12th November 2021
Launching a business at the beginning of a global pandemic has landed us in this strange dynamic where the relationships we have developed with our international brands have been chiefly remote and digital. Fortunately those relationships have matured and prospered despite this challenge but nonetheless we jumped at the chance when the Sonus faber leadership team invited us to finally visit their operations in Italy.
Not even the rigmarole of COVID testing and excessive travel documentation could deter us. And thankfully the staff at Sonus faber and the McIntosh Group supported us in ticking all the correct boxes to make the travel as stress free as it could be.
As we drove out of the city once the sun had gone down we were treated to the sight of numerous churches and historical buildings lit up in all their glory. It was a testament of how proud the Italians in this region are of their heritage and design.
The Factory Tour
On Monday morning we drove the short journey to the Sonus faber factory to be met by Marta Vecellio Reane, their Marketing Manager, our guide for the next couple of days and the first of the team we were to meet in the flesh!
The first stop was a walk through the history of the Sonus faber brand since it was founded in 1983. The lobby of the production facility is a mini-museum showing product ranges from different generations and the progression in product design and development over the years. Marta talked us through the details of the generations of speakers including how the owners and designs of the products had influenced future product ranges.
Possibly one of the most fascinating items in the museum is a handmade crossover board built in 1984 for product testing and development. The emphasis on the products being handcrafted and the passion that goes into their production from day one is very evident.
Next on the tour was the Production Boutique. This is an area of the production facility where the premium products are finished, including Sonus fabers most precious jewel - the Reference Collection. This clean, modern space was flooded with natural light, highlighting the care and attention taken on the production of their products, particularly the flagship models.
Marta led us to the main production area, which felt like a synthesis of a craft workshop with a design studio. This is where the products are assembled, finished and tested. The quality of workmanship and skill involved in the production is immediately striking as is the quality of the materials used in the finish lines like the natural woods and leathers.
We watched two ladies hand stretching the leather around the products. It was so skillful to see, especially when it came to the task of stretching it around the metal trim rings; a particularly exacting challenge. The quality and attention to detail to ensure there were no imperfections was exemplary.
Our Business Development Matt Peddle was perhaps the most bewildered by the processes and environment we were witnessing at Sonus faber. Having come from high end speaker designer and manufacturer Bowers and Wilkins he was much more accustomed to the high tech and automated processes seen in their factories.
“The production of Bowers & Wilkins premium hifi products is an innovative and almost completely automated operation. Their factory is well structured and slick, with state-of-the-art CNC machines and robots to carry out spraying, sanding and polishing to meet their exacting production standards. The process is incredible to see but this is like going from one extreme to another. The heritage and culture of the two brands, and how they achieve the finished top quality products is a complete contrast.”
“Bowers & Wilkins have some hands on time with the product during the assembley, finishing and polishing stage of the process, but what we’re seeing here is 100% hands-on. The attention to detail and quality control throughout is amazing, as is the accuracy achieved without the use of high-tech processes.”
“What’s really surprising is the volume of products coming through such a small factory here and with such a small team. The capacity is incredible while not compromising any of the handcrafted quality of the products.”
Because of the artisan nature of the products and the skill that goes into their production we wrongly assumed the production floor would be occupied by ageing Italian craftsmen. What we were struck by as we walked around the facility was the age of the employees on the factory floor. Typically aged between 30-40, it was a refreshing sight.
We learned from talking with some of the English speaking staff that they had been with the brand for many years, some since leaving school and had been highly trained in the unique workmanship required to produce these stunning products. We could see the pride and passion they take in the quality of the product they're producing. There was a sense of them loving what they do and the products they’re producing. We wondered if this was an Italian culture thing or if is was unique to the Sonus faber culture.
The only part of the production facility we were unable to experience with our own eyes is the hand crafting of the wooden cabinets. This work is predominantly carried out by two local wood craftsman - De Santi and Bisma.
For the next part of the tour we were escorted by Paulo Tezzon, Chief of Acoustics, Research and Development, to the demo room. Paulo spoke to us about the development of the speakers and the use of natural wood and its purpose in the design process.
We were treated to a demo of the Maxima Amator - a two-way floor stander organic concept applied to a solid wood cabinet, designed during the COVID lockdown. It has a beautifully natural acoustic for an exciting and highly musical sound.
Next up was the Research & Development facility. We were met there by Chief Design Officer Livio Cucuzza and Roberto Gamba who leads on the development of the CI products at Sonus faber. They took us around the R&D facility, giving us an insight into the design theory of focusing first on the aesthetics of a product before exploring the technical design aspect. This is a much more organic design process than the industry is used to and goes a long way to explaining the aesthetic focus of their products.
A significant part of their innovative development process is the testing of their products and the components used to produce them. The testing lab was the next stop on our tour, including the opportunity to experience their anechoic chamber, used to measure the output of their speakers.
Monday’s tour was rounded off with a demonstration of their home cinema room which was a 7.4.4 configuration using the Palladio 6 PL-664 with Premium kits for the fronts, surround and rear speakers. For the In-ceiling height channels the team at Sonus faber implemented four PC-664 in ceiling speakers. The bass management was covered by the incredible Gravis 6 subwoofer – with the team choosing to use four of them in the room! The front end amplification was, of course, McIntosh using a combination of MC611 mono blocks and MC257 amplifiers. Even Andy Oattes, our Sales Director who has worked in the CI industry for years, was floored.
“I’ve heard some of the best home cinemas money can buy over the years but this was just incredible. We were all sat there with our jaws on the floor.”
Despite a long and stimulating day at the production facility on Monday we weren’t deterred by the 5am alarm on Tuesday morning…we were on our way to live every boys dream!
Arriving at the production facility we’d toured the previous day for 6:15am we jumped onto a coach to Modena in the heart of northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region and home to Maserati.
The day started with a tour of the Maserati showroom, lusting over the line-up of all the different models in the range. We were given an insight into the history, origins and technical evolution of the brand, founded in Bologna in 1914. It’s a story of a family with daring, courageous and forward-looking ideas.
Onwards to the factory where we could see the assembly line of the MC20. From the structure of the car being built to all of the components being added, including the twelve Sonus faber speakers that make up the supercars sound system.
The entire process is very high tech and fully automated in complete contrast to the traditional artisan approach to production we’d experienced the previous day. Each car shell follows a set route around the factory towards each step of the production process, using GPS.
The process is concluded at the engine and powertrain test beds where state-of-the-art technology is used to carry out performance tests like the rolling road and water tightness tests.
The technology used for the whole production process is very clever. It’s fascinating to watch a car like this come together before our eyes.
Back on the bus we drive two hours to the Varano de’ Melegari circuit, the home of the Maserati driving experience. A safety briefing covered some insightful tips and techniques from drivers experienced at international level in elite motorsports series including single seater competitions, GT cars and rally international championships.
We each got to enjoy the thrill of an adrenaline lap of the circuit as a passenger in the MC20 supercar, driven at top speed by a professional driver. Then it was our turn to get into the driver's seat of the Ghibli Trofeo and the MC20, under the brilliant instruction of the professional drivers.
With 630 bhp the MC20’s performance around corners and when braking is like nothing any of us have ever experienced or are likely to again!
The day was finished off with a prize giving before we returned to the coach.
The whole experience was unforgettable; going behind the scenes to see a car like that being built then being able to experience driving it first hand. Once in a lifetime stuff.
As we reflected on our trip to Sonus faber it was the sense of family that struck us the most and we felt honoured to feel like Fine Sounds was an extension of that family. It’s a great position for us for the future.