Introduction - What is the Sonus faber Lumina I?
The Sonus faber Lumina I is a small, two way speaker. It is notable for a few reasons, the first of which is that it really is small, one of the smallest standmounts I’ve ever tested for AVForums. The next is that, without meaning to sound like a Marks & Spencer advert, this is not just a speaker, this is a Sonus faber speaker. Sonus faber exists in the great Italian tradition of blurring the boundaries of engineering and art to the point where they are no longer distinct. There are good, solid, acoustically justified reasons for why the company does what it does but the results are also unquestionably sculpture as well as science.
Many of those refinements and design decisions do not exist here however, it is materially impossible for them to do so. The Lumina I costs £800. This is a fair amount of money for a small speaker but, in a world of seasoned timber blocks, painstaking lacquering and exquisite curves, it doesn’t go very far. This means that Sonus faber has had to find new ways of getting its aesthetic across. If a speaker has a Sonus faber badge on it, it needs to feel special even before we turn to the tedious business of actually making a decent transducer.
So, the Lumina I has to be a good speaker and is has to a be a little piece of aesthetic joy at the same time. It also has to do it on a budget that is, by the standards of a company that cheerfully operates into the six figure range, quite tight. Can the Lumina I walk this difficult walk?
Specification and Design
The Lumina I is the smallest member of the Lumina family that forms the entry point of the Sonus faber lineup. This is a three strong range of speakers, standmount, floorstander and centre speaker (like many companies, subwoofers now exist in their own range) and are a combination of some existing Sonus faber hardware and some new solutions too. All models make use of a tweeter that is taken pretty much wholesale from the Sonetto range that sits above the Luminas. This is called the Damped Apex Dome and it uses an outer frame around the dome to better control the rigidity and the phase behaviour. Sonus faber says that by doing this, the standard high frequency roll off of a soft dome tweeter can be delayed, improving treble performance.
The mid bass driver is freshly developed for the Lumina range. It is a cellulose blend, combining cellulose as a base and stiffening it with unspecified natural fibres. The basket it is mounted to is specifically developed for the task and the two components mate via a hefty surround. There is no escaping the fact that this driver is rather small. It’s four inches across and that includes that beefy surround. At this price, you might reasonably expect to break five inches and options with rather larger drivers exist should you want them. The Lumina I enters the fray feeling a little undergunned.
The supporting figures don’t do much to change this perception. Sonus faber quotes a lower frequency response of 65Hz and does so with no accompanying roll off figure (in other words, it is likely to be more than the ‘ideal’ +/- 3dB). Even so, take a moment to consider that a speaker 28 centimetres tall and 15 wide, equipped with a 4 inch driver makes it to this point. It hints that there is a degree of cleverness at work in the cabinet to achieve this.
This cleverness manifests itself in the form of the port. The Lumina I dispenses with a rear mounted port and instead goes for a front mounted slot port that is integrated into a fixed plinth (the floorstander uses a similar arrangement). This means that the aperture of the port is - proportional to the rest of the cabinet - something of a whopper. This in turn ensures that it can move a relatively high volume of air but without the sort of port noise that can give any speaker the qualities of an organ whether you want it or not. It also means that the Lumina I is fairly unconcerned about placement. It isn’t quite the gold standard of something with a sealed cabinet like Spendor but, so long as what you place it on is fairly solid, it will deliver much of what it is capable of.
The cabinet that all this is placed in is something of a first for Sonus faber in that is lacks the curved sides that have been a design element in every model up to this point. The reason for this is purely down to the economic reality of trying to get something like this done at the price point but it does mean that the Lumina I loses one of the clearest visual clues to its identity in the process. One Sonus faber fitment that has made it to the Lumina I is that you can, should you wish, biwire it which is a rare thing to see in 2020.
Perhaps wisely, confronted with their first flat sided cabinet, Sonus faber has taken the opportunity to experiment with some alterations to the finish. The Lumina range limits the use of wood to the front panel. The sides and top panel are coated in an artificial leather and, while all judgements made on such things are ultimately subjective, I’m going to go on record and say that I really like it. Using wood on the side of the Lumina cabinet would go further to demonstrate that they aren’t curved and, by doing this instead, it winds up making the Lumina I look more deliberate in its design.
The front panel itself does make use of wood which is available in three finishes, the dark ‘Wenge’ wood you see in the review sample, a lighter ‘walnut’ wood finish and a piano black. This is made of multiple layers of wood and has maple inlays that form the striping that you can see in the images. Detachable grilles with magnetic tabs are supplied should you want to use this. Amusingly, Sonus faber describes the result as ‘minimalist’ which, with the Lumina I coming hot on the heels of the KEF LS50 Meta seems… ambitious but I do think the company manages to carry over some of the ‘feeling’ that comes with owning one of the more expensive devices. I also can’t fault how the Lumina I is bolted together. It feels well executed and that you can appreciate where some of your money has gone.
The cabinet that all this is placed in is something of a first for Sonus faber in that is lacks the curved sides that have been a design element in every model up to this point
How was the Lumina I tested?
The Sonus faber has been run for the most part on a system comprised of a Naim Supernait 3 and a Chord Hugo2 and 2Go operating as a wireless Roon endpoint. Some additional testing has been via a PS4 acting as an on demand TV hub with an elderly Sony Bravia LCD. Both of these devices have been connected to an iFi Audio Power Station mains block. Some additional testing has taken place with the Rega Brio and a Chord Qutest, again operating as a Roon Endpoint. Material used has been FLAC, AIFF, DSD, Tidal and Qobuz and some on demand TV material.
More: Audio Formats
Let me start by me saying that I think I know how many of you think that this is going to go. You think that I’ll pick through a selection of tracks that happen at 100Hz or greater, point out that this is sweet sounding little thing that works well nearfield but lacks a bit of welly. I know this because I suspected that this would be what was going to happen too. You cannot unbox a Lumina I and believe that any other outcome is terribly likely. Like Taron Egerton’s slightly grating mockney in Kingsman: The Secret Service though, this ain’t that kind of review bruv.
This is because the Lumina I has a virtue that is shared with a selection of Italian engineering and that is that as nobody seems to have told it that it is a small speaker - it has decided, despite some visual evidence to the contrary, that it is not a small speaker at all. It is the same wilful instinct that means that means that small Italian cars believe that they can do 200mph if they try hard enough and that every Piaggio scooter contains the soul of a world super bike.
Some quick tests of the Lumina I suggest that, in room, it has meaningful output at 50Hz and this is a psychological breakpoint to the recreation of scale that makes all the difference. This is not the sort of bass that upsets digestion but it is more than you’d give that improbably small cabinet the scope to achieve. Beyond the numbers, the Sonus faber sounds like a physically bigger speaker than you would ever expect. Placed two metres apart on sturdy stands with a slight toe in, they create a stereo image that is consistently believable.
It sounds like a Sonus faber too. Fink’s Maker tucked away on the back end of Sort of Revolution is a fabulous demonstration of his vocal prowess and the Lumina I delivers it with the emotional content absolutely intact. Voices and instruments are always the main event, accurate but possessed of that little sense of life and energy that makes something a performance and not a reproduction. Despite their respective evolutionary paths, neither Chord Electronics nor Naim is about beguiling warmth. With then Lumina I in attendance, they possess it.
The clever bit for me is that this never overstays its welcome. There is enough fine detail and tonal realism too ensure that you never feel you’re getting the edited highlights of the music. It’s something that the company does extremely well and it is very much present here. If you do have a library of well recorded material to enjoy, this is a speaker that will positively luxuriate in it. If you don’t, it’s generally forgiving enough to ensure it is still enjoyable.
The real magic comes when you put the well recorded electro folk away and reach for Goldfrapp’s Supernature. Now, I would like to make it clear for the record that Sonus faber’s reputation as a bit ‘pipe and slippers’ has long been overstated. A demonstration at the Munich Show over a decade ago where one of their large floorstanders took some time out from playing tinkly audiophile noodlings to give a spirited rendition of Leftfield’s Open Up has long stuck with me. Even so, the manner in which this dinky standmount tears into Ride a White Horse is still something took me back somewhat.
The Lumina I is unapologetically entertaining. It leverages the limits of its bass extension to sound fast and, so long as the partnering amp has the means of gripping it and keeping a degree of control over what it is doing, and both the Naim and the Rega do this admirably, it is an absolute riot. Combine this urgency with the rich and generally forgiving presentation and you have - unlikely as it might seem - one of the best speakers for enjoying electronica that I’ve tested in recent times.
There are limitations, there could hardly be otherwise. The Lumina I might not believe it is a small speaker but the laws of physics can only be held in abeyance for so long. This is a small cabinet with a stated sensitivity of 84dB/w. Push the Lumina I past a certain level (which is still higher than you might reasonably expect) and things break down somewhat. The bass control is lost and they will reveal a slightly hard edge to the presentation. It is the same cruel reality that means that small Italian cars will not in fact do 200mph and that getting your knee down on a scooter generally results in going to hospital. The fervent belief you can do something will only get you so far.
The key thing is that the Lumina I suspends disbelief for a wide enough performance envelope to work. It manages to combine the ability to work largely regardless of placement and positioning and then hang together in sizes of room and across volume levels and genres that you might not expect. Furthermore, while it shines on the end of the Naim and Chord Duo which is rather more expensive than it is likely to be partnered with, the Brio and Qutest also do a fine job too. This is not a Prima Donna style device. It has been as happy allowing me to watch Taskmaster on catch up as it has doing audiophile things. It comes from a line of thoroughbreds but it can play the role of workhorse readily enough.
The Lumina I is unapologetically entertaining
- Sounds bigger and more confident than it has any right to
- Appealing balance of tonal richness and fun
- Well made and attractive
- Will (eventually) reveal the limitations of its size
- Larger rivals exist for the price
- Somewhat insensitive
Sonus faber Lumina I Standmount Speaker Review
This then, did not go quite as I expected it to but I am very happy about that. If you need more low end impact or you have a really big room to fill, the Lumina I has unavoidable limits that stem from its diminutive stature. The key thing is though that the number of people for whom these limits will apply is rather smaller than you might think by looking at them. The Lumina I is a little speaker that behaves uncannily like a big one. Furthermore, it often sounds like a big Sonus faber too. This is not the most obvious choice for £800 but it makes more sense than any number might suggest and for these reasons, the Lumina I comes Highly Recommended.
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