This floorstanding loudspeaker puts the exotic into our Exotica pages as we take this unique Indian hybrid for a spin
When thinking of countries that embody qualities of high-end audio, you’d typically mention the UK for refined, understated amps, Italy for craftsmanship, the USA for muscly power and Scandinavia, Germany or Japan for cool, engineered accuracy. Now it’s time to add India to the list for expressive hybrid loudspeakers. Cadence Audio – based in Pune, India – celebrated its 25th anniversary recently by announcing that some of its most celebrated products would be available in the UK. Leading the way are the Avita speakers, considered one of the entry-level products in its hybrid electrostatic range.
One look at these elegant floorstanders should delight and intrigue the unfamiliar in equal measure. The beautifully sculpted, solid cherry wood baffle speaks of a bygone era of craftsmanship – housing a gently reclining 7in Kevlar/Nomex bass unit and chamfered front port. The diminutive mid/tweeter electrostatic panel is a thing of engineering beauty. The superbly cast aluminium frame defines a gentle arc while the polished, perforated face catches the light, making it look
more like a designer light fitting than revolutionary audio driver. Within this shimmering panel, an extremely durable but thin (5 micron) indium tin oxide-coated PTFE membrane is responsible for the vast majority of frequency response.
The main body of the speaker appears simpler, but the choice of materials confirms that significant attention is being applied to acoustic performance. MDF impregnated with polymer concrete, rigid cross bracing and internal damping materials give the speaker substantial mass and inertness, making it feel more like it is hewn from slabs of meteorite.
I set up the speakers by unboxing the separate electrostatic panels and simply locating them on top of each speaker body via a form of D-sub connector and tightening an integrated brass retaining bolt. The panel is set a small distance back from the woofer to create better time and phase alignment with the bass driver. Sturdy adjustable spikes screw securely into four corners. Plugging in the mains lights up a subtle blue LED in the front baffle lending the artisan woodwork a hint of digital know-how.
The Cadence speakers seem very tolerant of positioning, and I find only a little toe-in is required. Even while setting up, it is apparent that the curved electrostatic panel significantly widens the expected sweet spot, with the degree of on and off-axis listening being far less important than many electrostatic panels. Given the modest height of the panels they do need careful spike adjustment to aim the strongest treble energy towards ear level. This is easy in practice and within minutes I have a very convincing, airy, wide and deep soundstage flooding between and beyond the speakers.
Spinning Neil Young’s Old Man on HDCD remastered from the 1971 Massey Hall recording, I am impressed by just how believably the Avita recreates the intimacy of the performance and the deep acoustic
of the venue. The power of Young’s voice and the dexterity of his guitar fingerpicking are fixed in space in a way that you just see vividly. Speaker reviews sometimes describe a floating image. This acoustic image doesn’t float, it snaps into sharp focus and unfolds beyond the dimensions that such a small speaker has any right to deliver. Image height isn’t quite as tall as some, but this feels like nitpicking given such a convincing image.
The Avita has a claimed frequency response from 43Hz to 35kHz, with the electrostatic panel picking up all duties above 1.6kHz via modified second order Linkwitz-Riley filters. On paper, this might have been a potentially tricky crossover point as it is smack in the middle of the range for reproducing the human voice, but I don’t detect any significant coherence issues between the different driver technologies.
Playing a lossless rip of Seasons (Waiting On You) by Future Islands presents a more challenging track. Opening synths and tambourines are beautifully lit in deep, dark space by the smooth but sparkling panel treble, and the woofers lock straight into the infectious groove. Bass is agile and feels surprisingly deep for such a small floorstander. Cadence only claims a low frequency response of 43Hz, but it feels lower in practice. As the track builds, Samuel T Herring’s vocals are delivered with dynamism and soar high above the electronic synthpop layers. And all this time I’m looking at small floorstanders that don’t appear to be the source of the sound – a sign of excellent imaging.
To confirm the Avita’s soundstage prowess, I play a lossless rip of Roger Waters’ Perfect Sense, Part 1 from Amused To Death. The spatial information and recording technique highlights exactly what this speaker is able to do. A clap of thunder breaks through the lazy congas and ambient cicadas and the Avita comfortably steers the deep, brooding sound up and around the ceiling of my room. The tone of the piano motif and Waters’ close-miked vocals are sumptuous and crisp in equal measure and fixed in three dimensions. PP Arnold’s exceptional vocals then press forward; the
Avita conveying her passionate performance brilliantly with revealing, airy, sweet detail from
the panel seamlessly integrated with the bass driver. Spellbinding.
With a claimed sensitivity of 86dB the Avita isn’t a tough load, especially with a stated nominal impedance of 8ohm, but it probably responds best to amps with reasonable grip. I partner the speakers with the Hegel 160 integrated amplifier/DAC
(HFC 394), which is a good sonic match with power, refined treble detail, fast bass and a strong damping factor. Yet swapping to Transcription Audio 211 triode valve amplification (with plenty of current delivery) yields even stronger results. Spinning a CD of Roda Gigante by Badal Roy and Duofel, shows just how agile and sweet the speakers can be. Weaving acoustic guitars are laid out as a transparent curtain of Brazilian rhythms, exquisitely punctuated with Roy’s expressive Bangladeshi tabla playing. Every percussive note from guitar or drums starts and stops on a pin head with no confusion between instruments, and the purity of tone defines the rapport between these gifted musicians and the charged air of the recording space.
The Avita is a quality speaker that clearly inherits many trickle-down engineering solutions from higher up the Cadence range. It blends unique technology choices in ways that combine to create a rare mix of wide and deep imaging with fast and natural tonal delivery, especially around voices and acoustic instruments. The bass driver punches beyond its weight, with clean bass flowing from the ultra-damped cabinet. As with almost any port-derived bass extension, the lowest notes can’t quite emulate the definition that can come from a considerably larger driver, but driven well, the woofer is superbly matched to the panel.
The beautifully finished electrostatic panel is the star performer and an easy load. Where some less sophisticated dome tweeters might beam their treble energy in a relatively simplistically manner, these curved panels project the highest frequencies in a sweeter, less grainy, more nuanced and subtle manner. Think more watercolour finesse than oil painting. Some may feel that they want more pronounced treble, but an extended audition should win anyone over. Hybrid electrostatics have long been considered a tricky holy grail by audio designers and Cadence is demonstrating impressive mastery in the modestly priced and elegantly finished Avita.
Like: Epic imaging; wide sweet spot from sweet panel; build
Dislike: Nothing at the price
We say: Unique design that blends refined engineering to create a magical, sweet soundstage with an agile performance
PRODUCT: Cadence Avita
Type: 2-way hybrid electrostatic floorstanding loudspeaker
240 x 950 x 280mm
7in Kevlar/Nomex cone bass unit
Quoted sensitivity: 86dB @1W/1m
DISTRIBUTOR: Audio Lounge
TELEPHONE: 0207 4874080
Reviewed April 2015 HFC 396
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