How Cadence’s flagship design broke many Hi-Fi rules, but delivered a new benchmark for recorded music

Cadence is not a Hi-Fi brand that many people will be that familiar with. I’ll try my best to redress this injustice as I believe these speakers are not only some of the finest that I’ve ever heard, but they do their job by breaking many of the long established Hi-Fi rules of what ‘good’ is supposed to sound like.

The Arca is the flagship model for this Indian company, standing over a meter tall with their substantial front baffle made of most of a cherry tree, it’s easy to see the pride taken in this design. They have a heft that makes you feel you have most of a church organ rather than a pair of speakers.

Cadence Arca Hybrid
Cadence Arca Hybrid

At 70kg each they don’t invite continual repositioning, but once in place their in-built spikes ensure that isolation can be maximized. With four screw-adjustable spikes they take a little setting up. Half a turn too much on any corner and a tiny rocking action can spoil the image. Four is arguably a poor number in Hi-Fi and I’ve successfully experimented with a single after-market rear spike taking over duties from the rear pair.

Arca means ‘brilliant one’ in Sanskrit, but also stands for Absolute Response Corrected Alignment. This acronym starts to allude to how these hybrid electrostatic speakers set out to contradict much of the received wisdom about speaker design.

So what is it about the Arca that makes this design quite so heretical?

Rule 1: Hybrids have disjointed bass… until now

If you think hybrid electrostatics generally suffer from a disjointed frequency response caused by crude crossovers, you need to hear these. The 10in reflex loaded mid/bass driver is supremely integrated with the electrostatic panel. Cadence claims that frequency response is highly uniform. Something I’d love to test given the right equipment, but it’s a claim I can believe. In poor hybrids the physics of lumbering bass can seem to arrive way after lightning fast panel vibrations. Not here – as with comedy, timing is everything. The curved electrostatic panel is set back on the speaker body, the mid/bass driver is gently angled on the solid cherry wood baffle and the bass port is the closest sound source. Taken together these sonic ingredients gel in an utterly convincing way that causes these substantial speakers to simply vanish as a sound source.

So what is it about the Arca that makes this design quite so heretical?

Rule 2: Electrostatic panels need to be big…until now

Another departure from electrostatic norms is the relatively small panel in relation to the more traditional Kevlar cone drivers. If you’re familiar with hybrid designs such as Martin Logans, you’ll appreciate that the powered panel is a substantial part of the air-moving equation with any loaded drivers gently topping up bass weight. Cadence approached the same challenge, but came to a different conclusion of where to balance its frequency delivery. The Arca electrostatic panel measures only 50cm x 20cm and is arranged within a curved alloy enclosure. As such, it must essentially be performing the task of a relatively wide response tweeter. Something it is supremely well suited to do.

Rule 3: A ‘point source’ is desirable… until now

Given the highly directional nature of high-frequency energy, the curved panel on the top of these speakers has the effect of spreading the treble and significantly widening the traditional sweet spot associated with dome tweeters and legendary ‘point source’ panels like Quads. As such, I have less of a sweet spot and more of a sweet room. Sure, the soundstage and bass integration works best in one plane and at certain room harmonics, but the margin of error before this becomes too unrealistic is far wider than almost any other set up I’ve heard.

Rule 4: Electrostatics are a hard load for amps…until now

At 91dB sensitivity they’re a remarkably easy load, and particularly well suited to valve amplification. Indeed for many years my sole amplification was a pair of Audion Golden Knight mono blocks that muscled these speakers with a mere seven single-ended watts. As many have now realized there are watts and there are WATTS, maybe distinguished mostly be current and impedance matching.

Taken together these individual departures from the received wisdom of hybrid speaker design add up to a very refreshing whole.

Cadence’s rule-breaking approach was further reinforced by the marketing statement that accompanied the speaker’s launch: “We gave up designing a loudspeaker and we designed a musical instrument instead.”

So, how does this ‘instrument’ sound?

The immediate impression is one of strength at the extremes. Treble energy feels highly extended and hyper revealing, yet without any of the fatiguing ‘grain’ that’s associated with more clinical speakers.

At the other end of the spectrum, bass is equally extended, firm, realistic and agile giving you a very physical connection with your music that never seems to overtake the balance that the recording engineer originally intended.

Too often bass reproduction can sound like ‘Hi-Fi’ rather than the lower registers of musical instruments and voices. Liquid and transparent mid tones are the icing on the cake, completing the even frequency response the designers set out to achieve. It’s possible that mid tones are especially supported through my valve amplification, but there is a natural strength there already.

The Arcas are simply even-handed, focusing on giving you a fluid and honest reproduction of the recorded sound all the way from the highest frequencies that bristle the hairs on our arms, through to deep bass intended for the solar plexus. Sound staging is stable, very wide and impressively tall, but maybe not as deep as some and the curved electrostatic panels create a forgiving listening experience with many listeners enjoying a realistic sonic image without compromise.

At first glance this rebel may appear to be a muscle-bound bouncer with attitude problems when it comes to following rules, but in reality it’s a gentle giant that simply stands to one side, opens the door and lets the music flow.