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Chario Sonnet Bookshelf Speaker Review

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This year’s CES was a really enjoyable one for me for the first time in a few years. Not only did I see and experience a good deal of new and exciting equipment, I also made a lifelong friend, met some other really great people and best of all, I met a pair of beautiful twins from Italy. It gets even better. After being introduced to them I could hardly take my eyes off of them. Lust is a nasty business and can get you in trouble very quickly, but I just could not stay away or get them out of my mind.

They were young, tall, tan and curvaceous with a stunning beauty (think a young Gina Lollobrigida) and sexy as all get out. These girls are really put together well and, get this; I got to bring them home with me for an extended stay. To top it all off, Paula did not even mind! Not even a hint of jealousy. As a matter of fact she even told me she understood how I could be so attracted to them and she openly acknowledged their youthful vitality and alarming good looks. (Now I feel old. –Ed.)

All this with the blessing of their US sponsor, Hiram Toro! I still have to pinch myself each time I see them sitting in my audio room, beckoning me with that playful sex appeal that Italians seem to naturally have in spades! Oh, and when they speak, the sound is sultry and intoxicating. I must be dreaming.
Such is the effect of a pair of Chario Sonnet monitor loudspeakers. This is Italian sex appeal in high gear. What is it with the Italians anyway? Ferrari, Lamborghini, Armani, Gucci, and Sophia Loren…Does anybody not know these names and what they represent?

So here is another Italian star rising in the ranks for audio greatness. The Chario Sonnets are a very sizeable 2-way monitor loudspeaker. The cabinets measure 18.5 inches high by 9.6 inches wide and 14 inches deep. When perched atop their dedicated stands they are approximately 50 inches tall. They weigh in at about 31 lbs each for the monitors and 60lbs with the matching stands. This makes them easy to move around, but you still need to be cautious about lifting them. They are available in two finishes, walnut or cherry. The review pair came finished in the cherry wood and are to die for. The pictures do them no justice and for all the speakers that have come and gone through our listening room over the years, the Charios rated the absolute highest visual WAF rating from Paula yet.

The speakers are actually a reversed 2-way array, meaning that the mid/woofer is above the tweeter. I have to admit that at first this looks a bit odd, especially when you are used to lining up tweeters on axis with your ear in the listening position, and mating the bottom of the speaker with the woofer placed there on mass loaded speakers to get the most bass you can out of them. It still lines up nicely but the visual cue can appear to be a bit off, although you get used to it real quick and then never notice it again. The drivers are comprised of a 1.5-inch Silversoft dome tweeter and a 7-inch Rohacell Full-apex mid/woofer that look very similar to the units used in Magico speakers. They are vented with a “Half-Exponential Hourglass Type” vent in the back of the speakers. Frequency response is stated at 50 Hz to 20 kHz. They are rated at 90 dB sensitive and they present a fairly easy load for most amplifiers and are rated for up to 140 watts. They actually worked very well with the 10-watt Grant Fidelity A-534B integrated tube amplifier producing some rather satisfying SPLs. They come standard with WTB type bi wire binding posts and that is how I ran them throughout the review utilizing XLO Signature bi-wire speaker cables.

So how did they sound? Well it was a bit difficult to really gauge at first since I was coming off the full range Von Schweikert UniField 3, so they took some getting used to as their frequency cutoff in the bottom end is stated at 55 Hz. Not knowing how accurate that was I decided to just let them play in the background for a few days to erase the VS influence.

Once I started to actually get into measuring the Sonnets, I found out something interesting about that claimed 55 Hz bottom end: Wrong! I measured them on a full frequency sweep from 20 Hz to 20 kHz from one meter away and they were almost flat down to 40 Hz. The only notable deviations from a full flat response occurred oddly enough at 16 and 20 kHz where they dropped off by 4 dB. At the other end of the sweep, there was a drop at 63 Hz of 4 dB, at 31.5 Hz with of 3 dB and at 25 Hz where they fell away at 12 dB. Once, I was able to put some distance between my ears and the earlier VS speakers and I no longer missed that bottom end at 16 Hz. Moreover, the Sonnets measured much better in-room than the specs, especially below the stated 55Hz. My guess is that the bigger Charios will do the same. If the range of the Sonnets is not enough, try dating the big fat sister, Serendipity. As for me, I am staying with the lithe and nimble Sonnets. I don’t need no stinking 20 Hz.

After settling on a position that ended up with a slight toe-in toward the center of the seating area, 4 feet out from the front wall, 3 feet from any boundary wall and approximately 8 feet in between the speakers, I sat down to take in my first serious listening session. I should note that when mounted on their dedicated stands the Sonnets adopt a slightly laid back stance. You would think that this create a sort of reversed time alignment with the tweeter being slightly ahead of the woofer unit. In actual listening, there was absolutely no evidence of a time alignment problem and the speakers were in fact quite cohesive.

For the first couple of weeks I drove the Sonnets with my Jolida Music Envoy 211 tube amps fronted by the Cary Audio DVD 6 player, the Montegiro Lusso turntable with the DaVinci Nobile tonearm, the Koetsu Tiger Eye Platinum cartridge and XLO Signature cabling throughout. I ran the Jolida 211s, at 200 watts a side through them, the flea weight 300B tubes in the Grant Fidelity A534B integrated pushing 10 watts a side, and the Acoustic Plan Sarod preamp and Santor power amp at 50 watts a side (more on these in upcoming reviews). They all worked very well with the twins. I also ran solid-state integrated amp at 95 watts a side.

The symbiosis with the tubes was great; it is almost as if this speaker was made for tubes. They just blend so well with all three tube amps, the solid-state not so much. What does that mean exactly? Well, I think the speaker is very analytical and a bit on the strident side by nature. Not a bad thing when running tubes because the overall sound came out really well balanced. Lush with great, dare I say it, to-die-for midrange. No glare, no excess sibilants, just a really smooth delivery. With the solid-state it sounded, well, analytical to my ears and a bit harsh and rather dry. It may simply be that the solid-state amp I was using was not a good mate and it remains important that you audition the Sonnets with both solid-state electronics as well as tubes and determine for yourself what will best meet your needs.

After running it through the various amp configurations I decided to go back to the Jolida reference amp setup for the remainder of the review and start measuring using a couple of different CDs. What I found was that the Sonnets performed admirably. Once I was convinced that I had the positioning pretty fleshed out, I went back to a host of recordings that I like to use in reviews and went through them one by one to see how the Sonnets handled certain types of music and diverse sources.

I started off with the CDs as the source and cued up “More Than One Way Home” by Keb Mo from the Just Like You CD. This is a great track for evaluating bass response. Not so much for the deepest bass, I have test tones for that, but rather how they handle a good amount of power to mid-bass activity and musicality. The Sonnets did more than a respectable job on this track for a stand mount monitor. The bass was not only satisfying with respect to weight and speed but also the musicality, and there was no hint of strain at all. The slam was not its strong point; there are other speakers in the price range that will go deeper and stronger but not too many that will deliver bottom-end with any more musicality.

Christian Mc Bride’s version of “Night Train” from the Getting to It CD (Verve Music Group) was another case in point of the Sonnet’s ability to produce great low frequency musicality minus the impact that a full-range speaker with larger woofers can deliver. There are a lot of passages on this track that have the strings of the bass plucked with an almost snapping delivery. While it was easy to spot this with the Sonnets, the snap wasn’t as crisp and pronounced as it could’ve been in some full-range speakers that I have heard; but commendable nonetheless, and perhaps more so considering the conservative frequency response that Chario claims for this speaker. So, the Sonnets handle digital music with a great deal of poise, less fatigue and with great bottom-end.

What about the sound with vinyl? On Ambrosia’s “Cowboy Star” from the album Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled, the sound just swirled around the room. This is one of those classic big rock tunes with an Aaron Copeland type of orchestral bridge section. There is a lot of information and different musical snippets within the framework of a single song. The Sonnets did a very admirable job of delivering this track with great clarity, separation and pace. They never lost their poise and delivered the song in a very controlled fashion, while never losing the nuances in the delivery of the overall grand arrangement or sounding restrained or dry.

On Eve Cassidy’s, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, from her Songbird album, her voice was very delicate throughout the song and when she really let the power of her voice out, the Sonnets maintained that delicacy and just supported it with more weight. There is something about this version of the song: when played through a really great system, it will choke me up. The urgency in her voice during this later bit in the song either comes through sounding very nice and strong or, with the right synergy, it can rip through your soul. Maybe it is the notion that she died not long after this that heightens that emotion; but the Sonnets get right to the heart of that delivery and thrust it in your face with no apology, or so much as a tissue to dry the eyes. Honest, emotional and capable of delivering devastating sadness in a song if it is in the original recording – it is this tonal accuracy that really sets the Sonnets apart. I was able to make a direct comparison with the AAD Silver Reference 1 monitors. The AAD speakers have received some rave reviews especially with their ability to reproduce the human voice. Side by side, the Sonnets were light years ahead of the AADs in every aspect.

What does it all mean? What’s it all about Alfie? Simple, I think.

If you are looking for a speaker that does not require lots of space, will bring you close enough to full-range without too much sacrifice in the bottom-end, an honest delivery of what is on the recorded media and has a sexy Italian body to boot, then you need to arrange a date with these twins. Find out for yourself how much fun they can really be.

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