Sonus Faber Cremona Auditor - $1,495
Sonus Faber Concertino Domus - $3,900
Primare DVD30 Transport - $4,000
Theta Generation VIII DAC/PreAmp - $10,000
Hovland Radia Amp - $10,000
So we have here two of the three Sonus Faber bookshelves. The Concertino Domus stands as Sonus Faber's attempt to secure the lower end market by positioning a $1500 bookshelf firmly atop all others at its price range by borrowing trickle-down technologies from the famously popular Cremona Auditor. The Concertino Domus is supposedly an improvement over the previous Home series both in looks and in sound, we shall see if this judgement call is justified during this listening session.
On the other hand, we have the Cremona Auditor. A 2-way bookshelf that sits atop much praise and good reviews over the past several years since its introduction. The Auditor is a scaled down interpreter of the Sonus Faber tradition, as all the ads say, a miniaturized version of the Sonus Faber Cremona floorstander. Some listeners may even venture to state that the Auditor is a more precise speaker than even its bigger brother, thereby affording one the opportunity to take it one step further and possibly state that the Auditor is the best speaker in the Cremona range. Arguable, but the basis for such a conclusion is supposedly in the pudding.
This review, however, is not about how the Cremona Auditor stacks against the Cremona floorstander or whether the statements that the Auditor is better than the larger Cremona is founded on some ground. This review is about how the Concertino Domus stacks against the vaunted Cremona Auditor.
The room was a rather medium/large room measuring about 17x17 feet. The room was well treated with bass traps in all corners and diffusors and absorbers in the calculated places along the walls and ceilings taming first reflections and further on. Both speakers were toed-in aggressively and situated in a triangle about 9 feet per side, equilateral in spread.
The tracks used to listen were from Luka Bloom a rather good audiophile recording, tracks 1 and 2 (Cold Comfort and True Blue) were repeatedly used during the review to truly assess the differences between the speakers. The speakers were A/Bed about 6 times throughout the review. Listening time was about 1 hour.
Concertino Domus, review:
Concertino Domus, started the shootout. Seemingly unphased by its larger, heftier, and more celebrated brother, the Concertino Domus began to stretch its legs. As Track 1 played, the guitar began on the right with clarity and a good semblance of coherence. As the vocalist emerged in the center of the soundstage, I noticed that the Concertino Domus displayed a decently focused image. The singer had some palpability and good extension. As the song progressed and the vocalist began to build energy, I began to notice a slight grain to the image. A bit of uncleanliness in the focus, a slight haze over the singer's vocal reproduction... although not harsh in character, the vocal reproduction was not reference caliber, I thought. In addition to the grain, there was a slight sibilance to the image... and a slight hollow echo feel to the vocal image.
Onwards to Track 2, True Blue, a slightly darker feel compared to Cold Comfort (Track 1) was conveyed in much of the same manner as Track 1 was reproduced. The vocals had good heft and decent density, but I could still detect a hint of grain, sibilance, and an echo of sorts. It was not bad at all, mind you, but definitely something to nitpick at when comparing to reference speakers that I've heard. In addition, Track 2 confirmed my suspicions of some minor incoherence with respect to the reproduction of instruments. I could not completely picture the instruments with the ease that I'm accustomed to.
Concertino Domus, overall impression:
Brighter than the Auditor, slight grain and incoherent at times if measured against reference.
Cremona Auditors, review:
Cremona Auditors were next, let's see what over 2.5x the price gets us. Track 1 was displayed with better realism. The Auditors had a better image focus, better density in the vocalist's image, and better sense of instrument placement. The soundstage was more dynamic and rather than being all of compressed dynamic range, the stage's instruments were more free of this constraint that I found to be evident in the Concertino Domus' earlier presentation. Track 2 confirmed my conclusions as it was reproduced with more realism, more meat, more GUSTO, more LIFE. Life, to me, means that the vocalist does not have evident grain nor does it have any distracting triggers like an echo or an overly bright presentation.... more like reality.
Track 2, being a darker song, conveyed an undeniably dense vocal image which, unlike the Concertino Domus, actually projected into the room.. much as a real singer would in real life. This volumetric effect, as I call it, was definitely a key characteristic of the many reference speakers I've heard, and it was in the Auditor's arsenal in spades. In addition, I noted better coherence when it came to positioning instruments as a whole rather than bits of pieces as was portrayed by the Concertino Domus of earlier.
Cremona Auditor, overall impression:
Definitely reference caliber for the most part. Does not have the range of the larger Cremona floorstanders.
This review may, at first, seem like a slam on the Concertino Domus, but that is not my intent. The Concertino Domus, in this review, is held against speakers of reference caliber. I wanted to get a feel for how the Concertino Domus truly stacks up, so I held back no punches. I wanted to see if I could get away with reference caliber music reproduction at nearly 1/3 the price of the Auditor... and the conclusion is simply: no.
There is more to the Auditor than simply meets the eye. There is just more dynamics, more bite, more density to the aural images, more palpability... simply more LIFE to the sound. The two may share the same house sound baseline, but the Auditor is simply a more enhanced and polished version of the Concertino Domus.
More importantly, you're probably wondering about the bottom line... is the Auditor worth the extra cash?
In my opinion, yes.
BUT, there's a caveat... and I will disclose this caveat with my next review: Cremona vs Cremona Auditor (A/B comparison). Stay tuned!