B&W CDM NT Series Speaker System

A commanding performance from a well-disciplined pupil.

Over thirty years ago, B&W Loudspeakers set out to build a speaker that would set the standard in sound and build quality, a speaker that other companies would strive for years to keep up with. Today, there is little doubt that B&W's goal was achieved. In fact, the designs of yesterday were so successful that 80 percent of all classical recordings are monitored using B&W loudspeakers.

There are a handful of designs in today's loudspeaker arena that automatically identify the maker. Who doesn't think of B&W when they see the Cycloptic tweeter looking awkwardly out of place on top of an otherwise-conventional tower design? Over the years, this tweeter application has become a trademark for B&W and has steadily been working its way down the chain from the company's highest-end offerings to their desktop monitors.

The CDM NT Series loudspeakers represent the marriage of B&W's CDM SE Series and their infamous Nautilus Series—incorporating the superb tonal qualities of both and the outstanding value of the SE Series. After unpacking the CDM 7NT towers, CDM CNT center, CDM 1NT surrounds, and ASW 2500 subwoofer, I studied them closely. Right away, I was impressed by the build quality and attention to detail on the assembly of the transducers themselves. Each cabinet is finished in a real-wood veneer that complements the sex appeal and character of the timeless design.

I'll begin with the CDM 7NT tower. On the swept-back top of the tower is a 1-inch tube-loaded alloy-dome tweeter. The tube behind the tweeter diaphragm helps to absorb unwanted radiation from the rear of the diaphragm. The result is a very precise and well-focused high-frequency sound. (This tweeter application is also used in the center and surround models.) The woven 6.5-inch Kevlar midrange and the bullet cone that appears where a dustcap usually resides are also familiar faces in the B&W family. The cone acts as a dispersion modifier and helps prevent reflected waves, which can cause coloration in conventional cone materials. The 6.5-inch woofer also has an unconventional look, thanks to a large mushroom dustcap that's bonded directly to the voice coil. The idea is that, with the dustcap bonded to the voice coil, it will not only be more rigid, but it will allow for more-dynamic bass output at higher volume levels. This woofer design ultimately proved to be my favorite part of the ensemble.

Measuring only 37.4 inches high, nearly 9 inches wide, and a little over 11 inches deep, the CDM 7NT is a very unassuming loudspeaker, but I found that it was at a perfect height for on-axis response. Moving right along, the dimpled surfaces of the single front-firing and the single rear-firing B&W Flowports replicate the surface of a golf ball—airflow inside the port is improved by the turbulent eddies on the surface, therefore reducing "chuffing" noises. Even though I completely understand this principle, I still can't drive a golf ball to save my life . . . but I can sure drive a speaker to the point of chuffing.

The CDM CNT center-channel speaker is an example of exceptional, yet simple, engineering: Take a good design and stay with it. Here again, the special 1-inch alloy-dome tweeter paired with the 6.5-inch Kevlar midrange proved to be an outstanding combination during the evaluation. Two front-firing Flowports allow for a low-enough frequency response to close the gap between the sub and the onscreen action.

There are two options available for the surrounds in the CDM lineup: the 1NT and the SNT. The 1NT can also function as the main L/R and center if your budget doesn't allow for the more-costly 7NT towers. I chose the 1NTs as the surrounds for my evaluation simply because I wanted to remain consistent in regards to the tweeter/midrange array and I wanted to utilize the stands in a freestanding environment, versus the side- or rear-mounted SNT models, which use a flush-mounted 1-inch alloy tweeter. The 1NT looks more like a bookshelf speaker than a surround or satellite and offers the same speaker array as the CNT center. Here, a single Flowport is implemented along with the 1-inch alloy tweeter and 6.5-inch Kevlar midrange.

Anchoring the system is the latest addition to the B&W subwoofer family—the ASW 2500. This represents a rare departure for B&W, as the ASW 2500 is the first design with a heavy-mass 10-inch long-throw woofer, a small sealed enclosure, and an extremely high-powered amplifier (peaking at 1 kilowatt!). With a footprint measuring 12.5 inches wide and nearly 16 inches deep, the ASW 2500 is designed to deliver quite a punch. The back panel features all the bells and whistles you'll need for integration into a system, and this sub utilizes the most impressive amplifier I've seen in its class. The internally mounted 700-watt continuous-power amplifier meets any demand a theater might throw its way. I wondered if moving this 52-pound bugger up the stairs of my condo would prove to be worth the hassle or if my neighbors would soon have me evicted.

The motto I've always preached is, "Every speaker has its day in Clint's court." Indeed. And the B&W ensemble seemed anxious to begin proceedings. I first enjoyed a round of two-channel listening, with a glass of wine in one hand and my notepad in the other. I began with a compilation of classical selections, including a Sheffield Laboratories disc with my favorite Mozart and Chopin recordings. Overall, I found the instruments much more enjoyable without the ASW 2500 subwoofer, which seemed to overexaggerate the bass tones. The small 6.5-inch mushroom-cone woofer on the 7NT was an excellent speaker in and of itself. The system got high scores in the two-channel demo because of its flat frequency response and highs with near-perfect pitch. Still, the best was yet to come.

I was so thrilled by the first session that I continued on with the two-channel evaluation. This time, I inserted another relaxing favorite: George Winston's December. Again, the 7NT proved to be worth its weight in gold. Exceptional timing alignment between each speaker produced a remarkable performance. I'm sure even Mr. Winston himself might add, "That guy is good." Asking my wife to step into the room for a listen was like handing her a bouquet of flowers "just because." It's rare that I get excited enough about a speaker to call my wife in. In fact, I never have.

Cuing up DVDs for the cinema audition left me with an overwhelming feeling of guilt. I felt like a father asking his delicate young daughter to go play tackle football in the street. How could I abuse such wonderful speakers? It was difficult for me to come to terms with the fact that I did not own the speakers and that, at the end of the day, it's my job to break stuff, should I need to. With second thoughts dancing through my head, I dropped in my Men in Black DVD and sank slowly into my seat. Suddenly, my "delicate young daughter" was battered and bruised—playing middle linebacker and pointing at the quarterback, "You're next!" Fourth and goal . . . well, you get the picture. The B&W system put on its game face and demanded victory.

Pushing the CDM NT ensemble with an Earthquake Cinenova Grande amplifier (rated at 250 watts by five channels) through a B&K Reference 30 pre/pro proved to be a perfect combination for the set. The dialogue was crisp and clear without being too bright. Spoken words became a testament to the 30 years of engineering that came before this audition. Each word was perfect, each without flaw. The transducers in each cabinet worked harmoniously, and my theater-evaluating world seemed to stand still. Without a concern for the environment or culture, the ASW 2500 subwoofer entered each scene in a manner so complete and so profound that I felt as though Will Smith himself would surely land in my listening room.

It's speaker ensembles like the B&W CDM NT system that make me repeat the phrase "I get paid for this" over and over in my head while an ear-to-ear grin wrinkles my face. In the end, I guess my wife summed it up best by asking me, "Can we keep these?"

• Outstanding two-channel and 5.1-channel performance
• Beautiful fit and finish
• Astounding subwoofer

CDM NT Series
CDM 7NT $2,000/pair, CDM CNT Center $600, CDM 1NT Surround $1,200/pair, ASW 2500 Sub $1,400
Dealer Locator Code B&W
(978) 664-2870