Amazingly stylish, the Cabasse Riga/Santorin 30 stereo system delivers awesome sound, but at a pretty high price.
French company Cabasse isn't the only loudspeaker maker to go for coaxial drivers — in which tweeters sit at the centre of woofers, and so on — but it has pursued this to a greater extreme than most, with the four-way La Sphere model (cost: $199,000 per pair).
Also spherical, the Riga is much smaller. Each is a sphere, 220mm in diameter, mounted on a beautifully finished slab of wood, tapering down as it nears the top. The review units had a "black pearl" finish for the spheres, and "golden cherry" for the stands.
Note that the stands are not something that the spheres merely sit on; they are pre-attached, and their cabling snakes down the interior of the stand to the base, where high-quality binding posts are provided. You can get versions of the Riga for wall mounting, or on short stands for a couple of thousand dollars less for each speaker.
The sphere sits just over 1 metre from the floor (the wooden stand is about 100mm taller) when mounted on the five machined metal cones that serve as floor spikes (little metal plates are provided for putting under these to protect your floor if it is uncarpeted).
The coaxial drivers are built as one unit: a 170mm bass/midrange, shaped like a section of a sphere itself, with a 32mm horn-loaded tweeter inset in its middle.
Trying to get lots of bass out of such a small enclosure would be difficult (Cabasse rates them down at 95 hertz), so the system comes with the Cabasse Santorin 30 subwoofer. This is a medium/large unit with a 300mm driver and a 500-watt amplifier, and stacks of digital signal processing, including an automatic calibration kit, which consists of a high-quality measurement microphone and mic preamp.
You can set up the system either by feeding the speaker signals first to the subwoofer's high-level inputs, and, from there, to the Riga speakers. Instead, we used the LFE output of my equipment to feed it, and delivered the speaker signal directly to the satellites, using a 100-hertz crossover between the two. The auto-calibration of the subwoofer proceeded smoothly, although for a while there were a lot of cables running this way and that. The preamplifier plugs in to the subwoofer itself.
And then it was listening time. While the working parts of the Riga speakers are fairly small, they certainly don't sound like it. The integration of the sound between them and the subwoofer is seamless, so that the source of the bass is acoustically invisible. There is clearly no significant distortion from the sub (subwoofer distortion gives the ear more clues as to its location).
We played a range of music, from delicate to just plain loud, and the system was equally comfortable with the lot. On the strings in Bizet's "Carmen", the sound was gloriously smooth and balanced. The imaging was precise, with good depth. And, most importantly, there was no apparent dynamic compression. When a crescendo struck, it was in exact proportion to what had gone before, rather than being limited.
But the system was just as good with some tracks from Primus, with the driving bass line and occasionally intricate drumming pounding at ridiculous levels, while remaining perfectly clean and unstressed throughout. The Riga speaker just took the power we applied (we had over 200 watts available for each of them). Of course, much of the load was being carried by the subwoofer, which was very happy to deliver thunderous levels itself.
But we are talking big money here. At just about $20,000 (add another $15,000 if you want 5.1 channels!), you'd expect very close to immaculate performance.
Which is what this system delivers.