While high-end audio used to be the domain of American, European and
Japanese companies, the past few years have seen manufacturers of fine audio equipment open all over the world. One example is the
Indian manufacturer Cadence Audio. They have made their name with high
performance hybrid electrostatic loudspeakers and vacuum tube amplifiers.
The review samples, provided by the US importer OSS Audio, are one of two
newly introduced hybrid models. The Avita, and larger Arista, are both two-way hybrid electrostatic designs with moderately sized electrostatic panels
that cover the upper midrange and treble, and traditional voice coil drivers
for the lower frequencies. Both use a proprietary electrostatic panel which
is said to resist arcing and moisture damage. This is combined with a
Kevlar/Nomex honeycomb midrange driver and a cabinet made of a composite
material said to reduce cabinet resonances.
The larger Arista has a
crossover frequency of 1.3 kHz, with a low frequency limit of 30 Hz. The
somewhat smaller and less expensive Avita has a crossover frequency of 1.8
kHz and a low frequency limit of 40 Hz. Both have moderate sensitivities of
88.5 and 86 dB/w/m, with 8 ohm nominal impedance. The larger Aristas
weigh 80 pounds each, while the Avitas are 55 pounds. Neither of these
speakers are what you would call cheap. The MSRP of the larger Arista is
$5,495/pair, and the smaller Avita reviewed here sells for $3,995/pair.
Construction, Fit, and Finish
The Avitas came well packaged in four boxes, two large ones for the main
cabinets, and two small ones for the electrostatic panels. The panels
themselves are beautifully constructed, with a single piece cast aluminum
frame that is very substantial. Connection to the main cabinet is via a
sturdy brass bolt, with a 9 pin D-sub connector for the signal and
electrostatic panel bias. You have to connect them to a wall AC socket to
derive the bias voltage on the stators.
The main cabinet is a fairly traditional
rectangular box made of Cadence's composite cabinet material, with a dark
gray matte finish. A beautifully sculpted solid cherry baffle is
affixed to the front of the cabinet. An IEC AC power jack is located at the
bottom rear of each cabinet that is used to provide power to the
electrostatic panels, which require a high voltage DC bias.
supplies for the panels are located inside the main cabinets. The 1.75”
thick front baffle is very elegant, and contains a woofer port, and blue LED
power indicator in the Cadence logo. The cabinet has four integrated floor
spikes, and very high quality WBT binding posts that allow for bi-wiring.
Jumpers are provided for single wire applications. There is no speaker
grille for the woofer, although the electrostatic panel has a grille
integrated into the cast frame.
I have two small complaints about their
construction. At this price point, I would expect that the grain of the
pieces that make up the front baffle would be matched. On my samples, they
were not. The US importer says that this is because the samples were ordered
from India as a single pair. Future speakers for customers will be ordered
in larger volume, allowing better grain matching for the front baffles.
Also, the matte finish and square shape of the main cabinet does not match
the elegance of the front baffle and electrostatic panel frame. Available
veneer finish, and/or a more rounded shape would be more pleasing, at least
for me. Normally, I don't care too much about cosmetics, but for $4,000, I
start to pay attention to looks a bit. Other than these small issues, they
are good looking speakers that are obviously well put together.
Setup and Associated Equipment
I initially set up the Avitas in the same location I have my trusty Platinum
Audio Solos, about 3 feet from the back wall, with moderate toe-in.
Amplifier power was
delivered by a Plinius 8150i integrated amplifier through Nordost Red Dawn
speaker cable. A Sony DVP-S9000 SACD/DVD player did double duty as a SACD
player and CD and DVD transport feeding a Bel Canto DAC 1.1. A Linn LP-12
Valhalla/Grado Reference Platinum/Lehmann Black Cube was the analog front
end. Interconnects were Nordost Blue Heaven. Most of the auditioning was
done with a REL Strata II subwoofer, with the low pass crossover set to just
below 40 Hz.
While my system does have home theater capability, I did not
review these speakers in this context, concentrating on two channel audio.
No break-in was required, because the review speakers were well played show
samples. After some listening, I toed the speakers out more. They did not
need a lot of toe-in to deliver a solid center image, and were able to throw
a much wider soundstage. There is no power switch on the speakers, so they
stayed biased the entire review period. Unlike some larger electrostatic
designs, the Avita panels bias essentially instantaneously, so there is
no penalty for turning them off and on with a switched power conditioner.
From the very first tune the Avitas played, it was clear that these speakers
are a very serious piece of kit. Like the Swans M1s I reviewed last year
with their planar tweeter, the electrostatic panel of the Avitas made for an
absolutely transcendent upper midrange and treble. Possibly due to the
bipolar nature of the panels, the sheer amount of air and space in this
tonal range was jaw-dropping. My Solos are pretty good in the upper midrange
and treble, but the Avitas put them to shame.
The Platinum Audio speakers
sounded coarse, stifled, and rolled off compared to the Avitas. On every
recording, I was struck with the transparency, clarity, and effortless
extension the electrostatic panel was able to deliver. There was never a
trace of hardness, glare, or coarseness, just sparkling extension and
smoothness. Combine this with pinpoint imaging, and a deep, wide soundstage,
and I was a very happy camper.
Did I say the soundstage was deep? I thought
images were in my neighbor's house at times. Presentation was relatively
laid back, with an image plane beginning at or just behind the speakers. I
prefer this sort of presentation, because it increases space in the
soundstage. While the Solos won out in soundstage height, the Avitas were
the definite champ in both soundstage width and depth, competing with the
best speakers I've heard, at least at non-ridiculous prices.
The midrange, as covered by the voice coil driver, was also transparent,
with a wide and deep soundstage, but not to the extent that the higher
frequencies were. This is a common issue with hybrid electrostatic
loudspeakers. No matter what the designer does, a voice coil driver can't
match the speed and agility of an electrostatic panel. Full electrostatic
designs have their own issues with drivability and dynamics, however. Most
of the issues in this area turned up right around the crossover region in
the upper midrange.
The woofer sound was a bit closed-in and slightly grainy when
compared with the sound coming from the panel. This is not to say the
woofer's performance was bad, just not as good as the electrostatic panel in
the areas of transparency and tonal purity. Since the Linkwitz-Riley high-pass crossover of the panel and low-pass crossover of the woofer are very
steep, at 24 dB/Octave, any issues in the crossover region are quickly
removed. Lower midrange performance was excellent, with plenty of dynamic
punch. This led to male voices sounding a bit more pure and smooth than
female voices, which have much more power in the crossover region. The
superior soundstaging was preserved all the way down into the bass.
The bass of this speaker was excellent, although extension and power were
limited. I have always been a supporter of the theory that less good bass is
better than more bad bass. This speaker is extremely well controlled and
natural sounding in the lower registers, with no sign of resonance or bloat.
The Avita was missing a bit of impact that was there with the Solo, which is
known to have very good bass performance for a small loudspeaker. The Avita
has about the level of slam you would expect from a speaker of its size. The
Avita also matched extremely well with my REL Strata II subwoofer, which was
able to fill in the bottom octave with absolutely no effect on the positive
areas of the Avita's performance. The REL matched to
the bottom end of the Avita's response with virtually no tuning from the
default settings I use with the Solos.
I think I could easily get used to the idea of these speakers spending a
long time in my listening room. Their list of positive attributes is long,
and the list of faults is short and minor. Their transparency, clarity, and
extension, especially in the upper registers, are fantastic. The soundstage is
wide, with precisely delineated images, and is spectacularly deep. The bass
is tight, punchy, and well controlled, and the midrange is neutral and
smooth. Only a small amount of graininess and veiling in the crossover
region serves to let them down, and then only a little. If you're looking
for something different in this price range, I heartily recommend the
Cadence Avita, and hope you can give a pair a try.
- Chris Groppi -