Focus and soundstaging
Besides being supremely musical and engaging, the speakers also have incredibly good focus and very clear imaging which, admittedly, is very sensitive to your head’s position within the speakers. Of course, that is only logical since all the treble up to 10kHz (and maybe even beyond) comes from a very wide cone. Laws of nature dictate that the wider a sound source is, the more it starts beaming. The effect is very similar to that of electrostatic loudspeakers, magnetostatic (ribbon) speakers or any other line source speaker. With line source speakers that are less tall than you the treble will inevitably fall away when you stand up and although the Sonoras do not behave as severely as Apogee Centaurs or flat electrostatic speakers, they do sound duller and less airy when listened when standing up or when positioned way off-axis. But not to worry: anywhere on a 3-seat couch, there is no perceivable treble roll-off. However, you only get the aforementioned fabulous pin-point imaging in the exact middle position and only 100% focus when you keep your head exactly in the middle. In this manner, the speakers actually behave very similarly to the (curved) Martin Logan ESL electrostatic speakers. Thanks to the curve, Martin Logans provide clear and open treble for 3 persons in a row but still only perfect focus for the middle person. It’s interesting to note that the Sonoras actually have even more precise focus than my Martin Logan ESL15A’s as well as considerably better depth imaging and soundstage layering. Given the spectacular results in the center position I absolutely do not mind such fussiness but not everybody may feel the same way.
Simple and elegant
Adding the supplied spikes with 8 Finite Elemente Spider-Rack discs (the review samples were not supplied with floor-protection discs but retail models should include these) made the speakers sound tighter and drier but, really, I felt that especially the bass quality was also great without them.
As it turns out, the spikes don’t alter the bass much but they do make the sound drier and make the midrange a little crispier. Whether this works favorably or not depends on the rest of the system and probably mostly the amplifier.
With the spikes installed, I did now hear what makes the speakers sound so direct and yet slightly warm: it’s that their foundation starts out smooth and unforced, transitioning unnoticeably into a midrange that is clean and pure. Now, don’t misunderstand this for a bass that lacks definition or pitch but while I find it of very good quality it does have a slightly more relaxed character than the midrange.
Meanwhile, the speakers had played for 16 hours and I’d say that the treble has become slightly sweeter but remains tipped up. Or rather, the upper midrange / lower treble is. The upper treble (which is coming from the tweeter) is actually quite refined and feathery.
Thorens TD1601 turntable via Benz Lukaschek PP-1 and Ayon Spirit III amplifier
When comparing tube amplifiers, my resident Ayon Spirit III rarely comes out badly. Yes, there are tube amplifiers that sound juicier, lusher or sweeter and of course one can have his or her preferences, but overall, the Ayon always delivers a solid performance. Well, coming from the Fezz Lybra and driving the Qln Sonoras, I couldn’t help but be disappointed. Gone was the lush and organic presentation, everything sounded flatter and more controlled, too controlled and almost transistor-y, in fact, which is interesting because I heard the inverse when driving the Xavian Perlas with these two amplifiers. In addition, the resolution and refinement seemed to be considerably lower.
My feeling is that this exemplifies the importance of speaker-amplifier matching. Evidently, the Ayon’s relatively high power output is of no use with the Sonoras, worse, it negatively impacts the emotional aspect of the performance.
As I heard before when comparing all sorts of transistor amplifiers, big amps need to flex their muscles or they will appear sonically flat. I never considered the Spirit III to be in this camp but it seems that the statement goes for tubes just as much as it does for transistors.
Another interesting observation is that I always found that the Ayon was almost instantly on song, only to improve slightly after 30 minutes of playing music. With the Sonoras, this turned out to be an incomplete assessment as I found that after many hours of playing, the amp finally started to sound more fluid with more of a warm glow in the midrange. Apparently, the Sonoras’ direct and revealing nature allowed a very open window into the subtleties of the Ayon’s performance. While the sound was now certainly satisfactory, it still had a sense of sobriety to it that most definitely was not there with the Fezz.
I did manage to alter the balance slightly be removing the spikes again. This hardly changed the articulation and perceived speed in the bass but it did make the midrange slightly smoother and the entire presentation slightly more liquid.
I’m sure that there are other amplifiers that will pair well with the Sonoras and I’m also sure that they need not be SET designs but if my experiments made one thing very clear it’s that the Fezz Lybra makes a superb match with these speakers.
While, in an absolute sense, the Sonoras do not sound entirely neutral to my ears, they are considerably more transparent and significantly more neutral and they deliver deeper bass than other full-range-driver-based speakers that I heard.
Coming from a long history of Magnetostatics and Electrostatics, I can also say that the Sonoras combine superbly communicative and appealing emotive powers with the kind of coherence and uniformity in the time domain that you just don’t easily get from multi-driver speakers.
But the point of these speakers is not to be technically perfect. The aim is to generate a sound that is easy to get into and that puts the content of the music first. And this is what they absolutely do. Especially with the Fezz-Sonora pairing, the delivery is so emotionally involving and so fantastically engaging that I can only bring my mind to ponder any technicalities shortly before I get lost again and sink into the music.
Part 1 – Part 2