Penaudio Cenya Monitors

Cranking Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” to a level way beyond what I’d ever expect from a small pair of monitors causes me to redefine my mental short list for a final hi-fi system. While I routinely audition six-figure speakers (and enjoy every minute of it), the Cenya and its slightly more expensive sibling, the Cenya Signature, deliver so much music that I would happily retire with these Finnish beauties as destination speakers.

The Cenyas do everything but deliver the last octave of deep bass, and at $4,000 a pair, they leave you enough scratch to add your favorite subwoofer, should you require it. But in a small- to medium-sized room, you may not need the extra bass. These speakers are positively heavenly in my new small listening room (10 by 13 feet) powered by the Devialet 120. Penaudio speakers have always needed a little bit of juice to give their all, and the 120 watts per channel provided by the Devialet gets the job done, no matter what the musical faire. The opening bass drum beats from Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” are delivered solidly, without overhang. As the cymbals linger in the air and fade off into black, the sparkle remains potent, which leads me to believe that these little speakers move some serious air.

It’s worth noting that Devialet owners that are running the current firmware can now take advantage of their new S.A.M. (Speaker Active Matching) system, which offers phase alignment for a list of speakers, like the Cenya, custom tailored to the individual speaker.  S.A.M. also offers bass equalization/compensation in the DSP domain that extends the frequency response cleanly down to 25hz. This had just become available at the end of this review, so watch for a follow up when we’ve spent more seat time with it. The short story is that it works incredibly well. You’ll swear there is a subwoofer in the room!

My history with Penaudio goes way back to the Serenades that we reviewed in issue 4 and that ended up as my reference speakers for a couple years. I’ve always appreciated Penaudio founder Sami Pentilla’s ability to build speakers that combine understated good looks and natural tonality in a compact form. The tiny Cenya is no exception. It looks like a slice of the Serenade, with a 6-inch woofer and a 1.25-inch soft dome tweeter, and it is available in a wide variety of finishes.

This particular pair comes in the high-gloss white that was the rage at this year’s Munich High End show. Considering psychoacoustics, this may be the best color for these mini monitors, as it lets them disappear even further into my listening environment, which is painted Ralph Lauren Studio White. A knuckle rap demonstrates cabinet rigidity, which contributes to the speakers’ stellar bass response and freedom from cabinet-induced vibration.

Super Simple Setup

As with any high-quality pair of mini monitors, the Cenyas benefit from doing two things: placing them on massive stands and providing a solid coupling between the speaker and stand. Though not as attractive as the Cenyas deserve, a pair of 24-inch sand-filled Sound Anchor stands works perfectly, with a set of small Isonode feet ($19.95 for a set of 4; available from Bright Star Audio) providing an ideal mechanical interface.

The Cardas Clear Light speaker cables also work well with these speakers, but for those requiring a bit more zip and high-frequency extension, the Graditech speaker cables provide it. They prove a perfect match for the Conrad Johnson LP125sa power amplifier, while the Clear Light cables are a more balanced solution (for these ears, anyway) with the Devialet.

Final speaker placement takes about 15 minutes, with a bit of fine-tuning after the Cenyas have about two weeks of major break-in. Like all of the other Penaudio speakers we’ve auditioned, a good week’s worth of listening to dynamic music at moderate to high volume does the trick—though they do sound fabulous right out of the box.

Jah Wobble’s Japanese Dub leads the way into a long session of bass-heavy tracks that help define the low-frequency response of the Cenya2. The official specification is +/–3 dB from 45 to 28,000 Hz in an anechoic chamber, and thanks to a little bit of room gain, the Cenya 2s reproduce the 40 Hz test tone on my Stereophile Test CD with ease, though bass response falls off rapidly after this. For most musical material, this will rarely be an issue, considering the quality of the bass that the speakers produce. Again, this was all done without S.A.M. engaged on the Devialet.

A Nimble Performer

In a modest-sized room with first-class amplification, the Cenyas will spoil you. Thanks to their small front surface and high-quality SEAS tweeter, they throw an expansive soundstage that not only extends beyond the speaker boundaries but also past the wall boundaries.

When I revisit Springsteen’s The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, it’s a pleasure to hear the nuance in his young voice and, even though the recording is only mediocre, the coherence provided by this high-quality two-way speaker makes it come to life. As with the previous Cenya iteration, the new Cenya exhibits a transparency much like an ESL. The Hammond organ at the beginning of “Kitty’s Back” remains in the air, slightly above the speakers, lingering in the room as though through my Quad 57s, but with more punch and dynamics.

The Cenyas excel at keeping the musical pace intact. The rapid-fire drum beats in Blamstrain’s “Dog Song” stay solidly anchored in the middle of some dreamy synth riffs, while the deep bass line fills the listening room without blurring the spacey presentation, until the volume is turned up well beyond a reasonable level. This is the only limitation of these petite Finns: They can only move so much air, and when pushed past their limit, they compress rapidly. However, I think anyone demoing a pair of Cenyas for the first time will be surprised at just how loud this level is.

Of course, the vocal performance of these speakers is beyond reproach. Those preferring more audiophile faire will be highly satisfied at the deftness with which the Cenyas project both male and female vocals. Whether you love Tom Waits or Shelby Lynne, the speakers deliver the goods.


With a sensitivity rating of 86 dB, the Cenyas work better with more power, though in my small room, even the 25-watt-per-channel 845 SET amplifiers at my disposal prove adequate, albeit not able to push the speakers as far as the 120-wpc Devialet can.

Regardless, the Cenyas are very tube friendly in a way that my Serenedes never were. The McIntosh MC275, PrimaLuna DiaLogue Monoblocks and the new C-J LP120sa vacuum-tube amplifiers all work well with the Cenyas, delivering great dynamics, extended HF response and good damping of the woofer cones without issue.

The Cenyas are equally versatile with solid-state amplification, from about 35 wpc on up, proving a good match with the 35-wpc Naim Qute2, the 50-wpc Rega Brio-R and the 60-wpc Pass Aleph 5—all reasonably priced yet high-performance small solid-state amplifiers.

Surprisingly, the Cenyas are transported into another world with the 300-wpc Burmester 911 MK3 and the similarly powered Pass Xs 300 monoblocks, though it is hardly likely that someone would spend $30,000 to $80,000 on amplification for a $4,000 pair of speakers—though, if you do, these little beauties are up to the task.

The $4,000 Question

If you are looking for maximum performance with minimum footprint, look no further than the Penaudio Cenyas. They will do justice to whatever ancillary components you have at your disposal and they produce way more music than you would expect from a speaker this diminutive in size. Highly recommended.

Penaudio Cenya monitors

MSRP: $4,000 per pair


Digital Source Devialet 120    Meridian Control 15    MacBook Pro
Analog Source Thorens TD-124    SME 3009 tonearm    Ortofon 2M Black cartridge
Amplification Devialet 120
Cable Cardas Clear

Penaudio Cenya Speakers

Reporting on the Porsche/Burmester event for Issue 46’s cover story put me at a dinner table with a new group of writers. Instead of the usual cronies from high-end audio, I encountered a pack of automotive journalists. A staff member from Automobile magazine commented that, on a recent outing with a handful of incredibly wealthy car collectors, he asked everyone the same question: What is the most fun car you own? He became fascinated to discover that, even though the owners all possess stables of exotic machinery, five of the six respondents named the Mini Cooper S Convertible.

Many of my audiophile buddies express a similar sentiment concerning loudspeakers. There’s something enchanting about a pair of small speakers in a modest-sized room. Often, the famous LS3/5A enters the conversation. However, as magic as it is when paired with small-scale music, that speaker does not rock. But greatness is possible in a small box. Modern drivers, computer analysis, and crossover technology make such a goal all the more attainable.

Enter the Penaudio Cenya. Taking up only half a cubic foot (6.4 x 11.2 x 12.6 inches/163 x 280 x 315mm) of space, the tiny two-way uses a 6-inch Seas Excel woofer and 3/4-inch Seas soft-dome tweeter in a ported enclosure. Don’t be scared by the $4,000 price. Small enclosures and understated elegance are Penaudio hallmarks, and the cost is warranted.

For those seeking wife-acceptance factor, look no further. The Cenyas integrate with practically any décor. Yes, getting the best bass response requires a pair of stands with high mass, and placing the tweeters near ear height is essential. A pair of sand-filled Sound Anchors stands works perfectly in both my listening rooms. My smaller 11 x 17-foot living room provides slightly more bass reinforcement, but surprisingly, does not offer the big sound of my dedicated room.

Simple Setup

Setting up the speakers by ear resulted with the speakers landing in the classic equilateral arrangement. In my 16 x 25-foot listening room, the Cenyas are almost seven feet out in the room on the long wall, and seven feet apart. Approximately 15 degrees of toe-in yields the best balance between imaging and high-frequency smoothness, and yes, the Cenyas boast excellent off-axis response. Placed well away from sidewalls, these speakers image like panels. With the last octave of bass response diminished, the Cenyas are easier to position, particularly since they don’t excite room resonances in the manner achieved by a speaker that goes down to the mid-20hz region.

In terms of matching, the 30wpc Unison Research S6 tube integrated amplifier and its deep, rich presentation complements the Cenya’s large soundstage. Unlike the Penaudio Serenades I used for a few years, and which never really matched with a tube amplifier, the Cenyas perform admirably with glass. Given their 86db sensitivity rating, I suggest a minimum of 30wpc, although an amplifier in the 45-70wpc rating is even better. Select tube amplifiers at my disposal from CJ, Audio Research, PrimaLuna, and Grant Fidelity all reveal a warm, friendly sound via the Cenyas, with excellent bass control and supple high end.

However, power rules the day with these mighty marvels, and the heavens part upon inserting an Audio Research REF 150 into the system. Remember, though, that power alone doesn’t get the job done. Think quality. Trying a few budget, high-powered Class D amplifiers makes for a lifeless presentation. The Cenyas claim a very neutral, natural, and lifelike tonal balance—but also offer high resolution. Hence, distinctions between different source components are readily discerned.

Switching between the ARC REF 150, Burmester 911 mk. 3, and Octave Jubilee monoblocks, it’s as effortless to pinpoint the particular characteristics between these top-tier amplifiers as it is when they’re feeding speakers that cost considerably more. Clearly, something special is going on in Finland. Chalk it up to Penaudio designer Sami Pentilla, who loves to rock out. You’ll never hear Patricia Barber in his room at a hi-fi gathering. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, as we listened to Rammstein loudly in his space, he smiled and said, “My speakers must have natural sound, but they have to rock.”

Mad Bass Skills

Don’t be thrown off by that small woofer. Given the size of the speaker from which it emanates, the bass line in the title track from Big Head Todd and the Monsters’ Sister Sweetly album produces enormous bass of almost-shocking dimensions. No one-note wonder, the Cenya does equally well with acoustic bass. Scott LaFaro’s bass playing on Bill Evans’ classic Portrait in Jazz provides elegant lines that often feel more like lead runs than backdrops. The Cenyas excel at capturing the texture, as well as the body, of the acoustic bass parts.

Torturing the Cenyas via the massive beats in Madonna’s latest MDNA prove fruitless until the mighty Burmester 911 amplifier starts working up a sweat. With 350 watts per channel on tap, I was able to produce that awful bottoming sound from the woofer cones. Note, however, that this came at beyond-prudent volume levels. Big synth bass from The System’s “Don’t Stop This Groove,” as well as from a few other 80s favorites, is also rendered with so much weight that you won’t hanker for a subwoofer. Ok, maybe when you blast Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy Revisited, it’s not a bad idea to grab one. Fortunately, the JL Audio Gotham in-wall subwoofer seamlessly mates with the Cenyas, making for a rather stealthy system.

Mighty Mids

Dandy as the Cenyas show with varied program material, midrange remains the mini-monitors’ strong suit. Emphasis is focused on defined placement of musicians and instruments within a soundstage. Ry Cooder’s I, Flathead features a live feel. When Cooder briskly strums his guitar on “My Dwarf is Getting Tired,” you can hear the drumheads rattle. These speakers reproduce the midband in such a transparent way, you’ll forget about your visions of ESLs. And I say this as a happy owner of Quad 57s; the Cenyas have the juice.

All the best audiophile clichés apply to these Penaudio speakers. They paint an enormous sonic canvas extending well beyond the speaker boundaries. Yes, you’ll swear you are listening to larger speakers. Vide, Mobile Fidelity’s brilliant new remaster of Gram Parsons’ GP. The Cenyas capture the pace and air present within this sparse recording. The original CD is flat and lifeless, but the decay-rich MoFi disc feels lush. Vide, the baritone sax on “Cry One More Time For You” leaps right out in front. And, heard via the Cenyas, Parsons and Emmylou Harris’ duet on “We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes in the Morning” gives equal weight to both singers. Lesser speakers leave Harris’ voice fading into the mix.

Dazzling Dynamics

The 24/96 file of Elton John’s Madman Across The Water sounds stunning through the Cenyas. When the barrage of horns kicks in at about 1:37, I got pinned back on the couch, amazed at the drive they muster. Wow, these speakers rock. Transitioning from the slower first half of Jack White’s “Take Me With You When You Go” from Blunderbuss to the song’s raucous second half is painless. White’s signature guitar sound is also reproduced with plenty of grit and texture.

Thanks to the Cenyas’ wide dynamic contrast, the worst recordings now become much more palatable. Even Don Johnson’s Heartbeat sounds pretty good. (Fess up. I know you still have that CD from the 80s.) Getting down with the self-titled Grinderman album, these speakers give up the good stuff the second you hit “play.” The first track, “Get it On,” opens with Nick Cave barking over a larger-than-life distorted guitar out of phase with the rest of the instruments. The Cenyas don’t lose their poise even when cranking this record. The louder you play it, the better it sounds, with the mad guitars burrowing their way into your soul.

Indeed, the speakers deliver an abundance of dynamic contrast and low-level detail, making them just as easy to listen to at low volume. And, as I mentioned earlier, they possess a very natural tonal balance. Violin, banjo, and acoustic bass remain distinctly separate on the title track of Steve Martin’s The Crow: New Songs For Five String Banjo, retaining all the textural properties that make these stringed instruments unique. The violin is particularly tough to get right, yet the Cenyas handle it with aplomb.

Get On Board

The Penaudio Cenya is an absolute delight, no matter the source material. These speakers are limited only by the quality of the electronics with which you mate them. Granted, the Cenyas are not merciless. Your system won’t suck with a $600 integrated amplifier if that’s what you can afford. However, the speakers will constantly improve with better gear, should you jump on the high-speed train to audiophilia.

Fuel the Cenyas with the best electronics you can afford, and you will not be disappointed. It’s not unlike handling a high-performance turbocharged car. If you put low-octane gasoline in the tank, the experience will still be good, but the engine-management system will cut the amount of horsepower delivered to the rear wheels.

Penaudio Cenya Loudspeaker

MSRP:  $4,000 (Factory) (US Importer)


Preamplifier Burmester 011

Power Amplifier Burmester 911 mk. 3, Audio Research REF 150

Digital Source dCS Debussy DAC/Paganini Clock

Analog Source VPI Classic 1/Lyra Kleos/ARC REF Phono 2

Cable Cardas Clear

Accessories SRA Scuttle rack, Furutech DeStat, DeMag, Audio Desk Systeme record cleaner