Bowers & Wilkins CM6 S2 Speaker System

Bowers & Wilkins CM6 S2 Speaker System
Build Quality

Bowers & Wilkins ASW10 CM S2 Subwoofer
Build Quality
PRICE Price: $5,850 (CM6 S2, $1,000 each; CM Centre 2 S2, $1,250 each; CM1 S2, $550 each; ASW10 CM S2, $1,500)

Exceptional tonal balance
Superb sub/sat integration
Impressive bass extension from compact sub
Lovely design and finish

No dipole/bipole surround option

Highly neutral and free of obvious coloration, invitingly listenable, and beautiful, the B&W CM S2s wear their substantial prices fairly.

B&W should need little introduction in these pages. The British loudspeaker—maker has been a force in serious audio repro practically since Noah’s flood (1965, actually), and here in the States have for two decades and more occupied an enviable market position straddling the highest of high-end to the almost-popularly-priced. So when a new generation of B&Ws take the stage, the audio world tends to pay attention, as we are doing here with the firm’s latest iteration of its next-most-affordable CM range. Named with typical British phlegm the CM S2, the new designs highlight a dozen or so interesting engineering refinements in driver, crossover, and cabinet designs (in particular a new “dual-dome” aluminum tweeter diaphragm claimed to push its resonance a half-octave or so higher, and thus extending its smooth reproducing range), but in typical B&W fashion show comparatively little in the way of visible changes.

Of that little, the most obvious is the “tweeter-on-top” arrangement of the CM6 S2, a new addition that becomes the refreshed lineup’s top bookshelf/stand model, which serves as the main L/R pair in our review suite (the “bullet tweeter” was previously found only on the older range’s top floorstanding model). Other distinctions include new flush-mount driver-mounting systems that show no visible fasteners, a new woofer center-plug that is said to help damp resonances, and the addition of a Satin White finish to complement Gloss Black and Rosenut wood veneer (actually walnut with a rosewood finish, which may be why, come to think of it, I’ve never seen a rosenut tree).

Setting up the S2s was nothing more challenging than the usual matter of unboxing and hooking up in my normal positions: CM6 S2 mains on heavy stands flanking my 52-inch screen, massive CM Centre 2 S2 on a low stand bringing it to just below the set’s bottom edge, and ASW10 CM S2 sub in my well-established woofer position to the right and behind the front-right speaker. The CM1 S2 surrounds, smaller two-ways with conventional tweeter location, went as usual on high shelves flanking the listening position. Since all five speakers were of similar size and shape to my everyday units, transition was simple. With the B&Ws up and running, I forgot about them for a week or so of casual break-in.

Well, I tried to forget about them, but I kept returning to admire their high standard of finish and understated Euro industrial design. B&W sent our system in the new white, a semi-gloss satin lacquer with mouse-gray fine-weave grilles I found simply stunning. (I’ve always been a sucker for white speakers: My very first “real” ones were a pair of well-used but still white Braun 710s.) The new B&Ws’ grilles magically position themselves through invisible magnetic attraction, but one look at the speakers “naked”—which is how I auditioned them—convinced me that their industrial designer clearly meant them to be viewed au naturel at least as much. If I had the decor where this kind of thing would look good, as opposed to an endlessly shifting jumble of AV components, speakers, cables, motorcycle parts, guitars, and amplifiers), these B&Ws are exactly the sort of good-looking things I would want.

Classic B&W
So much for the eye candy; what about the ear candy? My initial impressions of the CM6 S2s, auditioned as a full-range stereo pair (as I always begin), seemed to confirm my expectations of the B&W “sound,” managing warm and full without the least sacrifice in definition, treble finesse, or airy depth. A typically audiophile production like a piano-trio version of “Giant Steps” from a Linn Records sampler download (FLAC) sounded gloriously open and airy. Close-miked piano reveals a lot with close listening, but the CM6 S2s showed me nothing except clear, convincing tonalities and powerful, clean dynamics, so that accented high notes pinged out with utter lucidness. Like most B&Ws, the CM6 S2s retain that hint of inviting warmth, but without even vestigial midbass emphasis or any of the droning, “hoo-sounding” characteristic in the lower midrange.

Even in full-range stereo mode, the C6 S2s absorbed all 150 watts per channel I have on tap (plus 2 to 3 decibels of dynamic headroom) with perfect grace: I could play this track at edge-of-the-stage levels with no sacrifice in smooth, balanced sound. The CM6 S2s easily reproduced the string bass’ lowest notes (probably about 45 hertz on this track, which is in B-flat), if not with technically undiminished response, then with something so close to it that I noticed no loss whatsoever. Interestingly, the B&Ws sounded perfectly happy just 32 inches or so out from the wall (measured to the front baffle), which is a good foot or so less than many stand-mount designs seem to like in my room. B&W supplies foam “bungs” that allow you to modify the speakers’ response by restricting port output: a full plug for strongest mid-bass/least extension, and a concentric partial one said to dial in a half-measure; I left them unbunged entirely, because the CM6 S2s’ lowest range sounded perfect to me just as it was. I tend to favor unexaggerated, tightly controlled bottom octaves—what the ’philes call “tuneful bass.”

After reaching these conclusions I set about comparing the C6 S2s to my long-term (and long discontinued) Energy Veritas monitors. I’m a great believer in carefully level-matched comparison among loudspeakers, the one practicable A-B we can easily manage. The result was gratifyingly close to my expectations from having auditioned the B&Ws alone—not always the case! Through the critical midrange/vocal octaves the two matched almost perfectly, with the C6 S2s sounding just barely richer in the James Taylor octave, and the Energys just barely-barely brighter, or perhaps sharper, on next-to-top-octave “tizz” elements like cymbals or acoustic-guitar plucks. Otherwise, it was a case of “pick ‘em,” which I consider high praise: Like the Energys, the C6 S2s are a superb demonstrator of meticulous octave-to-octave balance.

Bowers & Wilkins
(978) 664 2870

dank's picture

Why weren't there any measurements for the B&W's? Measurements of B&W's in the past reveal that they are not neutral speakers.

Rob Sabin's picture
Apologies to our readers for not having these to immediately accompany the review. To insure a timely post on this brand new system that was released Sept. 1, we posted early while the speakers were making their way from Dan Kumin's studio in New Hampshire to our west coast lab. We expect to add them soon.
Bob Ankosko's picture
Apologies for the delay. Test Bench measurements have been added. B&W CM 6 S2 Test Bench.