Mono & Stereo exclusive interview with Sonus Faber main designer Livio Cucuzza. An open view into his and company approach to design not only regarding Sonus Faber speakers, but also Audio Research and Waida. We looked into what is 21st century is going to bring for company and customers.
How did all started for you at the Sonus Faber premises?
This story is funny.
All began during an interview with Mauro. One of the external engineer of
Sonus Faber told me that Sonus Faber was involved in a new project for a flagship speaker.
I thought I was speaking with a very traditional factory, so the first concepts
were very conservative. When I showed my proposals to Grange and he
immediately didn’t like them!
After this meeting I understood that he was not a nostalgic, but he really
wanted to bring Sf in the new millennium, so I re-tried with some new ideas
and he was enthusiast! Those concepts were the very first shapes of Aida...
Would you consider yourself an audiophile?
My grand father with my father had an HiFi shop in the ‘90s in my city in Sicily.
I grew surrounded by hifi gears and my first money was spent to buy a hifi
system: one Technics rack with RCF speakers. I was 12 years old.
After this I had a lot of hifi stuff because I am always interested in discovering
the personalities of the hifi components. This passion made me found
a hifi association for audiophiles (Domus Audea) with my friend Manuel some
It must been quite a challenge to take on the Sonus Faber heritage and bring it to 21st century?
Yes, and I'm really happy to have this opportunity, but I think that we have to change some prospectives.
Many people consider Sonus faber The Wood Speaker and think its success is based on this, but this is a too restrictive vision in my opinion. If we look at the old products this way it is very difficult to see the future of the brand.
In my opinion the goal of Sonus faber and originally of his father Franco Serblin is to invent a new way of thinking of the hifi loudspeakers. They combined the audio performance with the great Italian creativity and the excellence of our manufacture; they considered the loudspeaker a furniture object that has to join in people's domestic life. This concept must drive us. We have to take into consideration the audiophiles’ houses, but use the best materials for acoustic performance, and the most important thing, we have to dream just like Sf in the past.
What was the hardest part of designing new series?
The hardest is often the most interesting part. For me the most important challenge is to fulfil all my dreams in every speakers line. From the Aida to Venere. For some aspect Venere is more difficult, but very interesting.
Do you see yourself as a new wave, new bread or extension of classical approach enriched by the fresh soul?
I see myself as a part of a young group, very motivated and with a lot of new ideas. We know the story and we live with this story day by day, but we see the opportunities to write a new page about the hifi market, not only about Sonus faber story.
Guarneri evolution. Guarneri Memento speakers were already a legend on its own. How did you approach to designing an Evolution? As a successor or completely new speaker?
Good question. The Evolution was a very difficult project for my guys and me. Guarneri loudspeaker is a masterpiece and one of the most successful products for Sonus faber. A giant!
There were basically two different ways we could improve it: creating a speaker based on the old one, with new drivers and experiences or thinking of the original project, his philosophy and designing a new and more actual product. We chose the latter. We started from white paper with the first Guarneri Homage in mind. If you listen to the two speakers in the same room with the same chain you can immediately understand why we chose the name "evolution"...
You brought some of the state of the art knowledge from other branches of industry. Can you tell us more about their importance and implementation?
I worked for some toys brand like LEGO in the past. The most important thing that I’ve learned is that all of us have a little child inside and the best way to capture a child’s attention with a toy is to have fun with the product during the design process. A hifi gear is not indispensable in the life of a family, it is often just a beautiful toy for adults. And this is great! All the people like toys, all the people need toys. So my vision is to think that every speaker must be the one you’re dreaming of.
Do you feel the strong connection to the traditional Italian design of violins, lutes, legendary master makers or you try to capture the aura in your own way?
I think that this is still good inspiration. The music instruments were invented to entertain people with music, and our speaker must do the same.
You were promoted to head of the design for all Audio Research, Wadia and Sonus Faber. Can we expect transitional design changes to other two companies and what is your vision of those changes?
Yes, I will introduce some changes, but in most of the cases, especially for Audio Research, my vision is to go deep in the tradition of the brand and in its classic design language.
Kindly tell us more about new Venere line. What was the design goal behind it?
The design goal was to transfer the Sonus faber DNA to a more affordable loudspeaker line. We didn't want to create a wood square box just to cover a hole in the Sf collection and compete with the other similar products. We wanted the people to see the grace of the double curvature of Aida, our creative design approach, and listen to the typical Sf imprint in the sound balance when looking at and listening to Venere. I think that Venere will set a new benchmark on the market.
In a way Venere resembles the basic DNA of Aida. Water down Aida for the most of people?
Aida has inspired the creation of the Venere shape, but the Venere line has its own personality and prerogatives.
Who do you address exactly with Venere?
All the people try to have a piece of the Italian heritage in their home. All the people that love music and beauty.
Many Sonus Faber fans didn’t like the made in China news about Venere line. Will this change the general public appreciation of Sonus Faber?
Probably some people will be doubtful about this choice, but I think the people that are really interested in a loudspeaker of this range will be interested more in the performance and the finishes of Venere than in the country where it is assembled. Most of us have one of the most expensive smart phones in our pocket, and it is built in China on a very good American idea.
Do you still believe in Made in Italy motto?
Of course! This is the reason why we will continue to build our top of the line by our best artisans in Italy.
There is nothing on this earth comparable to the legendary hand finish of Sonus Faber. Will this always stay as an integral part of current and upcoming speakers?
Absolutely! We have something that no other factory in the world has and we are very protective of it.
Striking Red Violin finish on new series is almost heretic. What is so special about it?
Our new red violin is the result of a very long experimentation. It is a combination of the right wood essence, natural colours and a special and very long lacquering process. I cannot tell you more about this, sorry.
Form follows the function or vice versa in you view of design?
There is no one following the other. They have to live together. For this reason Paolo and I share the same office and often the same desk to create new products. Often we fight because of some issues, but the creation cannot live without one of the two.
Future retro would I call you blend of classical Sonus Faber design with contemporary lines. How do you incorporate both of these directions to a workable solution?
It is a natural process. I think that sensitivity is indispensable to become a good designer. The soul of the brand must become part of you, just like a good actor who has to become his character. Once you have reached it, the right ideas come out easily.
Franco Serblin left company few years back. Do you still feel his presence in Sonus Faber or did company grow over his roots?
Of course I feel his presence. Every day I look at his products and all the factory remembers his personality. But now we follow a new direction, new targets and new ideas. Mauro Grange has a very strong and motivating vision and it is very exciting to be part of one of the biggest groups on hifi market. We can now share our experience with the Audio Research and Wadia guys, so our horizons are widely open.
Sonus Faber Aida was quite a medium for stirring the high-end audio society. Please tell us how did this project come alive?
This is not completely true. Aida has beaten our sales expectations and honestly I'm still surprised by the number of pairs we’ve built. I couldn't imagine that there are so many people that can spend this large amount on a pair of speakers.
Aida was born because Mauro wanted to put all the experience that the team acquired during the development of the Sonus faber in a more producible product. Now Aida has entered our present production line.
I had the pleasure of hearing Aida in person. Effortless and natural. It seems to allure and transcend even the so-called typical Sonus Faber sound. The system I heard with Aida as reference speakers was one of the best sounds I had pleasure of experiencing. Please tell us how whole Aida project started and come to life. What were the desired goals?
Mauro asked the R&D department to create the best domestic speaker possible.
Sonus Faber speaker was a shocking statement. Why so much efforts and funds for this top of the line Sonus Faber speaker?
After Franco Serblin left the company Sonus faber developed some good projects, but nothing so interesting like the previous speakers. That’s why the brand lost some appeal on the market. When Mauro finished building the actual team all of us were very excited and full of good ideas, so the group decided to invest and use all Sf know how in order to show to the world our capabilities and give the brand the possibility to stay on top of this market.
How much of Sonus Faber innovations were brought down to Aida?
All recent and historic knowhow.
How much of Aida’s core thinking descended to Venere line?
The shape and the wood structure, the use of some new materials, but also the experience with soft domes and driver architecture comes from the Aida experience.
With Sonus Faber and with Italian design in general, there is some sort of hidden passion incorporated in the outcome. What is this “mojo” or magic that attracts so many people?
I think today an industrial designer has the possibility to feel all the world tendencies in an easier and faster way. Some very good design works come from all over the world: Europe, United States, but also East and Far East. Some of these areas today are very rich and have a huge amount of resources. However, we have a sort of smart approach that gives us a unique capacity to solve problems in a poetic and creative way. I think that this approach comes from our history, the places where we grew are full of it and we feel it every day. Have you ever seen Venice?
How much Sonus Faber DNA or flavor is still present through the whole production line?
The Sonus faber DNA is in every model of our collections. From Toy to Aida.
Where does hi-fi stops and high-end comes in?
High-end is a state of mind. You can build an high-end system with a small amount of money if you really want to optimize every component of the system and its interaction with the others.
Buy "hi-end" stuff with no culture and passion is not enough to build a hi-end chain.
Designing a speaker for Sonus Faber must be both blessing; a dream come through and big burden at the same time. There are so many minds to please and keep the market aligned to the foundation of Sonus Faber. How do you find yourself between those strong emotions?
I'm definitively in the dream area.
When is a design of prototype good enough to move into actual production?
At Sonus faber I usually place the new prototypes around the factory and wait for the people’s reactions. When Mauro and all my colleagues smile at the product it means it is ready.
When does well enough morph into great?
When you are not limited by the production boundaries, but try to go beyond them.
Resonances and acoustics are one of the basic attributes to deal with designing the speaker. How much modern tools help in creating and designing a speaker?
The simulators help us a lot. With the new technologies we can verify immediately if the shape I create by means of 3D modelling software has the basic requirements to match perfectly with driver characteristics. But today intuition and practice do most of the work.
What would you say, that is the ultimate goal of yours and Sonus Faber in general?
Obviously it is a mix of state of the art finishing, wood essences, design solutions and particular sound approach, but first of all we always follow our dreams.
How important is the role of computer design and 3D modeling?
Really important. The 3D modelling allows us to reduce tolerances and better match different materials and shapes. But I love building solid models using paper, wood or plastic by myself in order to touch and see my concepts in real life.
Please tell us what is and was for example a process of building Amatai Futura, Aida etc. How does all starts and refine into final product?
Amati and Aida went through different processes. Amati started from an existing model, Aida started from a mere white paper sheet.
A process like this started from some hand drawings and brainstorming with Paolo defining the acoustic configuration. Then we presented the project to Sonus faber team. After Mauro’s first approval Paolo and his team started the driver design and at the same time my team and I started to work on the cabinet design. This was the longest part of the process. I had to respect all the volume and acoustic rules, but also stay close to the initial concept approved by Mauro. At the same time Paolo had to develop the crossover network. After this double design process the first samples arrived from our vendors (drivers and chassis parts) and we had to match them. This was the most exciting part! When all the parts worked fine we assembled the final prototypes and listen to the speakers in the listening room for a long time. During that time every person at Sf used to come to the listening room to listen to the new speakers. It was a very exciting moment!
Ever planning to bring back Sonus Faber electronics like legendary Musica amplifier or something new?
Not for the time being. We have two other brands of electronics now.
It seems Sonus Faber role in speaker market is still very strong. What is the secret?
The secret is the vision. A dream and a very clear vision underlies the start-up of the brand. Now we have some more ambitious dreams but the vision is still the same.
What did the merger of Wadia, Audio Research and Sonus Faber bring?
This merger was a big window towards the other side of the world for us, but also towards the other products involved in an audio chain. Now we have a more detailed and conscious idea of the audio world. We now know the experience of the Audio Research and Wadia customers and we can share the know how of all our brands. This is very important on this new globalized planet.
What are the strongest markets for Sonus Faber?
USA, Japan, Asia, but we are strong and believe also in the European market.
Who would you say are the Sonus Faber Customers?
I think we have more customers who are music lovers than hi-fi lovers. I can say this because our products are often in the living rooms, not only in the dedicated listening rooms and the music they play joins in our customers’ real life day by day.
Would you like to say something at the end for our readers?
I'm an audiophile, so I can say this: turn off your stereo when you can go out for a walk, but never turn off the music!
Matej Isak Mono and Stereo ultra high end audio magazine All rights reserved, 2012 www.monoandstereo.com None of the original text, pictures, links or files can be re-pritend or used in any way without prior permission!