Review: Cardersound Madison Speaker

Category: Speakers

Madison Review

The Madison is a single driver, back loaded horn (BLH) speaker based on a well established design posted on the Frugel-horn website. It stand 6’ high, 18” deep and 13” wide and is designed to work with an 8 inch driver; Fostex 206E in the case of the Cardersound Madison.

The Madison is not my first BLH. I had owned (and still do) a Fostex 126E BLH for six month prior to purchasing the Madison. I am attracted to single driver BLH mainly due to their speed and amazing natural sound, most notably pertaining to vocals and strings. Although I was well pleased with my Fostex 126E BLH, I wanted something a little more efficient as I want to build a 45 (2 wpc) SET; in short, I was looking for more of the same.

Step in Jeff from Cardersound. Jeff had just started up Cardersound and was offering a single driver BLH utilizing the more efficient Fostex 206E at a very affordable price. Jeff had some prototypes set up, so I went to audition. Although I was unable to audition the Madisons via analogue and tubes as I normally listen, I was suitably impressed and purchased.

Jeff dropped off the Madisons three weeks after I placed the order. Even while unloading I was struck by the fit and finish. I had ordered my speakers in maple veneer. They were simply stunning. Fit and finish easily matches the Madisons nearest competitor, the Cain&Cain IBen. Not only is the Madison superbly finished, but a lot of attention to detail had been done, f.e. even the baffle steps in the horn mouth had been veneered and the binding post had been personalized. Way cool. These speakers definitely qualify as “eye candy”. And at 6’, they are hard to miss.

Sound was very good straight out the box, but I burned the speakers on a Hagtech frycleaner daily for two weeks before forming an opinion on the sound. Describing the sound of the Madisons is almost a contradiction in terms as the sound is both big and very delicate.

The six foot double mouthed horn throws a huge soundstage. This is mainly due to the fact that the double horn arrangement loads both the floor and the ceiling. These are really the first speaker that I have heard that matches the huge soundstage I experience when sitting in the 2 or 3 row at the opera. Absolutely stunning. Even the deaf wouldn’t be able to miss their presence. The sound envelops you like a warm comforter.

The Madisons are blisteringly fast and dynamic, and can play extremely loud. The frequency extremes are remarkably extended, so much so that I damped the horn with a little poly-fil as the bass was overpowering my smallish room. Yes, they do rock very well.

However, the speakers are also very polite, natural and accurate, capable of conveying the smallest detail with remarkable delicacy. Intricate pieces by Kenny Dorham, Herb Alpert/Hugh Masekela, Earl Klug are presented with such delicacy that it was hard to end my listening sessions at night. (I get up at 5am each morning) I found myself listening to LP’s I never before cared much for till early hours of the morning.

Vocals are especially good. I sometimes get a lump in my throat when listening sopranos like Maria Callas or Montserrat Caballe in systems that reveal the emotion in the music, but the Madisounds are so good at conveying emotion that artists like Willie Nelson, CSN&Y, Cat Stevens had me doubting my sexual orientation! Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings’ cover of “Whiter Shade of Pale” sounded like I was at the studio. Absolutely remarkable, especially since I never really cared much for country music, nor Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings.

The biggest endorsement I can give the Madisons is that as big as these behemoths are, you are just not aware of them at all. They seem to get out the way and all you are aware of is how good the artists sounds. This is the closest I have need to being at the opera, or at the recital/recording studio with the artist right in front of me.

Without exception, my friends that have come to listen were initially very impressed with the build quality of the speakers, but once the needle dropped, they all forgot about the speakers and were all very impressed by the artist/music.

If you are in the market for a BLH, or simply wondering how good BLHs are, you should consider a pair of Madisons. They are simply remarkable, and Jeff at Cardersound is remarkably helpful and easy to deal with.

Associated gear
Oracle Delphi 5 Turbo PS/Graham 2.2/Koetsu Rosewood Signature
Technics SP 15/Audio Technica ATP-12T/Wood body DL103R
Pass Labs Xono (BG N and TFTF V-CAPS coupling caps, BG VK bypass caps)
Bottlehead Seduction (Dynamicap coupling caps, C4S, Jenson PS Cap, PS Choke, AN Tants in signal path, NOS tubes)
Home rolled switchbox (shellco switches, 28awg solid core silver wiring, cardas RCAs)
Audionote 6550 SE (Dynamicap Coupling caps, BG cathode caps, AN Tants in signal path, upgraded volume pot, silver hookup wiring, NOS tubes)

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Hi Pauly,

Thanks for the review. I've been looking for higher sensitive speakers for quite some time but the size and frequency response has not led me to abandon my Devores.

How is the frequency response (low and high) on these things? Do they need to be placed in corners (something I cannot do)? One thing I do not have a handle on is how much music I have that have frequencies under 70hz.

Greetings Pauly,
The Frugal Horn website shows a modelled frequency response curve for the Sachiko, on which the Madison is based I believe. The curve has some mean dips in the lower mid-range area. Do you notice this? Do those dips even themselves out in actual room conditions?