Kudos Audio Cardea C20 Loudspeakers Review
David Price auditions an enjoyably musical pair of mid-market floorstanding loudspeakers…
Cardea C20 Loudspeakers
Napoleon was right when he said Britain was a nation of shopkeepers, albeit backed up by an army of enthusiasts with aspirations to make and sell things. The UK's hi-fi industry is a case in point; it comprises a wide range of companies, some small, some large and some growing from one to the other. Kudos is one such example of the latter, a specialist speaker brand founded by Derek Gilligan sixteen years ago. Meticulous design and development through listening was and is his approach, first expressed in the quirky but fine-sounding C10 standmounter. The rest – as they say – is history…
Made in Willington, County Durham, the new Cardea C20 you see here is the latest floorstanding evolution of this. It isn't overtly radical, but for me, it has two interesting design facets. First is its deliberate 'less is more' approach, meaning it's a two-way and with only a very minimalist crossover. Such simplicity may preclude a ruler-flat frequency response, but it's arguably preferable as far as phase coherence is concerned. Put simply, both high and low frequencies have a better chance of arriving at the listener at the exact same time, giving a more musical sound – or at least, that's the theory.
Secondly, the design has been tailored around a specific drive unit manufacturer with which Kudos has had a long association. Custom, premium-priced transducers from SEAS of Norway are used both for the mid/bass unit and the tweeter. The company's relationship goes back a long way with this highly respected loudspeaker component manufacturer, so the Cardea C20 hasn't just had any old drivers thrown in that fit.
Bass and lower mid frequencies are handled by a custom 180mm mid/bass unit, with a diecast chassis, coated paper cone and 26mm voice coil. Although superficially quite old school – no fancy diaphragms or cone materials are used – this is not necessarily a bad thing if it delivers results. Working with this is a custom version of SEAS's Crescendo K2 29mm fabric dome tweeter. The crossover is bolted to an HDF panel at the inside rear of the cabinet, with a Mundorf air-core inductor for the bass and an ICW capacitor, Mundorf air-core inductor and Mundorf MOX resistor for the treble. Crossover frequency is approximately 2.6kHz, and Kudos's own KS-1 loudspeaker cable is used internally.
The Cardea C20 boasts a different cabinet material to most of its price rivals – balanced veneered high-density fibreboard (HDF). This isn't your average flat-pack kitchen MDF that most other rivals choose, so it should give a tighter sound due to its greater strength and less propensity to store energy. A single bass reflex port is fitted to the cabinet base, firing down on a plinth that takes carpet-piercing spikes. It's pretty tall at 925x200x270mm (HxWxD) and quite heavy at 18kg. A choice of finishes is offered – White, Walnut, Natural Oak and Black Oak.
The company claims a frequency response of 30Hz to 30kHz [average in-room response] and 25 to 200W power handling. Nominal impedance is quoted at 8 ohms with a sensitivity of 88dB, making this a relatively easy to drive and sensitive speaker. Kudos recommends that this speaker is placed roughly two metres apart and at least the same distance from the listener. I found my review pair easier to place than many similarly-sized floorstanders I've had in my listening room over the years.
I found the Cardea C20 to be an interesting listen, one that's something of a walk on the wild side compared to many fairly generic-sounding price rivals. It has certainly not been voiced to give a 'neutral' sound, but it's very natural in many respects. By this, I mean that the Kudos may not be the world's smoothest speaker in the frequency domain, but it's very convincing in the time domain. Music sounds full of energy, zest and joie de vivre, regardless of what genre you play. It's a revealing contrast to the likes of Spendor's A7, which gives a more balanced presentation but lacks a little spice, one might say.
In some respects, it's possible to think of the Cardea C20 as a C10 on steroids. Although the speaker is pretty tall, its sound isn't the most spacious and expansive I've heard. Things certainly aren't claustrophobic; it's just that the C20 doesn't have the sense of panoramic spatiality to it that some similarly sized floorstanders do. It feels more like you're listening to a compact standmount design with some subtle, added bass extension. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as not everyone wants a vast sounding floorstander that will shake their house on its foundations – especially if you're living in a terraced or semi-detached residence. Instead, this speaker concentrates on delivering its own special brand of enjoyment in compact domestic listening spaces.
I drove it with Copland's excellent CSA150 hybrid integrated amp, fed by a Chord Hugo TT DAC. Even with this smooth pairing, I found the speaker's top end just a little lively. I wouldn't call it bright, but it's pretty well lit, giving Be Bop Deluxe's Modern Music a lustrous rendition, with shimmering hi-hat cymbals and vivid electric guitar sound. Bill Nelson's vocals had a slightly edgy quality, that SEAS tweeter doing nothing to flatter this vintage analogue recording, but it also made them sound engaging and upfront. This track does sound a little forward, and the Kudos speaker didn't flatter to deceive.
Its midband is cleanly etched and bristling with detail. This made Level 42's Something About You lots of fun, with a grippy, sinewy, upfront presentation that really got stuck into the track's bass guitar and rhythm guitar work. Playing high up the fretboard, you could almost call bassist Mark King's playing 'midband' – certainly the instrument's harmonics are. This was grist to the mill of this speaker; it loved getting its teeth into complex rhythms. At the same time, King's vocals were well carried, and I was particularly struck by their timing. Tonally, I've heard them reproduced more cleanly elsewhere, but the Cardea C20 sure captured his phrasing well. This made the emotional effect of the music more profound, and I found myself wondering why I hadn't played this track for so long.
Something About You is a great track to assess the bass response of any loudspeaker, too. The Kudos sounded good and very well integrated into the midband; every part of the frequency spectrum seemed to arrive at the right time. Crisp and snappy, there was no sense of slurring or imprecision to the notes. However, the speaker made its modest physical dimensions clear when asked to handle electronic music. Head In The Clouds by Manix was fun, but the C20 couldn't quite get its teeth around the chunky bass synth. The recording's vast tracts of sub-bass were given only cursory attention, as this speaker tried and failed to go really low. With a single 180mm mid/bass driver per box, this was always going to be the story – a JBL with a fifteen-inch woofer it is not.
In practice, for most types of music, listening rooms and people, this isn't going to be an issue; it's rather like complaining that a little Mazda MX5 sports car doesn't have much boot space or is no good off-road. People won't buy the Cardea C20 to listen to subterranean bass. It's the quality of its low-frequency performance that counts, not the quantity. Generally, this was very good; its transient response is superb and better than most reflex ported speakers, in my opinion. The Kudos sounds fast and lithe low down, pushing the music along with aplomb. For example, Glen Campbell's Wichita Lineman was a pleasure; I loved the chunky, bumpy bass guitar work. This syncopated beautifully with the lightly brushed drum work and the singer's wonderful vocals.
At medium to highish sound pressure levels, the Cardea C20 sounded punchy and alive; it's not one of those small floorstanders that falls to bits as soon as you put some power into it. Yet when I really turned the wick up on the Copland, there was some compression evident; you're not going to get nightclub sound pressure levels without the speaker sitting on dynamics slightly. As ever, no speaker can transcend its physical dimensions, but the Kudos' high-density fibreboard cabinets and high-quality drive units do give it an advantage compared to some rivals here.
This is undoubtedly one of the more interesting speakers I've heard recently. On the surface, it's very unprepossessing with no gimmicks to its styling or design. Instead, it uses an old school approach but with high-quality materials and careful voicing. The result is a lively, engaging and entertaining listen that's not the most tonally neutral design I've heard, yet it gets to the heart of the music time after time. It's not showy, preferring instead to pull you right into the performance and get to the heart of the musical matter.
David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.
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