In an event more akin to the unveiling of a supercar than the launch of new audio gear, Italian speaker brand Sonus Faber took over the prestigious Palazzo Grassi modern art museum in Venice to introduce its latest hi-fi floorstanders.
As you might imagine, these proved to be no ordinary loudspeakers. Priced at a pocket-numbing150,000 euros a pair they are not only amongst the world's most expensive, they also challenge traditional thinking in speaker construction and push the boundaries of performance.
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Standing just over 1.7m tall and weighing 610kg a pair, the Fenice (Phoenix) speakers herald a rebirth of sorts for the Italian high-end speaker maker. Although only 30 pairs of Fenice models will be made, elements of their design, engineering and research will be filtered down into more 'affordable' models, beginning later this year.
The Fenice design includes a trio of new patents, introducing fresh concepts to a field not often associated with innovation.
A Sound Field Shaper controls the sonic radiation of the speakers, allowing azimuth and sound pressure level to be optimized for any listening room. This, says R&D chief Paolo Tezzon, allows the soundfield to be customised for genuine three-dimensional listening.
Reflex ports have been treated with special insulating material for ultra low frequency response, while an advanced suspension and decoupling system removes any physical vibration, effectively divorcing these huge boxes from the sound they make.
Demonstrations of the extraordinary system, using electronics from sister company Audio Research, proved mesmerizing. The Fenice image with awe-inspiring definition. Their huge presence, and a frequency range that spans 20Hz to 35000Hz, translate to a listening experience that's like sitting just metres from a live performance, albeit without any distortion, amp buzz or crowd heckles.
CEO Mauro Grange says the Fenice models are "destined to become the progenitor of an entire new generation of hi-tech." At the launch event Tech Radar mingled with a swarm of international high-end dealers each vying for the rights to distribute just a handful of the ultra-expensive speakers. Many claim to have already pre-sold their allocations to wealthy audiophiles.
Giovanni Menato, sales director for the brand declared: "The Fenice isn't just a turning point for Sonus Faber, it's a turning point for the high-end audio industry."
He may well be right.