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Sonus faber Duetto Review: incredible sound, spotty performance

 Sonus faber duetto speakers on stands in living room.
Sonus faber duetto speakers on stands in living room.

SONUS FABER DUETTO: ONE-MINUTE REVIEW

The best wireless speakers can be the audiophile’s soundbar, wrapping all the inputs, amplification, and streaming tech you need into a standalone, high-performance audio solution. Sonus faber’s dashingly elegant Duetto speakers check off those boxes in style, offering brilliantly clear and robust sound quality alongside convenient wireless streaming and plenty of ways to connect.

The design is cutting-edge, right down to the wireless connection between the speakers, but as is surprisingly common with audiophile brands, the execution isn’t always as intuitive or reliable as you’d expect from a luxury product. Over the course of my Duetto review, I experienced multiple tech issues, from setup hiccups to spotty HDMI ARC communication. The speakers add to those issues with some awkward design quirks and control options.

The Duetto easily rank among the most transparent, dynamic, and just plain stylish powered bookshelf speakers I’ve evaluated. If you’re willing to gamble on their tech, which may improve over time with software updates, they could be worth considering for those seeking an all-in-one best stereo speakers option that’s as beautiful as it is sonically striking. Otherwise, there are more stalwart options out there.

sonus faber duetto closeup on stand
sonus faber duetto closeup on stand

SONUS FABER DUETTO REVIEW: Price & release date

  • Released October 2023

  • Priced at $3,999 / £3,490

The Sonus faber Duetto speakers were released in October 2023 and are available in over 50 countries worldwide through authorized dealers. At the time of this review, the U.S. price for the Sonus faber Duetto was $3,999.

SONUS FABER DUETTO REVIEW: Specs

sonus faber duetto bottom ports
sonus faber duetto bottom ports

SONUS FABER DUETTO REVIEW: Features

  • Powered wireless speakers connected over UWB

  • Phono, optical, and HDMI ARC/eARC inputs

  • Webpage for control; setup via AirPlay, Google Home, or Ethernet

Among their many intriguing features, maybe the most unique is how these high-resolution wireless speakers connect to one another.

Like most powered/active speakers, the Duetto pair comprises a primary speaker that houses onboard controls and inputs and a secondary speaker that receives audio from its partner. Unlike other such wireless systems, the two speakers aren’t connected via a data cable or Wi-Fi, relying instead on a relatively new wireless protocol called UWB (Ultra wideband). UWB uses radio waves for some distinct advantages over alternatives, including much lower latency than Bluetooth LE and virtually zero signal interference when compared to Wi-Fi frequencies.

Each of the Duetto speakers is internally powered by potent custom amplifiers, including a 100 watt Class A/B amplifier for each tweeter and a Class-D amplifier claimed to produce a whopping 250 watts for each 5.25-inch woofer. You can choose which speaker is the left or right, depending on the room layout. The two-way speakers utilize internal DSP (digital signal processing) with a crossover set at 1.9 kHz. Their total frequency response is a claimed 37Hz-30kHz, and they reach deep into that low end with authority.

On the primary speaker’s supple leather topside, you’ll find lighted “Senso” touch keys that let you tap your way through playback, volume, and input control. It’s a slick design, but it takes a while to master the functions without the familiar playback symbols you’ll find on most wireless speakers. You’ll also need to memorize the different colors flashing across the speaker’s front LED display bar (seven in all) for each input – the price you pay for style.

Style also takes precedence for the Duetto’s physical input hub. Inputs include Ethernet, RCA line-in (with an available built-in phono pre for a turntable), optical digital, subwoofer out, and HDMI ARC/eARC, all stuffed into a small cubby beneath the primary speaker. This allows for clean lines across the speaker’s elegantly industrial backside., but it can be confounding for usability, requiring an awkward balancing act anytime you need to swap cables or access the Duetto’s reset or speaker pairing keys. Simply moving those keys to the back would be helpful.

Awkward is the operative word for my Duetto setup experience, starting with pairing the speakers together once you’ve powered them on. This requires digging through your tangle of wires under the main speaker’s base, finding the tiny pairing button next to the equally tiny reset button and holding it for five seconds, then dashing to the other speaker to do the same within 30 seconds. The first time I must have failed to hold the button long enough, forcing a retry.

Next, since Sonus faber (oddly) doesn’t include a dedicated app for setup or control, you’ll need to use either AirPlay setup or the Google Home app to connect to Wi-Fi. My first review sample, a previously used model, refused to connect to my network multiple times. Once I finally did get the speakers to play, they sputtered offline again and eventually got stuck in a power-cycle feedback loop as I tried to reset them.

A second review pair connected without incident via AirPlay, but I did experience some hiccups in which the speakers stopped responding to Spotify, forcing me to reset them or reconnect. On another occasion, the left speaker suddenly stopped playing, forcing another power down. Most notably, after testing them over a few weeks, the Duetto started having HDMI ARC connection issues. It seems to be a CEC communication problem, where the speakers don’t always power on and/or connect when I turn on the TV, sometimes forcing me to connect manually or, again, power cycle them. While I can usually get them working, the issue was persistent through multiple HDMI cables, multiple TV settings, and even multiple TVs.

The Duetto’s reliance on a webpage for online controls is also less convenient than speakers with a dedicated app. The webpage provides some useful features like the ability to configure HDMI switching, adapt the bass for near-wall setup and turn it down in quiet moments via the “Loudness Maximiser.” But it’s missing options like a multi-band EQ or inputs selection. You’ll need to bookmark it in your browser or rely on the physical manual’s QR code for access. A real app appears to be coming, which would be a big help for usability if and when it arrives.

  • Features score: 3/5

Sonus faber duetto speakers on stands in living room
Sonus faber duetto speakers on stands in living room

SONUS FABER DUETTO REVIEW: Sound quality

  • Sensitive, transparent, and dynamic sound

  • Dimensional and precise soundstage

  • Powerful and clear bass response

Listening to the Duetto is not a passive experience, it’s an event. Their nuanced sound signature is as sensitive as it is powerful, diving deep into the core of each instrument, vocal, or effect and raising it to the surface to be exposed in the light of day. Poorer mixes and low-resolution tracks have nowhere to hide from these sonic magnifiers. Yet their smooth and sweet sound signature is remarkably forgiving, with a warm and present midrange, fluid and vividly responsive treble that’s forward but never sharp, and shockingly thunderous bass.

You’ll have no trouble enjoying compressed audio over Spotify Connect, even finding yourself distracted from other tasks by the Duetto’s knack for detail and definition. But you’ll spark more joy by using a source more worthy of their pedigree – this is a pair of $4,000 speakers after all.

I started my evaluation in earnest pairing the Duetto with a new Technics SL1500-C turntable and a reprint of Dave Bruebeck’s classic album “Take Five” fresh out of the wrapper. And what a listen it was. I’ve heard some very good speakers in my day, and I was still taken off guard by just how fabulously the Duetto reproduced this iconic album. You know you’re onto something when your notes include phrases like “a joyous celebration of life and art.”

There’s not an instrument these speakers don’t know how to elevate. The breathy buzz of the sax in “Strange Meadow Lark” was so close I could almost feel it against my neck. The papery texture of the drums in the titular track revealed each of Joe Morello’s minute wrist adjustments in mellow-gold microtones. Even the warm gunk in the diaphragms of those ‘50s microphones seemed to glow through the tweeters as bass strings rattled and Brubeck’s creamy piano spun up and down the right side. The voluminous soundstage rises to near three-dimensionality in such moments, with instruments seeming to reach out and curve around your face.

The soundstage was similarly enveloping with TV and movies, even when dialing up seemingly basic fare like a rewatch of “Christmas Vacation” over the holidays. The Duetto built a cavern of spacious sound here, and was especially adept at reconstructing minute details like a TV in another room. The guttural roar of Eddie’s RV as he fired it up to kidnap Clark’s boss had me looking outside, while the rocket-like bombast of Santa’s plastic reindeer as they’re launched into orbit at the movie’s conclusion seemed to rumble the whole front of the room. The sound was so expansive it felt like a Dolby Atmos mix, all from a compressed stream over stereo speakers.

As I listened on, I was constantly surprised by the Duetto’s transparency, from whistling high-frequency synthesizers to the painstaking reconstruction of every mix or soundstage as if laid out before me. Still, the Duetto’s oak-like bass response is their most striking sonic trait. As noted, they’re rated down to 37Hz, and I’ll be damned if they don’t get close. Adding a sub will clear up some room in the upper register and provide more control, but it’s otherwise unnecessary given the Duetto’s powerful punch. Bass is almost too powerful in some tracks, even after being tamed in the settings, which was why I sometimes wished for better EQ.

EQ or not, I won’t raise any official complaints about the Duetto’s sound. If it weren’t for the technical mishaps I encountered, I’d likely be considering throwing down the cash to grab them myself. They offer among the most impressive sonic performances I’ve ever heard in a pair of bookshelves. Even as I write this review, I’m finding new ways to be impressed, engaged, and elated by their skills.

  • Sound quality score: 5/5

sonus faber duetto top surface
sonus faber duetto top surface

SONUS FABER DUETTO REVIEW: Design

  • Relatively compact, fully wireless bookshelf design

  • Dashingly elegant, minimalist aesthetic in black or walnut

  • Inconvenient inputs and control layout

At just over 13 inches tall and 11 inches deep, the Duetto are easy to place on most speaker stands and longer consoles. Sonus faber also offers custom Duetto stands at a lofty $749. The speakers are unflinchingly gorgeous and well-built, from their perfectly matched, lute-shaped cabinets to their leather tops and hefty metal heat sinks. They’re among the only speakers I’ve seen that look as good with their acoustic screens on as off. The lack of any visible physical connections along or between the two speakers makes for a squeaky-clean aesthetic.

As noted above, it also makes basic things like swapping in a new device or re-pairing the speakers in the event of a reset or connection issue inconvenient, with everything confined beneath the primary speaker. Even the slick remote feels overengineered, requiring a lockpick’s touch to open the battery slot via a tiny hole at the back.

At least some of these decisions feel like form over function. It all works fine if you only need to set the speakers up once and don’t plan on adding any new gear later, but it makes everything more of a hassle when something changes or goes wrong.

  • Design score: 3/5

SONUS FABER DUETTO REVIEW: Value

  • Audiophile sound performance with a price to match

  • Loads of inputs and connection options

  • Reliability and convenience take a backseat to aesthetics

The Sonus faber Duetto are among the priciest wireless bookshelf speakers I’ve encountered, with the sound to back it up. Their design is as stunning as it is unassuming, matching elegance with minimalism to striking effect. The inclusion of multiple inputs, including a built-in pre-amp for vinyl playback and HDMI ARC/eARC makes them a versatile and comprehensive sound solution.

However, you can find similar models, including hi-fi options like KEF’s LS50 Wireless II, for thousands less. In my experience, KEF’s design and tech are also more reliable and intuitive. The Duetto’s sound performance sets them apart nearly as distinctly as their price point, but their reliability issues and sometimes awkward design elements keep them from being as attractive as more affordable competitors.

  • Value score: 2.5/5

sonus faber duetto in living room with TV
sonus faber duetto in living room with TV

Should you buy the SONUS FABER DUETTO?

Buy it if…

Don't buy it if…

SONUS FABER DUETTO REVIEW: Also consider

sonus faber duetto in living room with TV
sonus faber duetto in living room with TV

SONUS FABER DUETTO REVIEW: How I tested

  • Tested with both compressed lossy and hi-res lossless streaming services, including Spotify Connect and Amazon Music

  • Tested with high-resolution analog and TV sound sources across a wide range of content, from jazz and hip-hop to sitcoms, dramas, and action films

  • Tested two pairs over several weeks with dozens of hours of listening time

I used the Sonus faber Duetto as my primary sound source over multiple weeks of testing and across a wide variety of source material, from compressed audio tracks over Wi-Fi to high-quality vinyl albums and a wide array of TV shows and films. Source devices included Technics SL1500-C direct drive turntable and Ortofon Red cartridge, as well as multiple TV models from TCL, Samsung, and LG.

I compared the speakers to several alternatives, including my reference KEF LSX wireless speakers, and traditional wired speakers from Focal, Bowers & Wilkins, and others connected to a Naim Uniti network amplifier.

You can read TechRadar's review guarantee here.

  • First reviewed: January 2024