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Swapping for gold. Pursuing all possible Wyred4Sound permutations resulted in a sound that for my tastes overloaded on comfort calories. The Germans have a word for that. Gem├╝tlichkeit. It intersects somewhere between coziness and congeniality. Here it pursued fuzziness, opacity, minor bloat and lethargy. Too plush and hooded. Replacing the mPRE to instead exit AURALiC's Vega converter fully balanced and amp direct caused deep digital attenuation. I was listening up to 85dB down, i.e. 15 on the display out of a full 100. That predictably thinned out things upstream. Even so the buxom 250-watt ICEpower amps remained undeterred. Their mission still was warmth and a big bottom end. What I needed was less booty, more sinew. Time to sort out different electronics whilst keeping an eye on cost.

With mPRE + mAMP monos

Sifting through FirstWatt's M2, F5, F6 and SIT2 next, I soon settled on the F5 ($3.000 when available) still fronted by the Vega ($3.300). In this conjunction the latter's digital volume control sat at most at 60 or higher to remain within its lossless range. This pairing now really upped resolution, separation and penetration power into the musical fabric. A lighter foot on the bass pedal from the smaller leaner amp also meant that the ports' resonant contributions—I'm used to the superior timing of sealed bass—were bled off a bit to get drier and better defined. I got still better results with the Metrum Hex into the Bakoon AMP-11R but this also moved the sticker north by a few G.

With AURALiC Vega (PureMusic 1.89g in 352.8kHz upsampling mode) and FirstWatt F5

Considering the Venere 3.0's asking price, the Vega/F5 combo was my shot at one possible best-case scenario for the type of coin I could see a real end user spend on a system.

Admirers of cinerama-broad soundscapes would have appreciated the Venere's ability to draw up a very wide virtual venue. That the depth perspective would have been less built out or specific than very highly time-optimized impulse-tweaked speakers—Anthony Gallo's Strada 2 for example—was par for this course. This included a certain looseness in the mid/upper bass registers. Their minor redolence stayed put regardless of even the very low output impedance aka high damping factor of the class D monos. Minor ringing seemed endemic to the choice of vented alignment which boosts bass output and extension of the relatively modest internal volume for the desired sleek profile and small foot print.

With Metrum Hex, Nagra Jazz & FirstWatt F6

Sonus faber's traditional choice of soft dome tweeter trades ultimate brilliance and sparkle for smoothness and good integration with the midrange. This isn't one of the many modern speakers whose tweeter steals the show. Elsewhere close-mic'd female voices will suffer occasional spittiness from sibilants. Here they are treated with no spotlighting. Inferior piano productions too exhibit less incidents of the tinkles where upper right-handed exploits can get overly hollow. That densely layered orchestral or soundtrack strings would sort and separate out less acutely was a logical byproduct of the very same organic voicing. Compared to the lit-up brisk and energetic French Triangle Electroacoustique sound, this Italian take was mellower, minorly shaded and a bit lush and bassy.

To Sonus faber traditionalist particularly the bass will come as a surprise. Presumably because the Venere 3.0 is meant to handle a broad range of apps including home theater and a wider audience who do more Rock'n'Pop than Baroque, the bottom end and good overall output capabilities play to associated expectations. Even in a decently sized space the 3.0 can dish it without faltering. This ability to scale up and pump out the jams whilst remaining friendly and civilized like Switzerland takes precedence over looking at the world through a polished magnifying glass. To my ears and relative to how various ancillaries shifted the sound, I'd call this intrinsic warmth a joint product of tonal balance and relaxed resolution. The former is slightly soft on top and a bit elevated in the power region. The latter includes a degree of transient roundness and concomitant textural thickening.

One might say that for this flagship of their new get-to-know-us entry range, the company's design team toned down but did not wholesale eliminate the brand's prior opulence. Because pricing was an issue, they also had to step down sophistication. The focus thus shifted a bit to US-style fascination with bigger bass and what in general is a big fun sound. Its catch-all term would be musical (which is as beautiful as it is vague). The trick of expanding upon the brand's legacy expectations without abandoning its core virtues was moderation of alterations. By tendency the Venere 3.0 is still richer than it is quick and fuller than it is incisive or lucid. The extent thereof simply isn't set in stone. It's quite tunable with ancillaries. I actually thought the voicing an effective antidote to the up-with-rez/down-with-body effects one so often gets when modern DACs are tasked to drive amps directly. Since the Venere 3.0 is a value proposition, this ability to manage without preamps is useful. It should also match well with less ambitious integrateds and receivers. By tendency those don't major on tone density.

With resolution the simple fact is that until we hear more detail and space from familiar discs, we can't know what we're missing. Sacrificing resolution at the altar of greater physical mass is a perfectly painless invisible choice. The reverse is neither painless nor invisible. We know when things get too lean and skinny. We need no contrast to tell us so. The Sonus faber voicing thus pays very practical homage to the painless truth and strategically avoids the other.

To conclude, indulge in a mini game of what if. Were the Venere 3.0 an affordable integrated, I'd think of an EL34 push/pull triode rather than 6550 pentode design. Were it an affordable DAC, I'd think Eastern Electric MiniMax, not Metrum Octave. Were it a budget tube preamp, you'd not expect 6H30, 5687 or 12AU7 but 6SN7. As a cable it'd be stranded copper with plastic dielectric, not solid-core silver in a loose cotton sleeve. Given its presumed target audience, it's a canny balance of attributes. The design team responsible for the sound knew exactly where to shave off and where to gently add without giving the game away. That your money additionally buys such good designer looks and classy finishing must be a function of two things: Sonus faber's new resources under Mauro Grange's stewartship; and very strictly enforced Euro-standard QC at their Chinese cabinet factories. Going Sino was a decidely risky move for the brand. From what I've experienced and already seen in reviews elsewhere for other Venere models, it appears to have paid off handsomely indeed...
Sonus faber website