Sonus faber Chameleon T Loudspeakers Review
Sonus faber; the Italian loudspeaker manufacturer that generally needs no introduction, at least to audio enthusiasts. Loosely translating to ‘hand-made sound’ in Latin, Sonus faber have over the years raised the benchmark in loudspeaker design, finish, and of course ‘sound’.
My first introduction to the undisputed beauty that is Sonus faber happened around 15 years ago. I was charged with training judges for a national car audio competition, and Alex Encel generously opened the doors to his iconic Richmond (VIC) store after-hours for a group of bright-eyed judges, all wanting to re-establish their ‘reference’.
To this day I don’t know exactly which Sonus faber speakers they were, nor do I recall the electronics that were driving them. In many ways, I’m glad I don’t know, as that evening remains firmly tucked away in my memory as the finest music playback system I’d ever heard, and I’m happy to let it live there in a bit of mystery.
Sonus faber was founded in 1983. In many ways they took the humble loudspeaker ‘box’, and turned it into an object of beauty. Combining sophisticated and luxurious design, they introduced materials including leather, finely polished wood and even metal.
While Sonus faber ownership commanded a premium price for what is undoubtedly a premium product, discerning buyers around the world joined the club, and quickly established the brand.
For many joining that club was just a dream on a bucket-list, but earlier this year Sonus faber made the decision to position the brand more within reach of the next generation of audio lovers. And so, the ‘Chameleon’ range was added to the brands prestigious repertoire.
Without getting ahead of myself, the Chameleon range consists of three models, the floor standing speaker or tower (T) and the subject of this review, the bookshelf variation (B), and finally the centre speaker (C). Unique to this line is that firstly, it’s the most affordable range of speakers from Sonus faber. Secondly, each of the speakers has the ability to change the side panels for a choice of 6 finishes. Neat.
Perhaps I’m overthinking it, but aside from the obvious old world lizard and its unique ability to change colours according to the surround environment, could the name reflect the new direction Sonus faber has taken? The once exclusive brand reinventing itself to capture a wider, more contemporary audience perhaps? Yes, definitely overthinking it.
Designed for both music lovers and multi-channel systems, Chameleon T is a relatively compact 3-way loudspeaker rated at 90db sensitivity. All drivers are designed by Sonus faber and built by Germany’s DKM. The model ‘T’ features two 150mm woofers, one 150mm midrange, and one 29mm fabric dome tweeter. With a forward firing port, it allows for more flexible room placement of the speakers.
Marketing material suggests a frequency response of 38Hz – 25kHz.
The Chameleon range may not be as luxurious as its higher spec’d siblings, but coming in at $3699 RRP locally it sure draws upon what Sonus faber do well. A contemporary style, characterised by simple and clean lines, the trapezoid shaped cabinet is wrapped in leather, embellished with aluminium trimmings and just like the lizard of the same name, can be styled to suit the surrounding environment. The exchangeable side panels are well engineered and solid. Even the recessed dual speaker terminals at the rear of the cabinet are very well executed and finished.
Incidentally, the review pair arrived at our office from the Australian distributor, Synergy Audio Visual, conveniently flanked with StereoNET orange panels. Well played Synergy!
While the Chameleon range has lowered the entry fee for the Sonus faber owner’s club, you can’t help but wonder just how the Italians have managed to produce a hand-made, Italian manufactured loudspeaker that can be offered at such an affordable price point, across the globe. All credit to them.
The Chameleon T speakers each arrive with their base plates requiring fitment to the base of the speakers. The review pair have previously been used for demonstration, so had been fitted once before. Armed with a screwdriver it was simply a case of reattaching them to the previous holes.
That’s ‘listening’ in Italian, by the way.
Benefiting from substantial run-in time already, it was obvious that the Chameleon T loudspeakers were not too fussed about speaker placement within the room. This is refreshing as our large, acoustically treated dedicated room (7.1 x 5.5m) often requires hours, if not days tweaking the speaker placement before we’re confident enough to start a review.
Another HiFi commentator wrote recently that a reviewer should not comment on whether they ‘like’ the sound of a product being reviewed, but instead just ‘describe’ it. I think that’s a bit of nonsense really; the listening itself is subjective, as are the terms we use to describe what we’re hearing. You can’t describe it without liking it or not, and that’s why readers seek out multiple reviews before committing to a purchase or seeking out an audition themselves. They value the opinions of reviewers who are fortunate enough to spend most of their time listening to and comparing countless products, and are therefore, experienced.
So with that said, let’s press on and see if I ‘like’ Sonus faber’s latest creation, Chameleon T.
With a nominal impedance of 4 Ohms, pairing Chameleon T with my AVM Ovation MA8.2 mono reference amplifiers with a potential 1100 watts on tap may be a little overkill, but hey, I like a little ‘head-room’.
Cycling through my typical ‘review’ playlist gives me a quick impression of what I’m listening to. Tracks I’m intimately familiar with, across a variety of genres including spoken voice, acoustic, live, rock, blues, classical and more, I’ll often find some loudspeakers particularly suited to a particular genre more than others. It’s not ideal, as a good speaker should, at least in my opinion, play well across all genres.
And play well across all genres they do. Tick.
Immediately obvious is the transparency of the speakers, disappearing from their placement and becoming one with the room in which they are being used. Depth and width cues are spacious, and what Chameleon T impresses on me quite quickly is that they are not fatiguing at all. I mention this as despite our best efforts, one often forms an opinion before even making the connections. I should know better.
Dutch blues band, Livin’Blues, “Go-Go-Train”, is a classic blues track from 1970. A slow, mellow track, it captures the soul and emotion of the blues which is beautifully rendered by the Chameleon T speakers, while projecting a holographic sound stage.
Michael Spilby, founder of The Badloves, and his more recent acoustic version of the single, “Green Limousine” is a real treat. The variations of the picking of the guitar strings is easily distinguished and conveys correct tonality. Timing is tight and accurate. I’ve heard this track on other speakers and it’s just not sounded this good.
You’d likely know the Rhianna hit, “Umbrella” complete with the annoying “ella, ella” hook. Originally written for Britney Spears but rejected by her label, it was more recently, and fortunately performed by German jazz pop singer, Lisa Wahlandt, who does a magnificent cover of this track, minus the hook.
The Chameleon T loudspeakers do a great job conveying the sweetness of her vocal, along with the air and breath. The transition between the woofer and midrange driver is transparent and smooth, indicating the crossover is well designed.
London Grammar’s “Wasting My Younger Years” is a more recent favourite track of mine; breathtaking and emotive, the build-up draws the listener in. When pushed, this track does find the limitations of the woofers and small cabinet, lacking a little authority in the bass and bottom end. Being fair though, that’s in comparison to the typically larger footprint speakers with larger diameter woofers I’m used to in my room.
Danilo Lozano’s “Dancing Through The Walls: VIII. Mating Dance” is just a fun track with loads of punch and dynamics. Like the previous track, I often use this track to push speakers and amplifiers, looking for their limitations. While the Chameleon T laps up the power available, when driven beyond comfortable listening levels, the fast transients of the midbass and lower bass does become a little muddled and bloated. This is a very demanding track however and not typical of most music one would listen to.
Ian Moss' cover of “Georgia On My Mind” is faithfully reproduced. A live recording, the ambience of the venue is ever present thanks to the great depth and width of the soundstage, along with the ability of the Chameleon T loudspeakers to simply get out of th way. The full sound and body of the acoustic guitar is convincing and I find this becoming one of my 'go-to' tracks.
Just for comparison, I also used a pair of PureAudioProject Hypex mono amplifiers rated at 180w (4 ohms). The Chameleon T speakers remain composed through the mid-bass and mid-range, with just a slight edginess evident on the upper frequencies. They are however quite easy to drive even with much less power available.
Bringing my SVS Ultra SB 13 subwoofers into the mix with a quick dial-in of the settings, and cycling through a number of challenging and dynamic surround sound test scenes, Chameleon T really do shine, particularly for home theatre use. They’re lively enough to keep up with most demanding shoot-out and car chase scenes, but naturally roll off well and blend with woofers for the low bass duties. I suspect that combined with the mating ‘B’ bookshelf speakers and ‘C’ centre speaker of the same range, the matched voicing would form the basis of a very nice surround sound system.
When building a product to a particular price point there will be certain trade-offs. Sonus faber have evidently done a very commendable job in producing such a well finished, versatile and great sounding speaker at this fairly crowded price point.
The same money will see you looking at traditional veneered ‘box’ speakers from other manufacturers, and while there are certainly some stand-outs at this level of the market, Chameleon T delivers a tonally smooth and accurate sound across the frequency range. There’s nothing artificial about the sound at all, and while they’re not the most detailed speakers in the world, they’d be quite hard to beat for the price.
Add leather, aluminium, the ability to colour match the speakers to your surrounding décor, and a convincing sound that you could listen to all day, Sonus faber are onto a winner here.
I’d highly recommend Chameleon T for anyone looking for an accurate and musical loudspeaker under the $4,000 mark. If you’re looking to use them for home theatre or listen to a lot of music with sub-bass content, budget for a subwoofer as well and you’ve got a quite a versatile system that could easily rival speakers double the price. While nothing has been announced, I would not be surprised if a Chameleon (S) subwoofer might join the range in the near future.
So back to the question posed earlier. When you consider the value for money aspect, do I ‘like’ Sonus faber’s offering at the entry level? Absolutely.
Sonus faber is distributed in Australia by Synergy Audio Visual.
- LOUDSPEAKER SYSTEM 3 way floorstanding vented box
- TWEETER 29 mm high definition precoated fabric dome driver with no ferrofluid. Sonus faber design.
- MIDRANGE 1x150 mm. Free compression basket design and thermo-moulded polypropylene cone (PP). Ultra dynamic performance and linearity. Sonus faber design.
- WOOFER 2x180 mm. Free compression basket design and PP cone. Ultra dynamic performance and linearity. Sonus faber design.
- CROSSOVER POINT 250 Hz - 2.500 Hz
- FREQUENCY RESPONSE 38 Hz – 25.000 Hz
- SENSITIVITY (2.831V/1M) 90 dB SP
- NOMINAL IMPEDANCE 4 Ohm
- SUGGESTED AMPLIFIER POWER OUTPUT 40W – 300W without clipping
- LONG-TERM MAX INPUT VOLTAGE (IEC-268-5) 22V rms
- DIMENSION (HXWXD) 1060,3 x 270 x 355 mm
- WEIGHT (KG/EACH) 24,5