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Irrespective of a speaker’s cubic volume, a small 150mm mid/woofer won’t express the same dynamics as a large one. Physics no matter how 'warped' won’t allow it. If however the driver is of the highest quality and precisely matched to its cabinet loading, even such a small driver can show the magic of mechanically reproduced sound, very convincingly simulating and imitating events that took place in front of the microphones.

I am quite sure that here it is the type of resistive loading of the mid/woofer which in some way is responsible for such natural dynamics. Listening to The Route I turned my attention to the bass drum. Since I happen to do live mixing of drums fairly often, I know that the bass drum's true dynamics, speed and color can’t be carried over into the home. Existing audio system limits are still too high and compression is one of the more troublesome. This is where hifi speakers lag several leagues behind far less linear and tonally refined professional sound reinforcement speakers. In this one respect pro audio tech beats what we have at home.

In audiophile designs the problem is the type of loading—usually bass reflex—and the woofer’s high-hysteresis high-excursion rubber surround. Appreciating that I have a better understanding why certain music lovers prefer vintage woofer designs where hard-hung paper-cone driver with pleated textile suspensions load into a sealed enclosure or open baffle; or why others prefer widebander. These types offer a kind of transient response, immediacy and microdynamic translating into precise attacks and hence a sense of presence and vibrancy which far exceed the vast majority of modern design. There are of course exceptions like my Harbeths.

The Olympica I also overcame this limitation, and did a very good job of it. The bass drum was flat and fast just like the real skin - of course to the extent allowed by the recording technique and medium's limitations. I had a similar feeling listening to electronic instruments on Martin Gore’s albums or the Alison Moyet mentioned previously. With electronica there’s no natural reference point but I could still compare the Italian speakers to best designs I had at home. This comparison was extremely favorable for the Arcugnano monitors.

There has never been nor ever will be the perfect speaker. Every copy is tainted by distortion and playback at home is an nth-generational copy. We operate within the narrow confines of pre-determined limitations to be doomed to compromise. What the best designs still manage to achieve then is nothing short of amazing. The Olympica I is a speaker whose limitations are clear from the first minutes of listening and whose compromises are fairly easy to identify. Giving up a large enclosure in favor of a small cabinet and focusing on a small mid/woofer straight up eliminates much bass extension and hence music. The bass is the foundation of not only LF sound, but everything above it.

Arriving from the big Revel Performa3 F206 floorstanders and even more so from my Harbeth M40.1, we hear it immediately as mainly a decrease in scale and substance. However since the speakers under review are exceptionally well designed, we adapt very quickly and in a few moments forget the earlier reference to take this at face value. That's assisted by definitely not being short on bass. Deep bass on electronica albums were clearly indicated and their higher harmonics strongly conveyed to not only integrate with the midrange but give our ear/brain the necessary data to interpolate the missing bass.

Classical vocal recordings showed smaller venue acoustics than over the big speakers but tone remained virtually unchanged. This was assisted by great bass differentiation and natural color. The treble behaved in much the same way. Not as resolute and rich as the Guarneri Evolution, it was still excellent. The midrange is simply natural and never collides with what's on top and bottom. As I said earlier, the speaker sound more like a single-driver design without emphasizing any particular range.

Conclusion. I vividly remember all Sonus faber speakers I reviewed as well as the unfortunately only two designed and built by Franco Serblin under the aegis of the newer company bearing his name. No single one of them can be passed over with indifference. I also remember my doubts as to whether, after the departure of Serblin, something of his legacy would survive and whether the company acquired by an investment fund, as a profit-oriented business whose main objective is maximized profits would manage to keep its most important asset – the spirit. It turns out that the Italians went their own way. Using the company’s earlier 'patents' they devised speaker designs so different as to make them difficult to compare directly with the classic precursors. Models like the Sonus faber, Aida and especially the Venere line manufactured in China intend to attract new fans as I see it. Something however changed with the new Guarneri Evolution. Or perhaps nothing changed. Perhaps it's simply a consistent implementation of a multi-pronged plan to serve various audiences. Regardless of the truth, it works.