For some time, the humble EOLE was French brand Cabasse's sole weapon in the competitive multi-channel speaker market. It came with an ambitious price tag – even before the collapse of sterling – and had medium-scale audio ambitions.
But things change. The second-generation EOLE 2 system reviewed here replaces the original (which had no numerical suffix) and remains reassuringly expensive but adds some smart refinements.
The original internal aluminium frame has been replaced by steel, eliminating the need for a bucking magnet to stop magnetic flux leaking from the enclosures. It also means more internal volume, which translates to a greater low-frequency output, and better apparent integration with the sub.
The biggest change is to the way the satellite speakers couple to their cup-like supports, using rings of powerful rare-earth magnets attached to the bases and a matching magnetic structure inside the spheres. This innovative design makes for a surprisingly secure join without it needing to be bolted together.
It allows individual speakers to be adjusted in position by simply twisting and rotating them to any angle (the previous model offered only limited adjustment). The speakers look almost the same irrespective of their orientation: this allows a slightly asymmetrical layout in the room without the system looking out of place, which is officially decidedly cool.
Bit of a chameleon
But there is more flexibility built into this system than is first apparent. With this test array, shelf supports were supplied as standard, but so too were two tall floor-standing supports, which provide cable management via the tubular support columns.
There are no hard edges to the speaker, but the dumb bell-like weight distribution means they can be knocked over, so they may not mix well with small children. Other supports available include flush ceiling mounts, and buyers can opt for black or white finishes.
The two generations of the EOLE family have one key point in common. They are both close relatives of larger, more costly Cabasse designs. They share a similar aesthetic and use broadly the same technology to achieve their ends.
The archetypal Cabasse model, familiar to audiophiles worldwide, is the flagship La Sphere, which shares some features with the EOLE satellites. They both use spherical enclosures with drive units mounted coaxially – and in the case of the senior model some extravagantly designed stands.
The main difference is one of scale. La Sphere is based on a monstrous sphere some 28 inches in diameter, which is home to four coaxially-mounted drive units. The EOLE 2 satellite is just six inches in diameter, and houses only two coaxially-mounted drivers, a 4in midrange driver and a 29mm soft dome tweeter.
The thinking is that a spherical enclosure allows the speakers to operate as a point source, with all frequencies appearing to come from the same coordinates. Some commentators have also pointed out that the internal shape eliminates internal resonances, but this is just plain wrong, as the spherical cavity has an infinite number of identical diameters.
But the internal regularity has allowed the designers rare freedom to address the problem. Within their power and bandwidth limits, the two speakers do much the same job, and the family resemblance means they do it in much the same way.
For the EOLE 2 system, bass comes from a compact free-standing active subwoofer, the Santorin 21, which has an 8.25in bass driver and a 250W amplifier. It can be accessed at line or speaker level, with the usual control over crossover frequency, level and phase.
Beguiling to behold
First and foremost, the Cabasse system is a knockout, both visually, and in the way it has been put together. Everything about it screams 'engineering'; rival systems may offer a similar style, but I'd be prepared to argue that they lack substance in comparison. Here, all the aesthetic decisions appear to be reasoned, and the result is quirky, if not downright idiosyncratic.
The unusual technology and build inevitably reflects on how the system performs, but for the most part this is a positive. It sounds surprisingly grown up, with a quite muscular midrange where many compact system tend to sound weedy.
With its added depth and subwoofer warmth, a large-scale picture results. Imagery is focused and remains so even if you sit well off axis, a function of the spherical enclosures. This makes the system particularly appropriate for family-wide movie sessions, while speech is unusually clear and articulate, which makes the system great for melodramas as well as talky blockbusters like The Spirit.
The system is also very good in stereo mode. A recent BBC Classical Music magazine cover disc of Mahler and Brahms' songs gripped as a performance and caused the hairs on the back of my neck to rise. All without any excess presence or treble content.
In fact, the higher frequencies are perceptibly slightly gruff, with some loss of smoothness, perhaps a function of the large diameter tweeter dome. Yet, with a lifetime of experience of listening to music of this kind, I can say without fear of contradiction that this level of performance is very difficult to pull off at any price level.
Power handling isn't quite as spectacular as the maker's figures imply: play special-effects laden soundtracks like Wanted with the volume control set injudiciously, and the sound will clog up; the subwoofer in particular is limited by the small size of the drive unit cones, despite its 250W amplifier. But at moderate volume levels bass is agile. It can pack a jab, even if it won't knock you over at six paces.
The secret's out
The Cabasse range of speakers is still a bit of a secret in the UK, so I was surprised and delighted by how well this particular system performs. This is down to good, solid engineering, but above all, due to a design team that knows how sounds, well, sound.
I don't think it's the most polished or sweetest system in its class, but it is fundamentally articulate and musical, qualities that are much more important. It also has the elusive Wife Acceptance Factor in spades. This beautiful looking sub/sat system really can deliver the AV goods.