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Small speakers don't reproduce low bass. It's so obvious that I won't go there. Even if they seem to reproduce low frequencies, it’s just their higher harmonics and not the actual acoustic pressure below say 50-60Hz. One listen to large floorstanders which easily cover this range is enough to never question this again. However how small speakers hint at the low frequencies beyond their ken is a different matter altogether. I will come back to that.

Sonus faber speakers and their monitors in particular are known for smooth sound. By that I mean the ability to show musical events as though there weren't miles of wire, electronics and often many years of distance between performer and listener. Figuratively speaking the Italian speakers always acted as a kind of intelligent sophisticated filter. They were something of a search engine algorithm that weeded out informational noise from the data which interested us. In this case the focus was always on the music, not its technical attributes.

With this latest crop designed by the Serblin heirs—and to some extent his followers whence pursuing the founder's vision becomes the highest form of homage—have gone a somewhat different direction. Clearer, more accurate and analytical, they view the world with contemporary disillusionment. As we heard at a Krakow Sonic Society meeting, a combination of old and new in the best designs like the Guarneri Evolution opens up new possibilities for the current engineers of this legendary brand. Much smaller than the Sonus faber flagship monitors, the Olympica I exhibit similar voicing minus obvious scale, dynamics, and bass extension. These limitations naturally modify their sound. Within these limits however they have attained to a place where that can be easily forgotten.

One is dealing here thus with an extremely consistent coherent sound. What for years was so impressive about the original Guarneri Homage has to a large extent if not almost completely been repeated. In the context of this brand it would be trivial to write about well-matched drivers. Most Sonus fabers sound like one driver, with tiny modifications of dynamics and edge definition in the range where one driver passes the baton to the other. These transitional wrinkles are smaller in monitors than floorstanders. The Olympica I is no exception and for the first time in the company's history also benefits from drivers which were designed completely in-house.

This gives us a foretaste of what one can expect from a bigger Guarneri Evolution or my even bigger Harbeth M40.1. The sound is holographic and 3D. While that level of imaging is often attributed solely to monitors and explained by lower cabinet talk and narrower baffles, I think that misses the point. This detachment of the sound from the boxes occurs just as often if not more so with good floorstanders. The huge flagship Harbeths with their very wide baffle do it flawlessly. In my opinion the ability to draw 3D images relies primarily on proper phase integration between drivers, their quality and the associated quality of the filter parts. If these conditions are met, we get what the new Sonus fabers offer too: excellent space, great air and imaging with no artificial inflation.

Image localization is very natural in the sense of good selectivity and determination of placement without pinpointing the last millimeter. At least in this respect there is some freedom to the presentation similar to a live concert. Recorded in natural church acoustics, the renaissance music of Morales en Toledo and Gesualdo de Venos conveyed itself with precision without being hyper analytical. These recordings clearly attempt to cast images more selectively than live to compensate for the lack of sight whilst listening at home. On the other hand accurately portrayed venue acoustics added some overall breath to make this less in my face.

Studio recordings like Chet Baker and Art Pepper’s The Route or Alison Moyet’s The Minutes exhibit a much more direct tangible sound and the Olympica showed it that way exactly. Momentum and soundstage scale remained unchanged but what became more important were perfect consistency and smoothness. The above recordings are 57 years apart. This was immediately shown by how images and integrity between instruments were managed. Sonus faber’s tendency to combine everything into a logical context reflected in coherence. The result was not a set of juxtaposed sounds but their internal composition.

It would seem to be an obvious goal intrinsic to all of hifi but it’s not entirely the case. The Italians build presentations as though they directed the performances. Naturally that's an illusion. The actual director was on the far side of the chain, in the recording studio. Even so I couldn’t help my impression of the speakers being the actual driving force. The point is that playing any track we obtain something emotional and aesthetic. The tracks happen anew each time according to their own internal rules, developing and creating tension between our expectations and that of the music. Before we get too poetic, it’s possible to indicate various elements which create this impression. Aside from coherence the most important in my opinion is dynamic freedom and excellent color.