Introduction - What Is the Sonus faber Lumina II?
The Sonus faber Lumina II is a two way standmount speaker. It joins the existing Lumina range that forms the entry point for Sonus faber ownership and that was initially limited to three models; standmount, floorstander and centre speaker. Normally, the arrival of a new model in a range so soon after launch would not have us coming back so quickly but there are two different reasons for us to be looking at the Lumina II. The first is more prosaic; this is the first review of the Lumina II anywhere in the UK. Being invited to do this was something we were delighted to accept and if you have travelled to the site for the first time to read this, please feel free to make yourselves at home.
The second is more important. The Lumina I is a speaker that sprang more than a few surprises. This tiny two way standmount looked like it might be suitable for little more than a bit of background music or being a rear speaker in a multichannel setup. Instead, it delivered one of the standout performances of 2020. It manages to leverage more bass and scale than you might realistically expect, combines it with exceptional midrange coherency and delivers a performance that is an absolute joy. If the Lumina II can deliver more of this, it stands to be something a bit special.
Of course, the £1,000 price point is keenly contested. It includes technological masterpieces like the KEF LS50 Meta and simply being related to a product that’s rather good does not guarantee that the new product will also be a brilliant one too. Is the Lumina II able to deliver the same engaging brilliance at the Lumina I in a slightly bigger box or is the smaller speaker the better choice? Time to find out.
Specification and Design
As you might expect, the Lumina II very much follows the pattern of the Lumina I and the Lumina III which I haven’t reviewed for AVForums but have tested for another publication. The result of this means that the Lumina II feels very much like a Lumina I that has been left in a growbag for a few weeks. The two speakers share a tweeter; the same Damped Apex Dome that the rest of the range uses. This curious assembly that sits across the north/south axis of the tweeter controls the movement of the extremity of the dome with a view to reducing distortion and improving dispersion. As you might expect, the upper frequency response is absolutely the same too at 24kHz.
Where the Lumina II differs is in the mid bass driver. It’s larger, although there is a discrepancy in the supplied information, which puts the driver at 150mm which is 5.9-inches rather than the described ‘five inches’ in the spec sheet. This is a significant jump in the radiating area over the Lumina I and means that the Lumina II has a specification more in keeping with rivals at the price point. This driver is set to hand over to the tweeter at a relatively low 1.8kHz which means that the tweeter is still doing the lion’s share of the work but the increase in bass extension should be noticeable.
Quite how much more bass there is supposed to be isn’t entirely clear because it isn’t specified in the very limited pre-release information that was supplied with the Lumina II. One thing that is more obvious is that the driver output is augmented by the same integrated plinth system as the Lumina I and this means that the movement of air is extremely quiet (to be clear, in 2021, it’s relatively rare to encounter a truly noisy port but, even allowing for this, the Sonus faber system is absolutely inaudible). The other benefit is that this port is forward venting which means that, while the Lumina II does its best work in a degree of free space, the effect of nearby walls, particularly to the rear is not very pronounced. Like the rest of the family, the Lumina II is relatively unusual in this day and age because it supports bi-wiring. This is very much a Sonus faber tradition but I can’t help but wonder how many people will actually make use of it.
The dimensions of the Lumina II are not a perfect scale up of the Lumina I - it’s more in keeping with the top of the Lumina III - but the family similarity is clear enough. The increase in dimensions is significant in how you perceive the bigger speaker though. While the Lumina I sits at £800 like a plucky upstart, the Lumina II feels a much more ‘normal’ proposition at £1,000. The dimensions are close to the Acoustic Energy AE500 and the frontal area, if the not the cabinet depth, are similar to the KEF LS50 Meta. This does mean that the Lumina II is likely to be an easier sell than the Lumina I as it doesn’t look anything like as incongruous when sat next to the competition.
Of course, it also helps that the same combination of leather cabinet and separate front panel are present on the Lumina II and are every bit as well executed. You can easily argue that the Lumina II doesn’t feel as ‘special’ as the more expensive Sonus faber models but this is like noting that the Audi A1 lacks some of the finishing details that go into the R8. Taken as a £1,000 speaker and viewed against the competition, the Lumina I feels like a class act. The fit and finish and quality of materials are deeply impressive and as well as being cosmetically attractive, the mechanical aspects all feel very sound too. One thing I would note is that this is the first time I’ve seen the gloss black option for the front panel. I had envisaged that it would be something of a poor relation compared to the wood versions but I have to say that I really like it.
Taken as a £1,000 speaker and viewed against the competition, the Lumina I feels like a class act
How Was the Lumina II Tested?
The Lumina II was run in on the same Naim Supernait 3 and Chord Hugo2/2Go system as the Lumina I and some critical listening took place on that as well. The bulk of testing has been via Cambridge Audio Edge A integrated amp receiving signal from a Chord Hugo Mscaler and TT2 taking a feed from an SOtM SMS 200 Neo running as a Roon Endpoint and an LG 55B7 OLED TV. Some additional testing took place as the speaker was also used with the HiFi Rose RS201 streaming system. Material used has been FLAC, AIFF, DSD plus Tidal and some Qobuz as well as some on demand TV services.
More: Audio Formats
Absolutely key to everything that follows in my description of the performance of the Lumina II is that it doesn’t proportionally bottle the same lightning as the Lumina I. If you are expecting this larger cabinet to mimic some of the exceptional exertion as the LS 50 Meta for example, this is not going to happen.
The thing is though, Sonus faber is not KEF (and indeed the reverse). The Lumina II goes a little lower than its little brother (some quick measurements suggest about 40Hz is achievable in this room before serious roll off occurs). What this does is give the Lumina II sufficient scale to sound convincing while it delivers on its key attribute which is 100Hz to 10kHz. Here, the Lumina II is pure Sonus faber. Listening to the 24/96 stream of Sarah Jarosz’s Blue Heron Suite, the Sonus faber doesn’t simply reproduce Jarosz, it makes a genuine stab at recreating her. Without embellishing anything, there is a life and vibrancy to the Sonus faber that is hugely compelling.
‘Hang on’ I hear you say, ‘the Lumina I is pretty good in this regard too, why buy the bigger speaker?’ The key benefit is the increase in space and scale on offer. The Lumina I is a tiny speaker that sounds improbably large. The Lumina II doesn’t feel like it’s monkeying around with physics to quite the same extent but the benefits to the soundstage and the perceived scale of performers and instruments are considerable. The Lumina I does deeply impressive things to maintain the suspension of disbelief but, simply by having more cabinet volume to play with, the Lumina II never needs to work as hard. To listen to Burn Out by the Cinematic Orchestra on the Lumina II is to be given an object lesson in space and tonality that very little else at the price can match.
And then, the really good news is that the Lumina II shares the same timing, energy and drive that so took me aback with the Lumina I. As I said in that review, the idea of Sonus faber being exclusively pipe and slippers is rather overstated but the manner in which the Lumina II tears into Escape 700 by the Chemical Brothers is still something that took me aback the first time I heard it. There’s no magic at work here; the combination of relatively low mass driver with a hefty but silent bass port creates a speaker that hits hard and delivers impressive fluency while it does so. Magic or not though, it means that the Lumina II will acquit itself well across a variety of material.
This fluency has been present across the three different situations I have used the Lumina II in and has demonstrated that it treads a neat line between demonstrating the qualities of the equipment connected to them and maintaining a definite personality of their own. The slightly ballistic edge of the Naim and Chord pairing is relayed via the Lumina II while it in turn adds a sweetness and richness that the electronics do not possess on their own.
It’s with the HiFi Rose that the Lumina II has truly excelled though. It has taken the fundamentally ‘down the line’ presentation of the streamer and added that human quality that has created a system that is greater than the - already very good - sum of its parts. Part of this is down to the generally forgiving nature of the Sonus faber. That larger cabinet means it feels appreciably more sensitive than its little brother and it means that this really isn’t a hard speaker to drive under any conditions. It is likely to be something you can obtain good results with from something like the Rotel A11 Tribute all the way up to the Naim XS3 should the fancy take you.
Against this, my criticisms are fairly limited. This is not a forensic speaker. There is a point early in Hate Myself by Dodie where she (quite deliberately I stress) stifles a cough. This is something that the resident Spendor A1 can instantly bring to you attention but it’s a little harder to discern on the Lumina II. In a similar vein, this would not realistically be my choice to replace the Spendor as my ‘sensitive review speaker’ (although it is very sensitive) because, much as I like the qualities that the Sonus faber brings to its performance, they are present all the time. I don’t believe that anyone is realistically going to approach it as a monitor though.
There’s something else too. By the standards of more expensive Sonus fabers, the Luminas are bordering on prosaic. Viewed against the competition though, things are rather more positive. In a sleek, minimalist apartment, I’m sure the LS50 Meta works a charm. Sat in my determinedly unminimalist lounge though, the Lumina II looks and feels like a class act. Even without the same resources available to it as with the bigger models, Sonus faber has made something that feels more like furniture than any rival.
The really good news is that the Lumina II shares the same timing, energy and drive that took me aback with the Lumina I
- Compelling combination of warmth, tonal realism and surprising get up and go
- Easy going in terms of placement and partnering equipment
- Well made and attractive
- Doesn't hit as hard as some rivals
- Some limits to detail retrieval
- No shortage of competition
Sonus faber Lumina II Standmount Speaker Review
I am afraid that if you find the subjectivity of the two channel reviews infuriating, you might want to look away now. This is because, I find myself confronted with the awkward question of whether the Lumina II is ‘better’ than the LS 50 and the sheer improbability of answering that in any way satisfactorily is readily apparent. The KEF is an engineering tour du force; a collection of materials and design practise that have combined to create a superbly dynamic and accomplished speaker. On a sufficiently capable system, the KEF asks questions, the Lumina can’t answer.
The thing is though, the reverse is true as well. The Sonus faber is easier to drive, more forgiving of less pristine recordings and has an emotional quality that the LS50 Meta lacks. In the time I’ve been testing them, even when critical listening time has ended, I’ve found myself continuing to play them, delighting in what they can do. I daresay that most people who sat down and listened to both would come down firmly on one side or the other and, in microcosm, this reflects the available choice in the stereo speaker market. The Lumina II does everything its little brother does but that bit better and for that reason, it comes Highly Recommended.
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