Of course, there’s a catch. There’s always a catch when you get this much music out of boxes this small. However, in this case it’s a price that’s easy to pay. Added clarity means additional care when it comes to set up. Toe-in and lateral spacing are critical, but so too is the forward tilt of the speaker. With my slightly lower than usual listening seat it was necessary to wind the rear cones fully down to achieve the correct tonal balance and proper weight. Tilt the speakers back too far and they start to harden and shout, losing their bottom-end foundation and glazing over. Don’t worry, you’ll know when you’ve got it right! The other things they need are space and power. You can drive the Auditor Ms with any competent integrated and I can imagine some pretty special systems based around the likes of Prima Luna or Pure Sound amplification. Good solid-state will work just as well. But as you add power the speakers just seem to grow and grow, the sound getting bigger and bigger. Although I used a number of different amps with the Auditor Ms, I was fortunate enough to have c-j’s LP275M mono-blocs at the same time as the little Sonus Fabers: I just couldn’t resist – and I wasn’t disappointed.
Give these speakers enough, quality power and they just disappear, leaving behind a huge and wonderfully coherent acoustic space. It’s not the tangible volume that a full-range speaker delivers; the Auditor Ms don’t do or even attempt fundamentals – which probably helps explain their extremely tactile and articulate sound. Instead, this soundstage is all about mid and high frequency reflections mapping its boundaries. Within them, instruments are held stable and voices soar. I’ve already spoken about their impressive performance with opera, but put on something small, intimate and acoustic like the Stewboss Leep EP and the naturalness of the guitar’s shape and harmonic body, the voice’s character and phrasing are uncannily convincing and involving. The difference with the old model is not so much on the note by note level, but more the way in which this latest speaker starts and stops phrases, times pauses and hesitations in the music, ties the various elements together. So, not only are singer and instrument lifesize, but when Greg Sarfaty eases the tempo and weight of playing entering the chorus of ‘I Didn’t Notice’ the transition is so natural it’s almost expected, the hesitations between those quieter, more reflective lines adding to the contrast, underlining their delicacy and fragility. They are working at a different level but these are the very same qualities that make Despina so flirtatiously independent, Dorabella so coy.
What we have here is a speaker that possesses all the refinement, tonal honesty and presence that have made Sonus Faber a benchmark in compact loudspeaker performance, but with even greater clarity and lucidity, a more coherent and explicit presentation of the performance. It’s not just about the notes themselves but about the sense that binds them together, rough and ready as that might be (just wait until you hear what comes out of these babies when you stuff The The’s Mind Bomb through their terminals, propelled by quarter of a kilo-Watt). If you really want the rough edge of a Woolworths guitar then you might find the Auditor M a little too polite, but for all other purposes they just need a bit of encouragement to get down and get dirty. Oh, and they play loud too, despite their limited efficiency.
This is, dare I say it, in many respects the most balanced and as a result impressive speaker I’ve heard from Sonus Faber. Unlike previous favourites from the marque it doesn’t demand power to work properly, but it works with it if it’s available. It is warm and sweet without being clogged or smeared, it is refined without sounding stilted or constipated. It does bass, but not so much as to get itself into trouble or wind up musically constipated. Imagine Jeeves crossed with a Chinese gymnast and maybe you’ll get the picture. If that’s too much (or just too much information) get a listen to the Auditor M. Like a far from reluctant debutante it’s a picture of poise but it’s got a wicked glint in its eye…