Cadence CSB-F3 and CSB-R2 Sound Bars

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Cadence is a relative newcomer to the world of home audio with a full line of loudspeakers, including bookshelf models, floor-standing speakers and some pretty nifty sound bars designed to match today's booming flat HDTV market. Currently, Cadence sells Internet-direct and, because of this, their pricing is quite competitive for a dynamic, nicely-finished loudspeaker system and/or sound bar. This review examines Cadence's best sound bar. The CSB-F3 is a three-channel - left, center, right - unit that retails at $359.99. The CSB-F2 is a two-channel unit for use in the rear as surround channels, with a retail price of $229.99.

Learn more about Cadence Sound here.

Read other high end sound bar reviews from the likes of Bowers & Wilkins, Paradigm. Zvox, Morel, Def Tech and many others from this resource page.

The Cadence sound bars are made out of a single piece of high-strength, internally dampened aluminum. The cast aluminum cabinet features a tapered shape that is four inches high in the front and tapers down over its five-and-one-eighth-inch depth. The tapered shape reduces internal standing waves that can otherwise degrade sound quality. The CSB-F3 is 43-and-three-eighths inches wide and the CSB-R2 is 26-and-five-eighths inches wide. The only other distinguishing external feature is that there is a small rounded black plastic pod on each end of the CSB-F3 for the left and right channel tweeters. Both units come with wall-mounting hardware and the front unit also comes with a tabletop mount and a 25-foot run of three-channel color-coded speaker wire.

The speakers share identical driver complements for each channel, two five-and-one-quarter-inch woofers and a fluid-cooled one-inch soft dome tweeter. Each speaker has nominal eight-ohm impedance. The CSB-F3's efficiency is rated at 92 dB at one volt/meter. The CSB-R2 is just slightly less efficient at 91 dB. Frequency response for the CSB-F3 is specified as 75 Hz to 24 kHz and the CSB-R2 has a slightly reduced range of 85 Hz to 22 kHz. This is comparable to a small satellite speaker and is best mated to a nimble subwoofer that can reach up to the area of 80-100 Hz for the best blend.

The Hookup
I used the CSB-F3's tabletop mount, which installed easily with four included screws. I placed the CSB-F3 on top of the speaker stand normally reserved for my center channel speaker. The CSB-R2 does not come with a tabletop stand, so I made an improvised one and placed it on an equipment stand at the center of the room's back wall. My seating position was about ten feet from the front speaker and five feet from the rear. The connections on the back of each speaker are spring-loaded. The tinned bare wire included with the front speaker worked fine. For the rear speaker, a smaller-gauge speaker cable with a pin connector would work best. The supplied speaker wire appeared to be approximately 22-gauge and I had some difficulty securing the wire to both the Sony STR-DA5400ES receiver and the terminals of my multi-channel amplifiers.

The included manuals provide information on how to wall-mount the speakers. Otherwise, set-up information is limited to advising the user to wire the speakers in phase. I matched the speakers to a Dynaudio Sub 250 ten-inch subwoofer. I utilized the equalization available inside of a new Sony ES receiver and Marantz processor (AV8003) to further smooth the blend between the Cadence sound bars and the subwoofer. I used the automatic equalization settings, as these are most likely to be employed by the majority of sound bar users, since nearly every receiver today has some form of room correction.

I first listened to a variety of two-channel music, including Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms (Warner Brothers) and U2's Joshua Tree (Island). I preface my comments by saying most people do not buy sound bars to be used with two-channel music. Sound bars are designed for surround sound systems. The soundstage was universally smaller than it would have been with properly set up free-standing speakers. The stereotypically smaller soundstage is common among sound bars and their compromised positioning. The opening of "Money for Nothing" showed some increased dynamics, compared to how it plays on other sound bars, but was slightly smaller in scale than, say, on floor-standing speakers, as you might expect. The Cadence speakers did a surprisingly good job of reproducing the familiar-sounding guitars and raspy vocals with minimal coloration and audiophile accuracy. The time I spent listening to some older material, such as The Beatles' Rubber Soul and some tracks from Led Zeppelin II proved to be musically pleasing, led specifically by the Cadence speaker's dynamic presence. On "Gallows Pole" on Led Zeppelin II, I was taken aback by the ability to hear the micro-detail of the rhythmic textures. While dynamic, this was no repackaged car audio system. The Cadence sound bars have some musical refinement that, at their price, had me pretty excited.

HTR Product Rating for Cadence CSB-F3 and CSB-R2 Sound Bars

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Moving to what the Cadence sound bar were designed for, movies, I played Iron Man (Paramount Home Entertainment, Blu-ray). With movies, the majority of the sounds emanating from the front speakers are tied to actions on the screen. Unless you have a large projection screen, a sound bar should have no problem matching the sonic cues to the onscreen visual cues. The CSB-F3 did a good job tracking voices across the screen while maintaining dialogue intelligibility. Both Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow's voices were easily identifiable and reproduced without any unnatural sibilance or chestiness. At higher volumes, the system really benefited from the help of a subwoofer as small speakers can only produce so much volume. I know you wouldn't respect me in the morning if I didn't find where this limit was with the Cadence speakers.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Walt Disney Home Entertainment, Blu-ray) had a variety of sonic challenges. In addition to the big dynamics of the cannon battles, there were lots of subtler challenges. Several scenes featured a large number of background voices that were somewhat less detailed than on my reference system. I note that the voices of the key characters and the main sonic cues remained discernable and it was only the background sounds that seemed to be missing some detail. Some may not even notice this or may even prefer it, as the focus is never taken away from the main action. Personally, I prefer all of the detail in the low-level background sonic cues as it provides a heightened sense of realism and involvement.

Low Points
I would have liked to have seen the CSB-R2 packaged with the set-top mount and a speaker cable, such as the one that comes with the CSB-F3. One change that I would like to see to the sound bars themselves is the addition of binding posts. Spring-loaded speaker terminals are especially problematic in a system where there is no easy access to the speaker terminals to replace the wires should they fall out. I would recommend that the wires be carefully secured during installation. Sound levels are sufficient for movies in a moderate-sized room, so long as a subwoofer is added to the system.

The system benefits greatly from the use of a subwoofer, which adds extra cost, but honestly, all sound bars benefit from the use of a sub.

The Cadence CSB-F3 and CSB-R2, at $600 for the pair, represent a very solid choice for those looking for a complete sound bar speaker system. Today's flat HDTVs define the speakers that need to be used in many of today's homes. If you have a modest budget, yet are looking for boastful, dynamic and resolute sound, you can stop looking for sound bars, because Cadence is your choice. For the money, Cadence sound bars are hard to beat.

Learn more about Cadence Sound here.

Read other high end sound bar reviews from the likes of Bowers & Wilkins, Paradigm. Zvox, Morel, Def Tech and many others from this resource page.

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