I recently heard Sonus faber Olympica Nova V (website) floorstanding speakers at Brian Hunter’s house, as well as the affordable Lumina models that Marc Phillips reviewed earlier in 2021. I was taken aback to say the least–I had considered purchasing a pair of Venere S towers back when I was in the market for a personal pair of speakers, though I ended up going with my current ProAc D30RS. The Venere series was nice, and a departure from Sonus faber’s typical sound, but it wasn’t quite suited enough to my tastes to make me pull the trigger.
Words and Photos by Grover Neville
I think of the typical Sonus faber sound signature as being warm and focused on musicality, color and depth over neutrality and linearity. That said, the brand has been doing something I did not expect at all: over the last few years, they’ve merged those two approaches into a sound that is now all their own. When I got the opportunity to hear a pair of Sonus faber Olympica Nova IIs in my own system, I enthusiastically agreed.
A Closer Look at the Sonus faber Olympica Nova II
Upon their arrival, the three-way Sonus faber Olympica Nova IIs quickly reminded me of the Focal Kanta No.2s that I reviewed earlier in the year. Both speakers were packed well but in an unassuming manner, at least from the outside. On full unboxing, however, they reveal themselves as incredibly special. The finish is impeccable, smooth and refined Italian rather than chic nouveau French, but built to at least as high a standard. Maybe even a bit higher.
That finish is perfect, a slightly textured satin-wood with real grain, and trim without visible screws or attachment points. Visually, the entire speaker seems to float and does so with all the style of a high-end piece of Italian furniture. This is thoroughly modern Sonus faber and I can’t really argue with anything in the design, as it also feels both appealing and classic in a way very few speakers do. The folks over in Arcugnano really know how to do it right.
For those familiar with Sonus faber, this is where they usually excel. But they’ve taken their pedigree to another level with the long thin bass port hidden into a back side feature of the curved cabinet, an para-aperiodic vented box design known as Stealth Ultraflex. The stringed grille, a long-time standard, is back as well. Once set up with feet and grilles, these speakers have gotten more compliments than any I’ve had before. “Can we keep them?” was a phrase uttered more than once during the review period.
The Sonus faber Olympica Nova II Sound
Another parallel can be drawn to the Focal Kanta speakers I reviewed–one can see a kind of spectrum with these two speakers on each end. The Kantas are modern, sleek, of an overall more forward and aggressive disposition yet perfectly tuned for modern enthusiasts, modern tastes in revealing treble and gut-punching bass. A slight V-shaped tuning is perceptible but it’s so tastefully executed you can’t help but have fun with it.
The Sonus faber Olympica Nova II is equally modern, but it takes a different path. The frequency response is a gentle, downward curving slope that much resembles, to my ear, the B&K speaker curve. The treble is tilted down just a touch, the very lowest bass notes up just a little. The curve is tastefully done and, combined with the speakers’ strengths, puts together a surprising auditory picture.
The Sonus faber Olympica Nova IIs excels particularly at depth, imaging and upper midrange clarity. This speaker has an ability to portray the harmonic structure of recordings, digging deep into the tonal qualities and colors, in a way I don’t often hear. While the Kanta focused on dynamics, clarity and bass and treble supporting a clean midrange, the Sonus faber Olympica Nova II is all about that midrange–and what a gorgeous midrange it is. In this price range it’s a stunning accomplishment that really makes all types of music sound special. With tubes, solid state or hybrid, that upper midrange clarity and seductiveness sucked me in every time.
The bass and treble performance of the Sonus faber Olympica Nova II supports this. The treble, despite being a little softer than in some speakers, is so articulate and clean that it doesn’t leave me wanting any extra sparkle. Rather, it seems seems to organize sonic information in a way that serves a musical rather than gear-oriented listening experience. Likewise, the bass is organic and not ultra-tight and punchy, but it isn’t loose or flabby either. I’d call it a somewhat softer and more 30-50hz rumble that supports music rather than drawing attention to any kind of aggressive mid-bass quality.
Listening to the Sonus faber Olympica Nova II
The total effect of this is that the speaker is always articulate, never harsh and incredibly insightful, especially on intimate or acoustically recorded material. Acoustic recordings such as the Punch Brothers’ catalog or The Goat Rodeo Sessions flow with a breathtaking portrayal of harmonic color, and classical recordings are simply sublime in their sweetness.
Modern recordings are served well by this tuning too–harsh edges in modern, limited material are softened just a touch, and even very bright recordings come out sounding pleasing and organic. This is the kind of tuning that does not impose itself on the music, but works across a very broad range of program material. It is all about insight deeper into recordings, and it does so with an even and refined hand.
Those in pursuit of the last word in absolute detail, or razor sharp clarity at all costs, may not find this their preference. But for the listener who enjoys listening to music rather than gear, this is a major boon. The Sonus faber Olympica Nova II makes everything sound great, and not by drenching it all in honey, but rather with a subtle and carefully refined tuning that flatters harsh spots and extracts more of what makes records sound exceptional, especially in the midrange.
In terms of pairings, I found that the rather high specified efficiency again reminded me much of the Focal Kanta, a big speaker with the ability to be run on my favored triode amps. Yes, please. In this case, the better watts gave me clarity and even more richness. Since the sound was tilted toward warm, the entire presentation never felt dull or muddied. Bass, on tube amps and solid state alike, was organized and kept up with the tunes with plenty of fast groove and low end.
Likewise, solid state did not diminish the magic of the upper midrange and treble, though I wouldn’t recommend an amp with an especially zingy or forward top end unless you really like a brighter presentation. These speakers are capable of going bright, and surprised me as being much more chameleonic than I’ve typically thought of a Sonus faber design.
Sonus faber, as demonstrated by the Olympica Nova II, has been slowly morphing their traditional sound into something that skillfully reconciles the difference between the professed music lover and the true audiophile listener. I can’t overstate that the sound is really very refined and the midrange is just stunningly good for a speaker at the $10,000/pair level.
If you believe music lives in that midrange, is supported by the bass, and excited by the treble, all for the purpose of bringing listening joy, then this is a speaker well worth auditioning.