Bowers & Wilkins CM10 Loudspeaker
AT A GLANCE
Precise, lifelike imaging
Intimate vocal sound
Well-defined and satisfying bass
Midrange slightly constricted
One of the best sub-$5K speakers you can buy
Nobody wants to be stuck in the middle. Nobody wants the middle seat in the car or on the plane. Nobody wants to be the middle child, stuck between the more accomplished older sibling and the cuter baby. And hardly anyone wants “good for the money”; we want the best or the cheapest.
The CM speaker line from Bowers & Wilkins is stuck in the middle between the company’s famed 800 Series Diamond high-end line and their relatively affordable 600 Series speakers. The CM Series is a perfectly respectable speaker line, even if it can’t quite match the performance of the 800 Series or the value of the 600 Series. So in order to get its “middle child” a little more attention, B&W has created the new $3,999/pair CM10, a speaker that straddles the gap between the CM Series and the 800 Series.
What’s the CM10 got that the other CMs don’t? The answer is right on top: a tweeter mounted in a separate, tapered enclosure. Getting the tweeter up above the front baffle accomplishes two things. First, it reduces diffraction, or spurious reflections from the sides of the cabinet that interfere with the sound waves coming straight off the tweeter. Second, it allows the sound waves coming off the tweeter to disperse more evenly around the speaker, which should give you a more spacious sound.
Moving the tweeter up also gave B&W room to include a third woofer. Like the ones in the other CM speakers, the CM10’s three 6.5-inch woofers use cones made from a sandwich of Kevlar and paper. Because the materials have different physical properties, they tend to damp each other’s resonances, thus minimizing distortion and sonic coloration. The extra woofer extends the CM10’s rated –3-decibel bass response to 45 hertz, which is 11 Hz lower than the $2,999/pair CM9 can reach. The three woofers vent through a single port on the rear panel. The 6-inch midrange driver uses B&W’s trademark woven Kevlar cone.
You can get the CM10 in rosenut or wenge veneer, or in gloss black. Should you wish to expand a pair of CM10s into a full home theater system, B&W offers the CM Centre and CM Centre 2 speakers, and for the surround channels you could use the CM1 or CM5 bookshelf speakers.
Building the Towers
The CM10 comes out of the box almost ready to play. All you have to do is attach a flat rectangular plinth to the bottom of each speaker with four screws, then thread either the floor spikes or the rubber feet (both included) into the bottom of the plinth.
Once I had the pair of CM10s assembled, I connected them to my Krell S-300i integrated amp. For my evaluation, I played records on a Pro-Ject RM-1.3 turntable through an NAD PP-3 phono preamp. I used a Musical Fidelity V90-DAC digital-to-analog converter to play music files from my laptop, as well as Blu-ray Discs, CDs, and Amazon Instant Video streams from my Panasonic DMP-BDT350 Blu-ray player.
My first guess at speaker placement turned out to be dead-on. I started, as usual, with the speakers toed in straight at my listening chair; their tonal balance and soundstaging were just right this way, so I didn’t experiment with other toe-in angles. Likewise, my usual initial placement, with the backs of the speakers 30 inches from the wall behind them, gave me a just-right amount of bass reinforcement. Pushing them closer made the bass sound a tad bloated in my room.
B&W supplies flimsy, plastic-framed fabric grilles that attach magnetically, but you’ll probably want to use these only when badly behaved kids are around. The grilles have only a slight effect on the sonics, but they obscure the speakers’ most visually interesting parts. You can remove the metal grille that covers the tweeter, but this leaves the naked tweeter dome completely exposed and just begging to get dented when you brush up against it. I found the tweeter grille’s effect on the sound negligible, so I put the grille back on and never again removed it.
Plug ’n’ Play
There’s a lot to be said for a speaker that sounds great without a lot of fuss, and the CM10 fits the bill. I didn’t suffer through “Well, it sounds great if you angle it just right,” or “Well, it sounds great with this type of music but not that type,” etc., etc., etc. From the first minute of my testing to the last, the CM10 was lots of fun to listen to, no matter what I played through it.