Cardea C20 wins Five Stars

by The Ear

One of my more enjoyable reviewing experiences last year was listening to the Kudos Titan 505 stand-mount loudspeakers, which are the smallest of the company’s flagship range. However, they are not inexpensive and face very stiff competition at their price point. I was therefore more than a little intrigued when offered the chance to play host to the more affordable Cardea C20, which is a floor-standing model.

Each enclosure, which is shipped with its plinth foot attached, weighs in at a manageable 20kg, so even an old guy like me with a dodgy back was able to unbox them and attach the supplied floor spikes with relative ease. I initially placed them where I usually have my own Harbeth C7ESXDs, as I know that this position seems to work well for most designs. Having measured the distance to the back wall and adjusted the toe-in, I connected the single pair of high quality binding posts to the amplifier I was using at the time, a Hegel H390, using Tellurium Q Ultra Black 2 speaker cable. 

The C20s are less than a metre high so are by no means an overbearing presence in the room. The black plinth is 27cm wide and 34cm deep, giving the C20s a very stable base from which to produce their musical magic. This pair were finished in a lovely walnut veneer, which passed the all important wife acceptance test. Although supplied with grilles which attach magnetically, I ran the speakers ‘bare-faced’ throughout, because frankly they sounded so good I didn’t want to mess with such a winning formula. The driver array is simple enough. There is a 180mm wide main driver with a paper cone which is paired with a fabric dome tweeter, both are made to Kudos’ design by SEAS. Bass is delivered via port between the plinth and the loudspeaker body, using what Kudos describes as ‘boundary bass reflex loading’.

I knew that the C20s had already seen some hours of use prior to arriving at Kelly Towers, so once I was happy with the set-up I immediately set about listening. First of all, I lined up a selection of my favourite records, just to accustom my ears to the Kudos delivery. I shall not bore you with a long list of titles, but in that first session I had some Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Manassas, Rolling Stones, Beatles and Bob Dylan discs, along with a couple of newer ECM titles, and a couple of classical pieces too. My LP12, with a Dynavector XX2 cartridge attached to the Ittok arm, played through a Hegel V10 phono stage into the Hegel H390 integrated amplifier.

Within a few minutes I had set my notepad aside and was just swept along by the sheer joy of listening to these artists taking turns to enter my living room and deliver a performance right in front of me. Music flowed effortlessly from the C20s with a wonderful soundstage being created and each band member being given their own space and allowing me to hear what each of them was doing without ever losing the sense of the whole picture. When thunder was required, thunder was delivered, but when gossamer-fine lightness was necessary, the C20s gave me that too. When I played Julian Bream’s recording of Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranjuez, with John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, a digital recording on the RCA Red Seal label, it was a moment of sheer audio joy.

In the days that followed, long listening sessions to both records and CD did nothing to shake my conviction that the C20s represent the very best of British audio. The care and attention to detail lavished on their design and manufacture are clear within minutes of first hearing them, and my respect for them rapidly grew into warm affection. When used to relay television and film soundtracks they proved to be adept at bringing big action sequences to life while also rendering soft dialogue with clarity and easy audibility. The power and musicality of the components upstream shone through the C20s, with the impressive Hegel H390 working extremely well with these Kudos loudspeakers.

After my review of the Titans last year I still had a pair of Kudos’ own KS1 loudspeaker cables on hand, and about a week into the review period I swapped out the Tellurium Q and installed the KS1. I had commented very favourably on the KS1 last year and I am happy, though not surprised, to report that this proved to be an excellent match for the Cardea C20s. If you are auditioning a pair of these fine loudspeakers (which I would strongly recommend) ask your dealer if there is some KS1 available for you to hear at the same time. 

I was also able to team the Cardea C20s with my Lyngdorf TDAI3400 integrated amplifier. This offers a different approach from that of the Hegel, and is of course a totally digital device, but comes with Lyngdorf’s Room Perfect correction software. I listened first to my preferred review albums with the Lyngdorf in its bypass mode and then ran the Room Perfect suite. This process takes about half an hour and once it was completed I played the same sequence of music. It is a compliment to the C20s to say that although I could hear a slight difference between the corrected and bypass sounds, it was nothing like as marked as it is with some other loudspeakers. This indicates to me that the C20s are a really good match for my room but also that the Kudos design team have got them just right. Overall, a most impressive showing by these British made loudspeakers.

How would I summarise my time with the Cardea C20s? Delightful is one word that springs to mind. They are extraordinarily accomplished in every area and in a typical UK lounge like mine  (about 5m by 3.5m) they seem to work really well. I drove them to pretty high volumes when I had the house to myself and I could detect no hardening of the sound as the level was increased. At comfortable (and safer) listening levels I loved what I heard. Pair them with an appropriate source and amplifier and you will have a system that should give you many years of musical joy. I am not sure that one could ask for more.SPECIFICATIONS: 

Type: bass reflex two-way standmount loudspeaker
Crossover frequency: not specified
Drive units:
Mid/bass – Kudos 180mm with paper cone 
Tweeter – Kudos K2 29mm fabric dome
Nominal frequency response: 30 – 30,000 Hz (average in-room response)
Nominal impedance: 8 Ohms
Connectors: single wire binding posts
Sensitivity: 88dB 1w/1m
Dimensions HxWxD: 925 x 200 x 270mm
Weight: 18kg
Finishes: walnut, natural oak, black oak, satin white
Warranty: 5 years if warranty registered

PRICE: End of Life