B&W CM Series Speaker System
I can't listen to B&W speakers without thinking about my audio buddy Ralph. Back in 1977, Ralph was a hot young artist rolling in dough. He had just become an audio junkie and picked up an amazing set of B&W's potbellied, time-aligned DM 6s. Sure, they looked kinda funny, but their sound was so good that I developed a bad habit of regularly barging into Ralph's Greenwich Village loft, armed with a bag of take-out Chinese food and a stack of LPs.
Ralph didn't just have a killer system. He also had a sweet poodle, Tilly. Once that old girl was satiated with a few spare ribs, she would sing along—yes, sing along—with some of the tunes. Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True was one of her favorites. She sounded almost human at times, and her sense of pitch was better than that of many singers, but that's another story. Tilly was most inspired by those B&Ws. She barely sang with Ralph's old Advents or any of the speakers that followed the DM 6s. What's this got to do with B&W's new CM Series speaker system? Not much, but this is the first time I've reviewed speakers from the renowned British manufacturer, and I figured Tilly's story needed to be told.
My first impression of the CM Series? Maybe, just maybe, B&W's designers needed a break from their steady diet of iMac- or Beetle-inspired roly-poly aesthetics and went hard-edged '70s retro. Don't get me wrong, I love B&W's curvaceous Nautilus models, but the CM Series' clean, lean look is more—well—speakerlike. Dressed up with their grilles, the CMs are Euro-sharp, but they're decidedly hipper without the grilles: Their satin-finished aluminum baffles, margarine-yellow Kevlar, and aluminum drivers give the design a purposeful aura. It doesn't hurt that the CMs come decked out in a red-rosenut, light-honey-maple, or (if you insist) black-ash veneer. The real-wood finishes are gorgeous. "CM" doesn't stand for "made in China," either. No, the entire system is made in the U.K., where the build-quality standards are exceedingly high.
The CM Series is just three models deep: The CM 4 is the floorstander, the CM 2 is an update of the classic British monitor, and the CM C is (logically enough) a center-channel speaker. All three models share the same 6.5-inch Kevlar midbass driver and 1-inch alloy-dome tweeter. Sharp-eyed readers may have already noticed that a CM's tweeter isn't perched atop the cabinet like B&W's other upscale tweeters. It sits in a softly flared, suede-covered faceplate. Conventional-looking to be sure, but a 3-inch-long tapered tube hidden inside the cabinet absorbs the tweeter's back wave.
The CM 4 is a "2.5-way" design. The aforementioned 6.5-inch Kevlar driver handles midrange duties, and a 6.5-inch aluminum driver pumps out bass. The two drivers are individually loaded by their own compartments and rear-mounted ports, and each is assigned a different crossover point: The metal woofer is over and out by 150 hertz, while the Kevlar driver reaches up to 4 kilohertz. That unusually high mid-to-tweet crossover point runs through most of B&W's line. The engineers claim that this strategy reduces the crossover's parts count and complexity and suppresses the tweeter's fundamental resonance. The 6.5-inch midrange driver is said to have a smooth upper-range response and improved dispersion, thanks to its bullet-shaped dustcap. The CM 4 stands 35.8 inches tall, 7.9 wide, and 11.5 deep and weighs 40 pounds.
The CM C looks like it sports a standard-issue woofer/tweeter/woofer array, but it's also a 2.5-way design. One of its two 6.5-inch Kevlar drivers rolls off at 400 Hz, and the other reaches up to 4 kHz. This arrangement minimizes the lobing effects that you regularly hear from WTW centers. Measuring 18.1 inches wide, 6.9 tall, and 9 deep, the CM C doesn't qualify as a svelte center speaker, but it's not so imposing that it won't be at home sitting atop a 27-inch TV. It weighs 16.5 pounds.
The CM 2 bookshelf model can serve in the front or rear position. This 18.7-pound speaker is fairly compact: It's just 12.8 inches tall, 7.9 wide, and 10.9 deep. Each CM speaker features a dimpled-like-a-golf-ball Flowport and biwiring provisions on its backside. All of the CM models are 8-ohm speakers, but they dip down to 4 ohms or less, so don't partner them with a feeble-powered receiver. The CM C is the only shielded model.