The city of Vicenza, Italy, is situated just west of the popular tourist destination of Venice and about 200km east of the bustling city of Milan. It’s famous for its historic buildings and architecture, including works from 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio. We—my wife, Andrea; our son and daughter, Ian and Abigail; and I—arrived on a Sunday evening after a four-and-a-half-hour train ride from Lake Como, in Italy’s north. After sitting on a train for almost half a day, we were ready to explore—on foot.
Since it was Sunday, the streets weren’t busy, although some of the stores and most of the coffee shops and gelaterias were open for business. We traversed Vicenza’s stone streets and squares, and marveled at the beautiful buildings, bridges, and landscapes. After a few hours, we felt we knew the lay of the land—Vicenza isn’t large and its population is about 112,000.
We enjoyed some snacks before dinner, and we were surprised by the extremely affordable prices we encountered. For example, three latte macchiatos and a scoop of ice cream cost us a mere €8. After an early dinner, by European standards anyway, and a good night’s sleep, we were ready to visit Sonus Faber, the famed loudspeaker maker.
Sonus Faber inhabits two buildings in a small industrial area about a ten-minute car ride from Vicenza’s city center. The first is dedicated to manufacturing, shipping, a small listening room, and a welcome area with a collection of Sonus Faber speakers on display. The second building contains the design studio, where the engineers, industrial designers, and marketing staff work together. This space is also home to a larger listening room and an anechoic chamber.
We began our tour in the first building, steered expertly by Lorenzo Valè, marketing coordinator for Sonus Faber and an all-around affable guide. Lorenzo began the tour in the entryway, which houses a fabulous collection of Sonus Faber speakers from both past and present lines. What I found most intriguing was how deeply connected each speaker model is to Sonus Faber’s heritage. This company doesn’t simply launch a loudspeaker or series of speakers by happenstance or to fill a commercial need. Each model needs to fit into the culture of Sonus Faber—shapes, materials, names, and of course the sound, must all fit with their well-defined and well-documented corporate aesthetic.
A passive crossover testing device designed and built decades ago by Franco Serblin (1939–2013), the company’s founder, sat next to some of the first Sonus Faber speakers. An art piece in itself, this device was used in the design phase of early Sonus Faber speakers, and it speaks to the passion the company has had for sound exploration since its inception.
If you look closely, you’ll see that the crossover testing device features handwritten settings and labels next to the various knobs and switches. The complexity of this device is fairly mind-blowing when you stop to think about it—especially considering its inventor constructed it inside a wooden box (what else?) using passive components and without the aid of a computer. Franco Serblin was way ahead of his time.
A first-generation example of Sonus Faber’s current flagship, the Aida, has a prominent place in the entryway too. The myriad details that went into the construction of this beauty are on full display and are revealed instantly. Whereas some speakers look better from afar, those made by Sonus Faber are among the very few that allow you to gain a deeper appreciation the more closely you interact with their designs. In the world of high-end audio, I don’t think better finish quality exists than what’s present in Sonus Faber speakers like the Aida.
The beauty of a Sonus Faber loudspeaker isn’t only skin deep. The crossover networks inside Sonus Faber speakers are painstakingly produced, and the tidy results seen here speak to the pride the company takes in every aspect of their design and construction—both seen and unseen. My Maxima Amators each have a glass pane that allows me to see inside the speaker and view the crossover. I guess it’s a pride-of-ownership thing, but I like knowing that my speakers were assembled with such amazing care that Sonus Faber wants me to see areas that are usually concealed from view in your typical loudspeaker.
Even the Sonus Faber in-wall speakers are beautifully designed and precisely manufactured. It’s not so much a product-by-product decision when it comes to these attributes, but something contained in the company’s DNA. As you’ll see later in the tour, no matter what Sonus Faber product an employee is crafting, the same care and attention to detail are evident.
Although I didn’t see a Maserati automobile in the Sonus Faber facility when I was there, the company is clearly proud of the partnership they have with their compatriot.
Maserati is headquartered in Modena, Italy, about a two-hour drive to the south of Vicenza. Currently, you can find a Sonus Faber sound system in the Maserati MC20 supercar—the first vehicle to feature an SF audio system—and you can also find one in their latest model, the Grecale crossover SUV.
Walking into the production area at Sonus Faber was fascinating. In high-end audio makers, I’ve never seen a better example of staff members all pulling the rope in the same direction. Sonus Faber employs over 70 people and, at least to an outsider looking in, they all appeared to be lockstep in their efforts. I could see speakers logically arrayed in various stages of production everywhere I looked.
These Homage Tradition-series products weren’t quite complete, but were moving close to final assembly and testing. They were simply mouth-watering in their construction quality, which was evident even in this incomplete stage. Look at the way the leather meets the aluminum top plates—it’s just perfect, even upon very close inspection.
The leatherwork area of the Sonus Faber factory was among my favorite parts of the visit. Sonus Faber’s process of applying leather to the cabinets simply cannot be automated. Skilled employees do this work by hand, using the same tools that have been used for decades. Leatherwork is a source of pride for the Italians in general, and the level of workmanship at the Sonus Faber factory, I imagine, would pass muster in the best ateliers in Florence.
The amount of handcrafting that goes into applying leather to the individual cabinets is the antithesis of what you see in assembly line manufacturing. At SF, there’s one person, working diligently on one speaker, ensuring the perfection of the job at hand before moving to the next. And believe me, there’s some elbow grease involved—this is labor-intensive work that requires focus and an eye for the kind of tiny flaws an astute customer might spot.
The most interesting insight that arose during our tour of the leatherwork area was the attention paid to the training of a new employee. My wife, Andrea, who has been in corporate training for years, commented on the intense engagement between the senior employee and the trainee.
Of course, instruction without the attentiveness of the student is worth little, and in this case, the new Sonus Faber employee seemed to already be working with some confidence. Lorenzo told me that, as a goal, Sonus Faber tries to hire one employee per month to learn these artisanal skills from one of their senior craftspeople. In this way Sonus Faber ensures that these competencies—so critical to the company’s operations—are passed on to new employees who will hopefully become the heart of the company in the next decade.
I micro-inspected many Sonus Faber cabinets while I was in this area, and I was never able to spot anything less than a perfectly finished cabinet. Now, do understand, these are natural materials that are applied by hand. Some inconsistencies can be expected and, in some ways, these actually add character to the products. But their workmanship is never in question.
In the next installment of my Sonus Faber tour, you’ll see other areas of the factory and travel across the street to the design lab.
Leather seemed to be a theme running through the latter part of my family’s trip to Europe. I took this last photo in Florence, just before buying my wife a new handbag from one of the local leather artisans in that great city. Apparently the owner of the shop has been making these products himself for over 40 years—drawing on skills passed down from one generation to the next. The craftsmanship of the bag was remarkable, and not at all unlike what I saw at Sonus Faber.
. . . Jeff Fritz