There’s an aesthetic issue with three-way standmount speakers. Because they need a tall front baffle to house the tweeter, midrange and woofer, they look bulky by today’s slimline standards. We can stomach multi-way floorstanders (or almost floorstanders, like models in the ATC range), but we like our standmounts proportioned like a scaled-up mini-monitor, it seems.
The Cabasse Bora solves that problem at a stroke. It’s a three-way that looks like a two-way. The secret’s in the top driver, that people automatically mistake for a tweeter. The white surround in that drive unit is, in fact, a toroidal (or annular) midrange driver in its own right; this coaxial driver is Cabasse’s own BC13 drive unit. Aside from making the speaker more pleasingly proportioned to a wider audience, a coaxial tweeter and midrange effectively makes a point source for the mids and above and coaxial units are typically less fussy in installation.
A more conventional 210mm bass unit, made from Duocell, sits below the coaxial driver. Duocell is an ideal material for bass units, as it’s very light, very rigid and very well-damped. It’s also easy to drive, a key requirement in Cabasse designs, and the Bora is a very easy 90dB sensitive, eight ohm impedance load that makes it ideal for anything from a low-powered tube or gainclone amp on up (the Bora’s ability to handle 840W peaks means you’d have to be driving it well past comfort levels at the other end of the scale).
Looking like a two-way with an eight-inch bass driver gives the speaker the proportions of a classic BBC-derived design, but Cabasse has been canny with the front-firing port. Instead of the typical round port below the bass driver, Cabasse uses a flattened letterbox shaped port, built into what looks like the loudspeaker’s base. It’s discreet enough that most people miss it, and mistake the speaker for a sealed box design. With a slightly boat-backed design and gently curved front baffle, the whole speaker looks elegant and understated, even in the slightly bling, but very well-finished piano black gloss option. The grille sits on the speaker with a series of magnets, although these are push-fits onto the wooden surround of the grille and are apt to go missing. The speaker looks and sounds better with the grilles off anyway. Well-made, single wire speaker terminals on the rear panel complete the package.
The speakers are best on a stand approximately 18” (46cm) tall, but are comfortable on anything between 17” (43cm) and 24” (61cm) tall. Boras were happiest on mid-to-high-mass stands rather than light, open frame designs, but there was no strong preference either way… many speakers sound like someone’s filled the enclosure with treacle, disconnected the bass driver or added a boomy, waffly subwoofer when used with inappropriate stands, but here the speaker just sounded a trifle ‘flubby’ (a burbling deep-to-mid bass) on a light stand.
It’s deceptively easy to get good sound out of the Boras – just plonk them in the room, roughly in the right place and you are away. That ‘first fit’ installation will get you most of the way to making a good sound, and will often sound better than many loudspeakers after a careful, anal-retentive inch-by-inch set-up. As long as the speakers aren’t pointing away from the listener (I’m lookin’ at you, Jimmy Hughes…) they will make an impressive sound from the get-go. This is a double-edged sword, because many people will stop right there. But the Bora is capable of much, much more.
Two big improvements are possible from this position; getting the Boras position in the room right, and ensuring those two coaxial drivers are at the same height. And again, the Bora’s ability to make a good sound right out the box almost holds this back. The problem here is the good sound masks the incremental improvements made in positioning until everything is at its best, at which point the performance takes a leap forward. So, you have to trust in your set-up skills in the hope you get things right, until they really come right.
Similarly, although the specs suggest a broad range of amplifiers (and sources) will suit the speaker, you can improve on the basic performance a lot with careful connection. There seem to be two amplifier happy places for the Bora; a medium-power Class A design (the Sugden A21SE was a perfect partner) and a fast, relatively powerful Class AB design. The key word in the latter spec is ‘fast’; powerful and dynamic amps like the Musical Fidelity M6i sounded powerful, dynamic and a trifle slow through the Boras. Little wonder then that the Boras did so well at the Bristol Show, being driven by the pacy Belles amplifiers.
In my room, the loudspeaker came to life with the speakers 60cm from the rear wall and 2m apart, with a very slight toe-in. They work better in the mid-to-far field than as near field monitors; the coaxial driver is perfect for close listening, but the integration between mid/top and bass needs some space to blend properly.
The big advantage of point sources is good imagery. The big advantage of coaxial driver units is good imagery. So, it’s not hard to think what strikes you first when listening to a coaxial driver that thinks it’s a point source. Imagery is remarkably fine, creating a soundstage that gets close to electrostatic levels of precision. You hear layer upon layer of soundstage depth and a sound that projects well into the room. This can get almost oppressive with close-mic’d vocalists; one particularly intimate recording of Leonard Cohen speaking (at the introduction of Rare On Air Volume One) felt like you were standing toe-to-toe with the guy. On the other hand, Jimmy Smith’s legendary Back at the Chicken Shack gave you a feeling of being in the room when the magic happened.
It’s not all soundstaging though. That eight inch drive unit gives the speaker a healthy underpinning of bass for its size, well-damped enough to keep the rhythm methodologists happy and dynamic enough to put a smile on the face of any passing Wagnerian or metal head. The plastic cone ‘quack’ (a common by-product of using modern drive units at relatively high sensitivities) is noticeable, but not overtly so. It comes across as a mild coloration to the top of the bottom end; in other words it’s an added thickness to the range of a good tenor; if you hook your TV to your hi-fi system, it would make you hate the Go Compare adverts all the more. It’s easy to exaggerate this coloration by simply describing it, making it sound like Bryn Terfel transforms into Kermit the Frog, where the reality is a mild rounding to vocal tones – a sort of ‘aawh’ instead of ‘aaah’.
The vast majority of listeners will find that an effective trade, when set against the wonderful coherence of the sound of the speaker. It’s a seamless performance from top to bottom, and that really gives the sense of reproducing a bunch of musicians doing what they do best. That applies whether that ‘bunch’ is a moaning indie power trio like Hüsker Dü, Basie’s big band or a full orchestra. In fact, the only people who will find the Bora’s presentation hard to stomach will be those who collect bland audiophile recordings; although the speakers are adept at highlighting the effortless dynamics and huge soundstaging of such recordings, they will also lay bare the relatively unrehearsed and musically flat nature of the same. While the Bora cannot pull a good sound out of a lo-fi or 0dBFS compressed recording, its ability to get past the recording and into the music and musicianship helps make Sonic Youth more palatable to an audio aesthetic.
The Cabasse Bora enters an extremely contended speaker world confidently, because it has the sounds to fit the bill. It’s an alluring and bold sounding speaker, in a market that often serves up rehashes of past glories. And it sounds good, too; good out of the box, better still when you take the time and trouble to install it and partner it properly. And it has all the advantages of a coaxial design, with the bass and dynamics (and the looks) of a good ported two-way. While some will stumble at its very slight tenor coloration, most will be beguiled by its effortless musicality. Because of that, it puts a smile on your face when you play music, whatever the music, and that makes it well worth the money.
SPECS & PRICING
Three-way standmount loudspeaker
Drive unit configuration: 1x Coaxial BC13 (mid/treble), 1x 21MD20LB (210mm bass unit)
Frequency response: 52Hz-24kHz
Nominal impedance: eight ohms
Minimum impedance: 4.1 ohms
Crossover points: 800Hz, 4.4kHz
Power handling: 120W (typical), 840W peak
Dimensions (HxWxD): 50x27x33cm
Price: £2,200 per pair
Manufactured by Cabasse
Supplied by Coherent Systems Ltd