Speaker-Roundup Rodeo Cambridge SoundWorks System II

Cambridge SoundWorks System II

Commonly referred to as the Tower series, the Cambridge SoundWorks System II represents a fantastic offering for the budget- and performance-minded. When it comes to cosmetic appeal, Cambridge has never been known for offering anything that would be considered sexy, and such is the case with the Tower II main L/R. Using a rather simplistic rear-ported, rectangular tower design, each of the main L/Rs is built very well and has a 1-inch soft-dome plate tweeter, a 5 1/4-inch polypropylene midrange, and a pair of 8-inch polypropylene woofers. The back of the Tower II features binding posts for optimum connectivity. The enclosure is built rather stoutly for a speaker at this price point.

My first impression of the CenterStage center-channel speaker was that of puzzlement. The speaker is rather wide, yet it has a height of 6 1/4 inches, making for a very short profile. It seems as though it would be the perfect candidate to stand a 30-inch-or-smaller TV on, but it's not deep enough. I'm not sure of many TV stands that would have the space to accommodate the wide center, leaving set-top placement as the only option.

The CenterStage features a single 1-inch soft-dome plate tweeter flanked by two 5 1/4-inch polypropylene mids. There are two small, frontward-firing ports on the front of the center. The rear panel features binding posts for connectivity.

The Surround II 5.1 surround speakers were a bit disappointing in comparison with the other speakers in the System II. Here, Cambridge chose to use a pair of very small dipolar "cubes." The build quality of each speaker is on par with the rest of the System II, but I question the effectiveness of such a small speaker for rear-channel effects.

Each Surround II 5.1 is constructed of sturdy polymer material, with metal grilles. The speakers do have a threaded insert for mounting purposes (which is very useful for surrounds), and there are clips for speaker connection. The textured material of the Surround II 5.1 begs to be painted a color that matches your interior.

Wrapping up the low end of the System II is the BassCube 10 subwoofer. Again, don't expect any sexy body lines to blow wind up your skirt here. A simple square design with a 70-watt amplifier is used. The sealed enclosure utilizes a 10-inch woofer in a downward-firing application.

The sub's rear panel has all the features you'd need to integrate it into your theater. Both high- and low-level ins/outs, variable crossover, and gain control offer complete system flexibility, allowing you to match the BassCube 10 to your listening requirements.

After setting up and inspecting the ensemble, it was time to hear how the Cambridge SoundWorks System II performs. I inserted my Eagles Hell Freezes Over DVD into my player and began the music evaluation. There was nothing that immediately caught my attention about the sound quality. I was, however, very impressed with the musical performance of this ensemble. In two-channel mode (stereo), the towers, in particular, sounded very dynamic. I turned off the BassCube 10 subwoofer for an untainted evaluation, and these speakers were able to stand on their own merit. The imaging and soundstaging were wide, open, and very flat-sounding overall.

In 5.1 music mode, the center channel was my favorite of the ensemble, producing big sound and clear, natural vocals. It didn't break up at high volume levels.

The Surround II 5.1 dipolar rears seemed to get lost in our large listening room. I understand that they were probably designed for a room only half the size of our studio, but I'd definitely note them as the weak point of this ensemble.

The BassCube 10 handled the guitars' bass notes seamlessly, with very little loss in tonal quality while transitioning between various frequencies. This may have been masked slightly by the Tower IIs' bass drivers and flat output. Overall, though, it's a very well-matched system.

Next, I popped in my Men in Black DVD for a theater performance evaluation. Here, the System II really came alive and almost took on completely different characteristics than in the music evaluation.

The Tower IIs remained consistent in that they delivered a rock-solid performance. Surprisingly, the Surround II 5.1s seemed to come alive and performed quite well; rear-channel effects were very ambient and effectively presented. They did, however, have a difficult time keeping up with the lower frequencies at times.

The CenterStage center-channel speaker remained my favorite speaker in the ensemble, despite my initial impression of its design. Dialogue was clear and uncolored, and it never appeared as though the speaker was losing its grip on the action.

The BassCube 10 was able to belt out some incredibly low frequencies during a few scenes and made my pant leg shake more than once.

Overall, the Cambridge System II is an excellent buy for under $2,000. In fact, I had to double-check the price a few times. And, if you're not quite sure about the longevity of a $2K speaker ensemble, Cambridge backs up their package with an unheard-of 10-year warranty.

HT Labs Measures: Cambridge SoundWorks System II

This graph shows the quasi-anechoic (employing close-miking of all woofers) frequency response of the System II's main Tower II (top trace), BassCube 10 subwoofer (upper-left trace), CenterStage center channel (middle trace), and Surround II 5.1 surround channel (lower trace). All passive loudspeakers were measured at a distance of 1 meter with a 2.83-volt input and scaled for display purposes.

On-axis response of the Tower II L/R measures +3.1/-5.2 decibels from 200 hertz to 10 kilohertz. The -3dB point is at 49 Hz, and the -6dB point is at 39 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 3.17 ohms at 203 Hz and a phase angle of -59.68 degrees at 67 Hz. Sensitivity is 89 dB from 600 Hz to 2 kHz.

On-axis response of the CenterStage center measures +2.2/-3.7 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The -3dB point is at 55 Hz, and the -6dB point is at 49 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 4.4 ohms at 241 Hz and a phase angle of -67.38 degrees at 111 Hz. Sensitivity is 89 dB from 600 Hz to 2 kHz.

In-room averaged response of the Surround II 5.1 surround in dipole mode measures +3.9/-4.7 dB from 200 Hz to 20 kHz. The -3dB point is at 132 Hz, and the -6dB point is at 117 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 6.86 ohms at 100 Hz and a phase angle of -43.85 degrees at 82 Hz.

Close-miked response of the BassCube 10 subwoofer, normalized to the average level from 40 Hz to 80 Hz, indicates the lower -3dB point is at 38 Hz and the -6dB point is at 34 Hz. The upper -3dB point is at 133 Hz.—AJ