It has been a while since we have tested loudspeakers for an above average home cinema system, but we are now working on it right away. In this review we look at the Bowers & Wilkins CM8 S2, CMC S2 and CM5 S2 loudspeakers that were brought to market late last year.
As you may have read in our many reviews, we use a fixed reference system for testing products, including receivers and televisions. In this way we can compare products better and we also get the most out of these products. For years we used the Bowers & Wilkins CM-series loudspeakers for the audio reproduction, but this series was completely renewed last year. Time for an upgrade of our reference system. Together with Bowers & Wilkins we have now installed this system with two CM8 S2 floorstanding loudspeakers, a CMC S2 center speaker and two CM5 S2 bookshelf speakers.
With a total price of around 4,000 euros, this complete CM S2 system is not available for every consumer. But, we are seeing an ever-growing demand for better audio systems that allow consumers to move for a long time and with which both music and film can be reproduced with a high quality hi-fi quality. It is important to see / hear / read the difference between the better (and more expensive) loudspeakers and low quality entry level speakers in order to make a well-considered decision. For these reasons we want to share our experiences with the CM S2 series from Bowers & Wilkins, and let you read why a considerable investment, if you still have doubts, can provide you with an impressive audio reproduction for years.
Introduction B & W CM S2 series
In 2013 Bowers & Wilkins introduced the decoupled Double Dome tweeter on the CM10, which led to a significant improvement in audio performance. The next logical step was to bring this technology to the rest of the CM series. For the first time the complete CM Series is now equipped with these new tweeters, and the CM10 S2 and the new CM6 S2 are also equipped with tweeter-on-top.
The Bowers & Wilkins Double Dome tweeters consist of a thin aluminum dome surrounded by a thicker aluminum ring, so that the perfect combination of light and stiffness is created according to the manufacturer. The tweeter is also fully disengaged from the housing in the new CM series; a ring of gel pads physically separates the structure from the cabinet. The CM10 S2 and the new CM6 S2 are equipped with a tweeter-on-top design. This way the spreading and placement is improved.
The new CM series has been completely redesigned. The new crossovers use Mundorf components, while all woofers and midrange drive units are equipped with anti-resonance dust caps. In the new series of speakers, the visible fixings have been removed for a more subtle and minimalistic design.
The new CM10 S2 remains the flagship and is visually aligned with the rest of the new models. The CM10 S2 offers three 165mm bass drivers and a decoupled FST midrange driver. The decoupled Double Dome tweeter-on-top design of the CM10 S2 can also be found on the new CM6 S2. This loudspeaker is equipped with a 165mm bass / midrange driver. The CM6 S2 is the first monitor speaker from the CM series with tweeter-on-top technology. The CM9 S2 and the CM8 S2 complete the range of floor standing loudspeakers from the CM Series. Both speakers are equipped with decoupled Double Dome tweeters, FST midrange drivers and two bass drivers.
The CM5 S2 and the CM1 S2 complement the new CM series as a monitor speaker. Both models are equipped with decoupled Double Dome tweeters. The CM Center S2 and the CM Center 2 S2 also use decoupled Double Dome tweeters, with the CM Center 2 S2 also featuring an FST midrange driver, together with two symmetrically ordered bass drivers. The ASW10CM S2 subwoofer features a 10-inch drive unit paper / Kevlar driver, powered by a 500W Class D amplifier and switch mode power supply.
The new CM Series has been available for the following prizes since September of last year;
- CM1 S2: 900 euros per pair
- CM5 S2: 1300 euros per pair
- CM6 S2: 1900 euros per pair
- CM8 S2: 1900 euros per pair
- CM9 S2: 2700 euros per pair
- CM10 S2: 3600 euros per pair
- CM Center S2: 650 euros each
- CM Center 2 S2: 1000 euros each
- ASW10CM S2: 1350 euros each
- FS-CM standard: 500 euros per pair
For this review we used the Marantz SR7009 (which the SR6009 follows in our system) and a Marantz UD7007 Blu-ray player for the display of physical audio and video sources. Spotify was used to stream music and high-res music is linked via a USB stick.
Installation and setup
A high-end audio system does not come in a small box that is delivered by the deliverer of PostNL, you will understand that. We receive a complete pallet with all the speakers on it and sat down for an evening before putting it together (that also has to be done partly) and installing the audio system.
All speakers are packed in a sturdy box surrounded by polystyrene that does not just fall apart, and protected by plastic. All accessories for installation are included, including the spikes for the CM8 S2 floorstanding speakers and the spikes for the FS-CM standards on which the CM5 S2 models are to be placed. All loudspeakers can also be fitted with a grill (protective cover for the front) and a foam plug with which the frequency response for the bass can be influenced. In the box we also find a concise guide.
Whether you use the speaker grill is a personal choice. This is placed on the front of the loudspeaker using magnets that are incorporated in the grill and the housing (not visible). This is a very nice way so that, when no grill is used, no attachment points are visible. Small disadvantage is that the grills are not particularly tight. You just have to touch them gently and they get loose. We have chosen to use the grills, for protection, only on the CM5 S2 speakers at the rear. Simply because the CM speakers look too impressive without a grill.
The CM speakers that we have placed in our system have a ‘glossy black’ finish and we have opted for a ‘standard’ 5.1 setup. However, in this setup, given the size of the room and the qualities of the speakers, we do not use a subwoofer. The CM5 S2 speakers are placed on the stand at the rear as surround speakers, the CM8 S2 models are obviously the speakers at the front of the set-up.
The installation is not very complicated because everything is clearly defined and all tools and screws are supplied. It takes a bit of work but the FS-CM standards are put together and on top of that the CM5 S2 speakers can be mounted. A small feature is that these standards are relatively small (low), so ideally they should be a bit further away from the listening position. This can be difficult in a somewhat smaller space. The CM8 S2 speakers are mounted on a foot, where you can mount spikes or rubber feet underneath.
Just talk about the foam plugs that are included and can be plugged into the bass port at the rear; these plugins can be used with opening in the middle or without opening in the middle. To explain it simply; do not use a plug if the speakers have enough space (from the wall) to get the low frequencies tight and without reverberation. If the speakers are closer to the wall (think 20-50 cm), you can use the foam plug to influence the low frequencies. It is experimenting for the optimal reproduction of low tones, and it remains partly subjective, but the foam plugs give you the possibility to exert some influence yourself. When you put a subwoofer in the system they are also recommended.
Who knows Bowers & Wilkins knows that impressive design is one of the pillars of the company. The CM series is all about a sleek and modern look, with minimalist cabinets and eye-catching drivers. We have chosen the gloss black variant of all speakers but Bowers & Wilkins also has variants with a white finish and a wooden Rosenut finish. Unfortunately, the Wengé color in the S2 series has disappeared.
What stands out from all speakers is the very neat and careful finish. There is hardly a screw to see, the drivers are very tightly finished in place and the ‘gloss black’ paint is smooth throughout the speaker. The only drawback of this color is that fabrics are immediately visible, but we like to take that for granted. Around the drivers we see a silver ring that, unlike the previous generation, is free of screws. This ensures an even tighter and quieter look. The tweeter is fortunately this time equipped with an aluminum protective cover so that (accidentally) dent / damage of this tweeter belongs to the past. The mid-range driver, like last year, got the kevlar cone with a striking yellow finish.
We can also use the words carefully, tightly, minimally and just in the description of the FM-CM standards. Here too we have opted for the black variants, with the B & W logo on the foot. The CM5 S2 speakers themselves come with a bass / midrange driver, partly equipped with the yellow kevlar cone and a tweeter with protective cover that is integrated in the housing. The CMC S2 is equipped with two bass / midrange drivers and a tweeter with the same design as the drivers in the CM5 S2 speakers.
Not only the eye wants something, it is of course also about the performance of the speakers. We have used the CM8 S2 models as front speakers, and for movies and series the CM5 S2 is used as surround speakers. The CMC S2 is the center speaker for films and series. We also used the CM5 S2 briefly as front stereo speakers for music playback.
Bowers & Wilkins CM8 S2
The CM8 S2 loudspeakers are not extremely large or robust models for floorstanding loudspeakers. They are minimalist designed speakers that simply fall away in the rest of the interior and certainly do not dominate the average living room. The same can also be said about the performance of this loudspeaker.
The CM8 S2 provides a very balanced ‘picture’ that is very comfortable to listen to. Especially in the field of high tones, this speaker knows the most subtle details with flexibility and at the same time displaying sufficient power. Subtle details in the higher regions are very tight and clear to hear, without being a word that you want to take in your mouth. In the CM7 models in our previous setup, sharp highs could sometimes be slightly sharp, but it is clear that a great deal of energy has been put into the CM S2 series.
Vocals are warm, but sharp at the same time by the midrange driver. The loudspeaker has absolutely its own character – something that makes a good loudspeaker unique – but it is of great importance to transfer emotion to vocals. In this, the CM8 S2 definitely succeeds, with subtle vibrations in vocals that you almost feel and instruments that are smoothly placed around the vocals without interference. The best way to express this is actually to say that with your eyes you have the feeling that the singer is doing his trick right in front of you.
The complete audio reproduction of the CM8 S2 is just very convincing and actually lacks a lot. Yes, do you have a bigger room or are you of the somewhat deeper bass with a lot of volume, then a subwoofer is desired (or the larger CM9), but our experience is that for and relatively small (normal) living room the CM8 S2 can display a particularly tight and penetrating bass. Even with pop and rock music, the CM8 S2 manages to produce quite a bit of low that the neighbors may not be happy with, but never dominates the bass and every time they are very tight. What the loudspeaker may not have in terms of sheer power and volume in the low is certainly made good in our view with a very tight and accurate reproduction of low tones.
Also in the area of surround-sound and thus watching movies, the CM8 speakers do not make much of a difference. However, we also have to say here that in certain (larger) rooms and for certain flavors the low level may be disappointing. On every other plane, the CM8 is an exceptionally good speaker. Film music is reproduced with impressive dynamics and conviction, surround effects find a perfect balance so that for example dialogs are always well understood and there is enough power behind these effects to draw you into a movie.
Bowers & Wilkins CMC S2
The CMC S2 is the smaller center speaker from the CM range from Bowers & Wilkins but does not disappoint in any way. Again, we must say that the CMC2 is mainly developed for larger spaces, and is ideal as a combination with, for example, the CM9 or CM10. Despite the smaller variant, the CMC S2 is particularly good performer, especially where necessary; when displaying dialogue.
Dialogues are crystal clear and full of emotion, and especially the latter makes a voice really come to life. The speaker has sufficient range to convince all facets of a heavy, deep, high or penetrating voice. Together with the other speakers from this setup, plus the Marantz SR7009 receiver, the perfect balance is found between music, audio effects, surround effects and dialogue.
Bowers & Wilkins CM5 S2
The attentive reader has probably already seen it; the CM5 S2 models with standard costs are almost the same as the CM8 S2 models. In terms of performance, they do not differ very much from each other. We used the CM5 speakers briefly as a stereo pair to compare, but then quickly placed as surround speakers in the setup.
To immediately fall in with the door; as a stereo couple, the CM5s will disappoint few people. Even a relatively small speaker like this knows with particular conviction to offer a very open and warm music reproduction, with sufficient detail and a wide range. You have a driver less (two-in-one) than the CM8 but a very big difference does not make this. Yes, the trained ear will catch some more low on the CM8 and also perceive a little more spatial effect in the width but without putting them next to each other this is hardly audible. The CM5’s show vocals naturally and full of emotion, know the most subtle instruments and tones to conjure up and have a perfect balance so you can go completely into the music.
We quickly made the choice to place the CM5 S2 speakers to the back of the room, because of the aforementioned light advantage of the CM8 but above all just the look of a real front speaker (CM8). As a surround speaker you can not miss the board with the CM5, you could even say that in some setups it is too much of a good thing. The CM1 S2 would be more than a good choice for many as a dedicated surround speaker. But, if you change the party mode or if you want to use the CM5 (once or sometimes) as stereo speakers, then they are absolutely worth the money. That being said; the CM5 knows how to reproduce surround effects, which is what a surround speaker is meant for, with sufficient power and detail. Here, too, the balance with the other loudspeakers is seamlessly formed and surround effects behind you actually come to life. So realistic that during our tests several people occasionally turned their heads to see what was happening in the back of the room.
Before we conclude that the Bowers & Wilkins CM2 series loudspeakers are absolutely worth your money in terms of build quality, design and performance, we must emphasize again that this is a system that is not for everyone. You have to pocket quite a lot in the pouch, but then you also have an audio system that meets your high requirements for years. Take ourselves as an example; we have done six years with the CM-series and were still not looking forward to it.
We notice that more and more consumers are looking for quality, better quality than the various all-in-one systems and better quality than entry-level audio systems. For those, who also want to save, the Bowers & Wilkins CM series is an absolute must. Not only does Bowers & Wilkins set speakers with a sleek, minimalistic and attractive design, but there is also craftsmanship behind that in both audio performance and build quality. The CM8 is a particularly good loudspeaker for the front of an arrangement or as a stereo pair, and has its own character that can convey emotion convincingly, streaks with clear and subtle details and has a sufficiently large range for an average room. The CM5 can also be used as a stereo loudspeaker at the front and is probably also an over-the-top choice for most readers when it comes to dedicated surround speakers. That being said; they know how to bring surround effects with power, subtlety and conviction. The CMC is the designated speaker for the dialogues and knows how to bring voices with all emotional characteristics to life.