Floor space is at an increasing premium in today’s luxury home market. In the 1970’s, other than the car a man drove – no one other conspicuous item represented his social status more than his speakers. And make no mistake – bigger was better. Today a more in-touch-with-his-feelings or afraid-of-enacting-the-prenup man still longs for booming audio but the days of parking coffin-sized transducers in the living room have for the most part ended. This is the era of the audiophile in-wall loudspeaker.
Aesthetically, in-wall speakers nearly always look better than floorstanding speakers but I won’t lie to you, as in-wall speakers can’t do everything that a freestanding speaker can, specifically when it comes to the depth of the soundstage. That’s just physics but for nearly every other audio category – today’s top level in-wall speakers need to have some serious chops to woo even the audiophile critic with a rack full of Meridian, Krell and Levinson in his “listening room.”
The PSB CW800E isn’t your stereotypical in-wall speaker. Priced at $3,000 each, these D’Appolito array speakers are expensive as well they should be, as they are the in-wall version of PSB’s Platinum T8 loudspeakers, which represent one of, if not their best floorstanding speaker. When installed by extremists, myself included, the addition of a pair of 10 inch in-wall subwoofers by the name of the PSB CSW10s priced at $3,000 each, will get you the extreme low frequency punch that an audiophile or movie enthusiast demands without using up one square inch of carpet space. The driver compliment in the PSB CW800E’s includes a one-inch aluminum dome tweeter, two four and a half inch woven fiberglass midrange drivers and two eight inch bass drivers. The fully enclosed CW800E isolates the sound as to not annoy other people in your home or even next-door. It has an overall measurement of 14 inches wide by 38.5 high yet is only four and three quarters inches deep.
The PSB CW800E’s are 89 dB efficient and are best driven by a large receiver or a mid to large power amp. The rim of the speakers are made of aluminum and painted white, though they could be easily painted another color if desired. The CWS10 subwoofers are unpowered (PSB offers the CWA-1 300 watt subwoofer amplifier) and have two 10-inch drivers each in a 14 inch wide by 38.5 inch high by 4.75 inch deep cabinet. You don’t need two unless you want to take your system over the top. Ok, that’s a stupid point. You need two, or at least I did.
Installing this reference level PSB in-wall speaker system can be done by the adventurous do-it-yourself consumers but I feel it’s best left to the professional installer. You are paying serious money for a reference level speakers system and should have someone complete the installation who has poked a few holes in drywall before.
It’s important to note that you need some depth to get these suckers in the wall. Make sure your contractor is made aware of what speakers you plan to install, as these aren’t your typical puny in-wall speakers. This is a beefy system that can take up a lot of real estate. You will want to perfectly space out where your HDTV is installed. In my case, I framed a 50-inch Panasonic Professional plasma between the two PSB CW800E speakers with the subwoofers installed in-wall but below them and slightly to the inside.
I had a bitch of a time with the grills when we painted them, in trying to get them to perfectly blend into a very modern installation. Not all decors will suffer from this issue but in an ultra-modern installation – you might want to do as I did and consider a fabric wall. While it cost me $850 more, the overall installation (see image above) came out looking really good.
Regarding power, the PSB CW800E speakers take it and run with it. While not power pigs – they also can’t be powered by some skimpy power amp. It wouldn’t be crazy to put a Krell integrated amp or an NAD product on such speakers. A full feature, high-powered receiver will also do the job. I wouldn’t recommend a mid-sized receiver unless you don’t plan to ever really crank the PSB CW800E’s up very loudly. And even at low levels, they will benefit from the resolution of detail from a better power amp.
I have a dedicated theater room right around the corner from my PSB CW800E installation, yet I listen to my PSBs ten times more than my RPG treated, light-controlled audiophile room complete with Revel Salon2‘s, Mark Levinson amps, Classé electronics and Transparent Reference Cables. I am not saying that the Reference system doesn’t sound better because it does – without question. What I am saying is that in my life, I am listening more and more to music from playlists on my ReQuest server (lossless) and AppleTV and I want to sit in the living room with my wife and Jack the Dog where there is a little ambient light. My days of audiophile listening sessions are not over but they are much fewer and far between. It’s a lot more social to sip a Walter Hansel Chardonnay (2007 Cuvee Alyce is a favorite these days) and enjoy the view from our property and talk with my wife and/or guests than it is to stay laser-focused on a demo of Dark Side on SACD in the big theater.
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Most of the music I used in this review came from my ReQuest server and was ripped at the highest resolution that the system would allow, which is close to identical to Compact Disc. The ReQuest server has a very useful multi-zone output which makes it useful for multi-zone audio systems. My first demo track is a classic from Rubber Soul. If a speaker doesn’t sound good with The Beatles, I suggest that it might not have what it takes to stay in my house. The PSB CW800E did very well on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” as the bass was notably strong on a track not known for a Barry White like low-end performance. What was most notable and is a characteristic of early Beatles records was the wide separation from left to right. In my room, there is physically more room for side to side imaging than even in the acoustically treated theater room. The Ravi Shankar influenced sitar fills had a three dimensionality that people don’t expect from an in-wall speaker.
Cueing up “Love Ritual” by Al Green from the Love Ritual album highlighted the PSB CW800E’s ability to resolve fine details. The track has a warm, analog, 1970’s feel to it, which on the wrong speakers can sound flat and two-dimensional. On the PSB CW800E’s you could hear the actual hands swirling on the bongos before being hit. The micro detail is impressive. The bass with the CSW10 in the system was low and fun yet never intrusive or disconnected. The overall musical experience was pleasant and engaging as the speakers never get in the way of the music but have all of the chops needed to keep even a recovering audiophile happy.
In getting into more complex music, I looked to “Show Me How To Live” from Audioslave’s self titled album. This track’s snare drum is a reference standard for me as is the bass in the opening verse. The space created by the PSB CW800E, while not deep because they are in-wall speakers, was otherwise audiophile worthy. In playing with different power amps, you can clearly hear on this track (at high volumes) why you would consider using a bigger power amp over a receiver. On lesser power sources, you hear the soundstage collapse, which is something that I have heard this track do to countless speaker systems. On bigger, more powerful system like my reference rig and with enough spank in the bank with your amp – you will come out sounding great on the PSB CW800E’s, especially with at least one subwoofer. The snare had a snap to it like the real instrument. The high hat had life and sheen to it with a three-dimensional reach into the listening room but never sounded too harsh or tinny as many in-wall speakers can sound. This is an audiophile in-wall speaker system and shouldn’t be compared to mere in-wall speakers. The PSB CW800E’s are better than that.
My last track is somewhat of a guilty pleasure in the 1980’s pop classic “Inside Out” from Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required. You just have to love a song that starts with a major drum fill and the chorus before it even gets to the first verse. Thoughts of Crocket and Tubs cruising through South Beach in the white 1984 Testarossa coursed through my mind as I enjoyed the wide soundstage once again. When Mr. Collins got around to the first verse, I noted specifically that the micro-detail of the guitars sounded particularly good. The signature gated reverb on Collins’ drums had that retro-echoey sound that really takes you back to a day when pop songs didn’t require an auto-tune and weren’t played by “entertainers” who couldn’t play a C-chord or five notes of the blues pentatonic scale if you had a .44 Magnum up to their heads. But I digress.
The PSB CW800E aren’t super easy to install and the grill can be tough to get back into the frame after painted. A good amount of depth is needed to properly install the speakers and the sound box should without question be used both for optimal performance as well as to isolate the sound as to not annoy other people in your home or even next-door. As I said before, you can install them yourself but why not have a dealer do it when you are spending this kind of money on a top-level audio component?
Compared to the Sonance Architectural line of high-end in-wall speakers, the baffles of the PSB CW800E aren’t as well suited to modern décor. As I mentioned before, I solved this issue by using a fabric wall, which was somewhat pricey but worth it. The zero-edge baffle on the Sonance speakers is really cool but they don’t compete sonically with the more expensive and reference level PSB CW800E speakers.
I spend more and more time listening to my PSB CW800E and CSW10 speaker system. I have plans to upgrade the amp again. I am considering using some room correction for even more audio fine-tuning specifically in the bass. I also plan on using my AppleTV more as a video source on my 50-inch Panasonic Plasma controlled by an Apple iPad. I have been told that you can run a Crestron program on it and I plan on having my installer and programmer work on making me the first on my five mile long block to have that trick. These in-wall speakers are so good that they have captured my audiophile curiously as well as my next few upgrade dollars.
Until you look up the food chain to the uber-expensive Wisdom Audio in-wall speaker and room correction systems starting at nearly three times the PSB CW800E and CSW10 system – you might just have the best in-wall speaker system money can buy. You are getting 95 plus percent of the performance of PSB’s best engineering in their top speakers with zero impact on your floor space. Sonically, when powered correctly the PSB CW800E can sound better than any in-wall you have ever heard. You will fall in love with them. I know I did.