Cambridge Audio employs a special place in my heart, as its DacMagic has been a bulletproof staple of my home theater for years. There are now more feature-filled DACs on the market, but the Cambridge product has been like a loyal friend, and it's not going anywhere soon. Cambridge Audio, a British company that's been in the audio game since 1968, reminds me a bit of Apple in that the company consistently designs products that not only function well but are also easy on the eyes.
The subject of this review is the new Cambridge TV2 speaker base, which retails for a palatable $299. In case you're wondering, a speaker base (aka soundbase or pedestal speaker) is a rectangular-box speaker that doubles as a TV stand, versus a soundbar that is just that--a long bar that's meant to be wall- or shelf-mounted near the TV. The TV2 is the entry-level speaker base in Cambridge's "TV Sound" category of products, which also includes a larger TV5; more details on the product line can be found here. The TV2 measures a svelte 21.65 inches wide by 3.93 inches high by 13.38 inches deep. According to Cambridge, the TV2 will support up to a 46-inch TV, and its cabinet is designed to minimize vibration.
In terms of drivers, the TV2 features two 2.25-inch balanced mode radiators and one 6.5-inch subwoofer. The balanced mode radiators, or BMRs, combine treble, midrange, and a small amount of bass in one driver, whereas a more traditional speaker design uses separate drivers for each. The biggest benefit of this technology, at least in my case, comes with sound dispersion. BMR speakers are said to have much wider sound dispersion than typical speakers; read on to find out how this played out in my listening sessions. If you'd like a bit more detail on BMR technology, Cambridge has a well-written explanation on its site, complete with a cool animated rendering of a BMR driver in action.
As with many of the newer soundbars and speaker bases, the TV2 features Bluetooth, so connecting your audio device is a straightforward affair. Also, the TV2 has the added benefit of being able to remember as many as eight devices via Bluetooth (although it can only connect to one at a time). Inputs include stereo RCA, optical digital, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Soundbar and speaker-base products are designed first and foremost to solve problems--anything from cramped quarters to inadequate television speakers to aesthetic concerns and beyond. Some people simply don't want multiple speakers or the assorted components and cabling they require, especially in a secondary location. My wife is one of these people--mainly for aesthetic reasons, but also because our house is small. Our bedroom TV has down-firing speakers that reflect sound off the dresser over which the TV hangs. This has the undesired effect of piping whatever adult fare we might be watching directly into our five-year-old son's bedroom.
Enter the Cambridge TV2, a simple, great-sounding, and affordably priced solution that just happened to fit, albeit snugly, between our dresser and the wall-mounted TV. So, for our family, a speaker base can actually kill three birds with one stone: it sounds infinitely better than the TV speakers, it doesn't take up as much space as a traditional speaker setup, and the sound is directed where it should be--into the room.
Another advantage of a speaker base over a soundbar is the fact that the engineers have the cabinet space to include a quality subwoofer. While there are a handful of soundbars on the market that have decent bass, you're going to pay a hell of a lot more than $299 for them. That means, if you want an affordable soundbar with decent bass, you're going to need a dedicated sub, and subs are notoriously difficult to hide--not only due to their irregular size and shape, but due to the fact that placing them in a cabinet will often produce unwanted noise and/or vibration. This is why I find the speaker-base product category much more compelling than the soundbar category.
Okay, after that lengthy preamble, I'll explain the actual hookup of the TV2. Cambridge has included the requisite cabling in the box. Connecting it to your television is as simple as choosing either an optical digital or RCA connection and plugging it in; you also might need to go into your TV's sound menu and switch from internal to external speakers, as well as dictate what type of audio signal to want to pass to the soundbase (PCM, Dolby Digital, etc.). The built-in Bluetooth makes it easy to wirelessly connect a variety of audio devices; I paired my iPhone along with my wife's, and we were streaming music to the TV2 in very short order.
Since I didn't feel like re-programming my universal remote, I used the included remote and found it to be intuitively laid out and just the right size.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...