The jaded among us will tell you that being an audiophile is mostly about “playing” with expensive audio equipment. I’m here to tell you—and my experiences with Sonus Faber’s Maxima Amator have strongly reinforced this notion—that being an audiophile is mostly an ongoing journey of discovery.
Discovery of music. Discovery of sound. And discovery of self.
Many of my regrets are from jumping to certainty about that which I was only beginning to understand.
A weakness of mine as a reviewer is that I typically gravitate toward the same types of gear over and over. If it’s an amplifier, it’s big and solid state. If it’s a source component, it’s high-resolution digital and it can drive an amp directly. And if it’s a speaker, it’s a non-resonant cabinet housing at least four or five drive units. This weakness—or bias, if you prefer—can manifest itself in a variety of ways, none more destructive to the reviewing process than in the selection of gear. We all have biases—but sometimes, if the stars align just right, they can be subdued.
The cool thing is that just listening to music can be the tool to overcome these biases.
And therein lies the story of my time with my pair of Sonus Faber Maxima Amator loudspeakers.
You know this speaker by now. I’ve written two articles about it: “Material Obsession: Sonus Faber’s Maxima Amator” and “Sonus Faber’s Maxima Amator: Setting Up.” The Maxima Amator is a two-driver, two-way speaker of modest proportions. At 44.1″H × 11.8″W × 13.8″D and 83.7 pounds, it is not the speaker you’d expect to be inhabiting my listening room. (I’ve owned Rockport Technology’s Arrakis and Magico’s Q7, after all.) My experience with this svelte Italian floorstander has proven to be a powerful example of why we must choose listening as the final arbiter of a product’s true quality: I’ve been taught and retaught this truism, so hopefully, it will inform my audiophile worldview from here forward.
Specifically, no lesson I’ve recently (re)learned is more important than this: It’s not about how much bass, midrange, and treble a speaker can pump out. It’s about the relative levels of those frequency ranges in relationship to each other. Those relationships, which determine what we call the tonal balance, will determine whether you enjoy listening to music through your system or not. It’s just that simple.
Perfect tonal balance
In my first listening session with the Maxima Amators in my system, I cued up Random Access Memories (24-bit/88.2kHz FLAC, Columbia/Qobuz), the fourth studio album from the French electronic-music duo Daft Punk. I cued up the monster hit “Get Lucky” and cranked up the volume well past the background levels I’d had the system warming up at. Instantly, I sat up tall in my seat, paying rapt attention to what I was hearing. How were the bass and midbass so satisfyingly weighty? I mean, these speakers have only one 7″ driver each. I thought speakers needed at least a couple or three eights to do decent bass. But there it was: a satisfying physicality to the speakers’ low-frequency reproduction that hit my ears just right. As I listened to this track and others, I nodded my approval at how the bass was perfectly balanced to the mids and highs. This created a feeling of internal calm—all was right in my audio system. I didn’t need more or less of anything. There was no hindrance to my enjoyment of my music.
I had a similar experience listening to Enya’s 1988 album, Watermark (16/44.1 FLAC, WEA/Qobuz). “Storms in Africa” begins with an underlying bassline that serves as a foundation for the massive soundstage that ensues. Not only did the Maxima Amators reproduce this foundation to a surprising degree, but they then cast above it a wide, deep soundstage that engulfed me as a listener. The sound was so satisfying that I almost couldn’t believe I was listening to a pair of two-driver loudspeakers. This experience and others like it over the course of a couple of months served to whittle away my biases against smaller speakers, reminding me why we can’t just look at specs or measurements or materials and derive what the product will sound like. The truth can be found in the listening, and that is where the Sonus Faber Maxima Amators shone like few other speakers in my experience. Listening to Enya, I absolutely loved the clear yet tonally dense midrange and, specifically, the way the mids melted into the highs without any hint of stridency. The bass never muddied the mids, and the highs only struck an ideal balance of sparkle and atmosphere.
The Record Company’s third album, Play Loud (24/48 FLAC, Concord/Qobuz), dropped on October 8, the day before I wrote this article. When I played the first track, “Never Leave You,” I cranked up the volume past what I normally listen at, and man did this song boogie over the Maxima Amators. The guitars had enough edge and pop to sound live, the bass was dense and weighty, and the highs were detailed enough to provide air and precision, but they avoided the thinness you sometimes get with overly ambitious tweeters. Again, the Maxima Amators presented such a perfectly balanced sound that I literally thought to myself: How could I want for more?
Yet, I could want for a little more on rare occasions.
I could imagine being in a certain mood and listening to musical selections where I would want to rattle the rafters with subwoofer-type low bass. Or maybe hear the type of holographic ultra-high frequencies that some very pricy speakers excel at. And there was an SPL level that I did not dare push the Maxima Amators past for fear of taking them just that bit too far. There is a reason that Sonus Faber makes larger speakers. I rarely encountered these reasons.
A re-examination of my bias
I developed my biases honestly. Audiophiles are generally conditioned to think that bigger is better. Speakers within most any manufacturer’s line get larger and possess more drivers as you go up in price. Amplifiers, same thing: they usually get bigger and more powerful as you go higher in price within a given line. So is it any wonder that this has impacted my thinking?
What I learned by listening to Sonus Faber’s Maxima Amator is that you simply cannot infer the quality of a listening experience by factors such as size or specs or materials or price or any of that. This smallish two-way floorstander presented music with swing and soul like very few speakers of any price or size in my experience can do.
I own these speakers. I just wanted to remind you guys of that. I bought them. So understand that the words in this article should be read through that lens.
Nonetheless, here is what I’m left with after a couple of months with my pair of Maxima Amators:
Sonus Faber’s build quality and industrial design with these speakers are stunning. I love walking into my listening room and seeing the Maxima Amators. The solid walnut, the brass accents, the marble bases—all perfectly assembled in Italy for me. There is pride of ownership here that’s real and valuable to Jeff the audiophile consumer.
And the sound: my listening sessions have been so very enjoyable. The Maxima Amator is a thoroughly engineered audio product—make no mistake. But it was voiced by listeners—music lovers—who apparently have the same sonic priorities that I have. The tonal balance is perfect, and that tonal balance is projected into the room by some reference-class drivers. Within their output capabilities, the Maxima Amators are damn hard to beat.
I’m proud to own my pair of Maxima Amators. I’m also appreciative that they let me recast some biases that I’ve had for a long time. I’m quite sure I will enjoy them for years to come.
. . . Jeff Fritz