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January 2005
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
World Premier! Cabasse Bahia Loudspeakers
Review By Todd Warnke
Click here to e-mail reviewer

 

  Globalization. There, I said it. Now I can have red and blue folks from across the US writing in, explaining either why it is necessary or evil. Or both. Me, I'm just a reporter looking for an intro, and nothing explains the Cabasse Bahia better than globalization.

Surely you know of the French loudspeaker company, Cabasse. Know as much for the looks of their products, most especially the Baltic loudspeaker, AKA the Eyeball, Cabasse loudspeakers have generally been a love/hate affair for most people. Sure, the styling has engendered a lot of that reaction, but so has the typically French sound. A bit light and forward, but with amazing speed and dynamics, in the wrong setup many Cabasse loudspeakers have come off a touch assertive. This is a sound that plays well in the home market, where tubes are often used to add a touch of warmth and the typical room does not suck up as much bass as is the norm here in the US. Still, like many companies around the globe, Cabasse is moving their products to a more neutral position, though, thankfully, still obviously French.

By way of example, think of the changes in French wine over the last decade or so, where the best Chateauxs have taken only those features of the California school of wine-making that allow for a cleaner, more distinctive wine as opposed to the lower-end French winemakers who have bought wholesale into the California style and as a result have lost their distinctive terroir. Of course, Cabasse has taken the high road in their move to an international style with their new Altura line of high-end loudspeakers, a line composed of an active subwoofer, a center-channel, a stand-mount and the Bahia, the three-way, four driver, ported floor-standing top of the line model. Which is the loudspeaker we have before us for review.

 

Physical Details

An oval, but turned sideways instead of the more standard head-on -- see even when Cabasse try to act normal they cannot help but have a personality -- the Bahia stands just over 45 inches tall, 15 inches wide and are just under 11 inches deep. The review pair were beautifully finished in Santos, a dark reddish wood similar in color to mahogany. Weighing in at 60 pounds a piece, the Bahia are fairly light for their size, but quite rigid -- again, a typically French approach to loudspeaker design. And with a sensitivity of 94dB and a nominal impedance of 8 Ohms, but reaching as low as 3.2 Ohms, they continue in the French style of efficient and somewhat tube-friendly loads.

The tweeter used in the Altura line, the DOM50, is a new, special built model. Using a synthetic driver and a massive magnet, the driver is mounted in an aluminum "wave guide and acoustic phasing unit," i.e. very short horn. The 5-inch midrange and dual 6-inch bass drivers are less exotic than the new tweeter, though quite refined with control of edge diffraction issues being a major part of their design criteria. To augment low-end extension the cabinet also employs a front-mounted, 2.5-inch port. Rated at 50Hz to 20kHz, with no deviation specified, the Bahia would seem to be just short of being a true, full-range loudspeaker in an attractive, tidy size.

Setting them up is a snap as they come with a nice set of spikes and pre-drilled holes in the plinth. The manual, though short and in three languages, offers excellent advice on room positioning and is well worth reviewing. Lastly, round back are a single pair of high-quality binding posts, which negate bi-wiring, which is not always a bad thing.

As for partnering gear, sources included a Cary CD-303/200 and a Berendsen CD player. The primary pre-amplifier used was my personal reference First Sound Presence Deluxe Statement. Power amplifiers were from Art Audio, Blue Circle, Soaring Audio and Sophia Electric. Cabling was largely Cardas with some Stereovox, Audio Magic and Acoustic Zen and power cords were from Shunyata Research and Audio Magic.

 

Sonic Goodies

In my show report from the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I mention walking into the Cabasse suite and being delightfully impressed with the sound these new loudspeakers were creating. Dale Fontenot, the US distributor for Cabasse, was playing real music, at real levels. It also helped that he likes the same types of music as I do, so we listened for quite a while, eventually playing a Boz Scaggs track, "Thanks To You" from Dig [Virgin 11008-0-6], a song I know well but had never heard reproduced so vividly. After that I had to get a pair for review. Mr. Fontenot sent the show loudspeakers home with me, and so the next night I was able to listen to "Thanks To You" again, only this time in a familiar room with electronics I know intimately.

It sounded, if anything, even better.

Dig, the follow-up to the critically acclaimed Come On Home [Virgin 7243 8 42984 2 5], Scaggs' tour through the early years of R&B, is an equally impressive take on modern R&B. With strong but tuneful bass anchoring the album, it is a real test of both pitch and power. Most quality loudspeakers seem to be able to get one part of the balancing act right, but at the expense of the other. Not so the Bahia. In my medium to medium-large listening room the Cabasse loudspeakers, in the best sense of the phrase, filled my room with bass. Taut, driven, powerful, rich and precise, these loudspeakers produced synth bass in anything but a synthetic manner. "Thanks To You" opens with a dynamic, mid-bass growl that moves air right at the lower limit of the Bahia's response range. Through these loudspeakers that growl was powerful indeed, but where so many loudspeakers create decibels by dumping the load to the port and in doing so, lose tonality, the Cabasse loudspeakers painted a fully fleshed out tonal scene. As the song moves it remains anchored by this throbbing mid-bass line, and the Bahias reproduced it perfectly.

The Bahia's also rendered the cymbals and percussion in this song with pinpoint accuracy. Open, extended and in every way the equal of the tonal palette at the bottom of the range, this tweeter places images with great accuracy and depth, while also resolving the space and air around each performer. Scaggs' vocal is mixed up front and dead center on this track and the Bahias projected his tenor perfectly, with an image that never jumped forward when he raised the volume, nor that receded when he dropped back to a whisper. Like I said, the Bahias showed me that this is indeed a demo caliber track.

Of course no loudspeaker can pass through the Warnke Mountain Climbing and Music Lodge without being tested by Joni Mitchell. For the last several months I've been listening a lot to later period Joni, specifically Night Ride Home [Geffen 24302] and Turbulent Indigo [Reprise 9 45786-2]. Both albums feature more electronic instrumentation than the earlier, folkier Joni, but still have that same penetrating and keening vocal, though a bit more cigarette scarred than in her youth. "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" from Night Ride Home is a  re-working of the Yeats poem and opens with lovely acoustic guitar work by Joni and then adds depth and power from Larry Klein's bass, Vinnie Colaiuta's drums and Alex Acuna's percussion. The acoustic guitar here is rendered with rich clarity, showing both string and wood in equal measure, while the bass rumbles with superb control and power. Joni's voice is vividly present as well. And the loudspeakers' resolution at the song's conclusion follows the guitar and bass deep into the noise floor. A thoroughly captivating performance!

Moving on to more complicated fare, Gil Evans' Out Of the Cool album [Impulse IMPD-186], and in particular, the opening track, "La Nevada," from the first time I heard it, has been a favorite. At 15 minutes plus, it takes its time introducing about 14 different musicians. And the colors Evans creates with those musicians! Trombone, trumpet, piccolo, piano, sax, guitar, piano, bassoon, bass and drums all converge to create harmonic tension, break it, rebuild it, and then recombine in new and unimagined ways.

Some music, when new, has the ability to startle us, but eventually it becomes the base for what comes later and so loses part of that magic. Other, equally powerful music retains that ability to startle, in part because it is more than the notes themselves as it is also a reflection of the musician. Think of the late '50s Ray Charles recordings, for example. Or parts of the Beatles canon. Gil Evans fits in the same category. It's not that others cannot play his music with skill, they can. But no one cannot go out and write a new Evans tune.

Ok, I'm drifting into a discussion about music (Heretic, this is an audio review. Who cares about music!!). Sorry.

Anyway, with all those tonal colors it is absolutely essential that an audio system be able to keep each instrument alive, while blending their harmonies. In my setup the Bahia more than held up its end. From opening piano and percussion, then bass, followed by guitar and drums, then horns... oh it goes on and on, adding, subtracting and recombining... the Bahias accurately produced the harmonic envelope of each color and blended them into new and vibrant shades. Again, a bravura performance.

To avoid a digression like we just had, let me comment on the other areas of the Bahia with out long musical examples (as little minds like mine have occasional difficulties focusing on the task at hand).

Dynamically, the Bahia combines the ability to move large amounts of air with the more subtle gift of whispering gently on the back of your neck. On tracks like Sarah McLachlin's Hold On, from the Freedom Sessions, this ability gives life to the performance that is truly astounding.

As far as staging goes, the Bahia offers superb skills as I have seldom, if ever, heard a dynamic loudspeaker place images so precisely and then never allow them to wander. Further, the stage projects boldly into the room, giving an intimate feel to intimate recordings -- and since the stage is also deep and wide, massive recording are reproduced in appropriately massive size.

 

The Dark Side?

Ok, what about the drawbacks of the Bahias, they must have some, right?

Right.

First, like any ported loudspeaker, when the bass quits it quits like a lame duck presidential cabinet, everyone and all at once. In my room I measured +/- 2dB in the bass from 200Hz to just below 50Hz, and by about 45Hz I was down 12dB. So, if you need to hear that 41Hz far left key on the piano this is not the loudspeaker for you.

Second, because the drivers are spread down a fairly long, vertical surface, you must have some distance to allow them to blend. Based on my listening, I'd guess you need at least 10 feet, but 12 may be better still.

And third, without contradicting my above comments in the good section, the Bahias have a slight but broad warming up of the mid-bass through the lower-midrange with a very slight dip above that, which extends to the lower treble where the response tips back up again by a very small amount.

The lower range warming gives the loudspeaker a forgiving and pleasing sense of body, but because it is both broad and shallow it does not result in a boomy bass or an overly forward stage. Further, this entire region is tightly controlled, with no overhand to add to the warmth or to smear harmonic textures.

The slight, upper mid to lower treble dip, likewise, is particularly forgiving of solid-state gear, while the mid and upper treble rise opens the loudspeakers back up. Compared to an incredibly neutral loudspeaker like the $2,500 more expensive Merlin VSM-MM, the warmth of the Bahia is noticeable though not in an unmusical manner. In fact, the warmth of the Bahia allows it to synch up with lesser gear than the Merlins are comfortable with, all while still delivering excellent tonal detail.

Does all this result in a dark presentation? Not at all. In fact the Bahia remains distinctly French as it is incredibly dynamic, resolves detail deep into the noise floor and places the stage front and center. Rather, like a high-end Bordeaux winery that has modernized its operations, the Bahia shows influence from the International school of loudspeaker design but filtered through its own terroir.

 

Final Notes

I am quite and thoroughly impressed by the Cabasse Bahia. Considering that everything is flawed, and that most audio component flaws are amusical, the necessary compromises in the Bahia all allow music to flow, increase the adaptability of the loudspeaker and still allow it to communicate deep musical meaning.

A vivid, dynamic speaker, it stages with life-like size and with life-like precision. It revels in harmonic detail, without ever crossing the line into softness or fuzziness. It is a very well made, well-engineered and nice looking loudspeaker as well. But, mostly, the Bahia simply makes listening to music a moving, inviting, enriching and enticing experience. I very much recommend that if you are looking for a pair of loudspeakers, even with a budget of up to $8,000, that you track a pair down for audition. Like me, you may find that Cabasse has developed a near perfect blend of their old qualities with a more international style. Superb speakers!

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High-frequencies (3,000Hz on up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape width front

Soundscape width rear  
Soundscape depth behind speakers

Soundscape extension into the room

Imaging

Fit and Finish

Self Noise

Value for the Money

 

Specifications

Type: four driver, three-way floorstanding loudspeaker with ported cabinet

Drivers: Cabasse DOM50 tweeter, 13M15M2 midrange, and a pair of 17M18LB2

Sensitivity: 94dB/W/m

Frequency Response: 50Hz to 25kHz

Crossover Points: 700Hz and 2,500Hz

Impedance: 8 Ohm nominal, 3.2 Ohm minimum

Power Handling: 120 Watt continuous

Dimensions: 38 x 26 x 115 (WxDxH in cm)

Weight: 27kg

Price: $5,400 in Santos or Wild Cherry finish. Special black lacquer finish adds $750

 

Company Information

Cabasse USA
Attn: Herve LeGall or Dale Fontenot
2125 Stillwater Dr.
Suite 109
Beaumont Texas, 77705

Voice: (409) 722-6727
Fax (409) 722-6690
Website www.cabasse.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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