of the Lumina II, the vent, which reminded me of the very high-tech venting system on the Sonus faber Olympica Nova I. It’s a short pedestal, ribbed like a heat sink, with the vent in front. It’s a shrewd design in that it works, splendidly so, but it’s implemented in an affordable way. Most speaker designs like this would integrate the vent into the cabinet, driving up the manufacturing cost. This is a really smart choice, as they like to say on the Food Network.
I feel like this vent had much to do with the surprising bass performance of the Sonus faber Lumina II, by the way.
The Lumina II, like the rest of the line, comes in three finishes: walnut, wenge with maple inlays and piano black. This is what, my fifth Sonus faber review and this is the first time I got the wenge. (Feel free to use that in the pull quote, folks.) We are talking about a single ply slab, but the Lumina style is distinctive and more than a little posh.
The System, aka The Ringer
Full disclosure time—I stuck the Sonus faber Lumina IIs into one hell of a resolving system, the same system that hosted the Qln Prestige Ones. I’m talking Jeff Rowland Design Group Capri S2-SC preamplifier ($4,950 USD) and Model 125 power amp ($3,300 USD), the Brinkmann Edison Mk. II phono preamplifier (well into the five figure range with assorted options), my Technics SL-1200 ($4,000 USD) loaded with all sorts of tweaks for its comparisons with the SL-1210GAE, and the Allnic Audio Amber MC cartridge ($5,000 USD). All of the cabling was Furutech Powerflux, Lineflux and Speakerflux, with each run costing far more than the Sonus faber Lumina II. Both of them.
Here’s the cherry on top—I placed the $1,200 USD Sonus faber Lumina IIs on top of the $5,000/pair USD Acora Acoustics SRS granite speaker stands. I’m going to predict that most pairs of Lumina IIs will not see a system like this, except maybe across the showroom at a high-end audio store. That brings up a dilemma: is this going to make the Lumina sound far better than the average system in which they’ll eventually be used, or is it nice to get a modest but well-designed transducer to reach its ultimate potential?
I don’t know if I’m going to worry about it. But after I spent more time with the Sonus faber Lumina II with this system in place, I started to see it. The Sonus faber Lumina II is tiny. The Jeff Rowland amp and preamp are tiny as well. The Brinkmann isn’t tiny but it was responsible for a huge chunk of the magic, but you can just go with the HP phono card inside the Capri S2 and still experience excellent performance from your phono stage. Okay, so then maybe you add the Merason Frerot DAC, which is also tiny.
This is a physically small system that yields a big, high-end sound. It’s certainly not cheap, but there are plenty of cheap small systems out there that will sound like cheap small systems. This is a small system that sounds incredible for when you don’t have a lot of room in your apartment, or your tiny house, or your dining room, which is something I once had to do. Maybe you have pets and little kids and spending more than this is risky and potentially heartbreaking. (Been there too.) Maybe the room doesn’t matter, because this system playing in my decent-sized listening room sounded full, clear and with plenty of healthy, strong bass energy.
I could totally see going this way. In fact, the only thing keeping me from moving into a tiny house, other than the sub-standard plumbing arrangement, is that I’m an audiophile. I need a tiny house just for the LPs and CDs.
This is where we return to “Yulunga,” and its relationship to the Sonus faber Lumina II bookshelf speakers. Not surprisingly, the Lumina subtracted just a little bit of the size and space of all the low frequency information in Into the Labyrinth, especially when compared to some of the larger speakers I’ve hosted over the years. (Every loudspeaker gets the Yulunga Test at some point during its stay. )
But with that system, the Technics and the Allnic and the JRDG and the Brinkmann and the Furutech, the Sonus faber Lumina II delivered one of my favorite renderings of this album—ever. It was nicely balanced throughout, with all of the details I expect.
Trees Speak’s new album, PostHuman, recently came in on vinyl. I’ve loved this group for a while now, their distinctive instrumentals that sound like a mix between “60s Pink Floyd with Klaus Schulze lurking in the shadows, or a ‘70s prog rock band doing Daft Punk covers. There are moments of pure electronica, and then a nice rock and roll rhythm section kicks in and makes you question what you heard twenty seconds ago. They’re amazing, and I’m happy that they’re finding a large audience.
This is a well-recorded album, full of big spaces and strange noises and an occasional helping of big dubstep bass. I couldn’t believe how well the Sonus faber Lumina II hung in there, throwing that deep low pulse down into the floorboards. Dang.
Let me step back a second and say yes, the Lumina IIs have limitations. While imaging and tonality were exceptional for a speaker of this price, the soundstage wasn’t quite as huge as some of those expensive premium monitors I’ve had in here. While the little Luminas could play plenty loud and deep, at least for me, they sometimes felt as if they were winded, that max velocity had been achieved.
But here’s what the Sonus faber Lumina II delivered that’s so rare in a $1,200 USD pair of speakers, and that’s drama. It was easy to fall under their spell. In the moment, I didn’t need more. I was very happy with this little pair of speakers, even though most potential buyers won’t pony for the same system I used. I’m still not sure if that matters.
To tell you the truth, I bet something like the Heed Elixir or the Audio by Van Alstine SET 120 control amp—the very one that shared the Best Value Award last year with the Lumina III–would have a steamy romance with the Lumina II, and they’re all around the same price.
I’m not about to tell you that an $1,200/pair USD of speakers is going to change your life—unless, of course, you’re just getting started in this hobby, or you’re trying to make do in a small place, or that’s all you can spend. You’re the type of audiophile who would cherish these, love these, and perhaps go with a bigger Sonus faber model down the road once you make your mark on this world.
One of the many reasons why I elected to review the Sonus faber Lumina II loudspeakers is because a great two-way pair of monitors for around a grand is how I got started in the hobby, at least the high-end part of it. Back in the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s, I was deliriously happy with what you could get this amount, mostly because you could still wind up with a BBC-designed monitor, or at least something from Spica or Totem or a forgotten favorite, J. M. Reynaud.
Thirty years later, I can still think of a number of decent monitors for that kind of price, but none of them are Sonus fabers, none of them are made in Italy and very few of them perform at this level. When I reviewed the Lumina III, I couldn’t believe how intact that signature sound was after all those “compromises” in the cabinetry.
At a little more than half the price, the Sonus faber Lumina II makes a similar impression with plenty of warmth and clarity, a nice top-to-bottom balance, and low bass performance that might just make you shake your head in disbelief, like I did. Did placing them on $5,000/pair USD granite stands and hooking them up with a $4,000/pair USD of speaker cables help? Using Rowland amps? C’mon, man! Of course it did. But it shows the huge potential of this modest little speaker. That can’t be ignored.
The Lumina III was a Best Value award Winner, and the Lumina II represents perhaps an even greater increase in the price-performance ratio. That’s why Sonus faber gets another Reviewer’s Choice award from me. If someone asked me my favorite two-way monitor for around a grand, right now, this minute, this is it.