Here’s what I didn’t expect. First was the darker, relatively even midrange tonal balance and the refreshingly unhyped treble, not the aforementioned rising top that I’ve learned to dread. I also didn’t expect the volume of air that the Model 1.5 seemed to set into motion in my room particularly during symphonic recordings. There was a sense of the physical nature of music reproduction in the way it conveyed the thicker body of a cello, the rippling skin of a timpani, the darker resonances of a large piano soundboard, or the complex textures of a contrabassoon.
Nor did I expect the midrange weight and bloom that this fifteen-inch-tall monitor generated. The Model 1.5 reproduces the bottom half of the midband with a weight and heft that most small-volume, narrow-baffle monitors cannot muster. The thick blat of a trombone or a heavy bow across the strings of an acoustic bass during Stravinsky’s Pulcinella [Argo] is immediately identifiable for what it is and the brain doesn’t have to suspend disbelief to enjoy the musical moment. In fact, the Venere immediately called to mind a larger, multi-driver speaker.
The treble for its part, rather than sounding dry or brittle or over-etched with false detail, had more than a hint of the darker acoustic signature that reminded me of other Sonus fabers like the Liuto. And by darker I’m not implying run-of-the-mill resolution. Just the opposite. During the Audra McDonald lullaby “Lay Down Your Head,” the Venere expressed a wealth of finely wrought, low- level transients and timbre as the string quartet and accompanying harp delicately enter. When I began playing Leonard Cohen’s “Darkness” from his new album Old Ideas [Columbia] I didn’t count on the heavy core-resonance of his voice to be so richly reproduced. Catching me equally off guard was Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D; the sound was expansive, the output generous. The Venere threw a wide, well-resolved, three-dimensional soundstage brimming with ambient cues and the “feel” of the venue—of the sound reaching the corners and back wall of the listening space.
Explosive is not a word that normally comes to mind when describing the lower-frequency extension and dynamics of an inexpensive compact monitor but within rational limits the Venere constantly surprised me in this area. Bass response is solid into the 60Hz range and, depending on room size and wall reinforcement, has usable response even further down. And I didn’t have to worry about softballing the Model 1.5 in the volume department either. Often low bass from a small speaker sounds vaguely orphaned from the midrange—a sonic gap pops up where the music goes soft in the power range of the upper bass/lower mids and then regroups in the midbass. The effect is disquieting and can be a deal-breaker. While the Venere 1.5 can’t entirely break free of its own physical constraints it does so in a manner that is entirely reasonable and at times utterly convincing.
What also stands out is the inter-driver coherence of the Model 1.5, which produces the sense that music is originating from a single point, rather than alternating between tweeter and mid/bass. Its midbass and upper-bass response is surefooted and seamlessly connected with the adjoining octaves. Significantly, I never felt as if I were fidgeting or otherwise subliminally cocking my head this way or that in order to get an accurate tonal fix on the speaker. It didn’t impart the dreaded tweeter-on-top/bass-on-bottom discontinuity. What I heard was a smooth, solid wall of unbroken sound that easily adapted to a bit of slouching or off-axis listening. Obviously the Venere will sound its best in the sweet spot, stereo being what it is, but clearly the Sf team has put some serious thought into its ovular waveguide technology.
As good as the Model 1.5 is however, two drivers in a 15" box, however alluring, ultimately succumb to their own physical limitations. On a minimalist track like Lyle Lovett’s “Baltimore,” a small presence dip laid the vocal back in the mix slightly. There was also a bit of constriction in the lower treble during Sheryl Crow’s “I Shall Believe” that emphasized the upper elements of harmonized vocals and deemphasized the more throaty and chesty aspect of those voices. Larger, sweeping dynamics are tamped down a bit, and while bass response in a smaller room was very good, don’t expect the Venere to reproduce a bass note’s decay to the full extent before running out of wind. On a major plus side, port interaction and box colorations were virtually absent from my listening sessions.
At the end of any evaluation, I always ask myself the same question—am I sorry to see this gear leave? The Model 1.5 was so irresistible on a multitude of levels—concept, design, cost, and sound—I concluded that I not only didn’t want it to leave but also to call it anything other than a TAS Product of the Year would be an injustice. And I’m not done yet. I’ll be reviewing its floorstanding sibling, the Model 2.5, in a forthcoming issue. I can’t wait.