If you remember the classic Monty Python fish-slapping sketch, you can imagine the surprise this set of speakers delivered unto us. All reviewers worth their salt like to think they are impartial and unbiased, but when we clapped eyes upon these tiny enclosures, we were convinced that they might well perform to some degree, but would be limited severely by their size.
As it turned out, they left us as stunned as if we had been walloped by a 30lb salmon. In fact, there is one easy-to-spot physical reason why these speakers can do what they do, and we'll come to that in due course. Its a double-edged thing though, for while the construction elevates these tiny satellites way up above their fighting weight, it also causes a bit of a mismatch elsewhere.
The speakers come in two basic flavours, which can be configured in three main recommended ways, that are sold as complete systems. This one, the middle-sized job, comes in at around £750, and comprises four CS-S1 sats, a centre enclosure, and a 10in (rather than 8in) classic ported subwoofer.
The sats use a 10mm tweeter and two 50mm cone drivers. The centre speaker uses four of these 50mm jobs. There is a speaker in the range called Left/Centre/Right, housed in a long under-plasma style slim enclosure. Featuring the same array as the satellites, it can be used for the whole front stage and yet not look like lots of speakers.
Each of the five surround speakers features small ports that exit each side of the tweeter housing. The sand-blasted aluminium enclosures reach back at least three or four times more than their narrow width, in a teardrop-taper shape reminiscent of certain high-end designs of mid-high enclosures from other brands.
Very sexy to look at, with their natty grilles in place, they each bear a single set of screw-down speaker wire connection posts underneath, with a cable guide, but are really best wall-mounted using the supplied well-designed brackets. Notably, the system comes complete with a long hank of thick wire for each speaker.
The beautifully-animated Studio Ghibli flick Howls Moving Castle is an all-time fave, with some huge low bass that we found suitable for our test. We duly connected up the five speakers, after removing the big banana plug fittings from our wires, as these smallies do not allow for bulky plugs.
In fact, to guarantee you are using the right compromise between lightness and thickness for power handling, Audica thoughtfully supplies the aforementioned speaker cables.
The whole style of the imagery and soundtrack of this film can be described as lush; the computer and hand-painted matte work is rich and textured, while the orchestral score is superb. The movie sounds gorgeous. With the Audicas, the impact and sheer scale of detail utterly astonished us.
Of course, if you have heard a tiny set of Bose speakers, or the ridiculously clever wee Acoustic Energy eggy things, or even some bigger podules like those by B&W, you will have heard small speakers sound good - but possibly not this good.
The difference took us a moment to put our ears around. In the end we decided it was speed and detail, edges and rise time. Sounds that are meant to hit suddenly, do.
Even when the orchestra was playing its socks off, if there was something new, like the eponymous castle heaving into view, these speakers had loads of oomph left to deliver - so long as your amplifier can do it.
These tiny teardrops are rated up to a silly-sounding 100W RMS! This is where the truth dawns, for the massive power handling and absurdly-wide passband of such a tiny cone, as well as its speed of acceleration, point to that rare item, a Ferro fluid-injected midbass driver. Costing $1,000 a litre back in the '80s, they were only ever used in very costly tweeters.
Now, Ferro fluid means tweeters that reach up to bat frequencies without our being stunned and amazed. These mids, though, are stunning and amazing.
As described, the CS-SUB10 subwoofer has a 10in driver, rather than 12in or more, and so is obviously made to fit into the cost bracket the system sells for and can prove to be the limitation of the system, as far as overall brute force is concerned.
Which is more to state that the satellites are so good that they will easily counterpart higher-end subs (they melded perfectly with the £2.5k reference sub we use!) and still perform as a single system. In other words, the Audica CS-S1 enclosures can fight well above their weight. Amazing for such small speakers that still look so good.
The sub bass content of this animé item is absolutely ridiculous, and we did manage to find the edge of the performance envelope for bass, like finding the top speed of a car. That said, the top speed was impressive, as the sub was deep and potent, with good melodicgrip of the material.
This system is that rare beast - a designer- looking set of 5.1 speakers that will please both partners; be one a cinephile who wants to be startled, delighted and impressed, and the other one who would really rather not have coffin-sized boxes in their home.
There have been lots of speaker systems that have come close to being all things to all men (and women) but if you have a Partner Acceptance Problem, these are the set to check out. Fun, crisp and capable. Impressed as hell...