Sonus Faber Guarneri Tradition Review. The $17,000 Speaker that Breathes Music.

Sonus Faber Guarneri Tradition Review. The $17,000 Speaker that Breathes Music.

By Steve Huff – See my review of the previous model,  Guarneri Evolution, HERE. 

This is another HiFi Review. I do these from time to time as it has always been a part of my life and enjoyment in life. So yes, I enjoy fine cameras and fine audio ; ) 

Do dreams come true? Sure! They can and do all the time! I believe if we focus on our dreams, and push those dreams out to the universe with enough passion and drive that those dreams may just manifest for us. Sounds crazy, spooky and spiritual but it has never really failed me in life. Maybe it is just my passion and drive that allows me to accomplish my goals but sometimes it is just plain spooky how it happens. More on THAT later (in another time and post) as for now I want to talk about these gorgeous speakers that made their way to my listening room. BTW, I have owned EVERY VERSION of this speaker over the last 20 years. The Homage, The Memento and the Evolution. I am now excited to share my thoughts on this newest model, the Guarneri Tradition.

Does this new Guarneri version surpass what has come before or has Sonus Faber taken a wrong turn here? Read on to find out…

When it comes to HiFi or high end audio 2 channel stereo reproduction…

Well, I recently swore off expensive speakers (I tried anyway) after realizing that the really high end products are sometimes not so much more of an improvement over (some specific) lower cost models and of course the financial aspect of it all. In fact, right now I own a pair of THESE and they cost me around $1500 for the pair due to them arriving with some cosmetic damage. So the speakers I am reviewing today are much more expensive. Will they give me 12X the performance? Well, probably not but let’s see where this goes.

It is true that in high dollar speakers we get the big name, maybe a fancy design and materials but at the end of the day if a $1500-$5000 speaker can produce music that pleases the ear then why spend more? Why pay for a name? Why spend $17,000, $25,000 or even $100k on a set of speakers (yes some out there do and there are even $100k Turntables being made today) when you can get good music reproduction from a bluetooth speaker that costs $200? Well, some of you reading this know the answer to THAT question but seriously, we do not have to spend a fortune for good audio reproduction these days. By “Good” I mean good enough for 90% of us out there in the world. But what about if we want “Exceptional” or “Magical” or as I call it “Ethereal”? Well, that’s another story because if we want that last ounce of magic, it costs. Just like it does in the world of digital cameras, we can go for a $2000 camera or a $15,000 camera. Both do the same thing, but both offer a different experience. That is the difference here as well within the audio realm, the EXPERIENCE. The Experience is what makes a special camera or speaker or amp or really anything worth it to the one who makes the purchase.

The Sonus Faber Guarneri speaker has always been an amazing experience for me, at least in its past versions. That is why I bought them in the past. The build quality, the design, the beauty, the heritage of the design, that special sound signature of this model, and the fact that they look like pieces of art in my room. Some pay $100k for non functional pieces of art. The Guarneri for me has always been a piece of art that play some of the sweetest music you may ever hear. I have called these speakers “an instrument” in the past so sometimes, spending more on something that is a true passion in life is worth it.

My Luxman 590 AXII Performs Amplification Duties with 60 Class A Watts into the 4 OHM Guarneri – Review is HERE

When I listen to music I want that certain experience…one that touches my heart, my soul and one that allows me to feel the emotion within the music. I can not get that from a bluetooth speaker or heck, not even from the 1 million dollar systems I have heard in life! Yes, I have heard a million dollar stereo system on two occasions in life, and to me it was sort of lifeless, so money spent does not always equate to amazing sound reproduction. But there is a point within HiFi where you can get magical results without spending $30,000, $50,000 or 1 million dollars on a stereo. Much like the digital camera market, there are cameras that cost $40,000 but that does that not mean you can not enjoy the $1,200 camera. Even so, that doesn’t stop some of us from lusting after certain high end cameras from the likes of Leica, or Hasselblad, or other high end brands.

Me, I enjoy “good” stereo from lower end speakers and amps but the true magic, that energy and soul that I enjoy more than anything has really only come from some higher end systems I have owned. That last 10% that brings the magic, that many of us Audiophiles strive for and chase like fools. I am not a millionaire (or even close to it) so it has not always been easy for me to have the system I want or to justify it to myself or anyone else but I know what I like, and for me, life is meant to live, to enjoy and to do with it what makes you happy.

For those like me, the music lover, all that really matters is that enjoy the time, the experience, and the moments we have when listening to our music..lights dimmed, in the sweet spot. It kind of massages my soul in a way, and makes me feel good. At times it is almost like an out of body experience. 

We are not all as passionate about music as some of us are so I am speaking to you, the one reading this who knows just what I am talking about.

The Guarneri Homage Tradition is hand made in Italy by craftsman who know their craft. 

The Ethereal Experience

For over 25 years I have been into HiFi, “high end audio”..or should I say, the reproduction of music that pleases me and far far surpasses what I can get from a boombox type of device (though some today are shockingly good). I do not always look for the most detail or the usual audiophile wants and needs, but I always look for the ethereal experience. The sound that I hear in my head is not always easy to obtain from a set of speakers and electronics, but on occasion I get it or get mighty close to it. A massive 3 Dimensional soundscape you can almost walk into. This is what I like. 

What has always gotten me there…without fail?

The few times in life when my system was sounding so good that it had me in audio heaven, and I mean my favorite systems in life that I always. regret letting go of, they all had one thing in common.

That one thing comes in the form of Sonus Faber Speakers, namely the Guarneri of which I have owned all versions and models over the last 20 years until this latest version called Guarmeri Homage “Tradition”.

The original “HOMAGE” were the most beautiful speakers I have ever owned back in 1998-1999. They sound just as good as they look. 


While I lusted after these new modern looking Guarneri Tradition, seeing them in photos, I wanted to stick with my own promise of never spending big bucks on speakers again, and by “Big Bucks” I mean anything over $10k so maybe I should have said “Insane Bucks”. I have had speakers in my room that range from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands, but the best of the best, the ones that always delivered a special magic…that ethereal sound that spoke to my soul were the Guarneris of the past.

I loved all three previous versions as each offered up a different musical flavor while kind of being the same in many ways. They all breathed music, they all conveyed the emotion of the music.  Sure, I enjoyed many other speakers but none were giving me that experience of the Guarneri which I consider a musical instrument more that just a speaker. Maybe it is an emotional thing as the speaker in reality should be no better than a competing size speaker with good parts, drivers and design. Much of those speakers cost much less than these, but again, to me there is something special about this whole line of speaker.

The last model before this new Tradition was the EVOLUTION and I loved this speaker.

My old Mementos…

I have owned each version of the Guarneri over the last 20 years. So I have the all the experience I need to review these latest “Tradition” models and will tell you exactly what I think of them. 

I wrote about my history with this speaker in my old Guarneri Evolution review. You can see that here as I speak of my experience with the original Homage to the Memento to the Evolution. But these new Tradition Guarneris, from what I heard in forums and reviews are different and take a new approach to the way that reproduce music. After seeing them in the flesh at a local dealer I was worried that the soul was sucked out of them as the new stands (and design) were different than ever before. More modern, less “old world Italy” vibe. But hey, time moves on and at some point I guess these speakers had to get a facelift and that they did. What worried me is I kept reading how these were a more modern Guarneri with a more tipped up high end. Sure, the older Evolution was a warm fat sounding speaker, but I loved it for that even though it was almost leaning to be a tad too warm at times. When listening to the EVO’s I felt as if I was in a dimly lit Jazz club, the artists on stage in front of me. I could almost smell the whiskey and smoke.

Could the EVO’s have used more treble energy? Maybe, well, looking back I would say yes. My only niggle with the EVO’s over time was there was almost too much bass coming from them for my 12X13 room. But man did they sound so sweet, rich and organic. They did “breathe” music and never ever fatigued me.

So the new Traditions, at least from what I have read, take a new approach to the sound. I knew if this was the case they may be the 1st set of G’s I would not fall in love with. I loved the original Homage and so regret selling them many years ago. I enjoyed the Memento for their extra bass and zing but they were not as sweet as the original Homage though more versatile. The EVO’s were the most versatile of all of the G’s but some disliked the bigger bolder design and overly romantic sound which was much more romantic than the previous Mementos. Design and looks wise, the original takes it for me, then the memento, then the EVO but all are gorgeous IMO. All have top notch construction and materials that are second to none. Period.

BTW, If you are hearing the “new” Sonus Faber is making these speakers cheaply or not as good as before, that is 100% incorrect.

This is NOT the case with the higher end lines that are still hand made in Italy, so rest easy. The new Tradition may be the most well made and beautifully appointed Guarneri yet though I admit I do prefer the look of the 1st two versions, for sure.

Yes, this is a review of the new Guarneri Tradition.  I was prepping myself for disappointment. Redesign, new funky stands, and a lower price than the previous EVO by around $6000. I was worried! I had to hear them, no…I truly needed to hear them..in my room and with my system as only then would I have the answers to these questions that were bothering me.

Lucky for me, after a couple of visits to see them, my dealer allowed me to take the Traditions home to evaluate them in my own room. Ahhh, my curiosities were about to be answered!

The dealer (Mike Ware at LMC in Scottsdale AZ) warned me that he had VERY little time on these demos, maybe 1-2 hours. So he suggested I let them run for a day or so before listening which I did not do, as I was too excited to hear these beauties as soon as I got home. Upon setting them up I realized the new stands are different and a reason why these speakers may come in for $6000 less than the previous evolutions did. Yep, these are going to be a less cash outlay than the old versions (which retailed for $22k) yet  $7k more than the original $10k Homage. About $2k more than the Mementos sold for new which I believe came in at $15k. I will say in comparison to the Homage and Memento and even the EVO, the new stands appear…shall I say “Cheap” but only when compared to the earlier versions. Compared to most other monitor stands, these are pretty damn nice and are a custom fit to the speaker which sits on the stand and sort of locks in place so they can not be easily tipped off the stand. The speakers no longer bolt to the stand as in previous versions, instead here are pegs sticking out of the stand and the speakers have four little holes in the bottom where you simply sit them on the pegs.

But the price!

Yes, these are insane prices for two way monitors but these are not normal two way monitors as they are also part art, part high grade furniture and again, a musical instrument (at least past versions were) that can indeed convey amazing emotion with the music in a “touch your heart” kind of way (other speakers can as well though). Keep in mind there are MUCH more expensive small stand mounted speakers out there than these. There are also cheaper that gets you close to this sound but not the build, design, or “tradition” of the Guarneri or that exact sound reproduction of this speaker.

But the stands are new..smaller, lighter, carbon fiber, skinny…nothing like the old massive column and strings that made the Guarneri look so impressive. Gone was the look of the old, as this was time for the new. I thought maybe the look would grow on me, at least that was my hope (Update: They have but I still prefer the older style stands of the 1st two models).

FIRST IMPRESSIONS…I WAS (very) DISAPPOINTED. 

So I set these up in the room where I had my Dynaudio Special 40’s (and boy were those 40’s sounding amazing) and the Guarneri sounded louder and bigger than the smaller 40’s but also sounded kind of flat, bloated and dull in comparison. I was expecting some new treble zing as I have read about but instead I heard a warm speaker (which most G’s are) that had no real air, no real imaging and just sounded “there’. They could play loud without strain but where was the magic that Guarneris always had? I called my son over to see if it was just me. I told him nothing other than the fact that I got the new G’s in for demo, and seeing that his fave speakers have always been the Evolutions he wanted to see and hear them.

His first impression was “I’m not impressed” as he looked over at me with a disappointed look on his face. He liked the build, design and style but said the Dynaudio Special 40’s sounded way better, and they are $13,000 less expensive! I agreed with him at that moment. I was shocked and wondered what was happening. The G’s played louder with the same volume setting over the Special 40’s but had less transparency, air and there was no imaging to speak of. Freaked me out to be honest!

Ugh. I was excited for these but the special 40’s were wiping the floor with these new $16,900 retail cost (not what I paid) speakers. How could this be possible? Every other version of this speaker was magic in this room. I mean, magic. What is happening I asked myself?

As my son and I looked over the speakers we admired the beauty and construction which IMO surpass the original and memento and even the Evolution (or at least equals them). Thee are gorgeous speakers in Red or Wenge though my pref is for the new Wenge color as it just looks so right for this speaker and the new stand. I actually was able to have both colors here over time and the Wenge was by far my favorite, but your preference may vary.

Anyway, I spoke with Mike Ware and he told me “Let them run for a couple days, do not even listen to them yet”. I did just that. I let them run for 2 days without listening much not expecting my views to change. But hey, something strange happened after those two days of constant running in…

THE MAGIC WAS BACK!

Well, low and behold, two days later I come back into my room and there was a massive change, for the better. A new huge sound, a big 3D sound.  They opened up and gone was the flat sound, the dullness and in this room. To those who think speakers do not break in over time, you are 100% wrong. Nothing was changed yet the speakers were now flowing with an effortless ease. Big, open, clearer and with the Guarneri signature.

I ended up spending some time to reposition them to get the most out of them, and even brought out the tape measure and masking tape. After this,  I was hearing a set of speakers with some wonderful imaging and gusto. These were sounding so so good. A huge soundstage which was missing before, dead center vocals which was also missing, and the air that was missing was now here. That Guarneri magic returned, so that made me very happy. The bass was rich and full but scaled back a tad from the EVO’s which was a good thing in my room (but may not be in yours). With a smaller mid driver the bass is tighter and has some kick to it as well without any bloat at all. But these have a velvety rich, full yet detailed sound once they started running in.

BUT they do need some juice to get going. At very low night time (as in, 1am, when everyone is asleep but you) volume settings on my Luxman, these sounded a tad sterile and lifeless.

My fears of the G’s going bright or too zingy were laid to rest when I turned up my volume dial and heard the big huge wall of sound that was rich, warm yet detailed and somewhat crisp yet it was speaking to my heart. In fact, something happened that hasn’t happened in years..I shed a tear while listening to some music. It touched my soul. This is a true story and it made me remember my days and memories with all previous Guarneri speakers. 

The original Guarneri Homage were with me during some special times in life and memories of my son and I when he was just 5 years old or so, as we enjoyed music in my  basement with the Guarneri. While we decorated the Christmas tree after a move to a new house while the original Guarneri breathed out Christmas classics with their stunning beauty in full display we danced, sang and had wonderful memories made. I foolishly sold them after deciding I wanted more bass. I have regretted that decision for years. These were special speakers indeed and may be the best midrange I have experienced from any speaker… ever.

The Mementos were with me in this house, in this room where I am writing these words now. They were with me through a divorce and one night while in a deep depression I was listening to the Mementos with my faithful dog at my side, shedding tears and realizing that the music and my faithful companion was saving me. I lost those speakers as I had to sell for financial reasons at that time (divorce) but I missed them dearly. The sound had a nicer high end and more bass than the Homage with a similar beautiful design. Some say the mementos were not as good as the Homage, but get close.

The Evolutions were released and I managed to get a pair as I was so excited to see a new Guarneri and I had quite the setup and perfected my room and space with them but over time, my room was a tad too small for them as the bass energy was immense and on some tracks it would just be too much of a good thing. Even so, those EVO’s were some of my favorite speaker ever as when it was right, it was magic. My faithful dog passed away while these EVO’s were with me and he would at times listen with me, or hang with me while I listened. After trading in the EVO’s for something else I immediately knew I made a mistake. See the theme here? I sell a Guarneri and regret it for years. I lose a Guarneri and miss them terribly. This doesn’t happen with other speakers for me, only the Guarneri. Much like when I sell a Leica Camera or lens. I regret it or miss it. Sometimes I have no choice as it may be for financial reasons but what I do know is I love this speaker as it doesn’t just reproduce music, it breathes it.

Back to the Tradition but 100 hours of run in later….

It’s been a few days since I started writing this review as I wanted to let the speakers get more time on them, as well as position them perfectly in the room (and this has been much harder than any other speaker I have owned). Not sure why, but these are a challenge to get JUST right in your room. They finally ended up MUCH wider apart than I sit from them with a toe in that hits about a foot behind my head. This offers me a HUGE LUCIOUS soundstage I could walk into, with a tonal balance that is rich, full and never bloated or lean. Vocals are dead center, instruments extend far beyond the speakers, and in fact, the speakers disappear and seem to vanish. Sound does not appear to come from the boxes but instead, the room itself. This is what I mean by “This speaker BREATHES music”. I have them about 2 1/2 feet from the wall, into the room and my listening seat is about 1 foot from the wall behind me. This offers me everything I look for in the sound. Perfect.

So now here I am listening to the new “Tradition”, and have over 100 hours on them plus whatever the dealer had on them (he said just 5-10 hours).

I have had some amazing speakers in this room, and now, after spending hours placing these Guarneri Traditions, tweaking cables and other things… what I am hearing is that magical Guarneri magic once again but with a slightly new presentation that is an improvement to this wonderful instrument and what came before it.

More transparent, and if I can be 100% honest, these remind me of the original Homage but with more bloom, more bass and while the midrange may not be quite as sweet as those original Homage Guarneri or as full throated as the EVO, it is 90% there while everything else is better. It has the Homage flavor without question, not the EVO and not the Memento. Each model sounds a bit different but retains some of that Sonus Faber sound. Silky, Smooth, Rich, Nice wide and deep soundstage and great vocals. These are in no way bright, harsh or analytical  but rather lean to the the slightly warm side of neutral.

If I were to rate each model, it would be like this:

Homage: BEST Midrange but this was it’s strength. Lacked bass but the mids made up for it. Didn’t play too loud either but were best for jazz, instruments and vocal. NOT for rock or metal.

Memento: A Guarneri that could rock if need be. No, they did not rock too hard, but good enough for some. In a small room these were pretty sweet but the tweeter was the brightest of all Guarneri models. Had a little bite but for most music it sounded good this way. This was the last Franco Serblin designed Guarneri.

Evolution: Bigger, badder, and these were the Guarneris that sounded like full range speakers in a small or moderately sized room. A warm signature with a big fat sound, and a holographic soundstage. These were the best for soundstage, and room filling magic but in some rooms the bass could be too much. These were like the muscle car version of the Memento.

Tradition: These are as close to the Homage as any other version but these do not have as good of a midrange, but it gets close. Even and very tight bass that can kick, no bloat, no fat warmth. These are the most neutral G’s yet and again sound more like the original homage (but with more bass ) than any other version. A slightly smaller soundstage than the Evo, but these are fantastic with imaging and have more transparency and detail. Leans slightly warm still unless you have bright sounding equipment and cables.

I have a full Valhalla V1 loom from interconnects to speaker cables (closeout deals at Upscale Audio in California) and they sound just unreal good.

These are quite a bit more dynamic than the EVO, not as thick sounding as the EVO, clearer than the EVO and just as 3 Dimensional as the EVO, if not more (once set up right which took me 2 days). It’s a more balanced sound than ANY previous Guarneri ever made from what I am hearing. It is amazing how much running them in and moving them changed them in a mater of 2-3 days. After they did run in, I placed the Special 40’s back in and yep, they are fantastic. BUT they now sounded a teeny tad dull and small in comparison.

Do I like these better than the previous model? In some ways yes (more open sound is nice) but actually in some ways no (like the old style stand). Tough call but the fact that these are $7k less expensive means these bought new would be better ; ) More for the money. The Tradition has a better high end than any Guarneri before it with more detail and is not as “congested” in the mid bass. Smoother than the memento high end.

MADE IN ITALY

These are hand made in Italy, and in no way have they had corners cut. These are crafted like a fine instrument and are the best constructed Sonus Faber’s I have ever seen (and I have owned MANY SF speakers old to new and others besides the Guarneri), so the quality is here. The Wenge finish is simply breathtaking in person. Photos do not do these justice. I have read some forums where some were saying these are made “on the cheap” these days, and that is simply a falsehood! 100% Untrue.

Truth be told, I was expecting these to be the worst G’s of the bunch. But this was not the case. These are beautiful in looks and sound and again, a different flavor of Guarneri as all previous models have been.

Expensive? Yes, with a retail of $16,900 and a price increase coming in 2019 (what a dealer told me) these are priced high, but I was just looking at a Leica camera that sells for $15,800. A Jim Marshall Leica Monochrome B&W only digital camera from PopFlash.com. Hmmm. The times we live in.

Music just like photography touches my soul, and I love having the experience of both.

These come in two boxes. One wooden crate with the speakers and accessories and one for the stands which are pre filled with some sort of weighted material to dampen them. Part of the experience of these is the unboxing! 

The Guarneri Tradition…what will they give you?

When paired correctly with a good amp and cables (I use my Luxman 590 AXII (see review here) and it powers them beautifully in my 12X13 room (though one would need more power in a larger room and to open these up even more).  With a proper setup you can expect…

A large 3d soundscape, holographic imaging with the right recordings, silky smooth tweeter yet with detail that is never over cooked or over done. Such an ethereal sound with some recordings and with others a precise presentation. Small details, intimate details but not etched or hard, instead lush and huge at times depending on the recording of course.

Guitars and acoustics sound so good on these, ambient is amazing, vocals are rich and present while not as forced forward as the Evolutions. Rather they are held back in the stage a bit but the imaging is superb. When listening to a female vocal for example, I hear the artist between the speakers, not coming from the speakers. The voice is set back behind the speakers in the middle (with the EVO they were pushed forward like a front row performance, with the Tradition, it feels more like a 6th row experience). The instruments are well separated and come from where they should as you can imagine the artists on stage, where they are standing and it’s a magical experience with good recordings.

But with that said, crappy old digital recordings from the 80’s will still sound crappy. These do not improve bad recordings as the EVO’s sort of did. That comes when a speaker adds mid bass and makes even thin brittle recordings sound “fat” and full. With the Tradition, crap in means 80% crap out. It does help a little compared to some speakers but much like the original Guarneri, these want quality in.

The bass is powerful and never flabby as the EVO’s sometimes got for me (with some tracks) and much more present than with the Mementos which at times sounded a little thin to me. The bass with the Tradition’s is powerful and fast and quick. I do not need a sub in my 12X13 room with these but they do not pump out as much mid bass as the Evolution did which at times and on some recordings can offer up a “thinner’ presentation. They put out more than the Memento and original though.

As I sit and listen to “confessions of the mind” from Enigma the bass is simply perfect. Rich, big, tight, and I can FEEL it in my body if I up the volume enough. Yet it never “booms”. My Luxman is putting out only 6o Class A Watts into the 4 Ohm Guarneri Tradition. These are 87 DB efficient so not efficient at all yet the Luxman is giving them an amazing 3D life but again, I feel if I had 100WPC of class A these would be taken a step up (I so want a Luxman M800A to add to my 590). So no skimping on amplification with these. A nice high current well made amp will make these sing.

The Luxman is so nice with these. Intimate, delicate and precise yet a huge sound that is one you can almost step into. Never harsh and it may lean a tad to the warm side (just a tad) so Luxman with these is leaning rich and warm over cool to neutral which for my tastes is perfect.

If you are after hyper details and super crisp sound, these speakers are not for you. If you want the soul of music, these are worthy of an audition or listen as they do have a way of touching your heart. Romance is alive and well in Italy, and with these Guarneris.

Without question,  Sonus Faber has created the best bass performance (not most bass but tightest) from a Guarneri to date in this newest Tradition model. It’s taught, tight and fast when compared to the previous model. The Guarneri is alive, well and still seems like a living breathing instrument instead of just speakers. Smooth as silk, never fatiguing and a sweet holographic presentation awaits. But setup and electronics are key with these.

QUALITY CONTROL

Someone told me recently that these new Guarneri were just an Olympica I in disguise. They heard this from a dealer somewhere and that had me worried. Rest easy my friends, as this is NOT the case at all. These are a few levels up from an Olympica I. (which I have demoed here as well and liked but not enough to buy them at $7k). These are world class, and worthy of the Guarneri name and come in for thousands less than the predecessor, the Evolution.

These are true Sonus Faber speakers that I 100% believe would make Franco Serblin proud. I have owned them all, these are up there with the best, the originals, but with sound, even better. Looks? I still prefer and have a soft spot for the original Homage and old stand design. Maybe because it was my 1st Guarneri, or I knew they were designed and made by Franco Serblin. They had a mystique about them to me that was very very special indeed. While these Traditions sound better overall, the original Homage is one I would like to own again just to have. Heck, If I had the cash I would own all versions and have them in display in my home. THAT is how much I enjoy this speaker and their history and heritage.

Some will say “That is nuts to buy a $17,00 speaker”. Well, I agree and also disagree. First you can get them for less if you are creative and have a dealer you have worked with for a while and trading in older gear really helps. Second, this is no different from those who spend $15k on a camera. $20k on a watch. $50k on a boat. $100k on a car. $200k on whatever it is that tickles their fancy. Some have more money than others and some just go with the credit card to get the things they enjoy in life. If something improves upon your life how do we put a dollar amount on that?

For me, these are indeed the most refined and polished Guarneri made to date. The looks have changed but the sound is pure Guarneri through and through with more transparency than before, and tighter bass performance that still leans to the warm side of neutral (with my Luxman amp). A speaker that touches your heart and soul. While not a speaker for everyone, it is a speaker that may speak to you as it did to me. As always, an audition is key if you have interest in these. I never recommend buying a speaker of this caliber without an audition, preferably in your own home. With some wheeling and dealing, and some trade ins I was able to acquire the demo models at a discount and without too much stress ; )

I simply could not resist the charm of the Guarneri.

Quick Compare (by Request)

In comparison to my Beloved Klipsch Cornwall III they sound smaller, have more air, have  more detail (but not tons more) and have much better imaging and soundstage width and depth. They are much more transparent as well though they still lean warm and rich in my small 12X13 room (larger room may be a different story). The Cornwall presents a more effortless wall of sound that is super sweet with Luxman electronics (102 DB efficient) and image very well without any horn coloration or hardness at all. Smooth as butter these Cornwalls and they are warmer than the Guarneri and sound a tad muffled side by side.

UPDATE JAN 12th 2019:  More time with the Guarneri and believe it or not they have opened up even more. They have gotten better at low volume, and have expanded the soundstage to improve upon what I used to get from the Evolutions. I will say now that these are placed, set up, burned in and have been running every day now and that these, for me, are a much better speaker than any version before it. If I let go of emotions and the memories I had with prior versions, and go only by sound, these win easily. They are rich without being bloated (evolution), they are expansive in soundstage and precise with imaging (best of the lot for me) without any bite to the treble (Memento), they have a fullness to the sound and never sound thin (Homage) and they offer up the best of the previous models when it comes to sound. They are also being driven by only 60 watts of class A and sound amazing.

I will say that I also changed my interconnects from the insanely priced Valhalla 2 to something that retail for 1/7th the cost and the sound improved by quite a bit in some ways. The Valhalla 2 was and is a darker leaning cable (opposite of the old Nordost sound) with my equipment, and if your speakers or amp lean to the warmer side of neutral then the V2 may be too much of a good thing. There was a lack of sparkle, or not much spark that was leading to some listening sessions and some recordings sounding “dead” or “dull”. I had no idea what it was until I took out the V2 cable. I ended up with the original Valhalla RCA that was being sold on massive clearance, new, at Upscale Audio. I bought two pairs for half the cost of what I paid for one set of V2 and they sound much better in my system than the v2. See this review of both HERE. 

The soundstage expanded, the details popped out, yet it still had an ethereal ease the way the music flowed. Vocals became more real and present as well. No harshness, no hardness, but rather still a tad warm but with a 3 dimensional sound. The V2 was nice and meatier in the mid bass but also not as expansive so these Valhalla 1 sound a bit thinner but just with a more dimensional sound which I prefer to fat and direct. Crazy how synergy places such a huge roll which means never go by cost when buying an interconnect. Go by sound, and yes they make a night and day difference in some systems. Some sound worse, some sound better. But all is personal to you.

Anyway, These are the finest speakers I have heard in this size and class of speaker. Are there better? Maybe, but again, that is personal and what I like you may not, and vice versa. There really is no “best” as we all have our personal tastes in sound. I will say synergy with your equipment plays a huge roll, and if you do not get that right it s a challenge, sometimes a life long challenge, to get it right. Give these speakers quality amplification, a quality source and quality cables and you will have magic in your smaller room (Larger rooms would need a sub).

MUSICAL NOTES:

VOCALS. Wow. I love all kinds of music. I have an eclectic taste and really listen to everything. Right now I am listening to “Anniversary Song” from Andy Williams through my PS Audio DirectStream dac running SnowMass (a life long DAC). I am using the Bridge II to stream Spotify premium. To me, its sounds quite a bit better than running Tidal HiFi (which I also have) as I feel Tidal sucks some life from the music. Not sure why or how but it does in my room and setup.

Anyway, Andy is just right to dead center just behind the speakers. The guitar strumming is appearing in front of the voice to the right even further while I hear various instruments layers into the wall of sound. The soundstage is bigger than my room, and limited by my room dimensions. The music is floating in space, in the room and never sound as it is coming from the speakers.

I have heard this song many times, even with the old Evolutions. But now, here it is almost a spiritual experience. This is what it is all about, emotion is being conveyed here. You can hear it in Andy’s voice.

Mercan Dede – 18 Mayis. This track is so 3 dimensional with so much layering going on. I have never heard a track quite like it. The instruments are so well separated and appear from all directions in the soundstage with the flute dead center at all times. You can just envision the musician as each breath is heard. It is human, it is tangible almost. The guitar plucks are massively rounded and full and again, so dimensional. This sounds so good I have listened to it a dozen times. In a good system, this will sound just amazing.

Johnny Hartman – Don’t you know I Care. Here is a track that shows the dynamics of the Guarneri as when that big rich sax kicks in on your right, BAM! The piano on the left with the vocals locked in to the center all make for an intimate performance with Johnny right there in the room with you. The G’s portray this in a very rich way with a warmth and yet holographic presentation. The highs are just right and never ever hard or bright. The bass line can be clearly heard in the back right behind the speaker and Johnny. Close your eyes and soak it in. You are there.

Melanie De Biasio – Afro Blue. Here is one with dead center rich deep vocals almost as if they are emerging from space, and a big full bass line that keeps the beat moving. But this is a great demo for how good the vocals can sound with the Guarneri. When the piano kicks in we get that amazing layering and reverb trails that hang in the air as if they are floating in the middle of the room. The speakers paint a massive transparent picture and it never sounds as if the music is emerging from a box or any speaker at all. It just exists. 

VINYL – KISS ALIVE II  – The first album I ever bought at age 9. On all of my previous systems, even with the big horn loaded Cornwalls this album sounded thin, and of average quality. With the Guarneri and using the built in phono stage of my Luxman 590 AXII I am transported to the 1977/78 Love Gun tour and WOW. There is actually layering here and imaging and this sounds huge, fat, big and airy and well, like I never heard it. All from monitor speakers and a 1978 rock and roll album. My room is only 12X13 and I do not use nor do I need a sub. Yes, the G’s can also rock out if you desire and Vinyl is amazing with the Traditions.

Also be sure to listen to Maneli Jamal’s Amazing Grace, Melanie Gardot Live in Europe Bad News, Hailey Tuck’s Cruel Summer and to rock out even more with a massive 3D wall of sound check out Myrkur THE SERPENT. All music I have listened to on these speakers sound out of this world. Something not all speakers can or do accomplish. Actually, it is quite rare. 

38 Comments

  1. Do you know the recent Sonus Faber Electa Amator III would compare?
    They seem interesting because they have a bigger midwoofer, like the Evolutions.

    • I do not, wish I could hear them but have no way to do so. I can say that these are in no way lacking in mid bass or bass, it’s perfect…the Evolutions were exaggerated in this area somewhat in comparison. But the Amator III looks beautiful.

  2. Hi Steve,

    Nice to read you are back in the Guarneri’s world.

    Your writing is definitely coming from the heart and it’s always a pleasure reading your sincere point of view.

    I am curious to know if you miss the line magnetic vs. luxman.

    I heard that integrated, the 800 and 900 stereo and found them detailed although too thin playing classical with Memento in a very live room with little treatment.

    Right now I use a refined SS amp with plenty of power in 4ohms, but I am tempted to try Ayon, despite your remarks about the Chinese parts.

    Have you ever listened to any from your local dealer?

    • Hello, and thank you! The LM 219 is my fave tube amp of all time, but I admit, I have not heard ALL tube amps. Im sure there are better, I just love the look, design, sound, power and the 845’s of the LM. Between it and the Luxman, the Luxman wins for me. Much more layered sound, more transparent without being thin or anemic. The Luxman, was just listening last night and it made me a bit sad…as I know it can’t get any better in my room. Different? Sure, but better for my tastes? No. It has the perfect balance and nothing is exaggerated. Very holographic and sweet sound. The LM was fatter, more tube bloom kind of sound which I also love but this Luxman is special indeed. Ayon, I did not like them at all. I tried one at home and it sucked the kids out of my speakers. I heard the $$$ ones at the showroom and they sounded sharp and bright to me. Loud, but not my kind of sound. My Luxman is not thin sounding in any way, but it also does not exaggerate bass like beats headphones do ; )

      • Steve, thank you a lot for the honest opinion and apologies for the late response.

        I am familiar with Ayon and they have to be matched with the right transducer to perform. You save me the hassle to borrow them from the dealer.

        You are 100% spot on about the Luxman qualities, it just didn’t work in my room. The 900 is a step up and probably one of the best electronics ever.

        Anyhow, I have a light in the dark limited on the way from the hands of a nice gentleman and report back in due time.

  3. These are truly wonderful sounding. I wish SF would’ve done as well with the Serafinos as they did these. Somehow, the Serafinos just have too much treble which makes them sound thin. I wanted more extension down low so ended up with Sopra 2s. They are fantastic as well as you know, but still I long for some Sonus Fabers in my system!

  4. These super expensive mini monitors look like a good 3/4 camera by Medium Format price.
    Mini monitor will never sound like big, high sensitivity horn speakers with 15 inch woofers or horn bass section.
    The same, 3/4 camera and lenses can be very good, but they will never be close to Medium Format or 35mm Leica.

    • I own big Horn sneakers with a 15 woofer. The Guarneri are better in ever way, even bass, in the same room. These are the medium format, the large horns are like a big fat DSLR. Medium format shines with its resolution, it’s beauty and it’s effortless ease of which an image is captured onto the large sensors. Same as the Guarneri. ; )

  5. Steve… twice in the last two months your timing and specific review choices have FLOORED me. First, I had been visiting the Luxman website checking out their line, and then I find you post a Luxman review; secondarily, I had been looking at the SF Guarneri’s online a few weeks ago as they just seemed to stick in my mind…and BAM you post a review of them. WOW. Thank you for the work you put into this as it’s very, VERY helpful.

  6. Hi Steve, congratulations on your beautiful system. I recall you were reviewing powered loudspeakers awhile ago – was that a different system or has this one replaced them – your thoughts comparatively? I’m currently salivating over Avantgarde Zero 1 XD – powered horn speakers – match your Hasselblad, numerically speaking.
    Thanks

    • I owned the very 1st Avantgarde Uno’s years ago. Loved them for their style and uniqueness. They had many flaws though back then and and much better today. Over the last 25 years I have been able to test many speakers and electronics. Some were purchases others were those who let me try things out. Audio is a very personal thing, and room size and what is in it dictates the sound of a speaker more than anything. Then positioning and setting them up. Then electronics, cables, etc. So many variables. But if I had to pick a “speaker of the year it would have been the Dynaudio Special 40 as those sound as good as speakers costing 2-3X as much as they do.

      • Thanks for your thoughts Steve.
        I’m trying Tidal hifi through a Chord Mojo into a Rogue amp with good results. I think it might be worth the extra subscription costs.

  7. Thanks for the time you devote to your work, Steve. One comparison I never see in audiophile reviews is a report on how the device compares to hearing music live. If I want to hear the “passion” behind the music then being there is always the better option. “Room filling,” “ethereal” “breathing music” are all part of a live performance. Plus, you get the added benefit of knowing that the musicians are putting themselves into every note. Hopefully all who consider themselves audiophiles also support local musicians, be they a symphony, school band, or buskers on the corner. Meaningful support would cost a lot less than the high end components often reviewed.

    • Thanks Bob, and yes I agree. I will say that the Klipsch Cornwall III delivers a stunning live like feel for much less cash ; ) But yes, support your local musicians! Debby and I go to local live shows every week and enjoy it very much.

  8. Great review! Would love to hear them with my Copland CTA 405 amp and Copland 289 cdplayer. Keep up the great work in 2019 and all the best for you and your loved ones.

  9. Great review! Would love to hear these with my Copland CTA 405 amp and Copland 289 cd player. Keep up the great work in 2019 and all the best for you and your loved ones.

  10. Hi Steve,

    Good for you, I have the original Guarneri Homage with a pair of REL T5’s in my living room which I use with a Devialet amp and Roon software. I love the simplicity of the system. The whole family can use it with an iPad or phone.
    You have great priorities, photography & music. Happy New Year.

  11. Hi Steve,
    My local audio shop has these too – you speak 100% truth. These are sublime speakers. Simply sublime. I’ve discovered that in my ideal world I’d probably own different speakers for different types of music.
    The latest type I’m looking at is a pair of hybrid electro static martin logans…. have you any experience with them. I stumbled on them a few days back and blown away by the clarity and velvet smoothness of the sound.
    Anyway, hope you enjoy your new system – it’s absolutely drool worthy!

    Finally, are you using Nordost flat wire with these or something else ?

    Thanks,

    Tom.

    • Thanks for reading Tom. There are so many crazy good audio products out these days. I have heard the latest ML’s and they are superb as well. As for cables I use Nordost Frey 2 for my speaker cables.

    • I haven’t but when I used to have hard floors many years ago it caused many reflections. Though what I have now may be too damped with thick carpet, couch, pillows etc. Thank you.

    • Rule #1 for avoiding GAS (and other problems): once you find something you really like… STOP LOOKING! Applies to audio gear, cameras, spouses, etc. Personally, I’ll happily stick with my pristine Heresy II speakers I bought for $300 for the pair.

  12. Fun article, as was your recent Luxman review. I enjoy your audio posts as much as your photo stuff. Thanks for allowing some of us to live vicariously!

  13. hi steve, thanks for your many useful reviews, following you site since several years, have a good time in 2019…..

  14. Hi Steve,

    I’ve always enjoyed your website and camera reviews, and let me say I enjoyed your Guarneri review as well – nicely done!

    Kind regards,

    Jeff

  15. I really enjoy reading all your reviews. Always totally positive and always pleasant to read.
    No negativity in life is a principle I always cherish.
    Have a good 2019 for you and your loved ones.

  16. I was curious to see if you would mention how they compared to your current listening speakers in the Klipsch Cornwalls. I know they are TOTALLY different beasts but since you were enjoying them so much I thought a comparison might be slipped in there. What sort of pros and cons do you get comparing a high end bookshelf size speaker to the highly efficient vintage style Goliaths with massive drivers?

  17. $17,000 is just a tad shy of the annual tuition at my daughter’s university. Now consider 4 years and 2 more daughters coming right be hind her. I do very well mind you but I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I spent anywhere near 17k for a pair of loudspeakers. Nope, instead just 350 for Sony’s finest noise cancelling Bluetooth headphones…then I look at your photos of the Guarneri’s and pretend LOL! 😉

  18. Hey Steve,
    i am happy for you cause i totally get it why you bought them and what they mean to you. You can spend money on lesser things. I think it is a worth while investment even at this price point. Music is about emotions and i know what a good system can do to transport that emotions up to the point where you think its real, you are there where the music is performed. I am also a hughe fan of the SF brand. I think the styling is something you get on top of exquisite and unique sound quality but i am not a hughe fan of the advertisement 😉
    As always love the way you describe your feelings and impressions along the way. Wish you some peaceful time and a good start into 2019. Have fun. All the best. Elderin

  19. Hi Steve, owning a photographyblogsite certainly did you well! Together with the Luxman, a pair of these aren’t cheap.. enjoy your music!

    • Well, 11 years and always living a simple life. House was cheap when I bought it ($79k), and has been paid off for 5 years now and almost tripled in value. One car for the household. Nothing fancy besides my camera and this setup. No debt. No fancy lifestyle. I have been smart with my earnings over the years and managed to save which I always prefer to do over spend. This site doesn’t earn me much $$ these days really, but that is sort of by choice. ; ) All about enjoying life stress free, and being happy with your choices, decisions and direction. Thank you.

      • You are doing great Steve. Keep up the good work! And again enjoy your music! We share the same love in things. And a stressless life. You sure made the right choices!

Comments are closed.