I know what you’re thinking when you see the headline: Bella Italia? Isn’t that this cheap Italian restaurant chain? Yes, that’s true, but I’ve always found the pizzas there to be amazingly tasty for the low prices. In addition, the translation is “beautiful Italy,” – and that applies 100 percent to the Sonus Faber Olympica Nova 3. But beauty also has its price: 13,400 euros per pair.
Buyers can choose between light (walnut) or dark wood (wenge), or high-gloss black lacquer, although I find the two wood finishes particularly attractive. The speakers are handcrafted in Italy, and the test pair in the dark wenge finish looks so classy that I could stare at them all day and almost feel like half a stalker.
Long live luxury
The workmanship is flawless; every detail has been considered and fits perfectly. For example, the slim, high-rise, bi-wiring connection terminal on the back doesn’t rely on the standard terminals you see so often. No, here, single or bi-wiring cables dock to individually manufactured screw terminals. The Sonus Faber logo is precisely engraved above it, along with the type designation, on the aluminum plate, and the speaker’s serial number is worked into the bottom.
There is also an artistic Sonus Faber lettering in the surrounding aluminum on the top of the boxes, which you can only see when you stand and look down on them. The luxurious impression continues with the solid aluminum feet, which can be easily mounted after unpacking when the speaker is upside down. The washers are covered with felt underneath, which makes it easier to move the boxes on smooth laminate or parquet.
The bass reflex system deserves special mention, not simply an opening that radiates backward or downwards. Instead, there is a system of several slots on the back, all of which reach from the bottom to the top. A loudspeaker cannot “breathe out” more elegantly. But what does back mean? There is no backside in the classic sense since the walls are neither dead straight nor parallel. The Sonus Faber Olympica Nova 3 consists of eight curved layers of wood and is rounded at the back, not strictly symmetrically, but asymmetrically. This asymmetric lute shape not only looks fantastic but also opens up space for sonic experimentation (more on that later) and minimizes cabinet resonance. Internal bracing further increases rigidity and combats vibration. With 35 kilograms per box, the beautiful Southerner can still be considered reasonably back-friendly. With its dimensions of 110.4 x 37.6 x 45.9 cm (HxWxD), it doesn’t dominate the room, but it doesn’t look particularly dainty either.
In addition to the Olympica Nova 3 with two bass drivers, Sonus Faber also has the slightly more delicate Olympica Nova 2 floorstanding speaker with only one woofer for 10,000 euros per pair in its range, and a compact model (Olympica Nova 1) is available for 6,700 euros (without stand). If you want maximum bass fun, you can go for the Olympica Nova 5 with three woofers, saving the hi-fi fan by 16,500 euros per pair. Home cinema fans can also look forward to two center speakers and a wall speaker.
There are no covers to protect the drivers in the classic sense; instead many small fabric straps are used in the form of a string grid, which is attached to two aluminum clips that are hung on the speaker at the top and bottom. It looks great but offers hardly any protection and has a disadvantage that I had to experience firsthand: the ribbons quickly become very tangled if you remove the cover again and store it folded up in a drawer, for example. I swore, don’t do that!
Three roads lead to Rome
On the front, which is also slightly rounded, are two 18-centimeter woofers made in Italy in sandwich construction. The outer layers are made of cellulose; the layer in between holds everything together with a special high-tech foam. According to Sonus Faber, this construction, which takes over everything below 250 Hertz, has a shallow mass with high rigidity.
Above this, the mid-range speaker starts its work, but it has a rough, uneven surface in contrast to the woofers. It is made from an air-dried, non-pressed blend of cellulose and other natural fibers. The natural drying process gives the cone its rough surface, and the different densities help dampen and disperse cone resonances. The phase plug in the middle with the unmistakable “Handcrafted in Italy” note not only looks great but is also supposed to optimize the radiation of the lower highs.
From 2500 Hertz, the tweeter finally takes over, surrounded by leather, and forms an optical unit with a mid-range driver. Sonus Faber installs a modified 28-millimeter silk soft dome tweeter compared to the first Olympica model generation, driven by a neodymium magnet. Aluminum arc arches over the front of the dome are intended to help dampen resonances and thus expand and linearize the high-frequency reproduction.
Before we get into the sound of the beautiful Italian girls, I have to get rid of three things. Firstly, allow the loudspeakers sufficient break-in time, preferably two or three weeks, for several hours a day at a high volume. Fresh out of the box, the brand-new copies sounded quite bland; they must get used to it for a long time.
Secondly, the placement in the room significantly impacts the sound. By that, I don’t just mean the distance from the wall or the angle to the listening position, but which box is where. We remember: asymmetrical loudspeakers. If the bass reflex system points outwards on both boxes, it radiates towards the room’s corners. This boosts the bass – of course, depending on the distance between the side and rear walls. If, on the other hand, it points inwards, the bass is a bit more reserved. It’s worth experimenting here. In my 26-square-meter room, the inside version sounded the best, which I only found out after some shuffling around.
Third: Trying out different speaker cables is worthwhile (as is often the case). Compared to my single-wire stripping (Wireworld Eclipse 7), the Inakustik reference cable 2404 MK2 in the bi-wire version brought more momentum to the presentation. Whether this is due to the cable itself or the type of connection remains to be seen. Testing is above studying.
But now: How does the Sonus Faber Olympica Nova 3 sound?
In terms of bass, the Sonus Faber offers what you would expect in this price range: it plays deep, is always very defined and precise, and is never too slim. However, it doesn’t pass as an outspoken “bass monster,” not even on my McIntosh MA8900AC, which is powerful underneath, as shown, for example, by the ultra-deep bass piece par excellence: “Limit To Your Love” by James Blake (album: James Blake), which always manages to make furnishings and neighbors vibrate and resonate with me. The Olympica can do that too, but a Focal Sopra 2 (now 16,000 euros) I owned a few years ago was even more vibrant and profound than the Martin Logan Impression 11A (15,000 euros) with its active bass. On the other hand, the Italian plays are more involved and emotional, especially in the mids, and not as clinical as the Focal, as we will see below. And compared to the Martin Logan, it manages the connection or the transition from bass to midrange more homogeneously.
According to the manufacturer, the Olympica Nova goes down to 3 to 35 Hertz, a value that my gut feeling should be pretty accurate. In rooms under 20 square meters, an Olympica Nova 2 should be sufficient; even the compact Nova 1 could be an option. When I set it up in the room (about 70 cm to the back wall, 100 cm to the sides, and bass reflex system facing inwards, slightly angled towards the listening position), the bass was always beautifully detailed, even with James Blake’s woofer and relationship killer I heard many details. In short: Only extreme bass heads should expect more pressure and depth from the tonal basement; most audiophiles with a vast music collection across all genres will be happy.
However, it could be that some lack a bit of rough dynamics. This has nothing to do with the achievable maximum volume since the Sonus Faber Olympica Nova 3 doesn’t let anything burn – it can play very loud and even then very cleanly. And in terms of fine dynamics, the Italian also proves to be befitting its rank; it presents fine dynamic changes and details precisely and comprehensibly. But the Sonus Faber proves to be more of a good-natured mediator when it comes to jagged explosiveness with heavy jumps. In other words, Italians are often said to have typical temperament – the wild gestures to underline what is said – is a bit missing. “Night People” from the You Me At Six album of the same name is one of the tracks that overwhelm unsuspecting listeners right from the start with brute dynamics when bass and drums come in. The Sonus Faber also rings properly here, no question, but a Canton Vento 100 (4,700 euros), which is exceptionally talented in coarse dynamics, proves to be more explosive and aggressive. The whole thing seems to me to be a conscious decision by the Italians – the Sonus Faber Olympica Nova 3 turns out to be a slightly softer, rounder, extremely long-term speaker that embraces the listener rather than stirs it up over the weeks.
This also has to do with her stage performance. Playback often begins at the level of the speaker baseline and spreads more or less far forward. The Olympica Nova 3 usually starts a little behind the baseline. Of course, depending on the music program, it comes to the fore sometimes, but not as strongly – it doesn’t pass as a pronounced “in your face” loudspeaker.
In return, the Sonus Faber Olympica Nova 3 offers a very lovely stage depth with precise depth grading – and in terms of stage width, it gets an A with an asterisk since the events on the side protrude a good deal beyond the sound transducers. Mr. Spock would raise an eyebrow and follow along with a “Fascinating!” Such a broadband panorama is building up here.
Full of flow
Given the long-term suitability assessment, you may now be asking yourself: yes, are the excellent pieces reserved in the high range? No, they are not. Of course, some loudspeakers play a little fresher, for example, the delicate floor-standing Bowers & Wilkins 804 D4 (14,000 euros). I was allowed to hear them in direct comparison to the Olympica Nova 3 – and found the Sonus Faber to be a more coherent, natural-sounding loudspeaker with more “soul and volume.”
However, I don’t miss anything at the top of the Sonus Faber, which should be taken as a compliment. The treble doesn’t drop, but it doesn’t stand out either; it doesn’t sound too fresh, harsh, or bright, but it’s also not underemphasized or velvety. It’s just there, neutral, airy, relaxed, and qualitatively appropriate for the price range. While some tweeters can become a bit demanding in rock music with rattling hi-hats and cymbals and cutting electric guitars, especially at higher levels, the Olympica Nova 3 proves to be a more integrative force. And so I “endure” the noisy, punky, exhausting, but catchy NDW anthem “We drive faster” by Kochkraft through KMA (current album: All children are dead ) with the Nova 3 at high volumes rather than with other speakers such as the compact Neat Acoustics Majistra with its ribbon tweeter.
The Sonus Faber Olympica Nova 3 are, therefore, more concerned with the flow than maximum attack; they are more long-distance runners than sprinters and, like few other speakers, understand how to present music as a whole in a natural, round, emotional way.
Voices: In the middle of the soul
This also has to do with the fact that they aim straight for the heart in the mids with this beautiful combination of slightly sonorous gait and excellent resolution – at least in mine. Okay, on a sober level, you could say they deviate a bit from the neutral line – but that’s exactly what I like! And we are a good deal removed from the downright lush, warm character in the mid-range of some (British) loudspeakers.
In any case, voices sound beautifully transparent with a slight dash of warmth, making listening to Dead Can Dance albums an authentic experience. For example, when Lisa Gerrard intones “Sanvean” from the live album In Concert (2013), the goosebumps come faster than a Ferrari at the start of a Formula 1 race. The voice reproduction is convincing across the board: present, emotional, and rich in detail.
Speaking of details: These speakers don’t overwhelm the listener with “excessive analysis” or – in general – with a particularly outstanding individual ability; instead, they always serve the purpose. You could also say: They don’t come across as nitpicking or pushy in any way. Nevertheless (or precisely because of this?), they allow a deep look into the soul of the musicians – and also into the recording studio, by the way: Voices and instruments are precisely outlined and three-dimensional in space, and you get a great insight into who was standing or sitting where without that the sound ever threatens to fall apart.
The Sonus Faber Olympica Nova 3 are excellently manufactured loudspeakers and almost small works of art that enhance every room. They don’t deserve to be crammed into dark, dusty corners, they’re far too beautiful for that. They also need a little air to breathe for optimal sound performance.
In terms of sound, the Sonus Faber can also satisfy analysts and fans of coarse dynamics. Still, they are primarily aimed at listeners who want to listen to music in a relaxed way, without exaggerations. Their tonality is the opposite of sharp and intrusive, they sound slightly warm and round and, therefore, extraordinarily natural and suitable for long-term use. Their focus is always on overall performance, and in that regard, I can’t think of any other transducer in this league that I would enjoy more than the Sonus Faber Olympica Nova 3. No, I won’t let that go; from now on, I have holidays in Italy 365 days a year.
Characteristics of the Sonus Faber Olympica Nova 3:
- Deep, precise bass, but not a bass monster, but neutral in this area. Thanks to the asymmetrical shape with the “clever” bass reflex system, the setup allows the bass to be dosed.
- Slightly warmer lower mids (entire range) and a wealth of detail ensure beautiful tones and a superb representation of voices.
- Neutral, well-resolving, never uncomfortable highs that are excellently integrated into the sound.
- Rough dynamics are slightly below average for the price class; good dynamics are more lively.
- Round, very natural, highly long-term suitable overall tuning makes listeners more enthusiastic than chief analysts.
- Wonderfully wide stage with a precise string of instruments, but this stage doesn’t usually stretch too far forward but seems rather laid-back. Good, precise depth graduation.
- Extremely loving, flawless workmanship, visually very appealing.
- Concept: passive three-way floorstanding speaker with bass reflex system
- Pair price: 13,400 euros
- Nominal Impedance: 4 ohms
- Sensitivity: 90dB SPL (2.83V/1m)
- Dimensions & Weight: 110.4 x 37.6 x 45.9 cm (H x W x D), 35 kg/each
- Colors: walnut, ash, high-gloss black
- Guarantee: 5 years