Sonist Concerto 4 Gen 2 Speaker



I had never heard of Sonist Audio, but within thirty minutes of entering their AXPONA 2018 room, I had purchased their Concerto 4 Gen2 that was being driven with the new VAC i170 integrated. Usually, my purchases follow months of research and angst, and I usually source from the used market. So when they arrived I was a little scared to turn them on because I had trusted my ears and spontaneously decided. There was also a little Audiophile Buyer’s Regret since the thrill of the hunt is ends once you pull the trigger.

Sonist is literally an outlier currently located around Snake River, Idaho. http://sonistaudio.com/

The original Sonist designer died from hard living, but the folks at Snake River thought his creation was worth preserving and improving upon. So how good is it?

My audio journey started with a small transistor radio plastered to my ear, then moved on to acoustic suspension Advents, then Magnepan MG2a’s, KEF 104.2’s, Martin Logan Quests, and then some highly tweaked Roman Audio speakers (another small, audiophile-obsessed company that sadly failed.) I’ve also had the privilege of hearing many very high-end products at a friend’s shop. My budget was about 12K.  I purchased these for around half that and they are the most satisfying speaker I have ever had.

They are 97 db efficient, 8 ohm, made of solid real wood, stand 40 inches tall, and go 27 hz to 40 khz. The ribbon tweeter with wave guide creates a clear, 3D sound stage, and the dual-woofers create a very open, natural lower end. They project a spacious sound stage that feels relaxed and uncluttered. These aren’t neurotic speakers.

The bass ports at the bottom front, which allows them to be placed close to rear walls. This new Gen2 supposedly has tighter bass, and I haven’t noticed any bass bloat or bloom from the front ports. Singers are at standing height. I have installed some IsoAcoustic feet, which seem to make the mids cleaner, but I haven’t tried spikes or other footers that hold speakers rigid.

My first thought was that they had that clarity of the original Heil AMT speakers, but with a better quality low end. When listening, I would marvel at the clarity of voices and percussion.

The second thing I appreciated was the specificity of the imaging. I’ve never heard Planars or ‘Stat’s do anything like this. On good recordings, there always seems room for the sax, drums, backup singer, bass, etc to have their own space with air around them. Five performers sound like five separate performers.

Related to this spaciousness was the awareness that a certain false “bass punch” was replaced by the sound of real instruments. These speaker go low in a very natural way, and where other speakers go to the “thud” and resulting congestion, these render the source instrument. The more I listened, the more I became aware of what I’ll call “Speaker Bass” in other speakers that sells the product with punch or bloom, but which is seldom there in real music. I remember a salesman trying to push an IMF speaker because it hit you in the stomach, whereas the KEF next to it hit you in the chest. I’ve been to a lot of live venues from the Ryman to Village Vanguard, and I just don’t recall “Speaker bass” hitting me like so many speakers are designed to do. I think with manufactured punch there’s a need to turn the volume up, because you were sold “speaker bass” punch and low volume is disappointing. I digress, but my Sonist sound good at conversation level.

I sound like a fanboy, so let me be critical. The finish could be a little better. My wife noticed that some areas were smoother than others. The real wood cabinets are beautiful, so why not make that extra push for a flawless finish (but mine are Show demos.) Also, one of the threads for the feet was not perfectly vertical. Also, I think the bass drivers kind of have “Low power amp” in mind, so they might be a little limited in dynamic range in how a bigger amp (which I have) can drive them in big dynamics like the 1812 cannon.

In the first week of listening, there was a sense of admiring the ribbon tweeters. They were never harsh, but I’d listen to Joni Mitchell soar, then look at the ribbon tweeters and say, “Wow.” But should you admire a part of a speaker? There was a sense of a head suspended in space without a chest. My rational mind theorized that the ribbon was being pushed too low, so it conveyed the frequency but could not move the necessary air of more conventional membranes. Then something odd happened.

The speakers support bi-wiring and come with those metal strips for jumpers. I had Eclipse speaker wire plugged into the tweeter terminals, then jumpered to the bass terminals with the metal doo-dads. I became suspicious of the jumpers, wondering if they had created a top-heavy response and softening of bass. I had an old pair of bi-wire cables that were supposedly a prototype for Straightwire Maestros that I had auditioned and liked with my ML Quests for their full-body. So I removed the metal jumpers and tried them. Wowzers! Voices lost that sheen, gained some huskiness, and there was a little more control of bass. You could no longer admire the tweeters because the sound had become more integrated and holistic. But they also seemed less engaging and I had to increase the volume control to get back to the original sound level.   I didn’t think bi-wiring itself could create such a difference, so I figured the changes were either the loss of the jumpers or because the prototype cables have some crazy-ass electrical properties. So, I decided to purchase some good wire-jumpers and go back to my uni-wire Wireworld Eclipse speaker cables, but plug them into the bass tap, then jumper to the treble tap with the better jumpers. This gave wonderful sound. Full bodied. The lingering question is, “Why doesn’t Snake River Cables ship the Sonist with jumpers made of their wire?”

Anyway, I’m no longer interested in those stand-mount wonders with that punchy bass, “Is that coming out of that little speaker?” or feeding huge current into Stat’s and Planar’s that just have inherent imaging and dynamics issues. Neither am I interested in trying a Frankenstein mating of planar head to sub butt. I liked them when I had them, but there was always some denial going on. But each have their strengths.  With the Sonist Concerto 4, I get great imaging, deep bass, transparent highs, and instruments that often sound “in the room” if the recording is good. I’d heard McCartney is a great bass player, and now his bass line has its own separate area in the soundstage and I can hear when he’s plucking instead the thumbing. Same for Ringo. Vocals and lyrics are important to me and now I hear all the lyrics unless I’m listening to some heavy Celtic stuff. Most solo singers are just stunning and lifelike. If I were younger me, I’d probably want that punch bass, but now I want realism and a clear window onto the performers. It makes me happy to listen through the Sonist.

I also like the price point and efficiency. These are truly high-end speakers at a reasonable price, which can free up funds for good amp, source and cabling. At 97db, they match well with modest powered tube amps and exotic SET’s--and I think those ribbons would prefer tubes.   If I was starting from scratch, I’d definitely try some DECWARE amps. Admittedly, there’s stiff completion from the likes of Golden Ear, but the Sonists have a simplicity and quality that allows the music to flow through them that is somehow different that a checklist of features and modules.

I love my impulsive purchase, and I like supporting smaller craftsmen, tinkerers, and obsessive compulsives who are an integral part of this hobby and passion. Hence, this review. It’s kinda like eating local. If you’re in the KEF/ Kanta 2/ Revel/ Golden Ear space (or higher) I recommend letting Sonist compete for your funds, although I’d buy them for long-term ownership since speaker churning is a costly bloodbath.

I heard the new Magico A3 after having the Sonist. It had the WOW bass, but the mids seemed very hard compared to the open naturalness of the Sonist Concerto.

P.S. I’m just a rube, so if there’s interest Steve Hoffman (famous recording engineer) raved about the previous version of this speaker. http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/jonny-wilson-his-sonist-audio-high-efficiency-speakers.367815/


 


electroslacker
That is a really detailed and informative review; one of the best I 've read in a really long time. I have always been curious about these speakers, and now I feel that I know something about them. Thanks!
What amp etc. are you using? It sounds like 300b would be a lot of fun with these. 
Thanks, Roxy54.  I was trying to build "Last System" so I previously purchased a used VAC 200 IQ with KT88's, which is probably about 10x the power needed for the Sonist.  I still have the original VAC Avatar integrated with EL34's.  When I find time, I'll hook it up and see how it compares.  I also found the Sonist so satisfying on its own that I didn't feel the need to tailor the sound with a linestage. I know others will disagree, and I might in the future, but for now that's another way to free up funds.
Those are two great amps. I see why you're in heaven.
A small appendum:

1) It was unfair to comment on the cabinets since mine are Show Demos that I could examine before purchase.

2) I think they form a solid foundation that can be mated successfully with a wide selection of ancillary equipment.

3) The transparency of the bass takes a little getting used to, but then there's no going back.  They will reveal punch when the recording has it.

4) Probably my end-of-path speaker.


I own two Snake River Audio cables.  I suspect that Jonny's amazing wiring improved upon an already excellent speaker.   Enjoy!
I just read about the Sonist speakers; they sound too good to be true.  I am looking to update my vintage Spendor SP-1 to use with a Leben tube amplifier.  I am looking for a detailed but warm sound as my room is a bit bright.  Also looking at Spendor A -7, Devore O 93, Aerial Acoustic 6 T, Prana Fidelity Vayus ( if it can be found) and Harbeth.  Anyone able to give some thoughts regarding a comparison of these speakers?
@mpomerantz, I've had the Conceros 4's for a year and I'm still satisfied and enamored. No itch to trade.

I haven't heard most of the speakers you list, but the Sonist should be more transparent that the Spendor.  To me, the Sonist cabinet (which is made of solid 1 3/4 or 2 inch Poplar wood) has a sense of solidity and inertness from which the transducers emit sound.  That seems the opposite of the very thin cabinet walls on some Harbeths.  Sonist
sound quality reflects a somewhat minimalist design within a very substantial cabinet .

I, also, like warmth and clarity, and I'm using tube amplification with good results.  I wouldn't recommend Sonist for Garage Band listening unless you think you'd like to be in the garage with the band.  Some aggressive or "harsh" music sounds better on bloated, blurry, resonating speakers, but that's not what you get with the Sonists.

I've owned Maggie's and Logan's but do not want to go back to that type of sound.  I've also owned speakers with more punch at loud volume, but I felt I was listening to the speakers rather than the music coming through them.  If money was no object, I'd probably get the Lumenwhite Kyara

I've been lucky to have a friend who has some of the best ears in the business, and even though I haven't bought a single thing from him, listening to his systems has allowed me to recognise some of the attributes of great sound in the Sonist, but at a much more modest price point...that sense of sound illuminated from within and hanging in the room...an openness with space and air. That said, some of his systems have projected a soundstage farther out in front of the speakers than the Sonist, which still has a wide, layered sound with instrument specificity "over there where the speakers are."

I'd never tell anyone they should like or purchase a specific speaker because the hunt and the arrival is so personal, but I'd bottom-line the Sonist as transparently presenting the instruments and performers within an extended linear response with limited congestion..  It's a small company, so has to depend on product more than marketing spin.

Hope that helps.  I'd email Jonny at Sonist, who is likely familiar with your amp and the other speakers. There's lots of good choices. Too bad Axpona has passed.  I missed this year, but think it's a valuable resource to refine and re-benchmark what we're pursuing and what's possible.