Cabasse Eole 3 Sub Sat Speaker System Review

Cabasse releases an update to their Eole system that is very capable indeed

by Ed Selley
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Best Buy
Cabasse Eole 3 Sub Sat Speaker System Review
SRP: £999.00

Introduction

Sub/sat speaker packages are big business for companies and retailers alike. Exactly what constitutes a sub/sat package is open to debate but the fairly uncontentious definition is that it's five speakers and a sub supplied as a complete set. With this is mind, what you see here is the latest version of what has for some years been the best selling sub/sat package in Europe.

Cabasse is one of the most venerable speaker companies in Europe but hasn’t been as significant a presence in the UK. Founded in 1950, the Brittany based concern is the largest speaker manufacturer in France and before its existence as a speaker manufacturer, members of the Cabasse family were active in the construction of musical instruments from the mid eighteenth century.

Like many of the more venerable speaker brands both in Europe and further afield, Cabasse has a particular ‘speciality.’ In the case of Cabasse, they've put decades of research into coaxial driver assemblies - the arrangement of drivers in series so they output on the same axis. Coaxial or concentric tweeters are far from unusual - KEF, Tannoy and Pioneer all make extensive use of them - but Cabasse takes this one stage further. Their flagship La Sphere speaker (which looks like a science fiction prop and costs a substantial $150,000-200,000 depending on spec) mounts no less than four drivers in a coaxial arrangement.

The Eole 3 sub/sat system is rather smaller than the flagship and rather more terrestrially priced but the same experience of coaxial drivers applies to the five satellites used in the package. As the name suggests, this is the third revision of the Eole system but, can this updated version of a European hit carve itself a new place in Europe?

Design

The Eole 3 comprises five identical satellites and a matching subwoofer which is also available separately as the Santorin 21. The system is nothing if not comprehensive. Your £999 buys you a large box that as well as the five speakers and sub, also contains a pair of floorstands for the front speakers and complete runs of speaker cable as well - more of which later. The review system was supplied in white but black is also available.

Cabasse Eole3

Each Eole is a sphere 13cm across. The enclosure is made of metal and seems to be well damped internally as they are completely inert when tapped. Like other spherical speakers, the advantage of the shape is that it can mount a larger driver than would otherwise be the case in a 13cm enclosure. This means that the Eole can support a 10cm mid/bass driver and a 29mm soft dome tweeter. Like the larger Cabasse speakers, these are mounted coaxially with the tweeter on a mount placed from the centre of the main driver on a horn type mount. As a result, each satellite has a surprising radiating area but should produce a sound that is extremely cohesive. The driver enclosure is not the most attractive arrangement going so Cabasse has taken the perfectly logical decision to make the grille fixed. Sensitivity is given at 90dB/w which is impressive for a speaker as small as this.

Cabasse Eole3


The Eole satellite is designed to be used in a variety of mounts. In the box you are supplied with ‘feet’ that allow you to mount them on a shelf or an existing stand and also to rotate the same mount and mount them to a wall. Alternatively a different mount is available to attach the Eole to the supplied floorstands. The final mount is not supplied but is one of the most interesting I’ve seen in a while. Effectively it turns a modified Eole satellite into a ceiling speaker by holding the ‘ball’ of the satellite in a ceiling mounted ring. I’ve not seen one of these before and I have to admit that it is an interesting extra option to make available.

Cabasse Eole3

So far so good but in order to do this Cabasse has had to make a design decision that has a considerable effect in installing the Eole3. The different bases are magnetic and attach to the outer metal casework on the speaker. This is effective and I didn’t think the foot was likely to part company with the speaker at any stage. What is more of a problem is that Cabasse has taken the interesting decision to mount the speaker terminals in the mount rather than on the speaker itself. This means that each speaker has a short umbilical cable sticking out the back which connects to the terminals on the mount. Having done so, you then attach the cables that run from the amp to the same set of terminals.

I am always careful to try and separate the experience of using something as a reviewer from that of someone who has bought a product for their own use. I prefer to use 4mm ‘Banana’ plugs wherever possible, not because I believe it confers any sonic advantage but because it makes installing and uninstalling speakers a quick and simple business. The terminals in the foot of the Eole are completely unable to accept a plug which is a pain but I accept that 4mm plugs are not that commonly used at this price point.

Cabasse Eole3

More of a problem though is that these terminals really don’t want to accept cables larger than the ones Cabasse supply so if you are looking at the Eole3 as an upgrade, factor in the time and basic misery of re-cabling you system to accommodate them. More unsatisfactory still is that the terminals have to accept both the speaker cables from the amp and the umbilical from the speaker. The push down terminals reveal a hole that can be accessed from either side of the terminal and while the ‘outer’ access point is fairly logical, the other run of cables has to pass through the ‘inner’ run and this puts bare wires extremely close to one another. If you don’t pay very close attention to them at the installation stage you will almost certainly short your amp. Compared to other spherical speakers from France - Elipson’s Planet M for example - the Cabasse took three times as long to install and involved about forty times more swearing.

Elsewhere, things are rather better though. The matching Santorin subwoofer is the most substantially revised part of the system and replaces the old Class A/B amp with an all new Class D unit. This reduces the size of the amp and increases the power available to the 21cm downward firing driver. Careful attention has been paid to making the sub work correctly in a relatively wide operating frequency from the 140Hz crossover of the satellite down to a claimed minimum of 29Hz. The sub is not the smallest model going at 33cm across and 36cm high but neither should it be too hard to accommodate.

Cabasse Eole3

The overall build of the system is good though. The paint finish on the satellites is immaculate and the overall impression is that your £999 supplies you with a lot of equipment and all of it (slightly thin speaker cable aside) appears very substantial. The Cabasse feels as solid as the more expensive Elipson Planet M 5.1 and is also a match for the Q Acoustics Q7000 system as well. Given that the Q Acoustics in particular was one of the best built bits of kit I’ve encountered at this price point, that is no mean feat.

Setup

I used the Eole3 in my usual AV setup. This meant they were connected to a Cambridge Audio 551R which has a Cambridge Audio 751BD, Sky HD and a PS3 Slim as multichannel sources. In addition a Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6 was available for two channel listening with lossless and high res FLAC. The bulk of testing was done with Blu Ray and a variety of programming from Sky HD in Dolby Digital and Pro Logic generated by the 551R.

Cabasse Eole3

Although Cabasse supply stands for the Eole3, I used my existing speaker stands for listening as this simplified the installation process somewhat. This meant that the satellites were used on their ‘normal’ feet for the duration of the test. The subwoofer was used in two different locations- on axis with the front speakers and at the back of the room near the listening position.

Sound Quality

Having fiddled, faffed and sworn my way through installation, it is fair to say that I wasn’t in the best of moods when I actually started to listen to the Cabasse. With this in mind, the turnaround in my opinion that the system achieved over the course of the first day should be taken as a fairly impressive achievement. It didn’t take too long to establish that this is a very impressive system indeed and there is a reason why it has been such a strong selling offering in Europe.

An area where Cabasse has been very active in recent years has been the development of tweeters using sophisticated synthetic materials. The Eole3 can’t use some of the more exotic materials that have appeared in their expensive offerings but the expertise shows in the performance of the Eole satellites. With the nicely layered and involved soundtrack of Super8 there is detail retrieval that is extremely impressive from such small speakers. Furthermore the tonality is a very welcome combination of naturalness and refinement.

Cabasse Eole3

This refinement is especially useful as things get more involved. By the end of the film when things onscreen are extremely hectic, the Eole3 managed to make sense of the information and present it in a logical and believable way. As you might expect from five identical speakers, the soundstage and handover from speaker to speaker is very impressive too. With the front left and right speakers about 2.5 metres apart and the centre at roughly the same height, the resulting soundstage is very full and much larger than the small size of the satellites might suggest.

The most impressive aspect of this is that the coaxial arrangement seems to have maintained the advantages that this design is renowned for in that the crossover between the two drivers is impressively seamless and very tidy. While some coaxial drivers have a habit of ‘beaming’ an accurate but rather limited soundfield, the Eole satellites manage to combine the integration with a usefully wide dispersion.

Cabasse Eole3

I have found in the past that some Cabasse designs, while very refined indeed, don’t always manage to sound especially exciting when you want some mindless action. Happily the Eole3 manages to sound extremely lively indeed when you want to watch people being shot in the face in slow motion in the cheerfully violent Dredd. Bullets whine around with enthusiasm and the (surprisingly good) soundtrack has real bite and attack to it. Much of this punch can be attributed to the Santorin sub which manages to hit hard but start and stop fast enough to keep the speed and agility that the satellites possess intact.

The relationship between the satellites and subwoofer isn’t perfect though. The system is built around a crossover of 140Hz which is high but not outside for a system of this nature. The subwoofer does a commendable job of working up to the upper point of the crossover but there is no escaping that by this point the sound it is generating is not omni-directional. With the sub at the back of the room, you could clearly hear the handover and some of the material was clearly coming from the sub. Putting it at the front of the room between front left and right solves this almost entirely though. Provided you can have the sub at the front, performance is impressive.

This extends to music reproduction too. With the sub on axis, the Cabasse put in an excellent performance with lossless FLAC and produced a well integrated, detailed and enjoyable performance with a variety of test material. The Cabasse manages the very important trick of sounding like two full size speakers rather than three of varying size. If you need a sub/sat package to do as much music reproduction as you need for film, this is a set of speakers that are going to have a better go of it than a great many other designs at the same price point.

The final area of testing was with broadcast TV. Feeding the Eole3 a diet of material, some of which was in Dolby Digital and some in two channel was an impressive experience. The basic behaviour of the Cabasse stays the same and the clarity and soundstaging proved effective at making the most of some of the less high quality ends of the broadcast spectrum. For example, Hard Rain from BBC2 broadcast in stereo was effectively opened out into a good quality presentation with some good effects placement and effectively centred dialogue. It couldn’t make the film any less banal but nothing’s perfect.

Verdict

9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Excellent sound in multichannel and stereo
  • Excellent build
  • Stands and cabling included
  • Flexible mounting options

Cons

  • Appalling speaker terminal design
  • Subwoofer must be placed at the front for optimal performance

Cabasse Eole 3 Sub Sat Speaker System Review

After a few hours of listening, the question I kept coming back to asking was ‘is this worth £200 more than the Q Acoustics Q7000?’ Russell reviewed the Q Acoustics for AVForums almost exactly a year ago and finished up by saying ‘We're not talking perfection here, but it's a damn sight closer to it than it has any right to be for the price.’ I’ve listened to it as well and I can’t find fault with anything he says. After a bit of thinking, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Cabasse Eole3 is good enough to compete with the Q7000 and in some key areas exceed it in performance.

First come the caveats. The Cabasse is £200 more than the Q7000 at list (and the Q Acoustics can be found for less than that as well). The imbalance is partially redressed by the inclusion of stands and cable with the Cabasse however, so the actual price difference is less clear cut. I also think that the speaker terminal design of the Cabasse is extremely poor and if you are replacing existing speakers with an Eole 3 package, be prepared for a fiddly and tedious installation. You must also ensure the sub is on axis with the front speaker.

If you persevere though, you will be rewarded with a genuinely excellent sonic performance. More than any sub/sat package I’ve listened to under £1,000, the Cabasse made me forget that I was listening to small speakers and simply enjoy watching the material they were playing. They have control, cohesion and detail that is truly top notch and they coped as admirably with the requirements of simple music in stereo as they did with a high octane gunfight in multichannel. They are beautifully made, perfectly inoffensive to look at and have mounting options sufficient to allow their use in almost any environment. This system is unquestionably a Best Buy.

Best Buy

Scores

Sound Quality

.
9

Build Quality

.
9

Verdict

.
9

Value For Money

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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