Sonus Faber Heritage Collection Maxima Amator Loudspeakers
Written by Hans Wetzel
In his inimitably matter-of-fact fashion, Magico’s Alon Wolf once told me that “We make loudspeakers, not furniture.” The statement seemed to imply that, for him, form must always follow function. I suspect that the philosophies of most discerning audiophiles are similar. That’s one reason why ultra-high-end systems are often found in dedicated rooms replete with treatments, cable lifters, and fastidious attention paid to ensure that those systems are performing optimally, no matter the imposition. Everything else is subordinated to the pursuit of maximum sound quality.
If that describes you and your single-minded quest for sonic truth, Sonus Faber’s new Heritage Collection Maxima Amator loudspeaker ($15,000/pair, all prices USD) is not for you. There are other, more utilitarian tools for the job. But if something stirred in you when you read the name Sonus Faber, or saw the accompanying photo of the newest addition to their Heritage Collection, read on—the Maxima Amator is more than just another loudspeaker.
As Livio Cucuzza, Sonus Faber’s chief design officer, tells it, the Maxima Amator wasn’t on the company’s radar for 2020: “The COVID situation created a very special condition, [and] with the production department empty and the office silent, we had more time to sit down and listen. The Maxima project was really a way for us to escape from the terrible news about the virus. I wanted to challenge the team to work on something that reflects our personal wishes without any deadline or business plan.”
When I first saw this two-way floorstander, I was bemused. I’d already raved about the Maxima’s smaller sibling, the Electa Amator III minimonitor ($10,000/pair, including matching stands of marble and aluminum). Asking an additional $5000 for a floorstander that was still just a two-way seemed odd—who was this speaker for, precisely? “There wasn’t a real commercial discussion about the positioning of Maxima,” Cucuzza told me. “It is in evident overlap with some other models of our catalog, but I’m sure that there are customers that will appreciate its purity, the elegance of the materials, and its classic/modern style more than a ‘complete’ solution, as is a three-way design.”
Unsurprisingly, the Maxima’s specifications are similar to the Electa Amator III’s. All three models of Sonus Faber’s Heritage Collection (the smallest is the Minima Amator II) share the same H28 XTR-04 Damped Apex Dome (DAD) 1.1″ fabric tweeter, and the Maxima’s 7.1″ MW18XTR-04 paper-coned midrange-woofer is also used in the Electa III. The Maxima Amator has a nominal impedance of 4 ohms, a sensitivity of 88dB/2.83V/m, and a frequency range of 35Hz-35kHz—it goes 5Hz deeper in the bass than does the stand-mounted Electa III. Included with each pair of Maximas sold is a graph of how well the two units match—apparently, the outputs of my review samples are matched to within 1dB across their entire bandwidth, which is exceptional. Also included are shapely grilles that attach magnetically. The grilles look great, but I trust that buyers will make the right decision and leave them in the shipping boxes, as I did.
The centerpiece of the Maxima Amator is its crossover, which is found in no other Sonus Faber loudspeaker. Its Interactive Fusion Filtering (IFF) network is noteworthy for several reasons. First, it operates in series rather than in parallel, as in most crossovers, with the high-pass filter affecting the low-pass filter, and vice versa: each driver’s voice-coil becomes part of the other driver’s filtering circuit. Sonus Faber argues that this results in better integration of the drivers’ outputs. Such a crossover design precludes biwiring, as evidenced by the single pair of binding posts on each cabinet’s rear panel. A third-order (18dB/octave) slope is used on each driver, which hand off to each other at 2.1kHz. Compare this slope to the Electa III’s combination of first-order (6dB/octave) and fourth-order (24dB/octave) slopes.
The Maxima Amator is unexpectedly hefty at 83.7 pounds, and stands 44.1″H x 11.8″W x 13.8″D—tallish but not obtrusive, and shallower than most of today’s speakers, with an almost square footprint. These modest proportions should lend themselves to the speakers’ use in a greater variety of living spaces than, say, my KEF Reference 3s, whose 5ʺ-deeper cabinets make them look bulky in comparison. The Maxima’s interior is divided into three chambers, the top chamber occupying the upper two-thirds of the cabinet. This internal volume is optimized for maximum bass extension (greater volume would not have yielded additional output), and is lined with a new damping material that makes its debut in the Maxima Amator. Below it, the second chamber is entirely filled with a different, pebble-like damping material that accounts for much of the speaker’s mass and solidity, and helps reduce cabinet resonances. The small third chamber, mounted at the bottom of the rear panel, houses the crossover network.
None of this really gets the pulse racing, nor does it explain why this two-way floorstander costs 50% more than its two-way stand-mounted sibling, the Electa Amator III. But the moment I pulled my pair of Maxima Amators from their boxes, all became clear. Like the Electa III, the Maxima’s front and rear panels are clad in soft leather, and the cabinet itself is fashioned not from MDF but from solid walnut. The finish is exquisite, with a rich matte grain, and the gaps between panels are barely visible.
It’s as much about the shapes, contours, and details as about the materials. The cabinet has no hard angles or edges of any kind—its rounded front-baffle edges make it look almost feminine. With the thin inlay of brass between the bottom and side panels, the accent lines in the front panel, and the flare in the baffle to accommodate the midrange-woofer, the Maxima Amator just got prettier the longer I gazed at it. Standing the Sonus Fabers next to my KEFs did the latter no favors—I’d always thought the Reference 3s were fairly handsome, but suddenly they looked as if designed a century ago and slapped together in a shed. As pretty as the Maxima Amator looks in pictures, it looks better in the flesh—I mean, the walnut.
Around back is one of the cooler features I’ve seen on a loudspeaker: a window that lets you leer at that IFF crossover. High-quality components from Mundorf and ClarityCap stare back, and binding posts of gold-tinted brass poke through, surrounded by Roman script stating, among other things, the unit’s serial number and that it’s made in Italy. Take a gander through the massive rear port and you can see the curved back of the tweeter’s motor, branded with Sonus Faber’s Sf logo.
Then there’s the base. Unlike the Electa Amator III, which sits on a plinth of breezily white Carrara marble, the Maxima Amator is supported by a slab of sultry Port Laurent marble quarried in Morocco. Blackish-brown with currents of white and gold, and supported by brass-accented footers, it has all the character you could ever want—the bases of no two Maxima Amators look exactly alike. This is artisanal hi-fi that will look good today and 20 years from today. Is the Maxima Amator fine furniture? Yes. Is it a real high-end loudspeaker? Yes. Is it a work of art? It might just be.
My reference system these days is straightforward. Its centerpiece is a Hegel Music Systems H590 integrated amplifier-DAC ($11,000, 301Wpc into 8 ohms), and plugged into its USB input is an Intel NUC computer running Windows 10, Roon, Qobuz Studio Premier, and Tidal HiFi. Power conditioning is courtesy of an Emotiva CMX-2 power strip that helps eliminate the hum of my old house’s electrical system. All is connected with a mix of wires from AudioQuest, DH Labs, and Nordost.
I shoved aside my KEF Reference 3 and KEF LS50 speakers, and pushed the weighty Maxima Amators into position about 7ʹ apart, 8ʹ from my couch, and 1ʹ from the wall behind them. Ordinarily, I toe in speakers I’m reviewing until I can just barely make out each cabinet’s inner side panel, but I found that the Maxima Amators’ tonal balance in the treble sounded more even with less toe-in: about 15-30°.
What I loved most about the Electa Amator III was its unapologetic sonic personality. Sonus Faber made it clear that the EAIII was not intended to sound neutral, instead having an old-school “smile” frequency response: i.e., with notable boosts at the top and bottom of the audioband. That lent the big minimonitor a superdynamic, ballsy sound, with lovely bass control and depth. But what instantly stood out about the EAIII’s sound was the fact that it put out 2-3dB more output around 100Hz than strict linearity would require. Neutral? Not a chance. But boy, was it fun to rock out to. The Electa Amator III’s sheer exuberance was refreshing.
On first listen, the Maxima Amator sounded similar but not identical to its little brother. It was punchy in the midbass, if with less weight than the EAIII. There was also greater low-end extension, which loaded my room in a more satisfying fashion. With “Tequila Shots,” from Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon III: The Chosen (24-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Republic/Qobuz), the electronic bass shots had loads of kick and bloom, sounding as if reproduced by a three-way floorstander. You won’t be searching for the hidden subwoofer in your room, but Sonus Faber’s specified lower limit of 35Hz for the Maxima Amator sounded accurate to me. Cudi’s words were floated atop all this with strong resolution yet weren’t pushed forward; the Maxima Amators were remarkably linear through the midrange, which I hadn’t expected. There was no brightness to speak of, but the soft-dome tweeter definitely threw out extra energy that provided Cudi’s voice with an airy, sparkling quality. I tend to favor metal- to fabric-domed tweeters for precisely this reason, so I was surprised to hear the pleasing tonal balance Sonus Faber has struck in the Maxima Amator’s voicing with a fabric dome.
The Irrepressibles’ “In This Shirt” (16/44.1 FLAC single, Of Naked Design/Major/Qobuz) has a big, atmospheric sound that I find irresistible, and through the Maxima Amators I appreciated the tonal purity of the opening organ notes, as well as the apparently huge recording venue, which the Sonus Fabers fully illuminated. One characteristic of the sound of the Maxima Amator, like the Electa Amator III before it, was the texture of the treble. The MA’s 1.1″ tweeter isn’t the silkiest or most effortless I’ve heard—you shouldn’t expect the ultrawide bandwidth that a beryllium dome can provide. The tinkling metallic transients that precede Jamie McDermott’s voice were lively without ever becoming hard or bright—if you’re after a warm, rolled-off sound, look elsewhere. But what most struck me about the Maxima Amator with this track, especially in comparison to the überdynamic Electa Amator III, was its more refined sound. The MA was subtler and more tactful in its voicing, which I think will appeal to a broader audience than the rambunctious EAIII. Its sound was broadly neutral, with a dash of fun dialed into the frequency extremes.
Drastically upping the tempo and volume, I threw on “Ch-Check It Out,” from the Beastie Boys’ To the 5 Boroughs (16/44.1 FLAC, Beastie Boys JV/Qobuz). By this point the Maxima Amators’ mid-woof cones were positively flying in and out, but held up to my enhanced interrogation techniques without complaint. The foundational bass line was warm and weighty, sounding very much in lockstep with the track’s seriously pacey melody. Impacts were admittedly a touch soft, but no schmuck in his right mind will be blasting the Boys from his $15,000/pair two-ways, am I right? You could if you wanted to, though. Vocal definition was likewise on the hazy side, with the emphasis less on spatial articulation than on tonal fundamentals.
But as my listening continued, and as the Maxima Amators spat in my face quick-fire verses from MCA, Mike D, and Ad-Rock, I began to pick up what these speakers were throwing down. Their tonality was fundamentally sound, but managed to sound both rich and full of alacrity. More textbook loudspeakers, such as my KEFs, no doubt sacrifice a bit of richness as they kneel before the almighty Harman curve. The Maxima Amators aren’t transparency monsters; if that’s what you’re after, then something from Sonus Faber’s Olympica Nova line—such as the Olympica Nova III, which so impressed Jeff Fritz in February 2020—should be on your shortlist. The Maxima Amator is a different animal in both concept and execution.
Pianist George Winston’s Winter Into Spring (16/44.1 FLAC, Dancing Cat/Qobuz) isn’t as well known as its triple-platinum follow-up, December, but I find its first track, “January Stars,” more complex and expressive than anything on December. The Sonus Faber’s elevated treble highlighted the track’s already-high noise floor to an unnatural degree, distracting me a bit from Winston’s performance. At the same time, it provided his piano a greater sense of urgency and bite. The cold, still desolation of deep winter was clearly communicated by each keystroke, the Maxima Amators putting forth a fairly stark stereo image, one representative of the recording’s provenance. Admittedly, a smidge of editorializing was being done, Winston’s initial chords sounding more full-bodied and a little less hollow than the track’s mastering would suggest. I hardly minded. The Maxima Amator’s fundamental midrange tone sounded pure and natural, erring from the dark, cloying sound of Sonus Fabers of yesteryear, while avoiding the sharp effervescence of something like a modern Bowers & Wilkins speaker.
The layered, melancholy musings of Elliott Smith seemed like the right material for the Maxima Amators’ outro. Smith’s whispery voice in “Between the Bars,” from his Either/Or (16/44.1 FLAC, Kill Rock Stars/Qobuz), was well defined through both channels, the only rough edges being the occasional sibilant in this otherwise free-flowing interlude lasting only 2:21. The MAs made for easy late-afternoon listening that required nothing of and imposed nothing on me. However, there was enough in the way of microdynamics and verve to keep me fully engaged when I desired that. Even with a delicate track such as “Between the Bars,” I could never accuse the Maxima Amator of sounding boring—a higher compliment than it sounds.
Is the Maxima Amator worth $5000/pair more than the Electa Amator III?
It depends. On the one hand, I find that the EAIII provides righteously good times. Its sound is buoyant, punchy, and above all, fun. It also looks amazing, its Carrara-marble base matching the Carrara-marble base of its (included!) stand. So if the Maxima Amator were merely a floorstanding version of the EAIII with a bit more bass, my answer would be no.
But it’s not. The Maxima Amator has the more balanced sound of the two, a sound not dominated by prodigious bass, as is the Electa Amator III’s. The Maxima Amator’s 5Hz more output below 40Hz is also a meaningful difference, especially given my impression that the floorstander pressurized my room more effectively than did its stand-mounted sibling. Throw in the dark marble base and the windowed crossover out back, and this speaker should be considered on its own merits. On the basis of sound quality alone, I’d spring for the Maxima Amator—but there’s something about the Electa Amator III’s use of Carrara marble that I can’t quite shake . . .
About four years ago, I reviewed Magico’s S1 Mk.II ($16,500/pair). In many respects, that aluminum monolith from California represents a perfect counterpoint to the wood-and-leather Maxima Amator. The S1 Mk.II is a sealed two-way floorstander with similar dimensions and a similar driver complement to the Maxima Amator. Assembled from 3/8″-thick extruded aluminum, the Magico weighs almost 40 pounds more than the Sonus Faber, and exudes all the warmth and personality of an MRI machine—no pretense or frivolity from this precision instrument.
The S1 Mk.II’s 1″ diamond-coated beryllium tweeter and 7″ midrange-woofer of woven carbon fiber together produce a spectacularly wide-bandwidth, ultratransparent sound that allowed me to forensically inspect my music collection micrometer by micrometer. Like the Maxima Amator, the Magico has a bit of on-axis treble prominence, and that cuts two ways. While it allows the S1 Mk.IIs to cast a fabulously wide and deep soundstage, it could also make them sound a bit too crystalline with some recordings. Its sealed design—which results in a shallower rolloff in the bass—made for notably less punchy bass than the Maxima Amator, but similar extension: down to around 35Hz.
Do you prefer that your music sound ruthlessly linear and revealed? Go for the Magico. It was and still is the finest two-way loudspeaker I’ve heard. But if you’re after a more holistic musical experience, you probably want a sound with greater midrange body and more fulsome bass, and a speaker built to a high-art aesthetic. Opt for the Sonus Faber.
Each of these speakers is special, but for very different reasons.
Sonus Faber’s target audience for its Heritage Collection, and for the Maxima Amator in particular, is not audiophiles who are cross-shopping designs from Focal, Magico, and/or Wilson Audio Specialties. This is an artisanal loudspeaker. The marriage of so many materials—solid walnut, leather, brass, marble—into such an evocative form gives the Sonus Faber a presence and a gravitas that are difficult to describe. It’s also a very good loudspeaker, with admirable output down to 35Hz, and a commendably linear, uncolored mid band. The Maxima Amator’s tipped-up tweeter means that its sound is not strictly neutral, but Sonus Faber’s skillful voicing has maximized the speaker’s dynamics without making it sound harsh or bright.
The Heritage Collection Maxima Amator is a pure distillation of what Sonus Faber is all about: beautiful objects that re-create beautiful music