|PSB CW800E In-wall Speakers|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers In-wall Loudspeakers|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Wednesday, 01 November 2006|
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You must keep the scope of this review in the proper context. This $2,749 (each) in-wall speaker and $799 (each) subwoofer system were given the very difficult challenge of replacing a $250,000 installed theater, led by a pair of Wilson WATT Puppy version 7 speakers powered with Mark Levinson 436 amps. In terms of price and performance, this is an unfair way to judge in-wall speakers, but I am going to do it nevertheless.
After a solid 200 hours of break-in and thankfully restoring a level of calm and lack of construction to my home, I was able to sit down with my new living room speakers and do some listening. At first it was a few half-hour sessions after work and before dinner with a glass of wine, listening to my new classical guitar playlist. Andrés Segovia has a way of taking some of the edge out of an edgy day. A nice glass of Clos Du Val Napa Valley chardonnay ($15 per bottle) serves to take some of the Diet Coke jitters out of the day’s events as well. Even at low, conversational levels, I was pulled into the music by the CW800E’s ability to resolve details. While my fiancée thinks I am insane (and who would argue with her), you could hear percussive pops on the top of Segovia’s guitar that echoed the resonance of the inside of the instrument. The air around the strings sounded like what you might expect from $10,000 per pair audiophile speakers in the room with all of the trimmings upstream.
Progressing into more dynamic music, I cued up some Bob Marley on my Roots Rock and Reggae playlist. “Could You Be Loved,” from the Legend album, had a beefy electric bass line with the kind of power and extension that I had never heard from in-wall speakers. Marley’s vocals were focused and lively with a bongy raspiness that you should expect to hear on his records, even the more modern recordings. The percussion expanded to widths that were far outside the physical boundaries of the speakers and the backup singers offered smooth layering to the overall mix.
My mellow jazz playlist is, to be polite, a work in progress. Just dumping every John Coltrane tune onto a list makes for some great runs of tunes, shattered by a handful of the most horrible tracks ever. I cued up “Namia” (bonus track version), ripped in a lossless format, from Giant Steps. I would play this track in my living room for anyone in the audio or recording industry, specifically the occasional speaker designers who make their way to my place. Never before in my life have I heard this kind of width and presence from an in-wall speaker. Train was beaming in ways that remind me of what I heard at Sandy Gross’ flat in Manhattan on a tricked-out system with his Mythos speakers and obscure tube amps. Please note that the Mythos were not in-wall speakers. The idea of in-wall subwoofers needs to become more popular. With less than four inches of depth, it’s shocking to hear how resonant the stand-up bass sounds with this system. Decay times on the cymbals were fully believable and the overall system seemed to perform in harmony.
In the event that you might be preparing to leave to run some errands around the neighborhood or perhaps to kick the hell out of some villains, you never know when you need some proper theme music. For this review, I went with the Academy Award-winning “Theme from Shaft” (Mobile Fidelity/Stax – SACD) by Isaac Hayes on SACD. With one of the coolest, funkiest intros in music history, the melodic elements of this song take on a three-dimensionality that you should only expect from a floor-standing speaker. That is, until now. The wah-wah guitar pops from the soundstage. The horns sound bombastic, yet not bloated. The strings are lively, yet not bright. The cymbals are bright, yet not shrill. Before you walk out the front door to conquer the world of its evils, you might just sit down and jam on a music session if you have the PSB CW800E in-walls. The vocals didn’t hold up in terms of balance the way I had heard with the Bob Marley. Perhaps this is a factor in the recording, but the most open the song sounded was in the introduction, with all of the melodic instruments working toward the first verse.