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Positive Feedback ISSUE11
as reviewed by Jim Grudzien and Larry Cox
Recently, when I was without speakers, Randy Bankert of OSS Audio offered me a pair of Cadence Divas to listen to until I replaced my review pair. Ive come to find that such acts of kindness are not uncommon in the audio industry. I told Randy that we would review the speakers for his generosity. Thanks, Randy!
I was unfamiliar with the Cadence line, so I searched their website to get a little history. It turns out that they are the first and only maker of high end audio equipment in India. When Randy delivered the Divas, I was surprised to see how small they were, though they were quite heavy. I opened the boxes to find a pair of beautifully finished mahogany speakers. The Divas are only 30 inches high by 10 inches wide by 13 inches deep, but weigh a hefty 53 pounds each. They are two-way, 8-ohm, front-ported speakers with a stated frequency range of 42 Hz to 25 kHz, a sensitivity of 88.5 dB, and a power handling range of 50 to 200 watts. The drivers include an 8-inch Kevlar bass reflex driver and a 1-inch titanium dome mid/high driver. The front grille is made of Indian silk and is very attractive. The speakers are rather short and squat, with an angled top portion where the drivers are and a port directly below the drivers.
I tend to stay away from two-way speakers, preferring a fuller sound. Cadence claims that the Divas go down to around 42 Hz, and while what I heard seemed a bit deeper than that, the Divas couldnt satisfy my lust for deep bass. I played all my usual stuff while I had the DivasEagles, Israel Kamakawiwoole, Mary Black, and Hans Theesink. One interesting track that I played was from the Burmester III CD, Yim Hok-Mans "A Poem of Chinese Drums." While playing this track quite loudly, I kept feeling a breeze sweep across my face. Thinking that my front door was open, I got up to check it out and realized that it was the front port expelling air in my direction. I found it quite disturbing that I either had to turn down the volume or live with this annoying distraction for the nine or ten minutes of the piece.
I used an Audion Edison tube amp during most of the time I listened to these speakers. Its thirty watts was enough to drive the Divas adequately, although they could have used more power. The Eagles sounded a little dry, not as rich and textured as Ive heard them in the past. I didnt know if it was the amp or the speakers, so I tried my Denon amp, with its 105 watts of solid state power, and got similar results, causing me to think that it was the speakers. The mids and highs were very natural and realistic, although the overall presentation was on the dry side. Mary Black, always a favorite with me, lost some of her sparkle and emotion with both amps. While the sound was not offensive in any way, she just didnt have the same allure that Ive heard with other amp/speaker combinations. Israel Kamakawiwooles "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," a staple in my reviews, was rather lifeless and boring. Iz usually pulls me into his songs with style, grace, and gentleness. Not this time. The emotion was gone, and I was left holding the proverbial bag. The soundstage was quite sizeable, and imaging, though not that important to me, seemed to be accurate.
To the Divas credit, however, they sounded much better at another reviewers home, hooked up to the Sophia Electric Baby amp, where they sounded remarkably softer, smoother, sexier, and more finished. I had concluded that the sound at my place was probably due to the speakers, but after hearing them with the Baby amp, I had to say that it was probably the amps. In the right system they could be wonderful, but in the wrong system they can disappoint.
Comparing them to other speakers Ive heard in this price rangethe Zingali Overture 3Bs ($2995), Ruark Prologue IIs ($1999), and Silverline Panatella IIIs ($2495), Id probably rank them alongside the Ruarks and below the Silverlines and Zingalis. The Divas, at $2995, are underachievers in my opinion. You can probably do better for the money, if you are patient and shop wisely. Jim Grudzien
I also had possession of the Cadence Divas, and concur with Jim in many ways. I tried the Divas with Arcams AVR 200 receiver ($1199) and with Sophia Electrics Baby SET. The results were skewedthe Divas sang with the tubed Baby and never got off the ground with the Arcam. Where I depart with Jim is that I never felt that they sounded bad. Powered by the Arcam, they were simply uninvolving, lacking the dynamic contrasts I want and expect in the recreation of a musical event, but thats a far cry from bad. I cant imagine the volume levels he was using if Jim felt the port chuff on deep bass. I never heard the port chuff, let alone felt it at my listening seat. Perhaps I sit further away than Jim, but it was never a problem. I got some bass out of the Divasenough to be satisfying, though I didnt get the bass that the nearly twice-as-expensive Dali Grands produced. The Divas have about half the internal volume of the Grands, and for the record, the Grands put out too much bass to be satisfying in my home. Jim has an even longer room than I, so the bass demands at his house are quite different.
Perhaps we can conclude that an inexpensive receiver wont be a good match for the Divas, but as Jim noted, the Baby SET was a far better match. There was some magic here. Let me be clear, however, that the 10 watts put out by the Baby were not enough to fully open them up in my 5500-cubic-foot room. At low to mid volumes, the sound was delightful, with an energy and verve that was inviting, and bordered on boogying. In a smaller room, the bass of the Divas would be more than sufficient, and the Baby and the Divas would be a winning combination. I realize that I should have taken the Divas and the Baby into a bedroom, where they would have been a better match, but that would have involved rerouting cables, moving the CD player, and thinking of doing it at the time. I should'a, but didnt.
With the Baby SET, the Divas sounded relatively fast, but not so coherent. Very, very few speakers are. The Divas were well within the norm in this respect, without being exceptional. Speakers that have sounded especially coherent in my house have been the ATC SCM 50s (ca. $15,000), the Ensemble Figuras ($8900), Merlins VSM with BAM battery pack ($6000 plus, depending upon how you configure them), and my ATC SCM 20s ($4200) with the appropriate amplification (which adds considerably to their cost). Thats fairly exalted territory.
Looking for warts? I used to have a fastidious dislike for metal dome tweeters. Not to worry with the Divas. There was none of the ringing Ive heard with other metal dome tweeters. At higher volume levels, the Baby SET rang in the upper midrange, where it sounded like a sort of golden stridency. Thats more the sound of the Baby than the Divas. The same musical material with the Arcam never produced that sort of coloration. The sound with the Baby could very occasionally be airy and open, but it was track-dependent, with only a few tracks really letting the system open up. The mids were laid back and somewhat soft. On the Canadian Brass More Greatest Hits (RCA RD85628), there should be a "tickling" quality in the upper midrange. With the Baby SET, the sound was polite, with less splashy crescendos making the presentation both softer and less real, until I tweaked the volume just a bit too much and the upper midrange turned hard and beamy. I deduced that the Divas needed just a bit more than the Baby SET could provide.
The bass of the Divas would be more than sufficient in a smaller room. In my room, the bottom end was plummy rather than tight, and full rather than deep.
The speakers did not, however, lose control. The Divas did not have a very enthralling way with bass, yet they were far from plodding, one-note affairs. With the appropriate amplification, they may be able to provide rhythmic bass, but it would require something with a solid, deep bottom end.
I dont want to second-guess Jim, but I think his Denon receiver wasnt the right match for the Divas, any more than the Arcam AVR 200 was. However, he is correct that there are a lot of high-quality products in the $3000 price range. System matching is absolutely critical to obtaining a desirable, realistic sound. Unfortunately, the Divas have a somewhat limited dealer network, as they invite further listening. With the right amplification, they could be the speaker to further your search for nirvana. Larry Cox