Audio Physic Cardeas 30 LJE

It Don’t Come Easy

Equipment report
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Floorstanding
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Audio Physic Cardeas 30 LJE
Audio Physic Cardeas 30 LJE

It’s apparent, I think, that the LJE’s attention to resonance/vibration issues is what’s responsible for the abundance of meaningful detail, and that translates into superior spatiality as well: Temporal smearing can obliterate a consistent sense of imaging and soundstage recreation. With the mid-1970s Philips recording of Handel’s Op. 4 organ concertos, on a PentaTone SACD, the mechanical action—the clicking and clacking—of the small eighteenth century instrument played by soloist Daniel Chorzempa in a Dutch church can be heard to discretely originate from a plane behind where the sound of organ and orchestra seems to come from. With well-made recordings, these speakers disappear, to roll out a hoary audiophile cliché. But it’s true. Listen to Paavo Järvi’s nonpareil version of L’histoire du soldat (another PentaTone SACD) and note the precise localization of each of the seven players, as well as the correct scaling of the diverse wind, brass, string, and percussion instruments they play.

Who’s to say if the Cardeas 30 LJE tonal consistenty from top to bottom results from all six drivers in each speaker being made of the same material? But these half-dozen cones do speak with one voice. The treble is open, airy, and stress-free—a recording of, say, solo piccolo doesn’t seem to originate from one part of the speaker’s front baffle. Singers with the most recognizable voices, recorded in their prime—artists like Billie Holiday, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, or Adele—have the essence of their vocal sonorities reproduced with no anomalies imposed at the extremes of their ranges. There is one disc I own that, above all others, tells me what I need to know about a loudspeaker’s tonal accuracy. It’s one of three CDs that accompanies a coffee table book called The Miracle Makers, a volume presenting the histories and photographs of 30 of the world’s finest violins, 15 from the workshop of the Stradivari family, 15 made by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù [review in TAS Issue 125]. The CD documents the violinist Elmar Oliveira playing, unaccompanied, 30 bars of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, alternating between Strads and Guarneris. Never before, in my long experience with this recording, have I heard a better differentiation between the two brands of fiddles—the cleaner, sweeter, more focused tone of the Stradivarius instruments as opposed to the darker, earthier, more sensual, and plaintive sonority of the Guarneris. It was close to hearing the instruments themselves with no intermediary electronic technology.

It was with dynamics and bass reproduction that the question of amplification loomed large. The Cardeas 30 LJE’s performance with many—most—musical styles (chamber music, eighteenth century orchestral, jazz, folk, plenty of pop, solo piano, and others) was clearly the best I’d heard in my room. But larger-scale material seemed to be alerting me that limits were being approached. While the LJE’s recommended amplifier power is 40 to 350 watts into 4 ohms and the XA 60.8s are rated at 120 watts into that load, the Pass amps don’t have an especially high damping factor, and they registered to me as underpowered. I set out to try more substantial amplification.

Manfred Diestertich on his Engineering Background
Manfred Diestertich, who has been responsible for the sound of Audio Physic speakers since 1999, has a technical background that’s different from most other leading audio designers. I asked him to elaborate on his path to becoming a loudspeaker engineer with a singular point of view.

My technical background was originally in civil engineering and steel construction—I worked for some years as a project manager in various capacities, including 1½ years in Cairo. I took from this much valuable experience; however, my true interest was always hi-fi. I studied all available magazines and invested much money in all kinds of audio gear. I embedded myself in several DIY projects and tuning experiments, where I met Joachim Gerhard in the early 80s before he started Audio Physic. I consumed all interesting literature about loudspeaker design and basic electronic theories. While I was tuning components (exchanging capacitors, cables, operational amplifiers etc.), I found that modifying the mechanical structure or the suspension of parts quite often had a greater effect on sound quality than replacing parts.

When the CD first became available, I did not like the sound at all. I started tuning players with the usual approaches (working with op-amps became one my favorite playgrounds) and was contacted by a company that was building compact disc players to assist in its new design. During this stage of exploring ways to improve CD player performance, I decided to try something quite unusual. I took a very cheap CD player with a Philips transport, threw away all of the ancillary parts, and suspended the “naked” transport with four strings at the four corners of the chassis. For the subsequent listening tests, I used the digital output only. A second unmodified version of the same player was my comparative reference. It took only seconds to hear that the modified player had nothing in common with the original standard unit. This event forever changed my thinking about CD sound and audio component design architecture. It was the start of SSC (String Suspension Concept) and instilled in me an understanding of the vital importance of solving mechanical problems mechanically rather than electronically. If a cone tends to ring, I pre-stress it with our active cone damping. As the principal designer, I consider all mechanical solutions as I engineer and tune each Audio Physic loudspeaker. This has contributed to the success of our products and the lasting legacy of the AP brand.

First up was a John Curl-designed Parasound HCA-2200 II stereo amplifier I own, an exceptional value in its day (and now, on the used market) that delivers 385 watts into 4 ohms. The Parasound definitely provided more low-end control and dynamic headroom but imaging was not nearly as holographic, and there wasn’t the preternatural clarity I’d heard from Day 1 with the Pass XA 60.8s. Next, I tried a Primare A60 supplied by VANA, a stereo Class D design that provides 500Wpc for a 4-ohm loudspeaker. This component simply didn’t click with my system the APs—the sound lacked dimensionality and timbral accuracy. I then prevailed upon nearby audiophile friends to borrow amplifiers. A Mark Levinson 532 stereo amp provided plenty of muscle but compared to the Pass, introduced a trace of harshness and didn’t scale instruments or image as effectively as my reference monoblocks. Then, I got the Bernings.

The David Berning Quadrature Z monoblocks are OTL tube amplifiers costing $30,000 per pair that deliver 270 watts into a 4-ohm load. The power supplies are regulated switching devices which explains why the amps aren’t especially heavy and don’t run particularly hot. The Quadrature Zs realized the full potential of the Cardeas 30 LJE speakers. Dynamics were scary-good: the eleven strokes that begin “Glorification of the Chosen One” in Le sacre, courtesy of four timpani and a bass drum, were cataclysmic, and I could differentiate the hits on timps from those on the big drum. Likewise, the fury of the Rondo-Burleske movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 (Michael Tilson Thomas/San Francisco on an SFS Media SACD) was experienced with concert hall acuity. Organ music that pulled out all the stops (so to speak)—like the final movement of Messaien’s La Nativité du Seigneur, “Dieu Parmi Nous,” as played by Mary Preston on a Reference Recordings CD titled Organ Odyssey—was thrilling in its dynamic and low-frequency power.

I certainly don’t mean to imply that the Berning monoblocks are the only amplifiers that will bring the APs fully to life with all stripes of music. I’m sure that there are dozens of others that will do so—and they won’t necessarily cost $30k (though such an expenditure doesn’t necessarily strike me as out of line when you’ve spent $45,995 for speakers). You just need to be aware that the excellent amps you already own may not be right for the Cardeas 30 LJEs. These loudspeakers are not the most benign load in the world and, more importantly, they are exceptionally revealing of what comes before them in the audio chain. They will not suffer fools, or even some very fine components that might shine in another setting.

With suitable amplification, the Cardeas 30 LJE loudspeakers will provide a majestic, full-range listening experience with the most challenging source material in both smaller and larger rooms. They do so more successfully than any other two-box floorstander I’ve heard in my familiar listening environment. The LFEs are such highly resolving transducers that you may have to make some difficult decisions not only about which amplifiers to mate with them, but how to use those amplifiers. As a case in point, the Quadrature Z sports a front panel switch that allows users to choose different amounts of negative feedback, depending upon the loudspeakers they are driving. The “normal” setting provides the most damping and, with many speakers including the LJEs, extremely potent and visceral bass performance—fast, tight, tuneful, and impactful. A lower setting did open up the sound higher up in the frequency spectrum, at the cost of less tightly controlled bass. Ultimately, I chose the “normal” setting. Not every speaker will make such choices so critical. But to return to Ringo’s metaphorical advice, “You’ve got to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues.” The world-class performance that’s possible with Audio Physic’s limited edition loudspeaker may not always “come easy.” But with persistence, you stand to get sound as good as most audiophiles can hope to achieve in a typical domestic environment. And that’s surely worth a little anguish, don’t you think?

Specs & Pricing

Type: Three-and-a-half-way, sealed enclosure
Driver complement: One 1.75" Hyper Holographic Cone Tweeter (HHCT III), one 5.9" HHCM III midrange, two 5.9" HHCM III midrange/woofers, two 10.6" woofers
Frequency response: 25Hz–40Hz
Sensitivity: 89dB
Impedance: 4 ohms
Recommended amplifier power: 40–350 watts (into 4 ohms)
Dimensions: 12" x 46.9" x 23.4"
Weight: 163 lbs. each
Price: $45,995

AUDIO PHYSIC GmbH
Almerfeldweg 38
59929 Brilon
Germany
audiophysic.com
vanaltd.com

VANA LTD (U.S. Distributor)
2845 Middle Country Rd.
Lake Grove, NY 11755
vanaltd.com
631-246-4412