Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) is an annual event that is focused primarily on custom-installation (CI) audio/video systems (i.e., in-wall, on-wall, and in-ceiling speakers, as well as home-automation electronics and video displays, etc.), with this year’s show held from February 5 to 8 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It was there on the second day of ISE 2019 that I met and interviewed Livio Cucuzza, who holds the title of chief design officer at Sonus Faber, the Italy-based manufacturer well known for creating speakers that look every bit as good as they sound. We talked about the launch of the new Palladio custom-installation speakers -- Sonus Faber’s first major foray into this market.
Dean Hartley: This appears to be the first time for Sonus Faber to exhibit at ISE. Was this to specifically launch the new Palladio series?
Livio Cucuzza: Yes, I have visited ISE twice before and always felt the good mood and the spirit of the show. But until now, we didn’t have the right product to exhibit.
DH: How many products are in the lineup? There seem to be quite a few for a first launch into this sector.
LC: Yes, there are quite a few models at the launch because we know that to enter this market, you need to have a good offering. Normally, at an audio show, we talk with end customers or distributors, but here we are talking with custom installers. The installers need flexible solutions, and it was a big effort for the engineering team to create almost 20 models in such a short time. We didn’t want to just create another custom-installation product; we wanted it to be the Sonus Faber way to do custom installation. Knowing our ingredients and our story, it wasn’t so easy to put all those special things into this package.
DH: We know that the custom market traditionally prefers to cover up the drivers and have an almost “invisible” look, but I couldn’t help but notice quite a few models in the range have a visually striking appearance. This appears to be a very intentional move away from the norm. What was the main inspiration for the design ID?
LC: Going back in history, the concept of Sonus Faber was to create speakers that you don’t need to hide. Thirty-five years ago, founder Franco Serblin had the idea to create beautiful speakers that you could proudly show in your living room, so we are just following the same vision. The Palladio speakers still have white paintable grilles, but under the grilles you can have something to show. So if the customer likes to show the product, we are proud to show our technology, our drivers, our way to present the product. Everyone may have asked for invisible, but maybe because they don’t know they can have a beautiful product to show.
DH: What did you set out to achieve with the overall acoustic and system design? Was there anything specific, and was the intention for the new lines to match your home audio speakers?
L.C: The story was exactly to match the home audio lines in terms of acoustics. The new Palladio Level 5 series matches with our Sonetto speakers, and Level 6 matches with our Olympica models. The drivers are, of course, different, because they have different parameters and design to complement the box sizes of the new lines. But the materials are the same; the diaphragms all come from the same suppliers as our home-audio speakers. So the approach and the philosophy are the same -- they are just optimized to be used in in-wall or in-ceiling locations.
DH: Are there any special considerations, and have there been any specific challenges you had to overcome in transferring your knowledge from home-audio design to custom installation? Did you really have to rethink your ideas?
LC: It is more of a psychological shift to get everyone in the company to change from what we know to something different. As designers, we are excited to do something new, a new challenge. But I can say that we didn’t experience any problems in the design process, and it progressed very smoothly.
DH: This being Sonus Faber’s first entry into this area of the market, did you conduct any feedback study before setting out to design the new products?
LC: Yes, we produced a document around two years ago that was a combination of information and experiences from our dealers to create our own vision of what the most important sizes and features should be. Our home-audio customers have a real passion; they are buying into something usually from the heart and without any rules. In this case, there are a lot more specific architectural issues and requests to consider. So you can’t do exactly what you want, and the design process must be a bit more guided by feedback.
DH: There appear to be two- and three-way versions in the new product lines. Can you tell me a little about the system configurations?
LC: The Level 6, specifically the in-wall, is designed to match the Olympica series, which is known for its very accurate midrange. It was too difficult to achieve for Paolo Tezzon, our acoustical designer, only using a two-way design. So in the Level 6 we have a much more complicated architecture to ensure the performance will be the same as the Olympica.
DH: It looks like you have used some very heavy-duty materials, such as the die-cast, metal dog-leg fixings. Is there a clear distinction between the lines in terms of material qualities?
LC: Yes, we wanted to use mostly wood and metal where we could for the Level 6. In the Level 5, we clearly had to make some small compromises and opted for ABS mouldings.
DH: Even though you’ve just launched almost 20 new models, is it your intention to have a longer roadmap into custom installation?
LC: Yes, this is our first step into the custom-install area, and we intend to go a lot further. This show will provide a lot of feedback on the potential of the market. So, yes, we are ready to expand the line. We really believe that we must stay open, and we understand customers are changing their needs, so we will address custom-installation speakers with our Sonus Faber way. In today’s life, more people are listening to music than in the past, so the customers are there, we just need the right products to suit a changing requirement.
DH.: Thank you, Livio!
LC.: And thank you.