Five sensitive spherical satellites and a subwoofer from French company Cabasse prove a sensational surround solution.

On paper, the Cabasse Eole 2 subwoofer-and-satellites speaker system promises to perform at least as well as a system of floorstanding loudspeakers. And in principle, there is no reason why a subwoofer/satellite speaker system shouldn’t outperform a system comprising of larger speakers. But they rarely, if ever, do. One principle reason is their modest sensitivity. That means they simply don’t produce volume levels as high as larger speakers. But, as we said, there’s no reason for this in principle.

EQUIPMENT

But, first: Cabasse. Perhaps not especially familiar to Australian audio and AV fans, this is a French loudspeaker company established 60 years ago. Over the past 20 or so years its particular focus has been on loudspeakers with a coaxial driver arrangements in order to achieve point-source sound and coherent wave fronts.

This culminated in 2009 in the Cabasse La Sphère (see News p13). These are spherical loudspeakers with four drivers in a coaxial arrangement. With the bass driver at 550mm and a price nudging $200,000 per pair, these aren’t really for everyone.

But the concept is carried through into its Eole 2 satellites. These also are spheres, if only 130mm in diameter. Their coaxial drivers are a 100mm midrange and a 29mm tweeter.

We use the word ‘midrange’ advisedly — Cabasse doesn’t fudge on this issue by claiming it as a bass/midrange driver. The Eole 2 satellites are designed to work with a subwoofer, so midrange is what they are called. The company specifies their bass response down to only 170 hertz (it puts their upper end at 22,000 hertz, without indicating decibel limits).

We can only speculate, but doing it this way, the satellites can be optimised to deliver midrange and treble, as though they were part of a large speaker with a dedicated woofer.

This shows in the power handling and sensitivity figures. The company says that they can cope with 70 watts of power. It adds a claimed ‘Peak’ power handling of 490 watts. We mention this as a curiosity only, since ‘peak’ can be defined just about any way you like, and to warn against ever attempting to approach that kind of power level into these, or any other, loudspeaker.

Now 70 watts of midrange and treble power is a lot, suggesting that these satellites ought to be able to go nicely loud. Also pointing the same way is the unusually high claimed sensitivity of 91 decibels (measured at one metre with one watt of power supplied). That’s two or three decibels above the average for floorstanders, the same practical effect as increasing the power of your system by 60 to 100%.

Of course, with nothing much under 170Hz, you need a subwoofer, and the system indeed is provided with one. The Cabasse Santorin 21 subwoofer includes a downwardsfiring 210mm driver, with a slot port at the back of the enclosure and a 250W amplifier (750W peak, Cabasse says). It has both high-level and low-level inputs and outputs. Without clearly saying so, the instruction manual for the system implies that the high-level outputs at least are high-pass filtered, suggesting that if used with a stereo system rather than an AV receiver with a separate subwoofer output, the subwoofer will protect the front two satellites from deep bass.

You can add more channels by purchasing more of the hertz all around for the other. We were pretty comfortable with the latter setting.

At no point did we feel any sense of limitation with the satellite speakers’ volume levels. We listened to half a dozen movies (oh, and watched them as well), and played a wide range of music, covering the gamut from sweet to headbanging. Even stereo music, with just two of the satellites running (supported by the subwoofer, of course), gave appropriate levels. Appropriate even for mild headbanging, if not quite rock-concert levels.

To check the sensitivity specification we used pink noise, limited to a two-octave band centred on 1kHz. With an average 2.83 volts (i.e. one watt into eight ohms), we measured an average output at one metre of 90.5dB. That’s as close as spit to the 91dB specification.

Even with floorstanders that would be an impressively high figure. But for satellites — which tend to measure more around 85 or 86dB — that’s incredible.

With all that performance available from the satellites, the subwoofer was called upon to do a big job. It largely stepped up to the mark. We would have liked maybe a little more bass extension, but that probably would have limited its ability to produce the necessary levels to keep up with the satellites. Only at the real extremes were there any suggestions of stress. One other improvement that we wouldn’t have minded would be for the autoswitch- on to work more quickly. It normally took ten or more seconds.

With music it nicely encompassed the bottom end of normal instruments (i.e. not including some subwoofer and pipe organ bass). In particular, it was a pleasure to follow bass guitar on this system, with the upper harmonics produced by the satellites nicely melding with the fundamental and lower harmonics from the subwoofer. The result was a beautifully coherent whole.

The stereo and surround imaging was nigh on perfect, and the ‘sweet spot’ was broad and encompassing, perhaps due to the point-source nature of the satellites. Occasionally there was a broadening of the virtual image of particular sounds, especially musical instruments, making them sound more rounded and three dimensional in a most attractive way. Yet the precision of the sound locations remained excellent, and there was significant depth, and even a sense of height, when called for by the signal.

Because all the bass was farmed off to the subbie, even without any EQ there was virtually no room-induced tonal variation as we sent a pink noise signal on a journey, circumnavigating our listening room.

We did our listening both with the receiver’s EQ on and off to get a sense of both how the speakers worked in a modern system, and what they did with the processing kept to a minimum. In both cases, the quality was excellent, and remarkably similar. They were perhaps a little more forward in the upper midrange in their natural state than after adjustment, but were clean and without any significant coloration.

Just as we were about to put this review to bed, the kindly postman arrived with a long-awaited delivery from Amazon: King Crimson’s album Red on DVD Audio. If you are at all familiar with this, you will know that the fact we didn’t hesitate to have our first listen through this speaker system tells you all you need to know about them.

CONCLUSION

And so we must agree with Cabasse’s claim regarding the sensitivity of its Eole 2 satellite speakers, and report that at last the in-principle possibility has been achieved. You can have a compact system that sounds as good as a fullsized system. Indeed, we’d say that this one comes very close to sounding as good as any full-sized and comparably-priced system.

And that is a real achievement.

VERDICT

Cabasse Eole2 5.1-channel subwoofer/satellite speaker system

Price: $2499

Positive

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Amazing sensitivity from satellites
  • Flexible set-up

Negative

  • Perhaps a bit more power and extension in subwoofer
  • Subwoofer slow to switch on

SATELLITE DRIVERS: 2-way coaxial with 100mm midrange and 29mm tweeter, 4000Hz crossover
SATELLITE FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 170-22,000Hz
SATELLITE IMPEDANCE: 8 ohms
SATELLITE SENSITIVITY: 91dB/W/1m
SATELLITE POWER HANDLING: 70W
SATELLITE DIMENSIONS (whd):130 x 130 x 130mm
WEIGHT: 1.3kg
SUBWOOFER DRIVER: 1 x 210mm
SUBWOOFER FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 35-200Hz
SUBWOOFER POWER OUTPUT: 250W (750W peak)
SUBWOOFER DIMENSIONS (whd): 330 x 330 x 360mm
WEIGHT: 11.5kg
WARRANTY: Five years (two years on electronics)
DISTRIBUTOR: International Dynamics