Review: Sonab Sound and Society System 9 speaker system

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Sonab used to be all about high quality audio reproduction, writes Stephen Dawson. Does this new system stack up to its ancestors?

The name Sonab Audio pings a little nostalgia centre deep within my being. That’s because the very first high-fidelity audio system I ever heard, the system that started my long infatuation with audio reproduction, was based on four Sonab V1 speakers (yes, it was a Quadrophonic system).

The Sonab of today is still a Swedish firm, but is very different from the one of then, following bankruptcy, state ownership and the death 20 years ago of its founder, Stig Carlsson. I’m not even sure if the current Sonab is direct descendent of that earlier firm, or has merely adopted the name in order to ping the nostalgia centres of others.

There has certainly been a major change of direction. While those older Sonab speakers were very much for the home, Sonab’s main product line now is intended for public spaces. Indeed, it’s branded Sonab Sound and Society.

What they are

That product line, the System 9, consists of an active installation speaker, an active installation subwoofer, a primary source device and two volume control options.

The speakers can be operated wired or wireless – one of the volume controllers is for wired, the other for wireless – but clearly the wireless functionality is what the system is really all about. For those interested in a wired system, you can essentially daisy chain the speakers together to add large arrays. Because each is powered, there’s no need to fuss with balancing out impedances, or setting up a, say, 70V transformer system. The smaller speakers can be daisy chained from the subwoofer and vice versa.

Another big selling point is ease of use, which we’ll get to later.

The point of the system is that you can add just about as many units as are required to fill the space with sound. In addition to the elements of the system I’ll be looking at here, there are also wireless range extenders (model CEX).

You can have multiple independent systems coexisting within the one space, or as neighbours, thanks to three selectable wireless channels and 10 ‘ID’ codes. All devices within the one system need to share the one channel and ID code. Within each system you can allocate the speakers amongst up to six different zones. These zones all carry the same signal, but can have their volume level set independently.

The system supplied for review consisted of two of the CLS loudspeakers, one CSW subwoofer, one CTX wireless transmitter and one CVM wireless volume control. That’s pretty much the minimal system. Typically, you’ll be adding extra CLS loudspeakers.

Each CLS loudspeaker is an active unit. It’s shaped like a cross between a cone and a cylinder, with the 19mm tweeter and 115mm bass/midrange under a grille at one end, with controls and connections at the other, and a sturdy U-shaped bracket holding it. A removable dust cover also covers the control and connection end. Under the grille at the front is also a bass reflex port. Each weighs 2.4kg.

Each driver has its own 25W Class D amplifier. These should be highly efficient, producing relatively little heat. There is also digital signal processing built in to correct the signal for the performance characteristics of the driver. Sonab Audio rates their frequency response at 60 to 22,000Hz.

The speakers are mains powered – 115V to 230V supported automatically – and a two prong power socket is provided on the back of each. As standard, a GA69 track fixture is fitted to the bracket, and a power lead from this plugs into the power socket on the speaker. The system is designed to work with Nordic Aluminium Lighting Track Systems. This is a three circuit mains power system consisting, as the name suggests, of modular aluminium tracks. For installations where mains powered track lighting is convenient, the ability to add audio is particularly useful.

That said, you don’t need to use a track system. Packed in with the review system were wall mounts and standard power leads. Not having a Nordic track in my office, that’s what I used.

The CSW subwoofer is a space saving model, with a flattish design. Placed down flat on the floor, its only 320mm tall, but 390mm deep and 620mm wide. In practice, the included wall mount will be used to put on a wall somewhere out of the way, flat against the wall so that it doesn’t use much space. The 254mm driver is not covered, but it’s on the side that will normally be up close to the mounting surface. There are a couple of bass reflex ports on one end.

As with the smaller speakers, there is a DSP along with the amplifier – 200W Class D.  Sonab rates the frequency range at 30Hz to 100Hz. There’s a variable crossover and a level control with a -20dB to +20dB range to allow the level to be matched to the main speakers, and adjusted for position. (There are also level controls on the main speakers, but they only work with analogue inputs. You use the subwoofer level control to get it right.)

The subwoofer level can also be set using the small remote control included in the package.

The CVM wireless volume control features a volume knob, a zone selection button and a display to show the level and zone. The CTX wireless transmitter is small and light weight, and comes with a wall mount bracket. It has a 3.5mm analogue input (a 3.5mm to 3.5mm analogue cable is provided) and a Mini-B USB connection along with a suitable USB cable. Plug it into a computer and it becomes a USB Audio device, so any and all music or other material can be played directly from the computer without any analogue conversion. I used this input for testing.

Sonab says that the communications range for the various devices is 20m to 100m “depending on conditions”. All the wireless communications is in the 2.4GHz space. It isn’t standard WiFi, but uses a “dedicated proprietary network protocol”. All audio is sampled at 16-bits and 48kHz.

In Use

Setting up couldn’t be simpler. It was just a matter of making sure that the same channel, ID and zone was selected on each device, and then powering everything up. The speaker had small red lights showing, until I started iTunes playing some music on the computer, whereupon there were some clicks and all the lights turned blue. And music emerged from the system.

It is with this ease of installation that the system is so strong. That said, you’d probably want to check in your environment to ensure the range is sufficient and the 2.4GHz wireless space is available.

Initially bass seemed way too strong, but this was easily trimmed with the level control. Remember, the subwoofer will be providing bass for an uncertain number of main speakers. I’d say that if they are reasonably closely spaced, it has the capacity to provide bass for six or eight speakers. But should there be distinct spaces with the venue it’d probably be best to go for one sub for each.

As mentioned, the audio was locked to 48kHz and 16-bits. That’s certainly what Windows reported, and the adjustment drop down list was greyed out and unalterable. Stereo sound is mixed down to mono and delivered equally from all the main speakers.

I played a wide range of music and spoken material through this system and it was utterly reliable throughout. There were no drop outs, no hesitations, no problems at all, despite the rather crowded 2.4GHz band in my office. The system went quite loud enough for all reasonable purposes when set to maximum level, and remained clear and clean.

Music was respectable, and both male and female spoken voice was nicely coherent, even at maximum level.

Conclusion

The ideal location for the Sonab Sound and Society System 9 speaker system would be an installation in which Nordic tracks are going to be used anyway, but even without that the convenience of just plugging everything into power and then having signal carriage handled wirelessly commends the system to many applications. That it works so easily and reliably makes it truly worthwhile.

 

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