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Bowers & Wilkins CM4 Loudspeakers Print E-mail
Monday, 01 October 2001
Article Index
Bowers & Wilkins CM4 Loudspeakers
Page 2
The Music
The majority of my listening was with the CM4s and the Krell integrated amp. I also spent some time with the smaller CM2s, as well as utilizing the MC602 amplifier driven by the Krell’s preamp section. While using the smaller CM2s, I also used the Sunfire Jr. subwoofer, employing the CM4s in a stand-alone configuration. I found the sonic qualities of the CM2s and CM4s to be very similar to each other from the midrange up.

The B&Ws were slightly relaxed, with a very liquid midrange. The depth of the bass astounded me, given the cabinet’s small appearance. I found the highs to be very smooth, without a hint of harshness at any volume. During my listening sessions with the B&Ws, I used much of the same material as with my review of the Krell 300iL integrated amplifier.

The bass performance was solid and detailed throughout my listening sessions. I noted that, in general and especially with the bass, the Krell amplifier was a bit more analytical in quality than the McIntosh Labs MC602 amplifier. I began with Holly Cole’s "Train Song" from the It Happened One Night (Metro Blue) album. The acoustic bass is very low and detailed. The smaller CM2s had problems with this track at high volumes, but the CM4s were able to play extremely loud without bottoming out. I continued to evaluate the low-end performance of the B&Ws with Crystal Method’s "Busy Child" off of their Vegas (Outpost Recordings) album. "Busy Child" prominently features a fast, sharp and deep synthesizer line throughout the track. The B&Ws were able to reproduce this bass line without any significant delay or smearing. The attack remained fast and the decay clean. I was able to easily differentiate between the notes. To downplay the effect of a fantastic front end and resolute electronics on this system set-up would be an oversight, especially considering that many of these speakers will be configured with a high-powered AV preamp or receiver. A receiver shouldn’t be a problem, but with any good speaker, the better the amplification and front end get, the more real and exciting the music sounds.

At first, I was a bit anxious about the CM’s ability to portray an accurate soundstage. My concern was based solely on the low elevation of the tweeter, as past experience has demonstrated that speakers with low tweeters generally have a vertically compressed soundstage. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the vertical dispersion characteristics of the drivers have greatly reduced this phenomenon. The soundstage as a whole was solid, with great depth and good width extending out beyond the boundaries of the cabinets.

The CM4s handled male vocals extremely well. I was particularly impressed while listening to Nat King Cole’s Love Is The Thing album (Capitol/DCC). From the first track, "When I Fall In Love," it was immediately apparent that the B&Ws would have no problem in musically bringing Nat back to life in my listening room. This ability with male vocals was also notable on other albums, such as Robbie Roberton’s epononymously titled album (Mobile Fidelity), which features both Robertson and U2’s Bono on vocals. While the CM4’s performance on female vocals was more than competent, it didn’t grab me quite the way its performance with male vocals did.

I utilized two of my favorite albums, Robertson’s self-titled release and Bill Berry’s For Duke (Realtime Records), for evaluating soundstaging. Both albums produced deep and wide soundstages. The For Duke album was on a more intimate level, while Robertson album was on a larger scale, with a greater dynamic range as well. The B&Ws had no problems with either setting, small and intimate or large and dynamic. The B&W’s imaging was not as exact as the electrostatic speakers I have recently had in my system.

The Downside
My complaints about the CM4 are fairly limited and do not involve sonically intrusive items. The CM series gives the listener a taste of a truly high-end system, but they don’t quite go all the way. Looking back at my listening notes, the CM4 performed very well across the board, often nearly as good as a speaker costing as much as twice the sticker price here, yet there were instances when the speaker did not quite match the highest standards imaging and transparency reserved for the most expensive high performance speakers.

I believe the imaging and female vocal performance may be related to a very slight vagueness in the upper midrange. This is just enough to prevent the rock-solid imaging that I have heard in B&W’s top-of-the-line Nautilus speakers. The speakers handle the remainder of the frequency range so well that this otherwise good midrange became noticeable.

The new B&W CM line, and the CM4s in particular, offer great performance at their price point. They have a well-executed, aesthetically pleasing design, capable of providing a sonic performance that you would expect to come at a much higher price. The ultimate lack of detail and transparency as described above will most likely not be noticed in a system of components priced in the range of the CMs. It would take spectacularly resolute and amazingly expensive electronics to see this. The CM4 does a lot more than its simple clean appearance would indicate, and what it does, it does very well.

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