I’m closing in on almost 100 reviews for the SoundStage! Network, and for the very first time, I find myself in possession of a product before it has been officially announced. That, in and of itself, feels pretty good. But when a 224-pound pallet lands on your doorstep from Sonus Faber — shipped directly from the company’s factory in Arcugnano, in Italy’s Vicenza province — the satisfaction and expectation are all that much greater. Enter the third offering in SF’s Heritage Collection, the Maxima Amator ($15,000 per pair, all prices in USD).
I reviewed Sonus Faber’s Electa Amator III loudspeaker, the opening salvo from the brand’s Heritage Collection, in late 2019 and was totally smitten with it. It isn’t the highest-performing two-way I’ve ever heard, but it remains my favorite. The luxurious mix of solid walnut, locally sourced leather, polished brass, and Carrara marble, to say nothing of the speaker’s shape and proportions, make the EAIII as much of an art piece as a loudspeaker.
The Maxima Amator, serial number 004 in my possession, continues that legacy. It’s constructed from the same 1″-thick solid walnut — not MDF — as the EAIII, but SF has opted for a dark African marble base this time around that includes flashes of gold, intended to complement the floorstander’s inlaid brass accents. Standing 44.1″H x 11.8″W x 13.8″D, the Maxima Amator has a squarish profile, meaning that it doesn’t dominate a listening space with a deep cabinet. There’s no doubting the build quality. The 83.7-pound speaker is exceptionally well constructed. I couldn’t find a gap or imperfection of any kind on either cabinet. The leather-covered front and rear baffles were flawless and soft to the touch. Around back is a clear window through which you can see the crossover’s various components sourced from ClarityCap and Mundorf. It’s a visual and tactile feast.
Its creation was also something of an accident, as Livio Cucuzza, SF’s chief design officer, told me over e-mail:
2020 was a strange year. It made us live a different life, but it also gave us more time for creativity and experimentation. And this is the reason why the Maxima is a special project for me. Maxima wasn’t on our 2020 product plan — everything started because I wanted to challenge the team to work on something that reflects our personal wishes without any deadline or business plan. Simultaneously, the COVID-19 situation created a very special condition. With the production department empty and the offices silent, we had more time to sit down and listen. The Maxima project was really a way for us to escape from the terrible news about the virus.
Of particular interest to me was the decision to make the Maxima a two-way design, especially when I found the stand-mounted EAIII to be anything but bass-shy — that thing was a seriously ballsy-sounding monitor in my room. “The idea was to follow the tradition of the two-ways design that characterized the early Sonus Faber production, extending the performance of the Electa Amator III’s mid-woofer to its limit and simultaneously working on the perfect fusion with the tweeter,” Cucuzza said. “I have always been a fan of pure two-way designs, finding them more intimate and magical with some musical programs, of course accepting the limits they have.”
And so the Maxima Amator is able to make use of significantly more cabinet volume to play deeper and tighter than its stand-mounted sibling. It’s also important to note that this was not a price-sensitive design, and Sonus Faber accordingly designed a bespoke crossover network for the Maxima Amator, one informed by a combination of simulation software, extended listening, “and some good wine,” Cucuzza noted.
Tucked into the packaging for one of the towers was something unexpected: an Italian-manufactured manila envelope with a frequency-response plot for both speakers inside (below). Two things jumped out at me. First, the pair-matching was extremely good. You’d hope that any pair of loudspeakers costing half as much as the Maxima would be level-matched, but that’s often wishful thinking. Second — and impossible to miss — is the 6dB rise from 5kHz up to around 15kHz. That gave me pause, but it’s important to remember that a single quasi-anechoic measurement intended for pair-matching purposes isn’t particularly illustrative of a speaker’s sound. When you’re actually, you know, playing and listening to the speakers in a real room, off-axis performance matters just as much, so don’t read too much into this plot.
After hooking up the Sonus Fabers to my Hegel Music Systems H590 integrated amplifier-DAC, I started rifling through music on my Roon Core and playing track after track in quick succession. The good news is that the Maxima Amator bears a strong sonic resemblance to the Electa Amator III, with an emphasized top end but certainly not one that’s bright or fatiguing. This provided copious air and ambiance for closely miked vocals, and it made for a lively, engaging listen. The better news was the big two-way’s bottom end. Compared with the EAIII, which had truly whomping midbass punch, the Maxima Amator so far seems a little more balanced below 100Hz but also exhibits both greater dexterity and greater extension than the stand-mounted model. More impressively, the Maxima Amator loaded up my long living room superbly. Just don’t expect sub-30-cycle output. But virile, well-controlled output diving below 40 cycles? Absolutely.
My full review of Sonus Faber’s newest creation will appear after I have done several more weeks of rabid listening, but one lingering question remained for me to ask Cucuzza. Given that Sonus Faber’s Olympica Nova III, which Jeff Fritz reviewed so positively earlier in the year on SoundStage! Ultra, is priced similarly in the Italian firm’s product stack, who is the Maxima Amator for? Here’s what Cucuzza had to say:
There wasn’t a real commercial discussion about the positioning of the Maxima Amator. It is an evident overlap with some other models of our catalogue, but I’m sure that there are customers who will appreciate its purity, the elegance of the materials, and its classic/modern style more than a “complete” solution like a three-way design.
Having had the Maxima Amator in-house for only a couple of days, I can’t yet cast definitive judgment on this Italian job — expect my review to appear on SoundStage! Ultra on January 15, 2021. But here’s what I will say: like the Electa Amator III before it, the newest addition to Sonus Faber’s Heritage Collection is special. In a sea of generic boxes fashioned from fiberboard, composites, and aluminum, the Maxima Amator stands unashamedly and confidently apart.
Senior Contributor, SoundStage!