Bowers & Wilkins CM6 S2 Bookshelf Speakers Reviewed

Bowers & Wilkins CM6 S2 Bookshelf Speakers Reviewed

Myron Ho reviews Bowers & Wilkins' new CM6 S2 bookshelf speaker, which retails for $2,000/pair and incorporates technologies from the company's much more expensive speaker lines.

BowersWilkins-White-CM6.jpgBowers & Wilkins is one of those longstanding brands that needs little introduction. When the company introduced the mid-tier CM10 tower speaker in 2013, it made significant waves within the high-end audio world, demonstrating how B&W can meld value with absolute performance. Fast-forward to the present and the S2 version of the CM Series, in which B&W has extended the Decoupled Double Dome tweeter technology from the CM10 down through the rest of the series. The CM6 S2, the top bookshelf speaker in the series priced at $2,000 per pair, carries with it another major distinction: it and the CM10 are the only speakers in the new CM Series to feature the tweeter-on-top design that is used in the company’s higher-end speakers.

The CM6 S2 cabinet is moderately sized at 13.4 inches tall, 7.8 inches wide, and 11.2 inches deep, and it weighs 19.6 pounds. This is a two-way speaker containing a one-inch aluminum tweeter responsible for everything from four kHz and up and a 6.5-inch woven Kevlar cone midrange/woofer taking on everything below that all the way down to a stated lower bound response of 50 Hz. The stated sensitivity rating is moderately low at 88 dB, with a nominal impedance rating of eight ohms–although part of the impedance curve will dip as low as 3.7 ohms, so take care not to pair these with amplifiers that cannot be stable at least into four ohms. The cabinet design is sleek but not over the top, and the speaker is available in three finishes: gloss black, satin white, and rosenut. The speaker connections allow for all standard types of connectors like spades, bananas, and bare wire. A removable bridge between the high- and low-frequency inputs allows for standard or bi-amplification.

Setup was quick and painless. B&W was kind enough to send me a pair of matching stands designed for the CM Series bookshelf speakers, which are easy to assemble. I placed the speakers on top of the stands in the footprints that my Salk Soundscape 12 tower speakers normally occupy. My Oppo BDP-105 served as the source, feeding my Parasound Halo JC2BP preamp and then my Crown XLS 2500 amplifiers via Blue Jeans interconnects and Monoprice speaker cables.

Female vocals sounded splendid. With Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” from The Bodyguard: Original Soundtrack Album (Arista), I heard an incredibly detailed treble with crystal clear highs. Unlike speakers that feature tweeters made from exotic materials, the CM6 S2 doesn’t have that special sparkle/twinkle in the highest registers. This can be a double-edged sword, though, as I find some exotic-material tweeters to have a rather pretentious or artificial presentation, while the CM6 sounded quite pleasing and natural. The inherent depth in Houston’s voice shone through in spades, powering through the room and never sounding thin or weak.

Male vocals like John Mayer’s or Michael Buble’s were equally rich and clear. Where the CM6s excelled was with vocals that have a little texture to them, such as Adele or John Legend. The speakers reproduced all of the expected nuances of their voices, including Adele’s little squeals and Legend’s raspy croons. B&W speakers have a reputation for being neutral and uncolored, not adding to or subtracting any of the music’s opinion or character. I’ve heard others characterize this as polite or, sometimes, boring. If there were any truth to that, then the CM6s would be uncharacteristically B&W, as they are anything but boring. With high-energy music–from Al Di Meola’s attacking flamenco guitars to Daft Punk’s energetic beats–the CM6s exhibited a lot more slam than I expected.

The B&W speakers had great imaging with the music tracks I listened to, and this only continued when I switched to video sources. During a binge session of Breaking Bad, the CM6s had excellent clarity in delivering voices, music, sound effects, etc. One scene in “Felina,” the series finale, especially caught my attention. Skyler White is in her apartment, and the phone rings off-screen. As the camera move and the phone comes into the frame, I could hear the sound as a clear, gradual, superbly controlled pan from left to right, not an abrupt jump as lesser speakers would deliver (if you could hear the shift at all). Then, as Skyler picks up the phone, the sound image jumps immediately lower to her sitting position. As she hangs up the phone, the screen tilts a little and Walter White, the main character (and Skyler’s husband), is shown standing elsewhere in the room. Now I heard two distinct vocal images matching exactly their positions on screen, with Walt to the right and standing, Skyler still sitting at her chair. There was a clear differential in height and positioning. I was literally amazed by the CM6’s prowess in soundstaging and imaging.

Throughout both my TV and movie watching, I found the CM6s to offer quite substantial bass. Even without the use of a subwoofer, the car-door slams, explosions, and fight sequences retained their usual heft. Of course they can’t deliver a room-shaking movie experience on their own, but I felt that very little was lost when I left the subwoofer off and ran the B&Ws in full-range mode for most of the material I had on hand.

B&W-CM6-S2.jpgHigh Points
• The B&W CM6 S2s have exceptionally accurate imaging, far above their price class.
• These speakers have classic B&W neutrality, but with a little more fun.
• Their wide dispersion characteristics make for a very big sweet spot.

Low Points
• The speaker’s moderately low sensitivity combined with a low minimum impedance means you need to carefully select your amplification.
• A subwoofer is required to get truly chest-slamming bass.

Comparison and Competition
At $1,500 per pair, the KEF LS50s are the speakers to beat in this range. Those speakers will offer truly unmatched transparency, as well as a hair’s breadth more refinement in midrange detail. However, the CM6 S2s play much lower and hence will be far easier to blend well with a subwoofer. In addition, the B&Ws have no trouble sounding like a big speaker in a moderately sized room, and their imaging performance is simply unparalleled in this price range. The Paradigm 30th Anniversary Inspiration speakers cost a little more at $2,500 per pair: they will play a little lower and have a little warmer, more open sound, but I consider the CM6 S2’s imaging and dispersion to be superior.

Conclusion
I would put the B&W CM6 S2s in the same class as the very best bookshelf speakers out there. For a lot more money, you can get speakers that sound as good in the midrange and up while giving you more bass detail, more bass output, and more dynamic capability. However, if soundstaging and imaging are of any importance to you (and I highly suspect they will be for many readers of this publication), I can honestly say that I have not heard many speakers below $5,000–bookshelf, floorstanding, or otherwise–that can equal, let alone surpass, the CM6 S2s in this regard. I’ve never thought of B&W as a high-value brand, but the CM6 S2s are an astonishing value at $2,000 per pair. These are now my new reference bookshelf speakers.

Additional Resources
Bowers & Wilkins CM10 Floorstanding Speakers Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.
Bowers & Wilkins Launches New CM Series at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Visit our Bookshelf (Small) Speakers category page for similar reviews.

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BegoodJohhny

Hi praise and compliments, Myron! I can’t recall a professional reviewer liking a product more than I what I just read, and you guys don’t sugar coat. I auditioned these at a professional A/V store and scored a GREAT deal on a close out demo pair. I just think all other makers can’t hold a candle to B&W- Paradigm, Golden Ear, etc. I also thought there was a big difference between these and the step down model, but all in all I was just blown away by these.

Ok… What are you using to drive these? I’ve heard they’re power hungry, which is consistent with my observations of other B&W products. I watched a 100W Aventage 1070 try to drive the 704 S2’s, and it struggled a bit. It was up about 3/4 of the way and just started to get loud. I told the salesman that I would need to upgrade to the 2070 to drive it more efficiently. All this said, I settled on the Anthem 520 with 100 watts of continuous power to drive my 3.1, which I fear will fall short like the 1070. I don’t want to have to set it to 75%+ either…. I’ll be running a B&W CM6 or 700 center channel as well, and I may or may not add 2 satellite speakers for a 5.1. What are your thoughts?

Also, are you running a sub? I’m thinking about pulling my sub as well, based on what I’m reading. Thanks for all of your great work. Cheers!

Tim12232

Does that mean they are now permanently part of your reference system? I am astonished with my pair along with a asw10cm sub and marantz pm15s2.

zbladejr

Tim, I currently drive a pair of CM5’s with the PM KI-Pearl so am interested what you had matched with your 15S2 (same amp for most part as mine) prior to the CM6’s. I have always wanted the 805D’s but never had the chance to audition both with my amp and now with the CM6’s being reviewed as well as they are…..just wondering what your experience has been with the amp combo. Thanks.

Timothy Schmandt

very late reply! I did have the CM5’s before the CM6. I had done an hour or two worth of listening before driving 15 minutes to my local Magnolia HiFi shop. I put the same music on a PM-14s1 they had in and they setup the CM6’s for me, no joking within a minutes time, I said “order the Rosenut in, Ill pay for them now”. My disc spinner is the one under SA-8005, but I dont really consider it a down grade. Just like the KI-Pearl and Pm-15/14. The 805’s are a wonderful speaker, I listen to them often at the shop there, as I know most of the employees there. One day I would like a PM-11S3 with 805D! I know this is my own ears opinion but the combo of high end marantz and B&W for my music tastes is just so hard to beat! I am an enthusiast who also used to work in the HiFi industry for over 10 years. I have heard many incredible products, and I consider B&W’s tweeter on top design as well as a number of electrostats to be some of the best speakers I have heard!

zbladejr

Thanks for sharing Tim. As it turns out an opportunity I couldn’t say no to came up on a perfect pair of 805D’s so I took the plunge this past Spring. I still have my CM5’s but will sell them, the 805’s really are heads and shoulders better in all frequencies. I also have a pair of REL T7’s as stereo subs, which is a huge improvement over the single sub I ran with the CM5’s. And as it goes, I also decided to try McIntosh sound (which I love every time I hear a nice setup) and so now have my dac (NADM51) going into a C45 and then direct into my Marantz. Sounds beautiful, I could restate all of the various reviewers, but I’ll keep it at this – while the Pearl by itself sounded terrific, with the C45 I get more detail and the music sounds ‘sweeter’ overall….I guess maybe warmer, but I don’t want to say it’s colored – it just is more musical to my ears. So, while I too lusted after the 11S3, I’d encourage you to audition a couple different pre-amps with your 15S2 first. Now that I have the C45 my next stop will be a MC152 or MC302…..this hobby definitely does not get less expensive…but at least until now every upgrade has paid off.

Myron Ho

Yup! They are sitting in my living room now. In a multi-channel usage, I have them terribly undertasked as surrounds on stands. But I’ll be moving them up front anytime I need a face off against another pair of bookshelves.

Bruce Caucutt

Does anyone know where I can purchase the B&W CM6-S2 Stands? I have looked all over the US and UK web and have had no luck. Please help.

Myron Ho

Bruce, wherever you can buy the speakers themselves, you can probably get the stands too. Best Buy (Magnolia) carries the stands – not sure if they can be shipped online though.

Lee Martin

How would you compare them with the Bowers Pm1 ?

Myron Ho

Unfortunately, I haven’t listened enough to the PM-1 to directly compare. I would encourage you to listen to both to see if you think the PM-1 is worth an $800 extra. I have listened to the 805 Diamonds, which are a step above the PM-1 and I can say the CM6-S2’s were a lot better value (costs $3K less/pr). The 805s (and the PM-1s) play lower than the CM6, but I liked the CM6 better within its range – more energy. Based purely on specs, the PM-1 looks like it has quite low sensitivity, so you will need more watts in an amplifier just to get the same volume. And with 6.5″ woofers, the CM-6 may be able to carry itself better in a slightly larger room, but you would have to test this out side by side for sure. Hope this helps.

Lee Martin

Moron thanks very much for taking the time to respond and I appreciate your input and advice. I’m going to arrange a demo with a handful of cd’s and listen to both of these along with a couple of others and try and do a blind test and make my purchase after that. Thanks again

Jakob H

I have them both at the shop where i work. I can hear where the cm6s are. I can’t hear where the pm1’s are located. They are still better, but don’t go as low. But they also need a lot of juice to really shine…

Lee Martin

Thanks for the input, I have a powerful exposure three box amp which seems to have plenty of reserves. I much prefer the appearance of the PM 1 BT that won’t be the definitive decision maker of course. I prefer guitar acoustic and vocal influenced stuff and I’m not mad on bass but don’t want anything that sounds thin. I’m happy to pay the £500 difference if it’s worth it ?

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