Product: Cadence Anina hybrid loudspeakers
Manufacturer: Cadence - India
Price approx.: 5500 $ (YMMV)
Reviewer: Alister Staniland - TNT UK
Reviewed: October, 2008
I've been up to the London Heathrow hi-fi show oh 6 or 7 times over the last 10 years to gawp in awe at the best of the fantastically exotic creations that the high-end world cooks up.
For those who've never had the pleasure, you wander through the corridors of the hotel, listening to the sounds leaking out from outside of the rooms & wander in when you hear something promising (or at least that's how I do it!).
Trouble is about 90% of the time, what you hear is often terribly flawed in some way commonly a kind of down-a-telephone mid-forward tonal balance, or harshness; or yes fantastically transparent & detailed & dynamic, but oh so thin where's the body that natural body? More often than not, if a system has got body, it's at the expense of sounding thick, which of course, is also no good.
I'm a tonal balance freak if a system's got a poor or unpleasant tonal quality then it doesn't seem to matter how many other wonderful qualities it's got, I just don't like it.
I usually come away having really liked about 3 or 4 systems at a given show.
I have heard Cadence and their particular brand of electrostatic hybrids at 5 of those shows & always been enchanted by the combination of full-bodied-ness, vivacious, super-fresh upper range sparkle (but never harshness) and great levels of transparency that seemed to be consistent qualities over the different models.
Gotta have some...
So it was that I decided I must have some of these Cadence hybrids for my own system. There is currently (as far as I can tell) no UK-based distributor (please correct me if I'm wrong) & the Cadence web site is sadly not much cop. So for UK buyers like myself, you're pretty much stuck with either importing them from the US distributor OSS Audio (see www.ossaudio.com/cadencemain.htm), or going second hand. So it was that I ended up buying a pair of Cadence Aninas second hand for the princely sum of £561 (not bad when you consider that they retail at $5495 new)!
The Aninas are a floor-standing speaker with an eight-inch reflex-loaded dynamic bass/mid driver in the bottom bit, which crosses over at 1.35khz (about the middle of the mid-range) to an electrostatic panel taking you seamlessly through the upper mid-range all the way up to ultrasonic treble (30khz).
Anina is apparently Sanskrit for "The Small One". Well, they're only small in-so-far as they're the smallest model in the Cadence hybrid range. I called them medium; the missus thinks they're big (but luckily she doesn't mind, cos they're nice-looking & she knows they sound great). When you're better half says "you've got to keep these", you know they must be good...
The have the air of an artisan created product something more than just a commodity which is of course what we're all looking for in high-end hi-fi isn't it? We want products that are a mixture of science and art. They are made in Pune, India - Cadence being one of only a handful of high-end hi-fi companies based in India. The cabinets are very nicely finished in solid hard-wood. It's a tactile & visual delight (not quite Sonus Faber territory admittedly, but then what is?) that couldn't be further from giving the impression of a mass-produced "commodity". They look pretty distinctive too, with that curved electrostatic panel perched on top.
So I shoved the Aninas on the end of my system and do you think I was instantly greeted by the amazingly sparkling effervescent, superbly music-serving sound I'd heard at all those hi-fi shows? In a word, no...Disjointed over heavy lumpy bass, harshness no this most emphatically was not the Cadence sound...
But then when you've been in this game for a few years, you know that ain't gonna happen. Of course I knew that that sound was there waiting to be unlocked, having heard all those other Cadence hybrids over the years at the shows. So my comments on the sound quality of these speakers are based on my findings after several months of fiddle-fart-arsing around with them to fine-tune things to achieve the best results.
I've never had a pair of speakers where this hasn't been necessary speaker positioning in particular is critical to achieving the best sound, which maybe goes some way to explaining the awful sound of many set-ups at hi-fi shows and in people's homes. It's amazing that any of the exhibitors has time to get it right yet some of them do manage it. It's also a source of constant horror to me to see how many people spend many thousands on very high-end equipment at home and then wack their great big floor-standers right up against the back wall, or maybe 6 inches from their turntable, presumably because their spouse dictates it for aesthetic reasons...
In the case of the Aninas, what you need to do is get them a long way apart the image won't collapse. I'm sure it'll vary, but in my small-ish room, they liked to be very close to the side-walls (but with plenty of space behind them) and the exact distance from the side-walls was critical to achieving the highly integrated musical result that I got in the end. The other critical thing was getting the angle of toe-in precisely right (you can still see a good bit of the inside sides of the cabinets from the central listening position). Get these 2 things right and you're 95% there and the magic starts to come. You'll sure-as-hell know it when you hear it! I stood them on marble plinths with (the audiophile's friend) big blobs of Blu-Tac between plinth & hardwood floor and between plinth and speaker-bottom. Again, far superior to spikes & coasters, or to Blu-Tac-ing the speakers direct to the floor.
So what did I get when I'd finished tweaking, you ask:
According to the Cadence web site (see www.cadenceaudio.com/productfr.html ): "Designed for smaller listening areas, the ANINA is capable of producing the most epic musical sound-scapes". And indeed, the first thing you notice is that they throw a huge great expansive soundstage extending miles back from the speakers, in which images are absolutely rock solid and stay that way even if you have the audacity move your head!! You know what I'm talking about here, folks. The sweet spot is gratifyingly large anywhere on the 3 seat sofa will do! Next you notice massive amounts of studio/hall ambience & reverb details the kind of thing that Stax headphone listeners are familiar with. The last track on the "Bam! Mustaphas Play Stereo" 12-inch single by "3 Mustaphas 3" finishes with greater & greater amounts of studio reverb being introduced, giving the impression of those crazy Mustaphas playing in a big empty factory or something, whilst the whole band are wheeled further & further away from you. No, really you've gotta check this one out! This sequence was rendered far more vividly than I'm used to the effect was one of every last ounce of reverb being fully resolved the empty factory sounded absolutely massive! Then you notice that it's all done with a sparkling refined, beautiful musicfriendly tonal balance.
I played Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" on CD to my "dearest" - a favourite recording that she has heard hundreds of times before on various systems. She stopped her usual casual pottering about type listening that she favours & began to listen intently, saying that she was hearing lots of studio jiggery-pokery going on that she had never noticed before & that it was giving the track a whole new dimension. I have to say this surprised me a bit, because I had heard most of the same stuff on this particular track on my old Elac speakers already. But the point is that I had heard it through listening intently like a typical audiophile. The difference is that the Aninas make such details blindingly obvious and it requires no special effort or finely-honed audiophile sensibilities to hear them.
But there's more, because the extreme lightness of those electrostatic diaphragms equals speed... Voices and acoustic instruments have great drama; percussive sounds (including string plucks etc) have all their subtleties revealed and explode out from the music, giving it life. This speed can lead to electrostatic speakers suffering from a sense of thin-ness and lack of body (one of my pet-hates), but the moving coil bass driver fills in superbly and provides plenty of body in the lower-mid, so that an acoustic guitar for example sounds like what it is - an instrument that has a sound box on it to provide the full-bodied-ness. Too many systems only seem to concentrate on the sound of the strings being plucked - so it's all leading edge stuff you know the sort of thing "lightning fast transients", but thin as hell. Others are full, but thickened also no good. Here you get the good bits of both. A recording off BBC Radio 3 FM (recorded on to computer, using an M-Audio Audiophile USB external sound-card as the ADC and then recorded as a WAV file, using the excellent free "Audacity" software) of Ralph Towner playing a solo guitar piece live in the radio studio was stunning in its realism. A large space was created behind the speakers in which a real man seemed to be playing a real instrument. It was full of tonal colour (colour not colouration), vivid and fresh, but not aggressive rather like reality. Lighting fast real-sounding plucking of taught guitar strings AND a fully reproduced sound of the guitar's body. Yes, you can have your cake and eat it.
With the 12-inch vinyl single of the Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush track "Don't Give Up", the voices had greater inner harmonic detail and little ambient cues than I had realised were there on the recording adding to the already strong sense of great care in the production of this track. The vocals were locked in space at dead centre and a long way back from the speakers. They exhibited greater power than I'm used to (but never aggressively thrown out) & yet were sweeter & purer. Stick on an mp3 of the same track & the magic was lost. Great layers of ambient information and naturalness gone....And yet it still sounded OK. Naturally, the Cadences can't replace what isn't there at source, but they will try and make the best of it.
Then there's the phase coherence electrostatic panels allow a large even-radiating area through mid-range to upper treble all from the same area, the same driver, the same dispersion characteristics; no crossover components dividing the mid & treble introducing phase-errors, etc, etc. In other words, you have many of the advantages of single-driver speakers, without their debilitating losses of energy at the frequency-extremes.
It sounds all-of-a-piece in that comfortable easy way that live un-amplified acoustic instruments do.
No, there's no loss of energy at the frequency extremes in fact there's plenty of luscious (not over-damped, but musical-sounding) bass, plus oodles of sparkling fresh upper treble (but hardly ever harsh).
There is deep bass a-plenty (Cadence specs suggest extension down to 28Hz within what limits is unspecified), but (once they're properly positioned) it's never boomy or thickened. So Yello's "Move, Dance, Be Born" from their album "Zebra" on CD gave out oodles of near-subwoofer-ishly deep synth-bass, but it never boomed or interfered with other parts of the music. All Yello's super-studio-trickery - which sounds so good on a decent headphone set-up - remained fully intact & vividly revealed. There are those who have commented in forums that there is poor integration between the 2 very different drivers, with the Cadence breed of hybrid I can assure you that these people have failed to position them properly. They are hearing lumpy, overblown bass (just as I initially heard), which of course seems a poor match for the gossamer-lightness and complete lack of inertia of the super-lightweight electrostatic panels' mid and treble. Some of these people are feeding them with AV receivers also not suitable. They are very high resolution & therefore need very high-quality amplification to give their best. Trouble is they have a nice friendly tonal balance & are easy to drive. So the AV receiver seems to drive them easily, plus no tonal nasties, so you blame the speakers for the limitations, but of course this is a fundamental mistake. Highly resolving speakers require really high-quality amps. These speakers actually will out-resolve lesser amps.
There's the feeling that a speaker upgrade will never be needed (unless it was to a higher model in the Cadence range. From memory, the higher models exhibit even greater amounts of that champagne freshness & non-harsh sparkle in the mid & upper frequencies - they have larger electrostatic panels - balanced by even more belt in the bass). No, these strike me as "lifers"; but clearly one could constantly upgrade the amplification to stratospheric levels and still always hear the benefits. My gut feeling is that uber-quality valve amps such as the VAC Phi Beta, or Phi 300s would really play to their strengths & be a match made in Heaven. Also the sweet ultra-purity of Halcros would probably work brilliantly.
Luckily, you needn't go that far. These are "accentuate the positive" types, rather than ruthlessly exposing the negatives. They worked beautifully with my relatively modest Red Rose amp (although I have to say the Red Rose is a humdinger effortlessly and totally out-classing the £2000 Musical Fidelity a308 and the Unison Research Unico, both of which I've had in my system). It drove them easily despite having only about 35wpc.
My friend Dave - who plays his Meridian 506-24 CD player through a Musical Fidelity X-Cans V3 headphone amp into Sennheiser HD-650s - commented that no details that he could hear on his excellent headphone system were being lost but that the Cadences were all so much more graceful & pretty-sounding.
Which leads me onto... the caveat there's always a caveat, right? The Cadence view of the world is to make music sound beautiful (as I said, they accentuate the positive) possibly a bit more beautiful than was sometimes intended. Or to put it another way they're a bit rose-tinted. The same people that like a sweet-sounding push-pull valve amp will like these. They're not for everyone. They're a bit little bit on the warm side of neutrality & perhaps a little held back in the presence region, then with a little extra compensatory air & sparkle in the treble but this is all artfully judged clearly by people who have ears and don't mind using them to help design a musical product (once again the Sonus Faber approach is a valid comparison). Those who value the warts'n'all approach - i.e. they want mediocre recordings to sound mediocre, harsh recordings to sound harsh - won't like em.
Me I'm into hi-fi for the enjoyment of music and I want it to be enjoyable for as much of the time as possible.
The Cadences are basically accurate and real-sounding they don't sound coloured; but then hanging off that basic right-ness is an extra layer of golden honey & sparkling champagne. It suits me just fine, but as I say it won't suit everyone (horn-lovers aren't likely to be impressed, for example).
As you may have guessed, I really loved these speakers & it's amazing to me to think that this is the bottom of the Cadence range of hybrid speakers. For me it's the audio dream realised: the transparency, speed & resolution of electrostatics, married to great tonal beauty, excellent power-handling & bass-extension, plus good efficiency & amplifier-friendliness. The family sound continues as you go up the range (right up to the 17K Arca) you just get more of everything. But these Aninas are so good that I never feel I'm missing out and I'm a fussy so-and-so!
Copryright © 2008 Alister Staniland - www.tnt-audio.com