Bowers & Wilkins CM10 Series 2 Loudspeakers
by Sue Kraft | March 16, 2015
I couldn't have been more excited to learn that my first review for The Audio Beat would be the latest and greatest from B&W's popular CM series of loudspeakers, the CM10 Series 2 (S2). Heck, I was excited just to be back in the saddle again with the guys here at TAB. After all, my modeling days have long since passed, if you know what I mean, and women aren't exactly abundant in the high-end audio community. I can't tell you how many times over the years I've heard someone say about my system, "Not a bad stereo for a girl." I love it! With over 25 years of experience under my belt as a card-carrying, dyed-in-the-wool, crazed audiophile, including a ten-year stint at The Abso!ute Sound reviewing some of the finest gear our hobby has to offer, I'm hopeful I'll be able to add something of value for the TAB readership. Hang on for what promises to be an interesting ride. On second thought, make that a wild ride. I plan to have some fun here.
And what better way to start than to jump in with a pair (actually two pairs) of great-looking, great-sounding and affordable loudspeakers from the largest technology-driven innovator in the world? I have been there for the last 30 years of B&W's "Quest for Perfection," beginning in the 1990s with the Matrix 3 floorstanders, then on to various iterations of the classic 802 as well as the legendary classical monitor, the 801. While the Matrix 3 wasn't a bad speaker, it was too hot on top for my tastes, while the 801 had way too much swagger on the bottom end for my listening room at the time. I remember stuffing socks in the ports until I could afford to buy a pair of Sound Anchor stands to keep my neighbor's windows from rattling.
Much has changed since then, and I've learned many a lesson the hard (and expensive) way. Still makes me chuckle, though -- I wouldn't trade those days for anything. Fast-forward to the present; my most recent experience with B&W loudspeakers was an extended evaluation of the diamond-tweetered Nautilus 800D, a true masterpiece loudspeaker that will stay in my memory forever. I'd say the CM10 S2 has some pretty big footprints to fill.
Before I get too much further along, I'd like to note that this review of the current B&W CM10 S2 initially started with a gorgeous pair of gloss-black original CM10s showing up on my doorstep. The original CM10 replaced the previous flagship model, the CM9, back in August of 2013. Little did I know that as I was working on a review of the original loudspeaker that B&W was busy putting the finishing touches on a replacement. Not only did the company revamp the original CM10, but they revamped the entire remaining CM series as well.
Once I got over the obvious shock of the original CM10 being replaced so quickly, I learned that B&W had been planning to overhaul the CM series for quite some time and decided to introduce only the original CM10 first, with the remaining models to follow in 2014. So no need to panic for anyone who owns the original. I have been assured that both the CM10 and the new CM10 S2 are sonically identical. There have only been a few minor cosmetic changes along with the model designation. And in case there is any doubt, I received a brand-new pair of the CM10 S2s with which to test this assertion.
Replacing the CM9 as flagship of the line, the new CM10 S2 incorporates a number of significant performance enhancements that are a first for the CM speaker range. The most obvious change is the new location of the tweeter, atop the cabinet in a sleek bullet-shaped enclosure. While this tweeter-on-top design may be new for the CM10 S2, it's nothing new for B&W. The company has been using this configuration for decades, beginning back in 1978. Relocating the tweeter outside of the cabinet helps greatly with dispersion, allowing listeners outside of the sweet spot to better hear and enjoy the sound. It also improves soundstaging, imaging and overall spaciousness.
Not only has the tweeter of the CM10 S2 been relocated, it's also been redesigned. Based in part on research conducted by B&W on the carbon-braced tweeter used on the PM1 loudspeaker, the edge of the aluminum dome has been strengthened by adding a secondary aluminum layer that replicates the profile of the main dome. This double-dome design stiffens the entire structure, preventing the voice coil from going out of round and pushing performance limits higher into the upper frequencies. According to B&W, the new design makes for a tweeter that is purer and more piston-like in the all-important audible band below 20kHz. The results are said to be exceptional clarity and control even under duress, which comes as no surprise. Exceptional top-to-bottom precision and control have long been hallmarks of the B&W brand.
Although not curves like the 800-series loudspeakers, the CM10 S2's straight lines and sleek profile give the speaker a traditionally classic appeal that will easily work in any decor or room. B&W offers a choice of three finishes: one real-wood veneer (rosenut) and two painted finishes (gloss black and satin white). Having lived with both the gloss black finish as well as the satin white, I have to admit that the white just doesn't do it for me. Gloss black, on the other hand, is another story. I'm still sneaking peeks out the corner of my eye when walking through my listening room. I can't help it. These are great-looking speakers. And the build quality is absolutely first-rate. Also included is a slightly larger matching plinth or stand for stability, plus sliders to make placement easier until you're ready to install the spikes. With a slim profile barely 8 " wide, the speakers need a stand with spikes of this nature, especially if you have small children or large dogs.
And did I tell you about the additional (third) bass driver? With the extra space afforded by the change in tweeter configuration, B&W was able to massage a third bass unit into the cabinet while still maintaining virtually the same overall height (42 7/8", 109cm) as the CM9. As a result of the added bass driver, both sensitivity is improved (90dB) as well as low-frequency extension (to 45Hz). In other words, you'll be able to play your music louder with less distortion. You'll get no complaints here. An easy win-win situation to me.
The very first thing I noted about the sound of the CM10 S2, before I even had a chance to sit down for a close listen, was something I like to call round sound. The roundness and three-dimensionality I heard were impossible to miss, at least to my ears, and the added layer of depth and space between images gave the illusion of actually being able to walk around among the players on the stage. This greatly enhances the perception of a live performance. If you asked me what are the most important attributes I listen for in a speaker and a system as a whole, three-dimensionality would be at or near the top of the list. Flat and two-dimensional just don't cut it. When listening to music, not only do I want to hear all four corners of the room and the air within it, I'd like to imagine I could be, for a brief moment, taking a breath of the air from the original performance. The CM10 S2s helped complete that illusion.
And when the CM10's tapped me on the shoulder as if to say, "Let's rock!," I was all smiles. This was going to be fun. And rock they did, with the likes of J.J. Cale's "Call Me the Breeze" from The Breeze: An Appreciation of J.J. Cale by Eric Clapton [Surfdog 55408-2]. The CM10 S2's owned this tribute to a blues/country/rock legend, with a remarkably accurate top-to-bottom balance and great control of the entire musical spectrum. I've come to expect nothing less from B&W, and I wasn't disappointed. While I never had the chance to hear the CM9s, the CM10 S2s can move. Driving those three 6 1/2" woofer triplets with a pair of 250-watt (into 8 ohms) Gilmore amps likely didn't hurt either.
I have no complaints about the imaging of the CM10 S2. No matter the recording, vocals and instruments alike were always clean, clear and well defined. This stunning rendition of "Songbird" (from the album of the same name, [Blixstreet CD G2-10045]) sung by the late Eva Cassidy grabbed my undivided attention with its pinpoint focus on every stroke of her guitar. I was positive I could see a spotlight on her face. Superb. Eva Cassidy is one of the few, if not the only, female vocalist I can easily imagine in my room when I'm listening to her. The CM10 S2 could not have done a better job of placing her right in front of me. I'm a bit of a stickler when it comes to a decent center image, which was fairly easy to accomplish with minimal tweaking. While I was fortunate enough to finally be blessed with the luxury of a decent-size (14' x 20') listening room, I know some of us are not so lucky. I'm quite confident the CM10 S2 would be a room-friendly speaker, one that will do well in a variety of environments.
As much as I enjoyed Eric Clapton and friends on The Breeze, I wanted to find out just how much ease and finesse the CM10 S2s were capable of with a few cuts from one of my favorite vocal-harmonies CDs, The Wailin' Jennys [Red House Records CD177]. Vocal harmonies can be a challenge for some systems, but not this time. I was impressed with the stable, precise image lines I heard with the CM10 S2 and the fluidity of the midrange, which I didn't expect at this price point. I'll also admit to being a little nervous about those aluminum-dome tweeters. I've heard a few over the years that had my ears bleeding. But once again, not this time. Anyone with her hearing still intact in the upper registers will be quite pleased, as I was.
I need to give a shout out to a DAC I purchased specifically for this review. I had been thinking about buying a packet DAC, as I call them, and figured what better time than now? Besides, I wasn't too enthused about the digital playback I had available -- a Marantz PMD 320 pro player and a modded Philips CD880 that must have come over on the Mayflower. The Philips was a great player in its day, but that day is long gone, I'm afraid. To make a long story short, I decided on a Meridian Director DAC. I won't say the Meridian transformed the CM10 S2s. Rather, the Director DAC was able to nudge the speakers up a notch, coaxing out some nice layering and inner detail as well as shoring up the imaging and revealing more clarity and extension up top. The Meridian DAC really nailed it when it came to showcasing the potential of these speakers, which is exactly what I was hoping for.
And speaking of up top, I wish I still had the B&W Matrix 3s I mentioned earlier. I would love to do a caparison with the CM10 S2. I actually had second thoughts about doing the review of the CM10 S2 based on some not-so-fond memories of the tweeter of that Matrix 3. Granted, that was at least 20 years ago, but it's hard to forget the harmonica on Cowboy Junkies' "Walkin' After Midnight" (The Trinity Session CD [BMG D-10043]) having such a hard, sharp edge that I would literally cringe. Revisiting that same music through the CM10 S2, I can't believe it's the same disc. There are no hard, sharp edges with the CM10 S2, only smooth, natural, clear-as-a-bell highs blending seamlessly with the rest of the musical spectrum. The folks at B&W have definitely redeemed themselves. I look back now and wonder if perhaps the tweeters were defective on those Matrix 3s. Or maybe I just have über-sensitive hearing.
Going back once again to precision and control, that's exactly how I would describe the bottom end on the CM10 S2: tight, quick bass that was always in command of the music, never sloppy or loose. This has long been the hallmark of B&W sound, which can make for a less-than-forgiving speaker at times, but never to the point of being harsh or unlistenable, at least not in my experience. A more forgiving speaker like my Coincident Super Eclipse can be a beautifully addictive performer in its own right, but at the expense of accuracy. Over time, especially if a speaker is too forgiving, the music tends to sound a bit homogenized. Playing one of my favorite crank-it-up, go-to recordings. "Evolution" from The Usual Suspects [Sheffield Lab CD-32] the anything-but-homogenous CM10 S2 never flinched at volume levels that would make a stadium filled with Seattle Seahawk fans proud. Bass was lightning fast, succinct and landed with impressive impact. Dynamic contrasts seemingly exploded across the soundscape. Albeit on a smaller scale, the CM10 S2 is reminiscent of those ferocious 800-series B&Ws I fell in love with decades ago
The B&W CM10 S2 is quite simply a great-looking, great-sounding loudspeaker that I'm hard-pressed to find any fault with. And when it comes to bang for the buck, I'd be hard-pressed to find a better deal in this price range -- or a better speaker at the next level up. The tweeter-on-top design that is new for the CM series is no small thing and will make an across-the-board upgrade for many systems. And massaging that third woofer into the cabinet? Get outta here.
The CM10 S2 isn't just toe-tapping good. It's jumping-out-of-your-listening-chair good. And jumping out of the listening chair at my age? That's damn good.
Price: $4000 per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
B&W Group North America
54 Concord Street
North Reading, MA 01864
(978) 664 2870
Digital: Marantz PMD320 and modded Philips CD880 CD players, Meridian Director digital-to-analog converter.
Preamplifier: Atma-Sphere MP-3.
Amplifier: Gilmore Audio Raptor 500D monoblocks.
Speakers: Coincident Speaker Technology Super Eclipse.
Interconnects: Harmonic Tech Magic Link.
Speaker cables: Harmonic Tech Pro-9 Reference.
Digital cable: Wireworld Gold Starlight coaxial cable.