Audica's CX Series loudspeakers are gorgeous. So gorgeous, in fact, that I've been suffering palpitations. Why? I'll explain...
A while back I reviewed another set of speakers that lived in skinny, naked, aluminium enclosures.
They used only a few tiny drivers and looked fabulous - trouble was, they were completely pants, and I said so. I think I even compared them to Objets d'Art from the Dadaist movement, which is about as insulting as you can get.
Thankfully, the brand in question has since produced some truly brilliant loudspeakers. They're with a different distributor now as well, so the contract on my life has probably expired.
The experience has scarred me a little, though. Every time I come face to face with another set of designer-skinnies my heart doesn't exactly sink, but certainly suffers a little wobble.
Will these slinky Audica CX speakers also fail to live up to their looks? Not a chance!
It transpires that these Audicas are not just a set of drivers screwed onto the face of a pipe-cooling extrusion chosen out of an industrial catalogue. Rather, they are the result of some genuinely inventive R&D.
There's a whole function-breeding-form thing going on here; the aerofoil shape - also sometimes seen as a more teardrop-shaped cross section in other brands - is proven to help with reduction of distorting standing waves inside cabinets, and so helps create better sound.
All of the CX satellites are based on a tiny 50mm 'bass' driver and a 20mm soft dome tweeter - both able to be so small by dint of use of rare-earth Neodymium magnets.
There are two 50mm drivers and a tweeter in the CX-S satellite, and four drivers and a tweeter in a line array in the CX-T towers and C-suffixed centre alike.
They all have front ports under their cloth grilles and use small screw-down connectors in their bases - note that these won't take a banana plug, nor a fat wire. Dinky feet hold the base of the speaker just high enough for a wire to be able to run out beneath the speaker without making it wobble.
The Audica people are kind of unique in the AV industry in that as well as their electronics too, they are also makers of truly attractive furniture and bracketry to go with their kit, so it can all look like it matches.
For instance, the CX-T towers have lovely thick plate-glass plinths and you can fix them with rubber nuggets or spikes underneath.
The eye-catching subwoofer is a downward-firing unit with an 8in driver and two ports that all fire onto a fixed-position plinth underneath.
This means that the acoustic loading (a bit like compression of gunpowder for a bigger bang) is a known quantity. Other makers just use the floor - but that means you can end up having some energy soaked up by carpeting...
The woofer is simple to operate. Controls compromise a phase flip switch, crossover knob and gain dial. Thoughtfully, it is idiot-proofed. The place the crossover knob needs to be set to when used with the CX series speakers is clearly labelled.
Potential buyers should be aware that this £1,500 set is called System 3.
System 2 (£1,100), comprises the same centre and four of the satellites to go with the subwoofer (no floorstanders for you, then); System 1 (£1,000) is made up of two of the sats, the sub and the CX-LCR sling-it-along-the-bottom-of-your-plasma enclosure.
Beautifully matched with flatscreens
I have recently taken possession a very handsome 42in Panasonic plasma TV. As well as dragging my reference review system firmly out of the 20th century, it provides the perfect adjunct for this sort of speaker package.
Until now, I've paid little heed to the stylish curves of many modern speaker packages, as they rarely looked good next to a hulking CRT.
Now, though, I can appreciate what the fuss is about. My flatpanel and the CX-3 system look like a marriage made in heAVen.
Fine sound quality
OK, so these boxes are a cut above the ordinary. So how do they sound? Pretty darn good, I'd say. Although this Audica system came into my world directly after the £3K Tannoy Revolution Signature package, and so labours under a 'follow-that' taint, it copes admirably well in its own way.
This will have something to do with those nifty Neodymium magnets mentioned earlier - and not 'neodinium' as written in the Audica manual. Neodymium refers to a much more powerful (and still a bit costly) way to make a magnet for the back of a speaker.
It's got loads more shove than a normal magnet and can be much smaller.
In fact, if it were not for the rare-earth Neodymium magnets on the back of these tiny drivers, they could never shove as much air about as their Mini Mouse-esque personalities demand; the drivers would simply not fit in the aluminium enclosures.
Dealing with bigger sounds
During my audition I listened to a wide range of material, both gentle and demanding. For most of my note-taking though, I spun the DTS track on I, Robot. This is not an easy soundtrack for small enclosures to manage, yet the Audicas managed a good fist of sound.
The tiny satellites voice perfectly with the bigger speakers - poor Sonny the robot's pain is easily empathised with.
The system is ultimately limited by a paucity of low-end. Serious explosions and deep basso thrum won't shake your world in the same way as a bigger box with more volumnious driver.
Indeed, unless you take care with the set-up, you may be aware of a bit of a hole between the system and the subwoofer in terms of sheer weight.
Cool speakers at a cooler price
However, I suspect that Audica's target buyer is looking not for sofa-shaking bass, but art and class. What the System 3 can do for both its size and its price is undeniably effective.
For those who can't face having big-boxed cabinets in their viewing room, this system provides a cool, credible alternative.
There are compromises in terms of sonic welly, but these should be balanced by the A-grade aesthetics. Ideal, then, for those with limited space, and/or close proximity to neighbours.
And did I mention how gorgeous they are?...