Boston Acoustics CS 226 loudspeakers & 10Wi Subwoofer Review 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Todd Whitesel   
Tuesday, 10 August 2010

There are certain names in the speaker business that it seems like everyone knows.  Boston Acoustics is one such name. The company has been building speakers since 1979 but hasn't forgotten its two-channel “stereo” roots. But even a dedicated two-channel guy like myself has come to appreciate the home theater experience, so I split the difference for this review and asked Boston Acoustics for a traditional pair of floorstanding loudspeakers along with a subwoofer. I received a pair of BA's CS (Classic Series) 226 floorstanders ($229.99/each) in tandem with the company's 10Wi wireless-ready subwoofer ($499.99) I've found that nearly every loudspeaker benefits from having a bass-focused brother on the floor, and this 2.1 setup was no exception.

CS 226 Specs


The CS 226's are 2-way, rear-ported speakers sporting a pair of 6&1/2-inch woofers and a single 1-inch tweeter. The woofers are graphite injected polymer and employ Boston's proprietary DCD (Deep Channel Design), engineered to produce fuller bass from lower amp power. To bring out the highs, Boston uses soft dome tweeters constructed from Kortec. One side of the tweeter is treated with a stiffening agent for fast signal response; the other side is untreated and functions partially to dampen vibrations and ensure smooth sound. The 226s are moderately sensitive at 89dB and work with a variety of power sources, with a recommended range of 15 to 250 watts. Frequency response is a respectable 46Hz to 25kHz. Another reviewer astutely pointed out that frequency response has no bearing on how a speaker will actually sound; rather, it's  more of a benchmark of where it will perform. It's why no two speakers-even those with the same frequency range-sound alike.

Finishing Touches


The CS 226s are offered in either black walnut or cherry vinyl finish (mine were cherry). The speakers stand just shy of 38 inches tall and measure 8&1/4-inches wide and 10&3/8-inches deep. A pair of plastic feet bearing hard rubber discs are attached to the sides of each speaker. The discs provide support and keep the speakers from moving on wood floors. Connections are made via 5-way gold-plated binding posts, which support single or dual banana plugs, pins, spades and bare wire up to 10 gauge. My speaker cables are terminated with single bananas, which formed a tight lock with the posts. The 226s feature removable grilles, and like in all my reviews the grilles come off when I listen.

CPS 10Wi Specs


BA 10WiThe CPS 10Wi is a stout 40-pound sub with a 300-watt RMS amplifier capable of peaks up to 650 watts. The high-output, front-firing, front-ported sub also employs Boston's Deep Channel Design for better bass response at lower amplifier power and features BassTrac circuitry, engineered for “tight, distortion-free bass at all output levels.” If you want to go wireless with the 10Wi, Boston makes it easy with its WT 50 Wireless Transmitter. Simply connect the transmitter to a receiver's subwoofer jack and plug the transmitter in. The 2.4GHz makes it possible to play wirelessly up to 50 feet away. Otherwise, you can connect directly to a receiver's Sub Out jack or a preamp out on either a receiver or amplifier. Like the CS 226s, the CPS 10Wi is available in black walnut vinyl or cherry vinyl finish.

First Impressions & Setup

I was immediately struck by the finish of the CS 226s. When I hear “vinyl,” the first thing that comes to mind is “seam-y” wrapping that's bound to be peeling somewhere. That's not the case here. The 226s have a resilient and seamless finish that emulates a real wood look (the cabinets are actually built of MDF), and at 33 pounds each, the 226s feel like real speakers. As well, the CPS 10Wi is a beefy boy whose design and finish would be at home in nearly any setting.

My setup with the 226s and 10Wi is probably unusual compared to how most consumers would use the three speakers, but it worked well for me. I connected the trio to a two-channel integrated amplifier (Pathos Logos, a review of which will be forthcoming here). The 226s went to the standard right/left channel, while I hooked the sub to the amp's pre-out. The Logos is an A/B design that produces 110 watts into 8 ohms. What I found is that the amp could easily drive the speakers to listenable levels at very low volumes, yet hold nothing back in a recording. This speaks surely to the amp's own abilities but also tells me that the 226s can shine brightly given enough juice. This 89Db speaker operated like a speaker with greater sensitivity. That's good news if you struggle to listen in an apartment or other setting where keeping the neighbors happy is a must.


Listening

One of the cool things about a loudspeaker pair teamed with a sub is that it's easy to turn the sub on and off and listen for differences. Unlike the multi-channel mixes so common in today's films, the overwhelming majority of music releases are two channel. In those cases, the sub isn't there for the “.1” LFE channel reproduction but for lower frequency level production. The first time I used a subwoofer, I assumed there would be a recognizable “separation” between the main stereo speakers and the sub to the point where it would be too dimensionally disparate for enjoyable listening. I was wrong. The keys are proper sub placement and fine-tuning the volume and crossover. For my listening space, I set the sub approximately 1 foot out and 45 degrees from the side wall and about 3 feet from the back wall. I then positioned it roughly parallel to and 2 feet  apart from the right channel CS 226. I found my “default” sub setting where the volume was at about 40% and the crossover at around 50Hz. That gave me plenty of weight and presence without unnatural bursts of bottom end.

Black FinishMy 18-year-old nephew moved to my town this summer and brought with him a teenager's enthusiasm for music. Through him, I found myself going back to The Beastie Boys and the magnificent Check Your Head. This album is a grooves picnic, and I reveled in the crunchy and impossibly catchy retro groove of “So What'cha Want” and rump-shaking thump of “Funky Boss.” These are tunes that scream for a subwoofer, and the 10Wi delivers articulate and powerful bass that complements the output of the CS 226s. There's a lot going on in the Beastie's music and keeping it together is a task for any speaker, but the CS 226s do a nice job of presenting everything from vintage organ and drum samples to the melange of vocals and other sounds that pervade these recordings. The 226s also have an easy-going naturalness and a hint of warmth that makes them very listenable.

Going back nearly 20 years earlier to 1970 and The Who's Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival performances showcases equally cantankerous performances. The whirlwind of drum sticks that was Keith Moon was in full spin along with his bandmates arguably at the peak of their game. Whereas the Beasties couldn't be contained by society's norms, The Who couldn't be contained by most PA systems. The raw and destructive energy the foursome brought to covers such as “Young Man Blues,”  “Shakin' All Over” and “Summertime Blues” is still the standard for rock and roll. The wild flights of noise can be both exhilarating and exhausting, but I found the BA trio kept the ball in the former court, with good balance between Roger Daltrey's husky vocals, Pete Townshend's power chords and John Entwistle's snake-like bass runs-yet another reason for a subwoofer!

Staying in the subterranean world of bass, that brings me to Black Sabbath and the band's self-titled debut album. Strip away the banshee-like operatics of Ozzy and the doom-laden guitar riffs of Tony Iommi, and you'll find an incredibly musical underbelly thanks to Geezer Butler's bass ventures. But for that pure Sabbath sound, check out “N.I.B” with its ominous four-string warbles that portend the song proper. Listen sans sub and then with it; the difference is like a punter and Charles Bronson. One kicks football, the other kicks... well, you know what.
 
Final Thoughts

The CS 226s and CPS 10Wi were my first taste of Boston Acoustics in several decades. A classic made current and a current made very well. Either speaker can stand proudly on its own, but together make three of a perfect pair-and at a very fair price. You get excellent sound and excellent value. If you're still on the fence and need a final reason to leap off, Boston Acoustics makes it totally risk-free to audition any these or any of its speakers. You get a 30-day in-home trial, as well as free shipping and free return shipping, should that be necessary.

System Setup

  • Boston Acoustics CS 226 floorstanding loudspeakers
  • Boston Acoustics CPS 10Wi wireless-ready subwoofer
  • Pathos Logos integrated amplifier
  • Emotiva ERC-1 CD player
  • Pro-Ject Audio RPM 5.1 turntable with Sumiko Blue Point No. 2 MC cartridge
  • Better Cables Premium Anniversary Edition Speaker Cables (3 meter/bananas)  
  • Better Cables Silver Serpent Anniversary Edition Interconnects (1 meter pair)
  • Parasound Zphono phono preamplifier





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