Kudos has finally developed its altogether more ambitious, costly and complex C30, which has some things in common with the C10/20, but taken to another performance level with a more elaborate enclosure and the addition of an extra bass-only drive unit.

The new Cardea C30 is a two-way, plus a bass unit, in what's known as a two-and-a-half-way configuration.

Revised design

This approach has become very popular in recent years, proponents pointing out that it preserves the simplicity of the two-way, while embracing (and indeed taking advantage of) the fashion for floorstanders.

However, critics can point out that a two-and-a-half-way is really just a two-way with a built-in passive subwoofer, with its own inherent disadvantages compared to the more traditional three-way approach.

For example, the very act of rolling off a bass-only driver will introduce a phase delay vis a vis the bass/mid unit, so some bass time-smear is difficult to avoid. In contrast, the three-way has greater power handling and hence, loudness potential.

It can use a midrange driver specifically optimised for midrange duties, but it does involve a far more complex crossover network.

Subtle styling

Since the styling is discreet to the point of being nondescript, the Cardea C30 looks quite expensive at £5,250 per pair. But that's because the top-quality components and serious enclosure engineering used here are not obviously visible.

The enclosure is more than a metre (112cm) tall, but only 20cm wide and 27cm deep, so it appears quite compact. It has sharp edges all round and is very nicely decorated all over in a matt finish, real wood veneer.

Standard finishes are cherry, sycamore, walnut, rosenut or oak (luxury alternatives including rosewood and ebony are available at extra cost).

An elegantly shaped, black lacquer finished plinth, separated by spacers to make room for one of the ports, provides secure spike accommodation and ensures fine stability.

Drivers are flush-mounted and two small and unpromising-looking thick-frame grilles are supplied with each speaker.

Driver enclosure

The enclosure is subdivided internally, so that each cone driver is loaded by its own separately ported sub-enclosure. The ports themselves are large and flared, to avoid generating distortion even at high levels.

Hollow foam bungs are normally supplied (though not to us) to re-tune the port resonance if need be – a useful extra flexibility, happily not required in our room.

Kudos works closely with Norwegian drive unit specialist SEAS and the C30 uses the latter's most costly Crescendo tweeter.

The bass/mid driver has a 120mm paper cone stiffened by Nextel on the outside and a damping compound on the inside. It also has a complex and advanced magnet structure, with an extended pole-piece and copper rings to improve linearity and distortion.

The crossover network is deliberately kept as simple as possible and uses top-quality components from companies like Clarity Caps, Volt and Music First. Two pairs of Michell-sourced terminals are mounted through a solid recessed panel.

Attention to detail

What really distinguishes the C30 from the common and cheaper herd, is the obsessive attention to the very finest details during the development process.

For example, the enclosure carcase, built from 18mm HDF (high density fibreboard), uses different proportions of resin for different panels in order to help damp and control resonances.

Extra internal bracing is used behind the tweeter, as this is the most critical part from a performance point of view. And the plinth is a complex and inert tri-laminate affair, combining HDF with a thick steel plate and a low viscosity membrane.

The price is right

First reaction, on hearing that a pair cost more than £5,000, was that the price seemed on the high side for the apparent perceived value on offer.

Second reaction, having carried out the in-room averaged response measurements to check the speakers were positioned more or less correctly, was that the price seemed a little on the high side for the measured performance on offer.

Happily both these assumptions were proved entirely false as soon as the speakers were properly spiked, positioned and connected-up to musical signals.

Smooth performance

The good size enclosure and combined bass driver area both suggest that this design is likely to work best in free space and room measurements provided ample confirmation that this was the case.

The tonal balance isn't exactly neutral, though the far-field averaged response does hold within a respectable +/-5dB right across the audio band.

Under our in-room conditions output through the bass region is a little strong, but also unusually smooth from 25Hz up to 150Hz.

The lower midband (200-600Hz) is a little too lean, while the upper mid (700Hz-1.1kHz) is slightly 'hot'. There's a 2-4kHz dip through the presence zone, but the treble proper looks both smooth and very well-judged.

Sensitivity is a generous 90dB (as specified) and the load is easy to drive too, staying mostly above 6 ohms. The port combination is tuned to a low 35Hz.

Excellent timing

The measured performance is quite impressive, despite those minor aberrations – but not nearly as impressive as this speaker's wonderfully realistic and engrossing sound quality.

Best of all, perhaps, is the exceptional timing, which is right on the money here. It's the most difficult thing to get right, especially with a multi-way speaker, but it's also the most important element in musical communication.

One can talk about the wide bandwidth, the fine dynamic range, the sweet top end, the firm, clear, agile and deep bass and the fine control over cabinet coloration.

One can point out the impressive transparency, the ease with which differences in system components are revealed, or the way the tall enclosure adds height and scale to the image.

But the acid test of any loudspeaker is how well it communicates music and a crucial strength of the C30 was that it made the types of music that this reviewer would normally just switch off, (solo piano, opera) interesting and enjoyable.

Even audience applause sounded obviously more realistic than usual and that is a very clever trick indeed.