Sonus Faber Cremona Auditor Elipsa (£2498)

Designed to complement the Cremona range in a rear surround role, these compact two-way speakers may be deserving of a front-of-house spotlight

Some years ago, Magnepan produced a tiny panel for in-store display as a point-of-sale item. It was a miniature Maggie, maybe 18in tall, with sections cut away to show the technology. I asked Jim Winey, ‘Why not make them functioning speakers?’ But, alas, my first visit to Magnepan took place well before home theatre and Dolby Surround would deem small speakers desirable. But I loved the idea of a pair of ‘mini Maggies’ for the desk, or the bedroom, knowing they would never be realised.
   Not wanting to be caught out a second time, two decades later, I simply assumed that Sonus faber’s Auditor Elipsa was a non-working scale model of the Stradivari Homage or the Cremona Elipsa. It was too teensy, too damned cute to be a real speaker. Hell, you could almost hide it behind an LP sleeve. I couldn’t believe it was a real speaker.
   Accepting that it was, indeed, a real speaker, I never expected the latest in the Cremona range to ‘pull a Wilson’: like Wilson’s mind-boggling Duette, designed for near-wall or shelf placement, the Auditor Elipsa belies its raison d’etre by acting as a stunning stereo pair for full-time, audiophile pleasure. Yes, this mini-masterpiece was conceived primarily for rear-channel or other secondary uses. Which is as preposterous as finding out, say, that Ornellaia was developed as a table wine. (Which it wasn’t, I hasten to add...)

An all-new design using the Stradivari/Elipsa panel-meets-oval elliptical topology, the Auditor Elipsa is wider than it is deep: 341 x 335 x 224mm (hwd) including the supplied wall-mounting hardware. And the brackets don’t have much to support: these weigh only 15.2kg per pair. The brackets bolt to the back and allow the speakers to pivot as needed. But I owe it to all of you to spend the next year or so begging Sonus faber to produce a dedicated floor stand. My-oh-my, does this speaker justify it.
   Even scaled down, Franco Serblin’s radical, almost panel-like cabinet shape for the Stradivari – a form created to control resonance and standing waves – remains drop-dead gorgeous. Available in natural maple or light graphite, the Auditor Elipsa is the Liv Tyler of speakers. It’s a testimony to Italian wizardy. Something in the water... or the wine. Whatever the source, no other nationality possesses design skills like it.
   Behind the trademark ‘violin string’ grille on this two-way vented box is a 25mm ‘ultra dynamic ring radiator-driver’ for the upper frequencies. It crosses over at 2.5kHz to a 150mm mid-woofer with Sonus faber’s Symmetric Drive Motor System and wood fibre cone, treated for break-up control.
   Being Italian and dazzlingly attractive, it’s also made of materials and fashioned in a manner that are simpatico with the form. ‘Pretty’ isn’t enough. The Auditor Elipsa recalls fine furniture, the glovebox door in a Bentley, a humidor from Humidif. Even before Sonus faber named a trio of speakers after famous violin makers, the company’s artistry yielded enclosures that suggested nearby Cremona. This diminutive treasure gives up nothing to its larger siblings.
   As with its antecedents, the Auditor Elipsa features sandwich construction achieved by using hand-selected layers of various woods and solid maple, ‘quality graded and oriented’ to enhance performance. Details include the aforementioned grille which completes the visual link to the first Guarneri, and the terminals on the back are the recently-introduced, bespoke multi-way binding posts for bare wire, spades or banana plugs, designed so you don’t need a spanner or special tool to tighten them sufficiently.

Because Sonus faber’s ambitions for the Auditor Elipsa are so modest – did they not know before this left the factory that it was a bloody marvel? – the specification is almost prosaic. A small box claiming a 55Hz–30kHz response, 89dB sensitivity and 4ohm nominal impedance? With that description, you’d be hard-pressed to imagine anything different from thousands of undistinguished boxes designed to run off AV receivers of questionable pedigree.
   Connected to the McIntosh C2200 and MC2102 pre/power combo with Yter cable (also, I believe, used internally in the speaker), the Auditor Elipsa was fed material via the Marantz CD-12 CD player. 

These speakers are large in scale and bass ‘mass’; you won’t believe you’re hearing a speaker a mere inch or so taller than an LS3/5A. The Calling’s twangy cover of the Georgia Satellites’ masterpiece, ‘Keep Your Hands to Yourself’ summoned attack, speed, transient recovery and clarity as you would expect from a speaker with the same tweeter as the ‘Strad’ – one of the finest transducers on earth. Irrespective of the voice or instrument, lucidity and transparency marked the mid-to-upper reaches. And while it rips my guts out to say this, the vocals sounded more natural than via LS3/5As.
   An assortment of voices reinforced this impression. With the unplugged This Is Pat DiNizio, which opens with one of the finest versions ever of the Beatles ‘For No One’, the concept that a hi-fi system – as much as a recording – can convey emotion is hard to dispute. You could hear real aching and longing, something the Smithereens’ front-man expresses with abject sincerity.
   Dion’s Son Of Skip James, continuing his transition into bluesman, is a more sonorous affair, but as with DiNizio’s album, sparse arrangements allow you to nail down to the millimetre such matters as instrument positioning and soundstage dimensions. In these areas, the small Sonus thinks it’s a point source. Almost magically, they seem to disappear. The soundstage ignores the speakers’ edges.
   Thanks to the superbly mastered Led Zeppelin smorgasbord, Mothership, I accepted that the Amator Elipsas defied logic: they coped with the sheer bombast of ‘Immigrant Song’, the spatial decay in ‘Good Times Bad Times’, the brontosaurus thud of Bonham’s drums, as if six times the size. Forget about installing these in the back of the room. They deserve pride of place. In other words, amazing things come in small packages.

Something told me that the Auditor Elipsa merited more than relegation to rear channel usage. It is a glorious, huge-sounding, fulfilling speaker that emulates the virtues of no less than the LS3/5A, but with real-world power handling, satisfying bass and looks to die for. Gorgeous-looking, great-sounding and small? Simply irresistible? All that and more.

Originally published in the March 2008 issue