Most British-based speaker companies pride themselves on a long and sometimes illustrious heritage, sometimes stretching as far back as the invention of recorded sound itself. Audica, by contrast, is a relatively new brand name whose mission (if you pardon the expression) is to bring well-made, good-looking speakers to Western Europe at a decent price.
Although they're constructed in the Far East (to British specifications), you can forget any old preconceptions you may have about the country of origin. There's nothing cheap or nasty about these products. The CS Series launched in three configurations using various combinations of its subwoofer, centre and satellite speakers and/or the floor-standing towers.
The entry-level version uses an unusual combined left-centre-right speaker designed to sit under flat screen TVs. Audica also makes a plasma stand just for this purpose. A recently added fourth option provides four towers with the sub and centre speakers.
The CS range of speakers have a striking tapered design, like one of the aerodynamic vehicles buzzing about in Star Wars. Viewed from above, they have a teardrop shape, but you won't be crying when you hear them (unless it's tears of joy).
All CS speakers, except the sub, are fashioned from aluminium, which is commonly found in small but high quality enclosures. They're finished in a robust anodised coating in either silver or black (as pictured). The 150W active subwoofer is fairly hefty, looking like a cubist's footstool with pleasingly smooth edges. It uses an MDF construction inside and is finished in a gunmetal grey outer coating.
The CS-Series System 3 seen here uses the sub, a centre, two small satellites for rear effects and a pair of thin towers for front stereo. Despite their slim profile, all three front speakers each have four low-frequency drivers, along with one 10mm dome tweeter.
The benefits of these are numerous: it makes the system suitable for music as well as movies, it balances the mix of vocals and sound effects extremely efficiently, and the speakers are matched superbly throughout.
The rear satellites feature two of the same low frequency drivers as found in the front satellites, plus a 10mm dome tweeter. These are table, shelf or wall mountable. Rotating wall brackets are supplied, though you can also buy optional floor stands for the satellites that resemble the front stereo towers.
In terms of looks and specification, we can't fault this system at all. Our only niggle would be that the binding posts are small, so they're unsuitable for very thick high-calibre speaker wire, and they won't accept banana plugs. That said, we can't find anything to complain about with the actual performance, even when using the somewhat thin wire that comes in the box.
This svelte system is also one of the few 'subsat' packages to hold its own with two-channel music. Ripples of bass are perfectly matched, adding power without dominating the front channels. It also helps that the clarity appears pin-sharp throughout the entire audible range, so there are no muddy vocals or swamped backing instruments.
The sound field can be cast wide without locking sounds too much to each speaker, but it's also precise when needed. Vocals in stereo mode are tightly focused in the middle (even when the centre speaker isn't active), which suggests outstanding engineering and tuning. The whole sound also 'floats' quite high, which is great for filling the room.
Everything is well supported by the subwoofer, which gets behind the speakers, creeping up on you with extraordinary subtlety. Get the positioning right (subs aren't too fussy about this) and you won't know where it's coming from.
The CS-Sub 10 model has a particularly fluid and graceful response that seamlessly blends with the satellites. These qualities apply equally to 5.1 multichannel music and surround sound movies.
The special edition DVD of Michael Mann's Heat has helicopters swooping over LA and the pulsating Moby track New Dawn Fades (in disc chapter 26), with no loss of Al Pacino's dialogue.
Jump to disc chapter 32 and the epic street shootout boasts pulsing Brian Eno music that gives way to rapid multidirectional gunfire, machine guns blasting the bass speaker, echoes of gunshots reverberating all around, all thrillingly detailed and executed.
In general, too many small satellite speaker systems are weak and limited in range, relying on a sub to hide these flaws with loads of slamming bass. Not so with the Audica speakers. From music to movies - from subtle to blaring - everything works in harmony, which is especially amazing considering this system's lean contours.