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CM1 System Setup and Listening Tests

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I received two boxes from the B&W Group, one containing the CM1’s, and the other containing the FS-700/CM stands.  The speakers were double boxed and wrapped in foam with a plastic cover provided to protect the cones.

The stands were very straight forward to assemble and mount the CM1’s.  Six Philips machine screws were provided to attach each plate at the ends of the legs along with two plastic inserts placed between each base and leg.  The CM1’s were then attached to the stands using screws and a supplied Allen wrench.

I listened to the CM1’s with my PS Audio stereo setup and my Rotel A/V receiver in two-channel mode utilizing bass management and subwoofers.  Not surprising, the CM1’s were most at ease when not asked to play low bass that was physically beyond the performance range of these small speakers.  With 4 x 6800mF 63V and 2 x 470 mF 80V output capacitors per channel, the PS Audio is capable of delivering whatever bass a recording calls for and left the small mid/woofers jumping.  The CM1’s did well to produce this bass to their frequency limits but larger driver excursion invariably leads to distortion.  While they did not sound obviously distressed, the sound was more relaxed with the subs and a 60 Hz crossover in place.  For full range sound, there is no getting around that these are mini-monitor speakers, so with that in mind, I did a majority of my listening on the Rotel with the crossover and subs.

Treble was precise and clear; there was neither too much, nor too little treble in the CM1’s reproduction.  Albums that contained well recorded ambient content were allowed to release these subtle cues and this of course gave life to the recording and aided the illusion of the sound stage.  Through out my listening, I observed a wide, scrupulously defined soundstage with good instrumental localization and adequate depth.  Instruments were cleanly separated with the CM1’s easily performing better than many comparable speakers in this regard.

I found the midrange to be warm and well balanced across its frequency spectrum.  The sound here was full, particularly with orchestral music.  My opinion is that this comes from a slight bit of emphasis due to the mechanical behavior of the Kevlar driver material under dynamic loading.  This is by no means an unpleasant effect and I believe that it tends to work especially well with orchestral music where the already complex acoustic field of the orchestra hall may not only hide such a subtle discrepancy, but may be enhanced by it.

Editorial Note
Reality is that there is no such thing as a loudspeaker without coloration; it is a theoretical ideal that is striven for but impossible to achieve.  Every speaker design is a unique combination of materials and geometries: cone, suspension, frame, and cabinet, each with their own intrinsic resonant and dynamic behavior that has absolutely no relation to the vibrational characteristics of the instruments that the loudspeakers are charged to recreate.

There really are basically only two solutions to problematic behavior in system design: minimize unwanted behavior or find a way to take advantage of it.  Some designs are better at minimizing their inherent colorations than others, and some designs are better at making the best of the inevitable colorations in favor of the reproduced music.  This is the science and art of audio engineering.  It is the reviewer’s opinion that the Kevlar solution favors the latter approach.

There was a fair amount of bass output from the CM1’s; a very good amount considering the speakers size.  Obviously, the bass from the CM1’s was not earth shaking, but when they were used alone, there was enough to make a good showing.  The speakers do a reasonable job of maintaining the illusion of being larger than they are unless directly compared to a larger speaker of good quality.

While I generally found reproduction through these mid/bass drivers to be full and retain detail, the little drivers could get slightly punchy under certain musical circumstances.  I also did find a very subtle overdamping to the sound.  This manifested, for example, with some percussive sounds that had a little too much thud when there should have been a little more extended instrumental ring in the upper harmonics of the recording.  I attribute this to the highly damped nature of these drivers and I will point out that damping is energy dissipation.  While it is commonly spoken of in reference to controlling free vibration (known as unwanted driver ringing), it also dissipates energy under forced vibration (often referred to as reproduced music in audio circles).  The affect is that some subtler sounds may be muted or rounded off, such as upper harmonics, when reproduced; over damping will blunt these sounds because damping does not wait for the driving force to stop to kick in.  It resists any motion.  Again, this is very subtle and not inherently bad in so much as it does serve to keep the sound clean by controlling free vibrations in the driver.

A speaker of this size is intended for use in two common situations: when space restrictions dictate or in a satellite/subwoofer combination.  If one wants some bass but can’t have anything bigger, these speakers are about as good as one can do at this size.  The CM1’s are also an excellent alternative to those ‘cube’ speakers: they look nicer, sound nicer, and are not really that much bigger.  For those who think otherwise about the size , it comes down to priorities: why even bother with speakers if the only goal is to hide them and damn the sound quality?  Just jamb some ear buds in and avoid the space issue altogether.  Nothing will take less space than that.

Thom Yorke: The Eraser
The recently released solo album by Thom Yorke, of Radiohead fame, is full of demanding electronic noises that test transient response with sounds that are densely composited and varied.  While I am fairly sure there is nary an acoustic instrument to be found on this album, with one possible exception, I may subsequently describe some sounds using their nearest acoustic equivalent.

The CM1’s reproduced this album with sharp transients and crisp, transparent treble.  The sound was precise and at ease throughout my listening allowing for clean instrument separation.  Layers of electronica, noises, buzzes, clicks, fuzz, pitch bends, percussion, and perhaps the occasional acoustic instrument came apart for inspection in this complex acoustic tapestry.  Midrange reproduction was full with perhaps the slight bit of emphasis, as previously noted, which if anything added to Yorke’s vocal layers.  Sound staging was solid and centered.  It was both believable and well formed providing localization and envelopment on a wide stage that also had adequate depth.

The title track conveyed many of the CM1’s qualities described above.  Treble was clean at the top end and very precise with case in point being reproduction of cymbals; and yet the sound quality was simultaneously at ease.  I found good instrumental separation that exposed inner parts with background vocals and synthesizer chord fills.  ‘The Clock’ was rendered with sharp percussive transients and excellent detail, particularly in the guitar where different fuzz lines were distinguishable.  There was percussion I would describe as wood blockish that was portrayed with excellent space and depth by the CM1’s suggesting a large listening space.  “Harrow Down Hill’ opens with a tight, picked bass line was well handled by the CM1’s retaining fullness and detail to the point where one could hear the pick on the stings.  Vocals and synthesizer chords had presence in space with an ambient and open sound quality through the CM1’s.  I found the reproduction to be detailed and clean, conveying a sense of envelopment while remaining at ease.

Daniel Lanois: Shine
Perhaps better known as a producer, with album credits including Peter
Gabriel, U2, Bob Dylan, and Emmylou Harris, Daniel Lanois’ 2003 release, ‘Shine’ once again illustrates a composer and guitarist of extraordinary musical talent.  This is a carefully crafted album that places a wide range of elements taken from traditional musical forms into an experimental and atmospheric tapestry.  Lanois’ compositions are layered with melodic lines constructed of multiple instruments that slip in and out of the performance space and wound into a seamless whole.  With good quality reproduction, this recording retains the original musical life and can make a substantial presence in ones listening room.  The CM1’s were able to compliment this recording with all of its nuances.

The sound quality of the CM1’s could again be described as at ease reproducing this album.  Detailed instrumental arrangements were cleanly separated and presented with a high level of resolution.  I found reproduction of vocal and instrumental timbre to have a natural sound that retained fullness and palpability.  Layers of instruments with subtle interrelationships were not lost in the CM1’s ability to convey detail and microdynamics.  Sound staging and localization painted the ever changing array of instruments that moved in and out of the music that were set about the stage.

‘I Love You’ has shifting percussion that had both space and depth using the CM1’s.  The vocals were warm and detailed illustrating the multiple layers present.  Emmylou Harris makes a guest appearance with supporting vocals that are often inseparable except at the choirs, but with the CM1’s she could be heard intertwining with other vocal lines throughout this piece.  This is one of the finer points of reproduction lost on many a speaker.  ‘Sometimes’ had presence, detailing rich vocal parts with natural timbre arrayed around the stage.  Open, detailed treble allowed for instrumental separation of multiple acoustic and slide guitars, vocal layers, and percussion including layers of cymbals and maracas.  Dynamic transitions in this piece were unstressed on these speakers.  Lanois multilayered vocals and guitar in ‘Slow Giving’ were presented as palpable in the room with a wide, coherent sound stage; the level of micro dynamics and detail supporting the illusion.  The layering was rich but still clearly separable into the component parts.  The CM1’s also performed well with dynamic contrast and transitions in this piece.

 

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