DK's AXPONA 2018 Experience - Pt. 2 of 3 - Sonus faber Aida Review

DarqueKnight Posts: 6,765

My only regret from AXPONA 2018 is that I didn't take the time to track down other Sonus faber models at the show. The directory showed that Sonus faber was set up in the Connection, Knowledge, and Perfection conference rooms, but the Aidas were in the Connection room and Wilson loudspeakers were in the Knowledge and Perfection rooms. Will Kline, Sonus faber's U.S. brand manager, said there were other Sf models on exhibit, but he didn't know where they were since he didn't have a hand in setting up those exhibits. Will and the staff from Quintessence Audio were excellent hosts and really made visitors feel welcomed. They were very accommodating in answering all questions and in playing requests, either from their demo music collection, music subscription service, or from digital or vinyl music that visitors brought with them.

From the second I opened the door to the conference room, I was drawn in by the life-like and dynamic sound of the Aidas. Over the years, I had been told that if I ever wanted to move up, up, and away from my modified, hotrodded, SDAs, I would probably be happiest with Sonus faber models, as they have similar sonic signatures. Indeed, the Aidas were not a stark departure from the sound of my bespoke SDA SRS 1.2TLs. Outside of the differences in spatial rendering, which no conventional loudspeaker can compete with, the Aidas just gave me much more of what I am used to and what I like in the areas of natural, musical sound, dynamics, clarity, and detail. A Sonus faber dealer, who also owns a pair of SDA SRS 1.2TLs, told me that I would like the sound of the Aidas, but that I wouldn't particularly care for the imaging properties. He was right. But again, I don't particularly care for the imaging properties of any conventional loud speaker.

I spent a total of 4.5 hours over three days listening to the Aidas. Sonus faber claims that the Mk II Aidas are not merely a small collection of incremental improvements, but rather a complete internal redesign of the speaker.

This experience taught me what my dream loudspeaker would sound like: It would have the speed, clarity, detail, resolution, liquidity, dynamics, and build quality of the Sonus faber Aidas coupled with the sound stage, image weight, image stability, bass characteristics, and tactile sensation of my hotrodded SDA SRS 1.2TLs. Market realities being what they are, I don't expect that such a loudspeaker will ever be manufactured, even though it is technically possible to produce it.

Figure 1. One of the first things Will taught me was how to pronounce Sonus faber. I had been pronouncing "faber" as "fay-ber". The correct pronunciation is "fah-ber". Italian vowels, I was instructed, are "soft" vowels.

The Room

Figure 2. The Aidas were set up in a large room with spectacular associated electronics.

The Connection conference room had dimensions of 42' L x 20' W x 11' H. A perimeter of thick black drapes was set up around the room a foot from the walls. Therefore, the acoustic space was 40' L x 18' W x 11' H. The room dimensions come from a hotel brochure listing the dimensions and seating capacity of all the hotel's conference rooms. The speaker placement and seating measurements were taken with my own trusty Milwaukee Tools 25' tape measure.

The Aidas were spaced 12' apart, center to center, and 3' from the side wall drapes. The front plane of the speakers was 10' from the rear wall drapes. The first row of seats was 8' from the speaker plane and the second row of seats (where the best sound and imaging was) was 11' from the speaker plane. Critical listening was done in the center seat of the second row.

Evaluation Tracks

My own tracks supplied on a USB stick:

1. "Chameleon" - Herbie Hancock, (DSD64 rip from SACD)
2. "Vinyl" - Boney James, (DSD64 conversion from 96 kHz digital download)
3. "Whatchu Gon' Do About It? - Boney James, (DSD64 conversion from 96 kHz digital download)
4. "Mr. Magic" - Grover Washington, Jr., (DSD64 rip from vinyl record)
5. "One From The Heart" - Rodney Franklin, (DSD64 rip from vinyl record)
6. "Blue" - Boney James, (DSD64 conversion from 44.1 kHz FLAC Rip)
7. "Isunova Pi" - E. S. Posthumous, (DSD64 conversion from 44.1 kHz FLAC Rip)
8. "Fireopal" - Ottmar Liebert, (DSD64 conversion from 88.2 kHz digital download)
9. "Rain Down On Me" - Euge Groove, (DSD64 conversion from 44.1 kHz FLAC Rip)
10. "Antissa" - E. S. Posthumous, (DSD64 conversion from 44.1 kHz FLAC Rip)
11. "Till We're Together Again" - Rippingtons, (DSD64 conversion from 44.1 kHz FLAC Rip)

There were frequent dropouts when the Aurender music server played tracks from my USB stick. The same dropouts occured when the tracks were copied to the Aurender's hard drive. Will said he would have his tech support person look into the issue and he asked my to come back in about hour. I returned 90 minutes later and the problem was that the Aurender needed to be set up to play DSF format DSD files. No technical issues after that...just Good Sound.

Tracks from the host's collection of demo tracks:

1. "Girl In The Red Dress" - Gregg Karukas
2. "Goin' Down Slow" - Tom Jones and Jeff Beck
3. "Dynamic Drums" - Damien Kaplan

The System

Sonus faber Aida Mk II speakers, $130,000/pair
Audio Research Ref 10 line stage, $30,000
Audio Research Ref 10 phono stage, $30,000
Audio Research Ref CD9 CD player/DAC, $13,000
Audio Research Ref 750SE mono block power amplifiers, $66,000/pair
Clearaudio Master Innovation turntable with Universal 12" tonearm, $33,250
Clearaudio Master Innovation turntable stand, $11,000
Benz Micro LP-S MC cartridge, $6,000
dCS Vivaldi DAC, $36,000
Aurender W-20 music server, $17,600
Critical Mass Maxxum Mk III amplifier stands, 2@ $6,250, $12,500
Critical Mass Maxxum Mk III rack, $37,500
Kubala Sosna interconnects and speaker cables (models/prices unknown)

System total retail cost, exclusive of cables: $422,850.

Figure 3. Left side: Aurender W-20 music server, Audio Research Ref 10 line stage and power supply. Right side: dCS Vivaldi DAC, Audio Research Ref 10 phono stage.

Figure 4. Clearaudio Master Innovation turntable and stand. No matter how beautiful they look or how wondrous they sound, I still firmly believe that turntables, and every other music disc spinning contraption...are from the Devil.

Figure 5. Audio Research Ref 750SE mono block amplifiers, 750 watts per channel.

Evaluation Methodology

Figure 6. People began to stare as I went around the room with my measuring tape, then sat down and began drawing "pictures".

Sound characteristics and spatial properties were documented with maps of image placement and with notes on the sound quality of individual images. Sound stage width was confined to the outside edges of the speakers. No sound was projected forward of the front plane of the speakers. Depth extended back 8 feet from the front plane. Sound stage height, depending on the recording, was in the range of 5 to 6 feet. Images within the sound stage were life size, but not as heavy and palpable as with the SDA SRS 1.2TLs.

Proud and loyal citizen of the Digital Domain and Solid State Country!
Post edited by DarqueKnight on


  • DarqueKnight
    DarqueKnight Posts: 6,765
    edited April 2018
    The Sound

    Figure 7. I used to see pictures of Aidas paired with subwoofers and I would be puzzled. Why would speakers this large need help from a subwoofer? Answer: the Aidas are apparently built for speed and transparency, rather than visceral impact and tactile sensation. They didn't seem to move as much air as I would expect from a speaker of this size. The bass did not have the "thunderous" quality of the SDA SRS 1.2TLs. I didn't listen to any classical music on the Aidas, but I can see where their sonic attributes would be awesome in that application.

    The Aidas excelled in clarity, detail, dynamics and in presenting a convincing sonic illusion of real music being performed in three dimensional space, although that three dimensional space was much smaller in width and depth, and not as heavy as what I am used to. Nevertheless, the Aidas were very exciting to listen to. After the "Dynamic Drums" track was played, the man sitting in the seat in front of me remarked "I'm a drummer and my drums don't sound that good." Listening to "Dynamic Drums" on the SDA SRS 1.2TLs provides a more tactile experience, but not as startlingly dynamic as with the Aidas.

    Tom Jones' vocals and Jeff Beck's blues guitar on "Goin' Down Slow" gave me the life like sound of being at an actual blues performance. I could hear every vocal inflection, every nuance of the guitar strings. But again, the tactile sensation was missing.

    As I progressed through my evaluation tracks, I did not feel the tactile sensation from the sound stage that I am accustomed to, not even on bass heavy material, not even when I moved three feet closer by sitting in the front row. At home I feel vibrations from the music against my body and coming through the seat and armrests of my listening chair. I didn't experience any of that with the Aidas, in that room, with those amps.

    Also missing were the razor sharp, articulate, and growly bass transients I like. Aidas bass transients were more rumbly than growly. However, I think that may have been a due to the tube amplifier. I have never heard a tube amplifier reproduce acoustic bass growl and articulation similar to what I hear at a live performance, or even similar to what I hear from good solid state amplifiers. Powerful solid state amps excel in this area.

    Moving my head/body sideways a few inches left or right caused the sound stage to collapse and shift to the left or right respectively. Turning my head a few inches to the left or right, while still in the center, did not cause a total collapse of the sound stage, but imaging was diminished. At home, I can move my head laterally 1.5 feet either side of center without the sound stage collapsing. I can also turn my head a few inches to either side without the sound stage changing. I sometimes will turn my head to "look" at a sound image that is particularly interesting.


    If I were to replace my hotrodded, bespoke, SDA SRS 1.2TLs with the Aidas, it would be analogous to trading six of one to get half a dozen of another. I would gain 1) speed, 2) resolution, 3) clarity, 4) detail, 5) dynamics, and 6) build quality at the expense of 1) sound stage width and depth, 2) bass articulation, 3) bass transient performance, 4) image weight, 5) image stability, and 6) tactile sensation.

    In the future, when I am more dedicated to audio than I am now, I will pay Polk a handsome price to make me a one-off, custom pair of SDAs with the finest materials, drivers, and crossover components.

    Figure 8. Like an errant husband who finally came to his senses, after days of exciting "flings" with other loudspeakers, I went back home to true stereo.

    Further Study

    I am more curious now about the smaller Sonus faber models and the performance losses as you move down the line from the Aidas.

    Reference Two Channel System

    Bryston BDP-2 digital player
    dCS Debussy DAC
    dCS Puccini U-Clock word clock
    PS Audio PowerBase isolation platforms for BDP-2, Debussy DAC and Puccini U-Clock
    Black Diamond Racing isolation Pits and Mk IV Cones
    22 Pound granite slabs on all source components
    Pass Labs XP-30 line level preamplifier
    Pass Labs X600.5 mono block power amplifiers
    Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver Split Configuration USB cable
    Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver AES coaxial cable
    Revelation Audio Labs Passage Cryo-Silver DB-25 power umbilicals for XP30
    AudioQuest Sky XLR 72V DBS interconnects
    AudioQuest Everest 72V DBS speaker cables
    PS Audio PerfectWave AC-12 power cords
    PS Audio PerfectWave P-10 AC Regenerator
    Polk Audio SDA SRS 1.2TL loudspeakers (hotrodded)
    Salamander Synergy Triple 30 audio credenza
    Post edited by DarqueKnight on
    Proud and loyal citizen of the Digital Domain and Solid State Country!
  • Moose68Bash
    Moose68Bash Posts: 3,842
    edited April 2018

    Very fine review, Ray.

    I don't have your knowledge or experience of things audio, but what you have captured and described here is my own experience in auditioning a wide variety of high-end speaker systems and equipment in my quest for better sound than I get from my modded SDA SRS 1.2tls

    Thank you for a great review!

    PS: Also, thanks for including the clarification of the correct pronunciation of "faber."
    Family Room, Innuos Statement streamer (Roon Core) with Morrow Audio USB cable to McIntosh MC 2700 pre with DC2 Digital Audio Module; AQ Sky XLRs to CAT 600.2 dualmono amp, Morrow Elite Speaker Cables to NOLA Baby Grand Reference Gold 3 speakers. Power source for all components: Silver Circle Audio Pure Power One with dedicated 20 amp circuit to main panel.

    Exercise Room, Innuos Streamer via Cat 6 cable connection to PS Audio PerfectWave MkII DAC w/Bridge II, AQ King Cobra RCAs to Perreaux PMF3150 amp (fully restored and upgraded by Jeffrey Jackson, Precision Audio Labs), Supra Rondo 4x2.5 Speaker Cables to SDA 1Cs (Vr3 Mods Xovers and other mods.), Dreadnaught with Supra Rondo 4x2.5 interconnect cables by Vr3 Mods. Power for each component from dedicated 20 amp circuit to main panel, except Innuos Statement powered from Silver Circle Audio Pure Power One.

  • nooshinjohn
    nooshinjohn Posts: 25,167

    In the future, when I am more dedicated to audio than I am now, I will pay Polk a handsome price to make me a one-off, custom pair of SDAs with the finest materials, drivers, and crossover components.

    We have enough talent here in this forum to do it now, and Polk will be happy to build you a plastic sound bar... let's just do it.
    The Gear... Carver "Statement" Mono-blocks, Mcintosh C2300 Arcam AVR20, Oppo UDP-203 4K Blu-ray player, Sony XBR70x850B 4k, Polk Audio Legend L800 with height modules, L400 Center Channel Polk audio AB800 "in-wall" surrounds. Marantz MM7025 stereo amp. Simaudio Moon 680d DSD

    “When once a Republic is corrupted, there is no possibility of remedying any of the growing evils but by removing the corruption and restoring its lost principles; every other correction is either useless or a new evil.”— Thomas Jefferson
  • pitdogg2
    pitdogg2 Posts: 24,669

    In the future, when I am more dedicated to audio than I am now, I will pay Polk a handsome price to make me a one-off, custom pair of SDAs with the finest materials, drivers, and crossover components.

    Polk will be happy to build you a plastic sound bar....

    That talks back....
  • GlennDog
    GlennDog Posts: 3,097
    per DK "at the expense of 1) sound stage width and depth"

    almost incomparable in that regard

    I've never fallen out of love with my hot rodded 2B Studios
    . . . albeit, there is this elusive quest .... Nuff said
    AC Regenerator PS Audio PerfectWave Power Plant 10
    Source Lumin U1 Mini into Lampizator Baltic 4 DAC
    Pre Cary SLP-05
    Power Rogue M180 Dark monos
    Mains Salk HT2-TL
    Rythmik F12
  • WLDock
    WLDock Posts: 3,073
    edited April 2018
    Excellent write-up on the show, and the Aida's. We have similar taste in jazz music...heck "Mr Magic" was one of the first songs I ever performed live in middle school. Also, I remember that you play sax. I play drums and I really wish you could have compared the Aida to the Focal Stella Utopia Em that Quintessence audio demoed several years ago (2014?) at the show. I listened to the original Aida myself as well as the Focals and both put out a large sound stage with amazing detail. However the Stella's produce very sharp and deep lower end impact. The speakers had full body sound in a very large room. It had a lot of the good of the Aida but was a different flavor for sure in overall presentation. I like a speaker with some kick and live presence myself being a drummer / rhythm section type listener.

    Too bad, as I think you would have liked some things about the Focals...for sure the image weight and tactile sensation you are used to. It would have been nice to have met you at the show...however I didn't make it this year and live only 1.5-2 hrs away.

    AXPONA 2014

    RMAF 2015

    Given your taste, I think you would have loved one of my favorite demo tracks on the Focals, Yellowjackets - "Man Facing North" ..I know I did!
    2.2 Office Setup | LG 29UB55 21:9 UltraWide | HP Probook 630 G8 | Dell Latitude | Cabasse Stream Amp 100 | Boston Acoustics VS 240 | AUDIORAX Desk Stands | Mirage Omni S8 sub1 | Mirage Omni S8 Sub2
  • pitdogg2
    pitdogg2 Posts: 24,669
    Casesolution reported
  • tonyb
    tonyb Posts: 32,911
    I dug those Focal Stella Utopias also, sweet speaker that can do it all with great tone and weight.
    Sony 850c 4k
    Pioneer elite vhx 21
    Sony 4k BRP
    SVS SB-2000
    Polk Sig. 20's
    Polk FX500 surrounds

    Acoustic zen Satori speaker cables
    Acoustic zen Matrix 2 IC's
    Wireworld eclipse 7 ic's
    Audio metallurgy ga-o digital cable


    Sonos zp90
    Grant Fidelity tube dac
    B&k 1420
    lsi 9's
  • xsmi
    xsmi Posts: 1,798
    I have been wanting to hear the Liliums. I hope they have a pair at Axpona this year. My son and I are making the pilgrimage.
    2-channelBelles 22A Pre, Emotiva XPA-2 Gen 2, Marantz SA8005, Pro-Ject RPM-10 Turntable, Pro-Ject Phono Box DS3B, Polk Audio Legend L800's, AudioQuest Cable throughout.