Torn between two speakers

January 22, 2017


I very much enjoy reading your reviews. I’ve gotten the itch to upgrade my current Sonus faber Grand Piano Domus floorstanding speakers, which I purchased new in 2009. I have narrowed my choice to the Wilson Audio Sabrina and Sonus faber Olympica III. Your April 2016 review of the Sabrina was extremely helpful. I noted that your colleague Dennis Davis reviewed of the Olympica IIIs. Although I live in New York, there isn’t a retailer that has both models in their showrooms. I actually have to travel a fair distance between two different retailers such that it makes comparing the speakers difficult. It’s hard to remember exactly how each sounds when they’re not both in the same room.

I was wondering if you could help add some perspective on how these speakers stack up to each other and whether one comes out on top in terms of sound quality in your view. Given the cost of each speaker, I want to be extra careful in my selection process.

Joe LoScalzo

Your question highlights an issue with auditioning audio equipment (and reviewing it): whether results in different systems travel -- tell you definitively which of two products is better. I'm afraid I can't help you with that regarding these two speakers. As you point out, TAB reviewed both the Wilson Sabrina and Sonus faber Olympica III, but neither writer has heard both speakers in his system. We both have heard the two speakers, but for one of them it would be at a show, so once again the situations weren't equal.

Because you already own Sonus faber speakers, the Olympica IIIs may be a safer choice, because you already admire the brand's sound. However, I can say that the Wilson Sabrina is a very special speaker -- even within the Wilson product line. Its extreme coherence, its sense of sounding like a single driver, is very alluring, and while the Sabrina is Wilson Audio's smallest floorstanding speaker, it doesn't sound small or quaint, delivering the bass power and dynamics for which Wilson speakers are known and casting full-sized images. It is a standout choice in the $15,000/pair price range; in fact, I would say that it will compete with -- and better -- many speakers that cost twice as much. I don't know of another small floorstanding speaker like it. -Marc Mickelson

FM Acoustics and Rockport

January 12, 2017


Have you spent any time with FM Acoustics? The other day, I was at a loose end and spent some time reading about Mr. Huber’s products. The whole product line seems to be cloaked in secret this and that. His top-of-the-line line stage houses a “Linearizer” and “Acoustic Resonance Control" -- consisting of about ten buttons. Strange how this all flies in the face of the notion of a “straight wire with gain” that some (many?) manufacturers espouse.

So, is this a lot of voodoo or . . . ? I guess I find myself feeling a bit incredulous, given the prices of the FM acoustics stuff and given that there are virtually no reviews and the products are all largely concealed from inspection.

Separately, I was planning on talking to Andy Payor about some speakers today, but just got too busy. What do you think of his new Lyra loudspeaker? At first glance it looks like a much more elegant solution for using aluminum than that used by Magico, with their myriad nuts and bolts and tensioning rods. I’m curious, though, about the viscoelastic polymer that is bonding the two aluminum cabinet members together. Viscosity and elasticity -- any idea of the life-span of this kind of material? I wonder if, over time, the stuff will sag.

Larry Phillips

Ah, the old FM question.

I can’t explain how FM Acoustics arrive at their designs, their prices or their overall philosophy. Nor can I explain why their systems sound so darned good -- and they do. The only unit I’ve had deep personal experience with was the FM 222 phono stage and it left me seriously impressed -- in terms of sonics as well as sticker shock. Yet Manny Huber can always be relied on to make great music and put on a great show.

I well remember my first contact with him (I use the term advisedly). Wandering the corridors at my first-ever Frankfurt show (the predecessor of High End in Munich) I chanced upon the FM Acoustics room, wherein Manny was in full flow. Waiting for some music, I stooped to flick through the stack of records and third up found something I’d been seeking for years -- and fifth, sixth, eighth -- and so on. This wasn’t just a stack of pure gold -- it was the mother lode! Intrigued, I sat and listened -- and enjoyed, marveled and stayed to chat with the impresario. “How” I asked, “can you risk these records at a show?”

“Oh," responds Manny, "I have very a strict rule.” And then, without missing a beat, “I only bring records to a show if I have at least two duplicates.”

Such is the weirdly parallel universe in which FM Acoustics exists and from which its equipment arrives. I can’t even start to justify (or understand) the cost of this equipment or the thinking behind it, but I can only admire the results -- a conclusion which in its own way leads straight to your second question.

Aluminum cabinets have received a lot of attention recently, a lot of it unquestioningly uncritical. As is always the case in audio, it’s not what you use but how you use it that matters -- and too much aluminum alloy gets expended without any serious engineering thought applied to the problem. Simply bolting chunks of metal together isn’t just a bad way to build a speaker cabinet; it’s not even a particularly good place to start, unless, like Stenheim, you have some serious damping technology up your sleeve.

Now look at the Rockport approach: not only is it unquestionably ambitious, it’s elegant, well thought out and (importantly) it’s a natural extension of Rockport’s existing, proven approach that actually uses the stiffness and energy transfer of aluminum to advantage, while dealing comprehensively with its tendency to ring. Would I have any qualms about the polymers employed? No, because Rockport have been using them for years and their behavior is well established. This is genuine engineering -- not just brute force -- and the end results are as visually elegant as they are physically impressive. I haven’t played with (or even heard) the Lyra, but I’ve recently spent considerable time with several of Andy Payor’s designs and they left me with considerable respect for his thinking and execution. -Roy Gregory

"Please add me . . . "

January 1, 2017

Please add me to your list of upcoming articles. Thanks.

Dennis Henderson

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