Sonus Faber Olympica Nova V Floorstanding Speakers
I first heard speakers from Sonus faber's Olympica Nova series during my second visit to the World Of McIntosh Townhouse, located in the Soho neighborhood of downtown New York City. Before I left this wonderful audiophile playhouse, I couldn't resist requesting a review pair of their top model in the Olympica line, the Nova V. As part of their brief explanation of what I was hearing that day, I was told that this 37-year-old Italian speaker manufacturer upgraded this speaker line with new crossovers and drivers, new cabinet structures, internal volume tuning, and many other updates. Of course, the speakers' cosmetics were also refined by Sonus faber's team of designers, giving them a new more refined appearance.
One can read more about the upgrades than I could fit in the space of a review of only one of the speakers on Sonus faber's website, you can also read about some of the impressions I had when I saw and heard these speakers for the first time in the link I provided above, and in Enjoy the Music.com 's RMAF 2019 pre-show report. In my opinion, there have been so many significant upgrades to these speakers that Sonus faber could have chosen a new name for the line!
The Sonus faber Olympica Nova V was designed in Italy, with most of the speaker's parts manufactured in-house, but drivers are manufactured to Sonus faber design and specifications and manufactured in Germany, Denmark, and Italy. Sonus faber describes the subjects of this review, the Olympic Nova V, as a three-way, full para-aperiodic vented "Stealth Ultraflex" floor-standing loudspeaker system. The speakers are fairly large, standing a bit less than four feet high. Viewing the speakers from the top of the cabinets reveal that they have a more or less a teardrop shape.
To the Olympica Nova V's credit, there weren't any problems I ran into during the review period as far as the acoustics were concerned. I found the Nova V very easy to position, all I had to do was follow the basic rules of speaker placement, and they sounded great.
One might think it would be foolhardy to mount a cartridge on the tonearm's business end with a cartridge that costs twice the price of the turntable, not to mention using a phono preamplifier that also cost more than twice its price. It might be helpful to remember that the sound of an analog system is determined mostly by the turntable. Besides the fact that this Pro-Ject turntable/tonearm combination performance far exceeds its asking price, when using either one of the low-output moving coil cartridges it raised the performance level of the Pro-Ject X2 turntable significantly, as did use the outstanding Pass Labs phono preamplifier. The sound I heard from this analog set-up was transparent and musical enough to use on a pair of speakers I certainly felt deserved the best ancillaries I could assemble at the time of the review.
The digital front-end of the review system consisted of a Logitech Squeezebox Touch streamer that read Wi-Fi files sourced from hard-drives that were connected to a computer-based music server, and an OPPO BDP-83 Special Edition universal player spun 5" silver discs. When playing CDs I fed that signal to a DAC via the OPPO's coax output, but when listening to SACDs I had its analog outputs connected to an input on the Pass Labs integrated amplifier.
Shortly before the Sonus faber speakers arrived, so did a review sample of Nagra's tube-powered digital-to-analog converter (review forthcoming). That meant it freed up the EMM Labs DA2 converter that is my reference converter in my main system. The EMM converter outclassed the converter I normally use in this system, a Benchmark DAC3HGS. The Benchmark is a fine converter. The EMM Labs DA2 is a spectacular one.
Some might wonder why I spent so much space describing the associated equipment used in this review. The answer is simple. The Olympica Nova V speakers deserve the associated gear that is the best one can procure. As I will discuss, The Olympica Nova V's are very sensitive to even the slightest changes that I made that could affect the signal upstream. What it means is that any money spent upstream, including cables, is a good investment.
The Olympica Nova V has a sound that reminds me of those types of bands because of its precise yet unforced transient response that is either lifelike or not lifelike, depending on the type of music being reproduced. Combined with a huge, perfectly scaled soundstage that had images with appropriately defined boundaries made it very, very easy to get lost within the music that was coming forth from these speakers. When these images of instruments, voices, and sounds, or groups of instruments, voices, and sounds appeared within the Nova V's soundstage I could practically "see" them.
Luckily, all the above was coming from a pair of speakers that had a high-frequency response that sounded as if it was infinitely extended, and a tight, pitch specific, low-frequency response that is rated down to 32 Hz. There was not one time during the review period did I consider connecting the SVSound subwoofer that I have available for use in this system.
The midrange of the Sonus faber Olympica Nova V's midrange is the star of the show, as it should be. At first, I thought the midrange of this speaker was a bit set back in the soundstage, but that was when I had the PrimaLuna tube amps connected. When I switched to the Pass Labs solid-state integrated amplifier, this trait was no longer an issue and reminded me of the importance of system matching, or perhaps more likely that the Nova V speakers are very revealing of upstream equipment. Or this was due to my rather lively sounding room. Regardless, this type of behavior is not an unexpected one from a high-end speaker that is so sensitive to equipment upstream and the environment in which the speaker is performing.
Speaking of revealing, this midrange gave rise to a soundstage that was so multi-layered, and extracted so much detail from the recordings it was reproducing, and at times so lifelike in exposing the original timbre of the instruments, voices, and sounds that came forth from its drivers, that I would often forget that I was supposed to be reviewing this pair of speakers. I would often get lost in the music I was supposed to be used to determine the characteristics of the speakers.
The Nova V was able to let me hear into the recording. The Japanese pressing sounded best to me for several reasons. One might seem trivial to some, but not to me, it revealed from Bill Bruford's drums a more neutral sounding sizzle coming from his cymbals. Plus, these speakers let me hear into the space between the notes better than it did on the more modern pressing, and so I could hear a more natural midrange "ring" after Bruford would strike a tom. But these speakers' fine low-end response let me hear that the bass was a bit better on the newer pressing, and so, John Wetton's bass had more pitch specificity on the more modern pressing.
The third version of this album was from the King Crimson box set 1972-1974 I recently picked up that has three King Crimson albums with the same personnel, with a version of Lark's Tongues… " mixed by former Porcupine Tree member Steve Wilson. I suppose that isn't a valid comparison to the others since it's a remix, but I do listen to it as often as the others and it certainly added to the fun on that weekend afternoon. Through the Nova V's on any of these versions, Robert Fripp's guitar sounded not as it "should", but even better. He uses a variety of guitar sounds, and can't help but be the centerpiece of just about every moment that he's playing.
The Nova V's ability to separate instruments, voices, and sounds in the soundstage made it so I was drawn into the music, whether his clean electric guitar sound was being used to float atop the music on a track such as "Book Of Saturdays", or make me instinctively press my body into my listening seat when on the second half of the title track, where even at a low playback level he seems to be attempting to simulate the sound of a guitar plugged into a fuzz-box coming through an arena's PA system on full-blast. The Nova V could also play very loudly. I could not determine the maximum volume it could play without hearing distortion from the power amp or the speaker because I feared damaging my ears before reaching that level. If anyone reading this is familiar with this album, this is a significant finding since this album sounds great when played loudly.
Again, I was amazed at the Sonus faber Olympica Nova V's ability to highlight not only the music's ability to engross me but to "understand" these works as never before. Not only were the compositions engrossing, but the spaces between the notes were also highlighted. This might seem like an obtuse description of the sound of these speakers, but it was the ambiance in the space in which the quartet was performing that seemed as realistic as the instruments that played the music, making these spaces almost a part of the score.
Switching gears, but remaining in the classical genre, I put on an SACD of Bruckner's Symphony No. 5, performed by Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, on RCA Red Seal. This disc sounded amazing through the Nova V's. These speakers' size worked to their advantage on this great recording of a large orchestra.
As I'm a somewhat jaded audio reviewer, the Olympic Nova V might not seem that large to me, but if a music lover surprised one's family and set this 5-driver, nearly four-foot tall speakers into the living room on either side of the television screen without telling them first, one would expect only a small percentage of audiophiles would hear the reaction, "Oh, I see you bought some new speakers, they're nice".
But, these days, large speakers seem more popular than ever. Relative to some other very popular top-of-the-line speakers, the Nova V is not very large at all. Still, the sonic rewards that come from a speaker this size are many, especially when listening to a good live recording of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the famed Musikverein in Austria. No, the Sonus fabers aren't able to replicate the sound of an orchestra in a 2850-seat hall's 50-foot proscenium. However, what I did hear from this speaker was the gestalt of the orchestra, and the magnificent orchestration that Bruckner conceived, drawing me into the music.
This became meditative, as I was able to listen to this piece as I would when sitting in the tenth row of the hall, appreciating the contributions of one group of instruments and then another, then turning my attention to the power of the right side of the orchestra, and the powerful combination of the bass and cellos as they could be easily perceived and understood not only by my ears but my body.
Sonus faber doesn't lay on the hyperbole too much, but statements such as the claim that this speaker's shape is "inspired by nature, the lines follow the flow of a circular spiral motion, achieving a more organic cabinet structure" might seem as if they are laying it on a little thick. Sure, I guess that the above might be true. But when listening to Bruckner's Fifth, I had to admit that these claims made perfect sense. But then again, designing a ported cabinet is more complex than simply placing a hole in the rear of the speaker. These speakers sounded like music, and the design of the cabinet not only contributed to its fine low-frequency response but also contributed to their speed and transparency.
Listening to this recording also made it clear that their drivers were also big contributors, with their Neodymium "cup design" motor system, and their CCAW wire on an "eddy current free" voice coils weren't chosen for their good looks and cool sounding name.
An immediately noticeable moment occurs during the album's introduction, the track "And The Gods Made Love", where the tape's speed is slowed down to make the drums sound deeper than they already were, such as when the floor tom of Mitch Mitchell's drum kit reached subsonic depth-charge levels. In my second system, I had a subwoofer available for use. Yet, there were zero times during the review period when I thought that the subwoofer would be necessary, as the Nova V's three 180mm (7.09") woofers reached deep enough into the low-end to shake the window frames of the listening room during this Jimi Hendrix track, and with many other recordings.
Despite Electric Ladyland's somewhat truncated soundstage, through the Nova V, this recording exhibited a depth and center-fill, height, and width that I've heard only when listening to it on much more expensive speakers, or those that have been optimized to reproduce an elaborate soundstage, but not much else. There were creative risks taken when making this recording, as engineer Eddie Kramer is often credited with being a member of the band, so some sounds would be called "flaws" if they were on any other recording. Irregularities such as an overdriven signal, intentional phase anomalies, and other so-called psychedelic touches, all brought into my listening room and enveloped me with sound.
This is an album that I must have listened to thousands of times, the Sonus faber Olympica Nova V speakers made it my afternoon listening to this album might have fooled my brain into thinking it was the very first, and if not, at least the first time I heard it with so many revealing and thrilling moments.
As Mr. Cacippo discovered in his review of the smaller model in the same series, the Olympic Nova V is a very "serious" audiophile speaker, and I doubt very, very much that any other speaker in its price range can come close to sounding, or looking, as good. Obvious to me is that this is a speaker that has been designed not only for audiophiles but for music lovers. Its midrange is super-transparent, its soundstage dimensions, scale, and pinpoint imaging capabilities, along with its quick transient response are first-rate.
The Olympica Nova V is not a very picky speaker when it comes to placement, yet the listener will be rewarded when its location is optimized. They can be driven with just about any decent amplifier power rating, yet with all the associated equipment these speakers are very sensitive to one's upstream choices. The Olympica Nova V not only will reproduce the signal it's fed with the utmost faithfulness but at the same time, the signal that comes forth from these speakers sounds like music. If I was in the market for a speaker that cost anywhere near the Sonus faber Olympica Nova V's price, I would not only consider them, I'd buy them.