The "trickle down" effect can apply to many things, with mixed results. In connection with economics, many would say that there is no trickle-down effect. When it comes to technology, though, it's impossible to deny the benefits. As higher-end technologies trickle down to lower-priced products, the masses benefit. Why is trickle-down technology important to a review of Bowers & Wilkins' new midrange CM10 speaker? Because the CM10's relatively traditional exterior belies the technological advances within.
Just about every person interested in high-performance audio knows of Bowers &Wilkins' famed 800 Series speakers, with their distinctive pod-mounted midrange and tweeters. The 800 Series is a staple in recording studios all over the world, including Abbey Road, Skywalker Sound, and Sony Music Studios. The 800 Series speakers benefitted from technology that trickled down from the very limited-production Nautilus speakers. The Nautilus technology is used in the Bowers & Wilkins line in the way of tapered tubes behind the individual drivers, which control the back waves of those individual drivers to create the "perfect dipole." This technology, along with other technology from the 800 Series, has now found its way into Bowers & Wilkins' less expensive CM line. The largest speaker in the CM line is the floor-standing, three-way, five-driver CM10. At $4,000 per pair, the CM10 is not inexpensive but, assuming it can deliver much of the performance of an 800 Series floor-standing speaker (which starts at approximately twice the price), it's a great value.
In addition to the Nautilus tubes, the CM10 benefits from a separate tweeter housing mounted on top of the main cabinet. This feature comes from the 800 Series speakers, and the isolation is said to provide great benefits in imaging. The tweeter also benefits from the double-dome design utilized in the PM1 speaker, in which a second dome with the center cut out forms a strengthening ring that helps keep the voice coil from deforming at higher frequencies and raises the breakup frequency from 30 kHz to 38 kHz. Another piece of trickle-down technology is the decoupled FST (fixed suspension transducer) midrange. The FST driver technology has been in use by other speakers throughout the B&W lineup, but the CM10 is the first speaker outside of the 800 Series to also utilize a decoupled FST driver. A rod mounted at the back of the cabinet works to decouple the driver from the cabinet, thereby reducing cabinet coloration in the critical midrange area.
So, a bunch of great technologies are utilized in this speaker. Does that make for a good speaker? Technology must not be utilized simply for sake of making something high-tech. The selection and application of technology must be carefully chosen to provide not just a benefit to any one particular aspect of the speaker, but to also create a well-integrated system. This is particularly important in multi-driver speaker systems in order to preserve a cohesive sonic presentation throughout the frequency range.
A little bit more about the CM10 itself: it is 42.8 inches tall (the last three inches are the tweeter assembly), 7.9 inches wide and 14.3 inches deep. The width and depth measurements do not include the plinth at the bottom, which provides stability to the relatively narrow cabinet. In addition to the one-inch double-dome tweeter that sits atop the cabinet, the cabinet houses a six-inch Kevlar FST midrange and two 6.5-inch Kevlar/paper cone woofers. Placing the tweeter outside the cabinet provides more interior volume for the woofers, which are said to have a -6dB point of 28 Hz. The cabinets are relatively simple, straight-edged rectangles, available in Black Gloss or Satin White finish or a real wood veneer made out of Rosenut or Wenge. All but the Satin White come with black grilles, which are magnetically attached to the main cabinet body. The tweeter grilles are steel mesh and need a special tool (included) to remove them in order to prevent damage from mischievous hands. The rear of the cabinet has a molded plastic flowport (complete with golf-ball-like dimples) and two sets of binding posts that allow for bi-wiring.
At 74 pounds apiece, the CM10 is manageable for one person to set up, but an extra set of hands will make things easier. The box contains pictograms showing how to remove the speakers and install their plinths. The packaging cleverly provides safe support for the speakers in the upside-down position needed to install the plinth bases. The plinths do not come attached, but it only took a couple of minutes per speaker to get the bases attached. The hardest part was turning the speakers over.
I first placed the CM10s in my living room and let them break in for a few weeks powered by a McIntosh integrated amplifier. I found the bass to be very limited at first, and this was the area that transformed the most during the break-in period. I then moved the speakers into my main listening room, where they were driven by an older Krell stereo amplifier. A new Krell Phantom III preamplifier routed the sources, which included a PSAudio PerfectWave DAC MkII and an Oppo BDP-95.
The speakers were placed approximately four feet from the front wall. Originally. I tried them approximately seven feet apart so that I could A/B them with my 800 Diamonds, but I then moved them slightly farther apart. The speakers ended up just under eight feet apart and toed-in very slightly. I tried both Transparent Ultra MM2 and Kimber Select cables. With these particular speakers, I had a slight preference for the Kimber, as it provided a slightly sweeter top end.
Continue on to Page 2 for the Performance, the Competition and Comparison, the Downside, and the Conclusion . . .