Sonus faber’s new Venere range is largest the company has released in one hit for as long as I can remember. It currently consists of two standmounts, two floorstanders, a centre channel and a surround model, there will also be a bigger model in future. Venere's sound quality, specification, finish and provenance are what put it on the map. These are real Sonus faber loudspeakers, designed in Italy by Sonus faber and (very cleverly) manufactured in China by Sonus faber, keeping the cost of labour low and maximising the efficiency of production without compromise. The standard finish is high gloss white or black, but real wood veneer is also available at a premium. Finding information on the internet about sizes and specifications of the Venere range will not be a problem. Far more important is of course the sound quality and the stunning looks (which have been the subject of a lot of discussion). To me the challenge is listening to the Venere 1.5 and 2.5 and disclosing my findings to you using only words.
It seems appropriate to outline the context, in which the Veneres have been set up. The 1.5 was placed in a rather small listening room where my ears are only a few meters from the diaphragms. The system is very simple and consists of a Naim UnitiQute and cabling from Supra. The UnitiQute was used to play digital music files and radio (through the DAB tuner) and is equipped with a 30 Watt per channel amplifier. I also had the option of connecting the UnitiQute's digital output to a Micromega MyDac in order to drive other amplifiers, in this case a PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium equipped with EL34 or KT120 valves. The regular inhabitants of this smallish listening room are a pair of PMC Twenty.23 floorstanding loudspeakers. I play the same music files in the living room, this time through a NAD M50 network player feeding an Esoteric D-07 D/A converter. The latter is connected with balanced Yter cables to an Audia Flight Strumento No. 1 preamplifier; the 50 Watt Class A power amplifier is from the same brand. The cabling in this set-up is much more expensive and a substantial amount of effort has been taken to clean the mains power. When changing the Audia Flight amplifiers for the PrimaLuna I also change the balanced interconnect between the DAC and the amplifier for a single ended Crystal Cable. The Crystal Cable speaker cables remain the same, like the rest of the set-up. Here the Venere 2.5 replaces a pair of PMC fact.8 speakers.
Venere 1.5 and Naim
The combination of a Naim UnitiQute and the Sonus faber Venere 1.5 demonstrates that a nice sounding music system doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg. I admit, you have to add a NAS with one or more hard drives to the price, but they are very affordable by hi-fi standards. The cabling is kept simple: Supra speaker cable and a Supra mains lead. When I played Melody Gardot over this set-up I was instantly surprised, the second track from My One And Only Thrill ends with sounds surrounding a shouting child. Rarely has this been revealed so clearly. It’s not that important but it shows what the Venere 1.5 can do with the rest of the CD. The third track, Who Will Comfort Me, sounds catchy, rhythmic and swinging thanks in particular to the brass section. It’s a sophisticated and complete sound that doesn’t stick to the speakers and the stereo image is decent although it lacks a little depth. The image is nicely positioned between the speakers allowing you to enjoy the dynamics without the music or the singer's voice being hammered into your head.
The Naim Venere combination is rhythmically very strong which leads to heavy foot-tapping, however, when it comes to the sound of a piano the 1.5 drops a proverbial stitch. The little giant is more interested in presentation, voice, bass and percussion than in the imposing display of a grand piano. This verdict was also valid with Patricia Barber's CD Split. The bass is nice and strong, the percussion provides rhythm, but the grand piano should be bigger. The midrange is strong and draws positive attention to itself, making the music lively and quick. When Pieter Wispelwey plays Johann Sebastian Bach a very beautiful cello sound is projected into the listening room, making the original venue easy to assess. Pieter's audible breathing is part of his concentration. In the Adagio the cello is accompanied by an organ; there can be no doubt that this is a real pipe organ and not an electronic substitute. Due to its diminutive size the 1.5 can't give the cello the body it needs, that’s why the 2.5 was created. A violin solo played by Julia Fisher is again very beautiful with Bach's music, it’s very clean with no annoying edginess in the treble. The silk tweeter sounds like silk, calm and perfectly integrated with the woofer without being overly soft, which would create a dark character. Even at close quarters in my smallish listening room it is impossible to separate the woofer from the tweeter. Bigger scale stuff like Ouverture Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss has a surprising power when the orchestra lets rip, but is still subtle in softer passages. The typical Strauss sound inspired me to conduct my own imaginary orchestra. Luckily there were no witnesses…
Venere 1.5 and PrimaLuna
After the 1.5s had demonstrated their abilities with the UnitiQute they remained in place while the amplifier was exchanged for the tube powered PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium. The UnitiQute was used as a network player with its digital output connected to the Micromega MyDac, so I had exactly the same source (NAS) at my disposal. The cabling remained almost the same although I added a Stereovox digital interconnect and a Crystal Cable analogue interconnect to the PrimaLuna. Considering the Venere's six Ohm impedance I chose the PrimaLuna's 4 Ohm connection and before listening I gave the amplifier’s EL34 valves a 30 minute warm-up. With the Fledermaus this amplifier made a significant difference, for a start the spatial reproduction expanded and became three times bigger. The intensity of the impact and attack from the orchestra doubled and at the same time the subtlety and micro dynamics increased. It sounded as if the orchestra had twice as many musicians, all holding their breath in the soft passages. The music still escaped the speakers, the midrange was a little less heavy and the pressure in the bass increased without significantly altering the treble, which means that the overall picture remained neutral. Still, as the saying goes, the leopard doesn't change its spots and this applies to the Venere 1.5. The portrayal of the grand piano on the Patricia Barber CD was no different to my earlier observations. I would like it to have more body, more acoustic enclosure. The key-strokes are a little more intense and a little closer to the listener. If the 1.5s showed their smooth side when driven by the UnitiQute the PrimaLuna brought out a different aspect of their character. I think this is mainly due to the increase in power, although we should not forget the change in D/A converter, that certainly leaves its mark on the sound. The title song of Paper Airplane by Alison Krauss & Union Station is a nice track, the dynamics on this high resolution download are so big that in my smallish listening room I needed to reduce the volume in order to avoid being blown away. The Sonus fabers deal with increases in volume as easily as a dog chases a sausage. Allan Taylor's The Beat Hotel offers a lot of detail, deep bass and a stereo image that stands out especially in width and height. The bass was by far the most impressive aspect of this set-up and was unexpectedly powerful. One would never expect the 1.5, a neutrally voiced speaker, to go this low in the bass with its single small woofer. Taylor is perfectly intelligible although this is partly a result of attenuating a part of the frequency range that could have given more body to a grand piano. I had trouble remaining aware of the modest price-tag on these speakers, in many areas they perform so well that a small unevenness is immediately conspicuous. I needed to ground myself with a relaxed piece of Sunday music, Foreplay by Fourplay did the trick. With this the percussion is always present and tight, giving the music its rhythm; the bass is discreet and well defined and the lovely guitar cuts through the air. A set of KT120 valves was lingering on the shelf waiting to be inserted in the DiaLogue but I left the amplifier as it was and enjoyed the Venere 1.5 as Herman van Veen sang Anne. Believe me, listening to music is much more enjoyable than tube rolling!
Venere 2.5 and Audia Flight
Having lived with two types of Sonus faber Venere in two different listening rooms it was time to share my experiences with the floorstanding Venere 2.5 driven by my Audia Flight amplifiers. First up I played Avratz by Infected Mushroom which takes on both woofers of the 2.5. Compared to the 1.5 it's clear that much more bass is added, not in a quantitative way but in terms of quality, it naturally goes down lower in the bass. The presentation is rather kind, while other loudspeakers hammer the sound towards the listener the 2.5 has a more composed character. The sound escapes from the cabinets in a remarkable way, especially the bass which spreads out over the entire room. The midrange is not conspicuous, nor is the treble and the reproduction emphasises the 'warm' area. This doesn't harm voices as Entre Autre Pas En Traitre, a CD we found in a French supermarket by Isabelle Adjani, demonstrated. Her husky voice is not powerful but the 2.5 gives her all the attention she deserves, the orchestra seems to hold back so that the soloist gets the space she needs. Let me set two extremes against each other: My Funny Valentine, first by Ingram Washington then followed by a Rachelle Ferrell live performance. In Washington's version the voice is again very beautifully portrayed in a natural way, the bass is not too intense, the piano sounds good and the sizzling cymbals of the percussion remain modest. I would like a little more treble, even in a relatively undamped listening room. Let's switch to Rachelle who puts more fireworks into this song. The piano has more emphasis but remains separate from Ferrell's voice, leaving the lady to claim all attention. While the 1.5 doesn’t offer a sparkling reproduction of grand piano the 2.5 can do the job rather better. The double bass also has more body, it's not just the string in front of the acoustic body. The percussion remains modest and in the background. I went on to try a different amplifier to liven things up but on that occasion I enjoyed a composed sound that lent itself to classical music like Debussy performed by Janine Jansen. The violin sounds beautiful through the Sonus faber. Transparent, pure, lovely and alternating between dominant and gentle. In a work by Britten these extremes come together very nicely. A large orchestra presents no problems and the playback never sounds dense or silted up, the orchestra is placed between the speakers and doesn't come towards the listener while the solo violinist is placed in front. The distinction between orchestra and soloist is translated remarkably well.
Venere 2.5 and PrimaLuna
The Audia Flight amplifiers are a little bit over the top for the Venere 2.5 so I tried an amplifier with a more appropriate price-tag. In order to accommodate the twin woofers of the 2.5 and the bigger listening room I exchanged the EL34 valves on the DiaLogue Premier for Tungsol KT120 valves that really boost its performance to a higher level. I got back to Avratz and was instantly amazed by how well the matched the Venere 2.5 and DiaLogue Premier are. There is a small sacrifice in the lowest region but a substantial gain in liveliness and power in the low midrange. The treble was more distinct but didn't dominate. As always it's astonishing that 50 solid state class A Watts seem to have less impact than 40 valve Watts. What made Avratz sound great necessarily effects the Theme from Shaft by Isaac Hayes. While the Audia Flight combination sounded controlled and meticulous, the PrimaLuna displays a raw character that works very well with the rather discreet 2.5. Shaft sparkles and shines with lots of percussion, brass, pitching bass and some vocals. Jane Monheit is a lot of fun too with A Shine On Your Shoes from her CD Home, again it sounds a little more raw than the Audias but still has that delicious swing and her clear and powerful voice. Drums and percussion get more attention. The natural midrange is there and the singer is placed in front of the band instead of being subsumed in the whole. The next track is more quiet and lovely, its softness is preserved beautifully with this combination and I get to admire every twist and turn in her voice. It didn't go unnoticed that the stereo image is less deep and that the PrimaLuna struggles a little to let the music break free from the speakers. The sound is drawn more towards or into the speakers with a narrower stereo image. It makes the reproduction more immediate and of course it's a matter of taste: more directness or a more diffuse sound. Jan Garbarek's Officium is well suited to assess spaciousness, it's very beautiful but not everyday music (please!). It's free-floating and it seems as if I'm looking into the space that the saxophone is heading for while the choir is placed toward the back of the picture. Quickly I switch to a completely different kind of saxophonist with a completely different cast and ambience. Jim Tomlinson made The Lyric together with his wife Stacey Kent and it's a well-made recording. Through the 2.5 this CD lives up to its promise, revealing a tuneful sax with a lot of breathy noises, nothing is disguised. Again the performers are conveyed into the listening room with lively percussion, an obvious bass-line that's easy to follow and a stern piano.
It's not easy to outline my experience with the Sonus faber Venere 1.5 and 2.5 over the past few weeks in a few words. To start with the latter, visitors could hardly believe that Sonus faber has managed to make a floorstanding loudspeaker with such a beautiful fit and finish at this price. The white finish was not to everybody's liking but luckily for them a wood-veneer finish will be available. I think that the 2.5 offers the greatest visual value of the two. The 1.5 looks much more modest, it sits high on its stand and is rather narrow, which makes it look delicate. There are essential differences between the two, the 1.5 is the sort of monitor that I would put in a smallish room, it sounds very transparent and clear and can produce decent bass but overall it sounds rather lean. Playback is quick, lively and thick with detail. The 2.5 is the most appropriate speaker for a larger room, it's a little less light-hearted and a little darker, it goes lower in the bass but can't match the best in this respect. The treble requires a relatively bright sounding amplifier in order to avoid sounding dark.
All in all the 1.5 and 2.5 are very attractive loudspeakers, especially the 2.5 which has a very nice price-tag. At the same time one must realize that a Venere can't be compared with a 'classic' Sonus faber costing thousands of Euros. On the other hand, you now have the opportunity to buy a real Sonus faber at a very affordable price.
Tweeter: 29mm precoated fabric dome
Mid-woofer: 150mm Curv cone
Crossover point: 2kHz
Sensitivity (2.83V/1m): 85dB SPL
Nominal impedance: 6 Ohm
Dimensions HxWxD: 394 x 206 x 300mm (15.5 x 8 x 12 inches)
Weight: 6kg (13.2lbs)
Tweeter: 29mm precoated fabric dome
Mid-woofer: 180mm Curv cone
Woofer: 180mm Curv cone
crossover point: 2kHz
Sensitivity (2.83V/1m): 89dB SPL
Nominal impedance: 6 Ohm
Dimensions HxWxD: 1107 x 340 x 437mm (43.5 x 13.4 x 17.2 inches)
Weight: 19.45kg (29.6lbs)