Che sorpresa! There I was expecting delivery of a pair of small, bookshelf loud-speakers and the courier made me sign for two outrageously large cartons, both of which were so heavy that I had to get a trolley to move them off the stoop. How on earth could either of these cartons contain a pair of small bookshelf loudspeakers? Read our Sonus Faber Electa Amator III Review
Once inside, I opened the smaller of the two cartons first, which revealed the Sonus faber Electa Amator III loudspeakers I had been expecting. So what could possibly be in the larger box? Had the distributor also sent me a second, larger pair of loudspeakers to evaluate? A few moments with a box-cutter revealed that the larger carton contained a pair of stands — stands that I later discovered were designed specifically for use with the Electa Amator IIIs.
Originally released in 2018 at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fair (where they picked up a ‘Best of RMAF’ award), the Electa Amator IIIs were designed to commemorate Sonus faber’s 35th anniversary, because despite all the loudspeakers the company has built since that time, it is on record as stating that it was the original Electa Amator (released 1987) and Electa Amator II (released 1997) that contributed most to the company’s international success, and that this new ‘small but precious speaker’ inherits characteristics from both those models.
Sonus faber was founded by the late Italian loudspeaker pioneer Gianfranco ‘Franco’ Serblin. He sold the company and retired in 2006, but then came out of retirement in 2010 to start a new company bearing his own name, producing two famous eponymous designs, the Accordo and Ktema, before he died in 2013. Sonus faber is now under the control of The McIntosh Group (formerly Fine Sounds Group), which also has the high-end audio brands McIntosh and Sumiko Audio in its portfolio.
Even a casual glance will show that this new model is made firmly in the mould of the two previous generations of Electa Amators:
put simply, this third generation model is also a compact, two-way, stand-mount, bass-reflex design… just like the two that preceded it.
The tweeter in the Amator III is the same H28 XTR-04 DAD soft-dome type that is used in the company’s top-end Homage Tradition and Reference models. That ’28’ in the model number indicates that the tweeter is 28mm in diameter, while the DAD stands for ‘Damped Apex Dome’. What’s DAD I hear you ask? When a soft dome moves forward (after first having moved backwards), the highest point
of the dome (which Sonus faber refers to as the ‘apex’) tends to ‘crumple’ inwards due to air pressure. This means that the movement of that particular bit of dome fabric is not only non-linear, but also out of phase, which causes the high frequencies to roll off prematurely. Sonus faber’s solution was to add what they call ‘local dampening’ via a small bridge across the dome, at the centre of which is a
backwards-facing cone. This structure is quite visible on all Sonus faber tweeters incorporating DAD technology.
Sonus faber says that the 180mm-diameter bass/midrange driver in the Electa Amator III (part number MW18XTR-04) was designed specifically for it and — at least so far — has not been used in any other Sonus faber model… or at least not to my knowledge. The driver’s cone, however, is made of the same materials that feature in many other of the cones used in Sonus faber speakers, being made of a blend of cellulose pulp, kapok, kenaf and other natural fibres.
During the production process this cone is air-dried in real-time, rather than being force-dried using a heat-fan, a technique that is said to optimise rigidity, reduce mass and minimise the cone’s resonance behaviours. (And should you be wondering what kenaf is, its botanical name is hibiscus cannabinus, which should give you a very good clue about this particular ingredient. As for kapok, it’s a fine, fibrous substance rather like cotton that grows around the seeds of the ceiba pentandra tree.)
The MW18XTR-04’s cone is terminated by a standard half-roll profile rubber suspension surround which in turn connects to the basket, which is made from cast aluminium. Sonus faber says it designed the motor system ‘to ensure high excursion with low
I loved the Sonus faber Amator IIIs for so many reasons. You’ll fall in love with them too!
distortion in order to maximise dynamics.’ The crossover network has a nominal crossover frequency of 2.5kHz and is said to use very high-quality components, including ClarityCap capacitors and Jantzen inductors… though I wasn’t about to pull the cabinet apart to confirm this. Connection to the speaker is made via two pairs of rather beautifully made multi-way speaker terminals that are shaped to make connection and tightening processes easy.
As stated earlier-on in this review, the Electa Amator III is a bass-reflex design. The bass reflex port is located on the rear panel, above the terminal plate. It’s 185mm in length, 68mm in diameter and made from thick plastic, making it rather larger than I’d have expected for a cabinet of this volume. It’s also flared at both ends to reduce the possibility of chuffing or other port noises. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of speaker fill inside the cabinet, because if you look in through the port you are able to see the unusual shape of the H28 XTR-04 DAD tweeter’s motor assembly.
Whereas most loudspeakers that are made of wood are made of a manufactured wood (usually MDF, HDF or ply) that’s then finished with either a plastic or wood veneer (or painted—usually with a high- gloss varnish), the cabinet of the Sonus faber Electa Amator III’s cabinet is crafted from solid slabs of 25mm-thick walnut that are left as bare wood on the top and sides of the cabinet but covered with soft leather on the baffle and rear panel. At the base of the cabinet is a 30mm-thick slab of Carrera marble which is the build element that contributes most to each speaker’s back-bending weight of 14.6kg. The overall effect of this combination of pricey materials is very classy — there are very few loudspeakers that convey such an aura of luxury.
Whereas in some countries the Electa Amator III’s are sold without stands, which brings the overall price down quite substantially, Sonus faber’s Australian distributor has elected to bundle the stands with the speakers. So if you are comparing prices on the internet, make sure that the prices you’re comparing are ones that include the stands, or you won’t be comparing like with like. (By way of example, in the UK, where the speakers are sold without stands, and the stands are instead listed as an optional extra, those stands retail for £1,495, or around $2,850 at the current exchange rate.)
At 11.2kg each these stands are very nearly as heavy as the speakers since the supports are metal and the base is made from the same Carerra marble used at the base of the speaker cabinets.
The stand itself is 720mm high, which puts the tweeters exactly ear-height above floor level… though some further height adjustment is possible thanks to the provision of four spikes underneath the base of the stands.
IN USE AND LISTENING SESSIONS
You won’t have to work too hard to get great sound from the Sonus faber Electa Amator IIIs. Just do what I did and place them out into the room and away from the side walls, and just a bit angled-in towards the listening position. In most rooms this should give a wide-open sound stage that’s nicely layered while still delivering reasonably balanced tonality, but if your particular room is a difficult one, you’ll have to find the best position by trial and error.
However, listening to Arvo Part’s Tabula Rasa while running the speakers in, they initially seemed a little bright in the upper treble, which I quickly cured by re-angling the speakers so the tweeter paths didn’t converge just in front of the listening position, but instead converged just a little bit behind it, the result being hugely rewarding and beautifully-detailed high-frequency sound without the brightness I’d noted before, yet at the same time with the high frequencies extended enough to take them up beyond the upper limits of human hearing. The quality and refinement of Sonus faber’s unique damped apex dome tweeter meant that this difficult recording never sounded aggressive, as it sometimes can when reproduced by tweeters whose high-frequency resonances are not so well-controlled as they are here.
When I started listening to music that tested the Sonus faber Electa Amator IIIs’ midrange, these little speakers delivered exceptional expression and articulation, to the point that with well-recorded tracks, they sounded totally magical, the magic being enhanced by the dynamic capabilities on show, so long as replay volume was kept at a socially acceptable level. And keeping the volume restrained was difficult, because the overall sound is so clean and balanced that I was constantly winding up the volume too far, and unfairly asking more of these small speakers than they were able to deliver. However, whenever I did this, they warned me gracefully by responding with mild confusion on the peaks, rather than with noticeable distortion.
The Electa Amator IIIs are those rare small speakers that can really bring the excitement and emotion in music to the fore, and most particularly when it comes to their ability to bring the best out of vocals. Listening to Melody Gardot’s ‘The Absence’, the Sonus faber Electa Amator IIIs delivered the album’s sumptuous production and complex rhythms with jaw-dropping finesse, reproducing Gardot’s rich tonality brilliantly, injecting levels of expression and layers of nuance that were as good as anything I have heard at this level.
Maybe they’re not the last word in rhythmic precision or outright drive, but I can’t recall comparable speakers that track changes of intensity through the mid-frequencies with as much skill or enthusiasm.
They can also reveal sonic complexities like few other speakers, as I proved to myself listening to Yves Tumor’s ‘Heaven To A Tortured Mind’. The stuttering intro to opener Gospel for a New Century actually has a lot going to make it the tour de force it is, but most speakers just skate over the top, whereas the Amator IIIs reveal everything with crystalline clarity, which serves to accentuate the sonic shock as the track turns into Medicine Burn.
Low frequencies are another strength. These are fairly compact speakers so they’re never going to produce the kind of bass that makes furniture rattle, but this doesn’t stop them from sounding impressively authoritative or from delivering bass frequencies with palpable punch and muscle. Pleasingly, low-end agility goes hand-in-hand with this brawn, such that the resulting sound is both articulate and tuneful.
By way of example 1 wasn’t expecting to feel the real impact of those lovely deep bass lines on HTATM’s Identity Trade, but the Amator IIIs surprised me by doing a great job. If you’re cherry-picking tracks from this album, make sure you don’t miss hearing Kerosene, which features Diana Gordon, and then make sure you don’t miss the fabulous music video of it. Stupendously good!
Which is not to say that the low-frequency delivery of the Amator IIIs is ideal for all musical genres.
If you listen to music that requires aggression to work (i.e. if your music collection is packed full of hardcore hip-hop or metal), or on the classical side, you’re into pipe organ recitals, then you’re likely to find the Electa Amator IIIs a little too bass-light and just a touch too polished and polite for your tastes. They don’t quite have that ultimate degree of bite such music demands.
In common with the very best small, high-quality two-way designs, the sound-staging abilities of the Electa Ama- tor IIIs are outstandingly good, such that if you close your eyes whilst you’re listening to them you’ll find it impossible to locate where the speakers are within it yet at the same time the stereo imaging is so precise that you’ll hear all the instruments totally locked in position and remaining positionally stable no matter what the musical demands of the music that’s playing.
Sonus faber’s engineers steered a very clever path when they created the Amator III’s sonic signature. It is undeniably Italian and the sonic DNA of the Sonus faber ‘family’ is writ large across it, yet it’s at once accurate without having the ultra-neutral delivery of a studio monitor while at the same time muscular and full-bodied without straying into the realms of overt colouration. Granted you do need to partner them with suitably-talented electronics, and with an amplifier which has sufficient free-flowing power on tap in order to extract the full dynamism of which they’re capable, but this is no more than would be asked of almost any loudspeaker in the same orbit.
I loved the Sonus faber Amator IIIs for so many reasons, including their size, their heritage, their appearance, their sound-staging, their imaging and of course last, but far from least, their amazing and quite charming sonic qualities. Have a listen and 1 think you’ll fall in love with them too.
William H. Fisher
LAB TEST ON PAGE 22
Brand: Sonus faber Model: Electa Amator III
Warranty: Five Years
Distributor: Synergy Audio Visual Address: 107 Northern Road Heidelberg Heights, VIC 3081 T: (03) 9459 7474
Soundstaging, imaging Superior finishes Layers of nuance
Bundled stands increase cost
Readers interested in a full technical appraisal of the performance of the Sonus faber Electa Amator III Loudspeakers should continue on and read the LABORATORY REPORT published on the following pages. Readers should note that the results mentioned in the report, tabulated in performance charts and/or displayed using graphs and/or photographs should be construed as applying only to the specific sample tested.
Newport Test Labs reported that as a result of its extensive objective testing, it would put the frequency response of the Sonus faber Electa Amator III loudspeakers as 59Hz to 32kHz ±3dB, which is an excellent result both in terms of overall linearity and extension at both ends of the audio spectrum.
The frequency response depicted in Graph 1 is a composite, where the low-frequency in-room response (from Graph 5) has been spliced (at 600Hz) to the gated (anechoic) high-frequency response (Graph 2) and you can see that it essentially shows that estimation of 49Hz to 32kHz ±3dB. It also shows that although the response is within ±3dB of reference, it’s not particularly flat across this entire frequency range. You can see, for example, that after a slight boost in response from 300Hz to 700Hz, the response then moves down from a nominal 89dBSPL to 85dBSPL at 2.5kHz, then rises again above 90dBSPL at 15kHz after which it climbs a little higher before rolling off to be -3dB at 32kHz.
The Electa Amator IIIs are those rare small speakers that can really bring the excitement and emotion in music to the fore
Graph 2 shows a high-res snapshot of the Electa Amator III’s high-frequency response using a gated measurement technique that simulates the results that would be obtained had the loudspeaker been measured in an anechoic chamber. Again, you can see that 4dB decline in the response from 700Hz to 2.5kHz.
Graph 3 shows the low-frequency response of the Electa Amator III in greater detail, using a near-field technique that eliminates room effects and therefore also simulates the frequency response that would be obtained in an anechoic chamber.
It also allows identification of the individual contributions of the low-frequency driver and the bass reflex port. You can see that the output of the bass/midrange driver rolls off quite steeply below 100Hz to a minima at 54Hz. The output of the port is unusually broad and its peak is not where I’d expect, but somewhat higher, at around 60-70HZ. This tuning allows Sonus faber’s designers to extract more bass from the Amator III than you’d expect.
Graph 1: Frequency response. Trace below 600Hz is the averaged result of nine individual frequency sweeps measured at three metres, with the central grid point on-axis with the tweeter using pink noise test stimulus with capture unsmoothed. This has been manually spliced (at 600Hz) to the gated high-frequency response, an expanded view of which is shown in Graph 2.
Graph 2: High-frequency response, expanded view. Test stimulus gated sine. Microphone placed at three metres on-axis with dome tweeter. Lower measurement limit 600Hz.
Graph 3: Low frequency response of front-firing bass reflex port (red trace) and woofer. Nearfield acquisition. Port/ woofer levels not compensated for differences in radiating areas.
Graph 4: Impedance modulus (red trace) and phase (blue trace) with high-pass (pink) and low pass (green) crossover sections.
Graph 4 shows the impedance modulus of the Electa Amator III measured by Newport Test Labs and you can immediately see that it dips below 4ÍÌ from around 130Hz to nearly 600Hz, and sits steadily at around 3.6ÍÌ from 200Hz to 300Hz, which is, musically-speaking, a fairly busy section of the audio spectrum. Sonus faber’s specification puts the ‘nominal’ impedance of the Amator III at 4ÍÌ, which it’s entitled to do according to the
Graph 5: Averaged in-room frequency response using pink noise test stimulus.
European standard that covers this measurement parameter (IEC 60268-5), because the difference is within 20 per cent. The low impedance at this frequency does mean however, that you should most certainly use an amplifier that is rated to drive 4Q loads — and preferably is stable into 2ÍÌ loads.
You can see on the impedance modulus that there’s a cabinet resonance at around 350Hz and that the electrical crossover frequency (where the high-pass and low-pass traces cross) is at 2.1kHz.
You can further see that the ‘saddle’ between the two low-frequency resonant peaks that are inherent in all bass-reflex designs is at 54Hz, which means that you should not expect any substantial low-frequency output below this frequency, thereby making Sonus faber’s low-frequency-response specification of 40Hz seem a little optimistic.
Graph 5 shows the in-room response of the Sonus Faber Electa Amator III, this time using averaged pink-noise smoothed to one-third octave. This test essentially tells us the frequency response the human ear will perceive when the speakers are properly positioned in a typical listening room. You can see that the response is far more linear overall, with the most important difference being that that ‘dip’ at around 2kHz is almost completely ameliorated. (The seeming ‘extension’ in the high-frequency response above 32kHz is an artefact of the third-octave smoothing, and should be ignored.)
Graph 6 is a composite that essentially shows the ‘fit’ of the various different measurements made on the Electa Amator III across the various different measurement techniques. However, the extended frequency range enabled for the low-frequency
Graph 6: Composite response plot. Red trace is output of bass reflex port. Dark blue trace is anechoic response of bass driver. Green trace is in-room response averaged. Black trace is gated (simulated anechoic) response above 600Hz.
measurements shows that the bass reflex port has quite a lot of unwanted output between 500Hz and 850Hz, reaching its peak at 760Hz, which seems to correspond with the slight rise previously noted in the on-axis response.
Newport Test Lubs’efficiency measurements placed the sensitivity of the Sonus faber Electa Amator III design at 86.5dBSPL for 2.83V(eq) at a distance of one metre, under the laboratory’s usual test conditions.
This result is 1.5dB lower than Sonus faber’s specification, but it’s about exactly what I’d expect for speaker with the Amator III’s cabinet type, volume and bass/midrange driver size.
Sonus faber’s designers have balanced the high and low-frequency extension of the Electa Amator III with its midrange linearity and efficiency to deliver a very high-performance stand-mount/bookshelf loudspeaker.