It didn't take me long to realize that this wasn't going to be your normal product review. Not because the product, Bowers & Wilkins' new CT 700 series loudspeaker, is either bad or wholly unique, but because, unlike other traditional speaker reviews, I didn't use the CT 700s to simply play back audio. Instead, I used them to make and mix audio. Allow me to explain. I was in the middle of postproduction on my first feature film, April Showers, and my sound team and I were having a difficult time with our studio monitors. Our monitors were designed and built by a very reputable company and are found in countless recording studios and mixing stages around the world. However, every time the sound team would burn off a mix for me to take home and listen to in my theater, something was getting lost in the translation from studio to home. When we compensated and began mixing for my home theater, the studio sound became unbearable and vice-versa. It was frustrating, to say the least, and at times nerve-wracking, for sound is half the picture when it comes to movies.
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From that moment, I began scouring the audiophile speaker scene in search of a loudspeaker that was tailored to bridging the gap between theatrical speakers and home theater. I looked at a number of offerings from many top-flight brands before settling on the CT 700 Series from Bowers & Wilkins. The CT series consists of three monitor-like speakers that can serve as LCRs in a 5.1 or 7.1 configuration, rounded out by two different subwoofers. These proved to provide the ultimate balance between theatrical monitors and home theater speakers, as they exhibit the positive traits of each with few of the drawbacks. Additionally, unlike the CT 800 Series, which are modeled after the 802Ds, the CT 700 Series fit nicely into our budget.
I placed a call to Bowers and Wilkins and ordered up a 5.1 system that consisted of three of their largest LCRs, the CT7.3 ($1,500 each) and two CT7.5s ($600 each), mated to a single CT SW12 ($1,000) subwoofer, powered by an outboard or rack-mounted 1,000-watt external amplifier ($1,500). The CT7.3s feature dual eight-inch paper/Kevlar bass drivers with a single seven-inch Kevlar midrange mated to a single one-inch Nautilus tube-loaded tweeter. The CT7.3 boasts a frequency response of 42Hz-22kHz/28 kHz, depending on various setup options. The CT7.3 has a sensitivity rating of 92dB into a stable eight-ohm load. The CT7.5s, which I used as the rear speakers, feature the same drivers as their larger siblings, but lack the dual bass drivers. Instead, the CT7.5 has a single seven-inch midrange driver, mated to a single tweeter. The CT7.5 has a reported frequency response of 55Hz-22kHz with the same sensitivity and impedance as its larger brother. All of the CT Series are finished in matte black, similar to many studio monitors out there today, and feature magnetic grilles, though the CT Series was designed to be installed into custom cabinetry or behind a screen/fabric wall. All of the LCR speakers in the CT 700 series feature single-wire connectivity capable of accepting bare banana and spade-terminated wire.
The CT SW12 is the largest sub in the CT 700 product range, with its 12-inch paper/Kevlar composite driver. The CT SW12 is powered by a 1,000-watt Class D outboard amplifier that is about the size of a traditional two-channel amp and sits nicely in a rack or cabinet, with all of the bass controls mounted on the face for easy room tuning and control. The nice thing about the SA 1000 amplifier is that it can power two CT SW subwoofers down to 16Hz simultaneously, which speaks to the CT Series' versatility and value. Like the CT LCRs, the CT SW12 is finished in the same matte black and features single-wire connection that allows it to be connected to the SA 1000 via a single run of speaker wire, which is more cost-effective than purchasing a twenty or thirty-foot run of LFE or subwoofer cable.
I installed the CT 700 Series in our newly-outfitted studio, with each of the CT7.3's tweeters resting at ear level and the smaller CT 7.5s doing the same in the rear. Due to their substantial weight and girth, all of the speakers were placed on stands that were custom-built to give them the surest footing and keep them at the right height. The CT SW12 was positioned just left of center, between the center and left front speaker, which proved to be the optimum placement for proper bass in our studio. We use Outlaw Audio amplifiers in our studio and the entire system, speakers and electronics, was wired using Transparent Reference cable.
As for source material, we fed our Integra DTC 9.8 processor raw files straight out of ProTools via a Mac Pro, or sent the signal straight from the mixing board to the amps, depending on what environment we were trying to simulate. The whole system was able to be installed in less than a day and was run in for several days before we began our listening tests and mix-down.
Prior to beginning our final mix, my sound designer, along with our composer, got some face time with the sound gurus behind The Dark Knight, which included composer Hans Zimmer. They were demonstrating their post process to us, as well as some very expensive, new Meyer Sound studio speakers, which were breathtaking, to say the least. I bring this up because this test served as a benchmark for the CT 700 speakers, and us, which at first seems hugely unfair, but they were surprisingly up to the task.