Sonus Faber Olympica III - personal review

DRB

Wammer
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This is my first post here. Happy New Year to you all. I just wanted to share my opinions and experiences upon purchasing the above speakers.

I should say from the outset that I was already a fan of SF, having purchased my first product 12/13 years ago. 4 weeks ago I purchased my 4th pair of SF speakers, the new Sonus Faber Olympica III and these are my impressions.

Firstly, the new speakers replaced my Cremona M floor standers and I have to say the quality of finish and aesthetics delivered by Sonus Faber are clearly a step up from the Cremona range. SF were right to name a new line here. It looks more expensive and 'is' more expensive.

Even during break-in you are aware of a change in the tweeter developed for the the Olympica. Once the speakers were burned-in (125 hrs pretty much does the job imo though I allowed approx. 170 hrs before any serious evaluation) I learned more about the mid and bass units. In terms of character I have to say this is the closest to 'pure reference monitor' that I have heard any SF product voicing and yet it still retains that SF

passion/emotion synonymous with the name. That is some feat imo. The designers started down the 'flatter response' route with the Cremona M range. That was one reason why I was drawn to the CM though it

wasn't perfect in this respect. There was always a bass bump that interfered with some female vocalists like Devon Sproule. This imo has always detracted from a beautifully clean and fresh recording of

her voice on the 'Keep You Silver Shined' album. As soon as I viewed a frequency table for the Olympica III though I knew this was what I had been looking for to improve my system. In fact I was so certain

it was right for my system, I bought the product without audition. This flatter (truer) frequency response makes the Olympica a very versatile unit indeed and this works well for my music collection as

I have a very eclectic musical taste. I favour equipment that doesn't lean too much to any one genre. I want to hear what the engineer mixed rather than a speaker technicians view of how he wants

jazz/orchestral or blues to sound. I also want emotion from my system and SF is therefore a good choice in this department. After all, what is the point of listening to music devoid of emotion? I am

not trying to recreate the ambiance of an elevator.

When set-up properly (more on this later) I found the Olympica will deliver the goods on just about any music genre one would care to listen to. Imv the Olympica is reference standard for under £10k. I really think it is that good and dare I say it “a bargain to boot”. (no surprise then that the following (early) reviewer of the product has already added the Olympica III to his test equipment. Sensible move Mr Matej Isak ;-)

http://www.enjoythemusic.com/superioraudio/equipment/1213/sonus_faber_olympica_iii_review.htm

Ok more on the sound. Firstly the tweeter is the star of the show, but the bass 'control and depth' also is a significant step up compared to the Cremona M floor-stander. Spec's say it delivers down to 35hz

against 40hz for the CM. That's not the whole story though. The bass is tight and punchy if the recording calls for it. My perception too is that these bass speakers are fast. The Mid driver is better (cleaner and more micro dynamic too) than the CM but progressively so rather than anything startling here. It's subtle. For me the mid driver was always the star of the CM anyway apart from that annoying upper bass bump.

It's clear that the Sonus Faber engineers have had a total rethink on their tweeter technology. I guess this is a trickle down from the highly regarded Aida. They say they wanted to present not just more detail but greater timbral communication. Well they did a good job. It is easy to forget quite how finely detailed some instruments are if you do not listen regularly enough to live music. For instance the simple harmonica. The SFO3 will put this instrument in the room with all the detail of a live home performance if the recording is right. There is a papery almost feathery quality to this instruments signature and it is presented complete through the Olympica.

The 'party piece' however is 'Brass'. My goodness I had forgotten what the tenor & Alto sax 'really' sounded like live. That spitting, growling finely detailed but weighty (palpable) break-up of note. When I first heard

that through these Olympica III speakers I could have happily listened to that sound an hour or two on the bounce just to study it and bath in it. Wow! That was fun! This speaker is in a different league entirely to anything I have listened to when delivering fine 'detail' and 'palpability of micro details' on complex timbre's. The former can be found anywhere but the latter is more illusive. Part of it is the delivery of micro dynamics. The former trait (detail) on it's own sounds merely like Hifi to me rather than an instrument. It simply will not sound like an instrument in the room. If I pick up my acoustic guitar and pluck the top E string at the twelfth fret many would say “that is a bright sound” and it is but if I mic'd that up and ran it through a mixing desk and used a parametric eq to pull out the top end frequency what we would have left would be a very 'percussive' sound, regardless of whether I used my finger or a plectrum. Instrument sounds are quite complex in this respect because much of what is going on can be partially hidden. However should you

not produce those micro bass pulses the instrument will no longer sound like the real thing in the room. This micro detail/micro dynamic is part of what separates good speakers from great speakers imo. Now of course we can use tricks like introducing perhaps a tube pre-amp with top rolled off and that will raise the perspective of greater palpability. Why? Because the top end is not obscuring the lower volume pulse, lower frequency dynamic but lets not fool ourselves here, 'It's only an illusion'. I was recommended some very expensive solid silver interconnects the other day. Always keen to search out perfection I gave them a try. What they did was roll off the top end and the illusion was of greater cohesion and better imaging but again it was an illusion. I am not paying 4 x the price of my Avids for an illusion. I could get the same effect with a parametric eq by just dropping out the top end a little. They didn't even deliver the emotion I get from the Avid's. The thing is, with the Olympica III, it provides the full wide band eq and yet still can pull off this feat. It doesn't cheat. It reproduces the instrument without omission. I have listened to quite a few speakers in my quest for 'excellence at realistic prices'. Some were very desirable (notably Avalon) but I wasn't prepared to pay the highwayman's ransom and so I was always left with a memory of greatness. After hearing how the Olympica III handled Brass I contacted a musician friend who happens to play Sax, (also Bass, Drums, Piano and Guitar ) and said “For the first time in my life I actually 'own' the best speaker I have ever heard!” I just had to tell someone who would understand when I described the timbral attributes. Yes I accept there are almost certainly better speakers out there at a price but to my ears even at £25k I doubt there will be many contenders and most unlikely to be many that work in a 16 x 12 room. The O3 is so right. So balanced so detailed so musical, so emotional. So real.

If the recording and performance were good at the time of making your CD or Vinyl, the Olympica will make you feel like you have new romance in your life, your wife or significant other will probably notice a change in your demeanour so beware! But seriously it reminded me why I fell in love with music and learned to play an instrument. Kudos to the SF engineers who worked on this product. It is a tremendous achievement

and may even change the philosophy of other speaker designers. The current trend is for designers to pick a genre and service that genre. (I can remember a day when 'balance' and 'truth' were the holy grail of speaker design). SF has opened pandora's box with the Olympica. The SF engineers have proven that a single speaker can cater for every genre if it's output is true and it retains heart. This for under £10k. That is not easy to achieve but the benefits are game changing.

The Sonus Faber Olympica III - Simply brilliant imo.

Notes on speaker placement:I have found over the years that with any Sonus Faber speaker it is not until you balance the two speakers correctly that you will hear what the engineers heard when they perfected the design. Only then will give you soul and musicality. The sound will take to the air and present you with a beautiful coherent and focussed musical stage. It will communicate. The great thing about setting this instrument up properly is that all the hifi goals fall into place at the right point. In other words I don't get great imaging and waffly bass at the same time. There do not appear to be any compromises when the Olympica III is correctly set-up. You hear Tight punchy spacially separated bass (if so recorded), pinpoint imaging with excellent micro dynamics, musicality as good as any system I have heard, detailed and believable timbre, smooth vocals even from CD output etc etc etc. It's all there.

If you align the plane of the speaker array properly they have the image accuracy of a lazer. That is a double edge sword of course. Tolerances are down to about 1/8th inch for the sweet spot. This reliance on

accuracy with modern speakers is one reason why I champion Sonus Faber design. Some competitors including some very expensive competitors provide no means for adjusting the rake of the speaker array to match planes. I wouldn't mind betting that more than 80% of audiophile set-ups out there are compromised by this anomaly. Reviewers hardly ever seem to touch on the subject (perhaps because they might upset some of their big advertisers?) Of course they are happy to talk about speaker placement in the room and the turn-in but these considerations pale into insignificance if you do not get the rake correctly aligned on a 3 way speaker.........remember the old days when you heard such wives-tales about 3 way speakers not being as 'musical' as monitor speakers and that you “can have detail or you can have musicality but you can't have both?” Well we know now this is twaddle. It is possible for a set-up with woolly bass to sound very musical. Why? Because it is probably hiding any small imbalance generated where the speaker array planes are out by a fraction. Swap the front end with something more detailed and focussed and all of a sudden musicality is lost. The weakness in the system is unlikely to be the front end. It is more likely to be the owners speaker

alignment. In most cases a tweak of the rake and normal service will be resumed with all the benefits of your new superior front end. I read a glowing report recently by a well known audio magazine on the

Chord Red Reference III. Unfortunately though the reviewer commented that it was not as musical as some cheaper products he had tried. I am sure the reviewer has good ears but did he actually go back to his

speakers and check that it wasn't the incredibly focussed Red Reference III showing a deficiency in his own speaker set-up? I can adjust the rake on my left speaker by 1/4” and honestly say “I have heard better musicality elsewhere”. I can then adjust left speaker back to it's original setting and honestly say “I have never heard better musicality” (with these Olympica's.) In each case it is the same front end. It occurs to me that the reviewer in this case may well have criticised the product unfairly. If I am wrong I apologise. It's just that Hifi can often fool us. Anyway, I will get off my soap-box now. ;-)

My Hifi room is 16' x 12' 6”

I sit backing on to a long wall with the speakers across the 'long' width of the room. This works well for me because centrally behind them in a fire place and two book case recesses either side providing greater depth than the 12' 6” quoted above. I then sit well back close to the rear wall because I am lucky enough to have curtains and a recess for double doors to a conservatory behind me. We have very thick walls so the

recess is quite meaningful. The extra space is perfect and ensures no unwanted bass enforcement due to proximity. The speakers themselves have a gap of no more than 2.3 mtrs (Sonus Faber recommend no more than 2.5 mtrs) if you want good imaging then listen to SF on this. They are spot on. I sit approx. a similar distance from each speaker in a triangle. Though it is not quite equilateral as I am slightly closer to the speakers than they are from each other. I have always found that SF speakers perform best for me if they are toed in so that the inside flank is just marginally more open than the outside flank. This was true for the Olympica III also. I wouldn't worry too much about the speaker placement within the room because these are very tolerant of placement imo and you also have the additional choice of having the venting face inwards or outwards. I went for inwards btw. Sonus Faber recommend a minimum clearance of just 700-800mm from side and rear walls btw. Go with your ears is my advice. The rake can also be used as an eq adjustment. I would experiment here. Lean the speakers further back if you wish to roll off the top end. You will lose definition though if you go too far. Lean forward a little if you want brighter top end and a sound that

is a little more thin.

I found that in my room the right hand speaker had a floor fall of almost 1/4” front to back and the left had 1/8” forward fall (this is a 300 y/o house with a firm wood floor and carpet on top.) My speakers stand on thick granite slabs. I tinkered with the rake for some time but because I sit fairly close to the speaker I found that leaving the right hand speaker leaning back a little gave a very natural presentation of instruments and voice. If you think about it this is logical as the angle at which the right hand speaker was facing me with it's 1/4” sloping fall front to back would be similar to that received by a listener further back had the floor been level. I doubt the SF engineers voiced these speakers at such close proximity to my 2.2 mtrs. This worked well as I found when I raised the front spikes of the left hand speaker approaching 3/8ths suddenly 'bingo!' The bass and focus tightened significantly and everything was more solid. I carried on trying alternatives for a week just in case I was missing something but it became obvious this was clearly the perfect setting for my room. The barometers I listened for when adjusting the speakers were Voice tighness and naturalness, bass tightness, clarity and punch and last but not least, the musicality. When right there is

just this joy of music. It is infectious.

Components:

Chord Electronics Red Reference II

Chapter Audio Pre and Power Amps

Sonus Faber Olympica III

Avid SCT Black Reference speaker cables and interconnects fully balanced

Isotek EVO3 Syncro and Audience power cables

Examples of test material:

(1) 'The Full Flavour' B000025XJI – (2) 'The Ice Cream Man B00005UPME - Ray Gelato and the Giants'

Suitcase' B000F9T6KQ - Keb Mo

(1) 'Back on Top' B0010DJ1JC – (2) 'Still on Top' B000WAEK04 – (3) Magic Time B0009298OI – 'You Win Again' B00004Y9S0 - Van Morrison

(1) 'Bring It Back Home' B00A8QXTAO – (2) 'Truth' B000RPSVQ8 - Robben Ford

'Keep Your Silver Shined' B000O5BOYC - Devon Sproule

'Mozart Requiem' B000001GAO – Leonard Bernstein

'Mozart Requiem' B000063TD5 – Netherlans Bach Society

'Verdi Requiem' B000GUJZVE – Solti

'Mozart Clarinet Concerto' B0002XMEOA – Neville Marriner

'The Most Relaxing Classical Album in the World.....Ever!' B00000I93Z – Various Conductors

'(1) Joshua Judges Ruth B000002OIY - (2) - Lyle Lovett

(1) 'The Blue Room' B00AIREBLY(2) 'Half The Perfect World' B000G8OZ02 – (3) Dreamland B000002JAX - Madelaine Peyroux

'The Soul Sessions' B0000YHJMS – Joss Stone

'Come Away With me' B00008WT49 – Norah Jones

'Time After Time' B00004SYOP - Eva Cassidy

“Mothersship” B000VLE3GA - Led Zeppelin

'Machine Head' B00008RWRN – Deep Purple

'Quadrophenia' B000007620 - The Who

(1) 'The Essential' B0054RVT2W (2) 'There Goes Rymin' Simon' B00024WYKS - Paul Simon

'Hourglass' B00002MYI1 – James Taylor

'Nightfly' B000EMH60Q – Donald Fagen

'Himself' B00005L9BO – Gilbert O'Sullivan

'Mercy' B000BGPH38 – Sam Baker

'Sweet Soulful Music' B000GUJEZG – Andy Fairweather Low

'Sail Away: The Songs of Randy Newman' 000F3UAC0 – Various Artists

'Heart and Soul' B0002MRPE0 – Joe Cocker

'Sam Cooke – Portrait Of a Legend B00009U5IZ – Sam Cooke

'Drive' B000095IU9 – Robert Palmer

'Genius Loves Company' B0002XEDQM – Ray Charles

'Singles' 00067Z2VY - Carpenters

'A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night' B00006J4CK – Harry Nilsson

I hope this post was of interest to some audiophiles here.

 

silencio

Wammer
Wammer
Feb 12, 2010
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Sofia, Bulgaria
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Chris
Cracking review! Well done!

I heard the Olympica III a month and a half ago at the Sofia High End Show, partnered with Thrax hybrid mono blocs. Music range from Nina Simne, through Metallica to Mahler. The Olympica handled every type of music with aplomb. Awesome speaker and for quite a few of the visitors the star of the show, while costing 1/10 of the price of McIntosh, MBL or Cabasse systems on exhibit. Compared to the Cremona - more dynamic and neutral. According to the SF rep they'll be keeping for the time being both in production, as they target different audiences.

 

DRB

Wammer
New Wammer
Jan 5, 2014
14
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Thanks for the responses guys.

Silencio I am looking forward to reading how the big Hifi mags view the speaker. Pretty much everyone has gained the same opion as yours. The neutral presentation allows for all manner of genre's to be played with rewarding results.

 

silencio

Wammer
Wammer
Feb 12, 2010
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Sofia, Bulgaria
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Chris
Thanks for the responses guys.Silencio I am looking forward to reading how the big Hifi mags view the speaker. Pretty much everyone has gained the same opion as yours. The neutral presentation allows for all manner of genre's to be played with rewarding results.
Me too. You summed it up quite well. The thing is, the Olympica, unlike some other neutral speakers is not colourless or lifeless. It has a genuine sparkle. And it is very capable of moving your inner emotions. One day, God willing, I'll have a pair! :notworthy:

 

jimification

Wammer
Wammer
Dec 2, 2012
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I enjoyed your review, though I was surprised when you said: "I want to hear what the engineer mixed rather than a speaker technicians view of how he wants

jazz/orchestral or blues to sound" as that seems slightly contrary to what little I know of SF's (and particularlly Franco Serblin's) philosophy and of SF speakers being "musical instruments" in themselves. I've not heard the Olympicas, though I did see a pair at a dealers and I will say that even just to look at they are a real treat for the eyes - Absolutely gorgeous. Incidentally, I have Cremona Auditors (original version) and really love them. Congrats on your new speakers, I'm sure they will bring you a lot of listening pleasure.

 

DRB

Wammer
New Wammer
Jan 5, 2014
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Jim

they are a good pair of speakers you have. I used to own them and the floorstanders of that original range also. They are as you say designed to present the music in a specific way in the old way of Sonus Faber designs. With some material they just don't work though and some of my favourite albums were just not fun to play anymore because the speaker signature so distorted the picture of some recordings. When right they are superb but never true. In contrast the Olympicas are as true as any SF I have heard but they never sound hifi. It's horses for courses I guess. If the listener has a fairly focussed style of listening and prefers a more sculpted output then Franco's approach is great but I guess I want the best of all worlds. Drama and truth. To my ears at least the designers delivered impressively in this respect with the Olympica III

 

Petrat

Wammer
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Apr 7, 2009
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AKA
Peter
HiFi Trade?
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Nice review and welcome.

Any chance of some pictures of your set up? (see Sticky at top of 2 Channel Debate 'what's yer bits n bobs?')

 

DRB

Wammer
New Wammer
Jan 5, 2014
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If I get a chance I will see what I can do over the weekend Petrat

 

myrman

Wammer
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Aug 26, 2007
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Nick
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Welcome DRB. Nice review. I hope you don't mind me moving it to the review section. Pics would be great if you can post some :^

 

jwg1749

= Matt49
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Apr 5, 2013
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Matt
HiFi Trade?
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Thanks for the very full review. It's great to hear you're so happy with the Olympicas.

I have the Cremona Auditor Ms, which I bought ex-demo as a stopgap whilst I shop around for new speakers. I've heard the Olympica Is and IIs and was very taken with the IIs in particular. In fact I did a demo of the Cremona Auditor Ms, Cremona Ms, Olympica Is and Olympica IIs in one sitting. It was very interesting. I found the Olympica Is very explicit; I'm not sure I could live with them. But the IIs seemed to me to have a perfect balance, such as you describe in your review of the IIIs.

At the moment the IIs are top of my list, but I guess I'll have to demo the IIIs as well.

Did you try the IIs?

Cheers,

Matt

 

silencio

Wammer
Wammer
Feb 12, 2010
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Sofia, Bulgaria
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Chris
Thanks for the very full review. It's great to hear you're so happy with the Olympicas.I have the Cremona Auditor Ms, which I bought ex-demo as a stopgap whilst I shop around for new speakers. I've heard the Olympica Is and IIs and was very taken with the IIs in particular. In fact I did a demo of the Cremona Auditor Ms, Cremona Ms, Olympica Is and Olympica IIs in one sitting. It was very interesting. I found the Olympica Is very explicit; I'm not sure I could live with them. But the IIs seemed to me to have a perfect balance, such as you describe in your review of the IIIs.

At the moment the IIs are top of my list, but I guess I'll have to demo the IIIs as well.

Did you try the IIs?

Cheers,

Matt
Matt, you need to demo the Olympica III. They are a level up!

 

GuillaumeB

Wammer
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May 28, 2013
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Call me Gui...
I saw a pair of these at Guildford Audio recently. Look absolutely stunning in the flesh! Also got to hear them very briefly and was very impressed by what I heard. Would definitely recommend others audition these.

 

caolal

Wammer
Wammer
Dec 29, 2012
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Thanks, I really enjoyed reading this thorough, detailed, thoughtful and objective review. This is the type of review that really highlightsthe benefits of on line forums in helping members seek out and audition new gear. Perhaps for your next one can take on Devialet:oops:

 

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