Back in The Absolute Sound Issue 176, I wrote about a remarkable B&W speaker, the 685. A tiny $650 two-way that I thought raised the bar in its price range, the speaker had an open soundstage, excellent balance, impressive top- and bottom-end extensions, and surprising rhythmic authority. It was also very well made and finished—beyond what you’d expect for the dollars asked. As with many manufacturers, the reason B&W was able to offer such value can be summed up in a single word: China. Though the 685 was designed at B&W’s main facility in England, it was manufactured at the company’s newish Chinese factory, where, as I wrote earlier, “B&W’s engineers and factory managers spent over two years overseeing construction, and training the staff of what is said to be a state-of-the-art facility.”
B&W’s CM Series is a step up from its entry-level 600 Series. And after spending several weeks with the new model CM7 ($2000), which comes from the same factory as the 685, I’d say the venerable British firm is onto something good here. The CM7 has all of the virtues of the 685, but with a more refined presentation that includes not just deeper bass but also a richer sound, a bigger sound, and greater detail.
My one minor gripe with the 685 was a high-frequency response that, even after significant burn-in, never quite lost a bit of edginess. I’m not certain if the 1" aluminum dome Nautilus-loaded tweeter (a now ubiquitous part of all B&W designs) in the CM7 is different—I suspect it is—or if superior crossover components are responsible, or if the CM7’s greater overall richness is the key, but even in the early stages of listening I never sensed any roughness or edge to the CM7’s treble.
For example, on the Harmonia Mundi recording of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro I discussed in the 685 review, neither the soprano of Véronique Gens (the Countess) nor the mezzo-soprano of Angelika Kirchschlager (Cherubino) had the slight raggedness I’d heard with the 685. Indeed, their beautifully captured voices were pure and smooth, blending well and nicely integrating with the orchestra’s period instruments, which, though retaining their slightly lean baroque charm, had a much greater sense of body and richness of instrumental texture than they did with the 685.
Interestingly, the incisive and lively dynamics of the 685 weren’t quite as evident here, but I believe that is more my reaction to the CM7’s deeper bass and fuller mids and upper-mids, which deemphasize the midrange snap I heard from the smaller speaker. This notion was more or less settled when I played Esoteric’s excellent LP reissue of Falla’s The Three Cornered Hat (reviewed last issue) through the CM7, which not only had the dynamic spark it takes to convey the group hand-claps and start-stop Spanish rhythms of this famous recording, but also displayed a gorgeously lush massed string sound, as well as a fine sense of three-dimensionality.
Wilco’s latest, Wilco (The Album) [Nonesuch LP], has a thicker, almost orchestral sound compared to the band’s earlier releases, and the CM7 seemed to emphasize the recording’s lushly layered tones and textures. This is where careful setup can reward you with either a slightly tighter sound or a more expansive one, depending on your personal preference. Not only does proximity to rear walls and sidewalls alter the speakers’ balance, but choosing to let the rear-firing vent operate full-bore or slightly muting it with the supplied foam plug also has significant sonic impact, with the added benefit of permitting closer-to-rear-wall placement. The accessories kit includes spikes (for carpet) and rounded knobs (for hardwood floors), which add stability and sonic purity.
The CM7 is a handsome small tower, which can be had in two authentic wood veneers—rosenut (reddish brown) or wengé (dark brown)—as well as the finish my review samples were delivered in, a lovely and contemporary looking gloss black. If you prefer to listen, as I do, with the grilles off, removing them leaves behind an unblemished cabinet rather than unsightly mounting hardware thanks to B&W’s magnetic attachment system.
Behind the grille is B&W’s trademarked Nautilus tweeter, as well as other signature touches—a 5" woven Kevlar midrange cone and a 6.5" paper/Kevlar bass driver. Attractive chrome trim highlights the 7’s functional good looks. (For more technical details I recommend checking out the company Web sites listed below.)
Overall, B&W’s CM7 is yet another example of why this company has survived good times and bad. It delivers a lot of sound, impressive engineering, and musical satisfaction at a price that, even in our still sputtering economy, can be called a genuine value.
For most of us who have followed England’s Rega for the past 30 or so years, the name conjures thin-slab turntables of ultra-simplicity and high-performance-to-cost ratio. What many do not realize, or may be barely aware of, is that Rega also builds really good electronics and, yes, even loudspeakers. The company successfully made the transition from a relatively small craftshop into a fully modern manufacturing company, occupying a 30,000+ square-foot factory and design center that employs more than 50 people. The entire production is dedicated to two-channel products. Rega makes most of the parts in house, and uses local suppliers whenever possible.
This polymorphous nature is but a part of the Rega story. More significantly, even in the days when nearly every other manufacturer decided that home theater was the most likely path to long-term prosperity, Rega held firm to its dedication to good old-fashioned stereophonic sound. Put another way, Rega never felt that you had to sell bags of popcorn in order to get music lovers to stay in their seats. Just good, engaging, and compelling sound at workingman’s prices. Adding to the firm’s iconoclasm is this: In a day when outsourcing is about as commonplace as a Republican sex scandal, Rega does not outsource. While many a fine product is built overseas (see B&W above), Rega builds all its gear in the U.K., and sources pretty much all its component parts from local suppliers. Funny, isn’t it, how this sort of backward thinking suddenly seems very forward thinking?
Now, I’ve been a Rega fan for a long time. I once sold mountains of its turntables at retail, and have reviewed nearly as many of its products over the years. But the $1600 RS5 is not only the first Rega speaker I’ve reviewed; it’s one of the few I’ve ever heard. According to U.S. importer Steve Daniels of the Sound Organisation, the RS5 is the first RS-series Rega speaker to be reviewed on these shores.
Like B&W’s CM7, the RS5 is a relatively tiny tower design. And while it may not be as “finished” as that model—it lacks the sexy gloss cabinet, slick metal work, and overall refinement mentioned above—this is a speaker that, from the first notes, tells you it’s got something special to offer.
Listening to Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning [Saddle Creek LP] revealed an outstanding balance between Conor Oberst’s introspective, slightly quivering voice, the shimmering clarity of the acoustic guitars, and the rumbling, beautifully defined drums. The Rega RS5 opened up a large window to the sound that, while focused and grounded, seemed at the same time to blossom beyond the boundaries of the cabinet.
This open window to the event would confirm itself on records ranging from Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall [Reprise CD], where Young’s voice and big ol’ Martin dreadnought are engulfed by the venue’s ambience and enthusiastic crowd, to Donald Byrd’s The Cat Walk [Music Matters Blue Note LP (review this issue)], where you virtually get to peek in on a Rudy Van Gelder recording session, to a seat at Ligeti’s comic nightmare opera Le Grande Macabre [Sony CD], a stunning recording that pretty much defines words such as “transparent” and “palpable.”
I believe that much of this quality begins with Rega’s cabinet, available in natural cherry or black ash veneers, which is relatively lightweight and quite rigid. The midrange driver is sealed within its own chamber, tweeter below, while a bass driver fires out the side and a front-loaded vent hovers near the enclosure’s spiked bottom.
The side woofers and front vents also allow for quite a bit flexibility when it comes to room placement—woofers inside or out depending on proximity to sidewalls, with the front ports allowing for closer to rear-wall placement in smaller rooms.
The new, hand-assembled-in-house HF20-ZRR tweeter is a Rega-designed silk dome with excellent detail, air, and smooth response. The midrange and bass units are also built in house, and Rega’s RR125 mid/bass driver should be singled out for its musicality and integration within the design. Rega also boasts of its simple, easy-to-drive crossover networks, which are in keeping with the company’s “less is more” philosophy.
Returning to Wilco’s new record emphasized the RS5’s strengths—excellent clarity, an uncluttered stage, natural tonality, a large transparent presentation, and fine focus. Its tonal balance is nearly spot-on, though some, no doubt, will prefer a more muscular sound.
And while this was never intended to be a “shoot-out” review, it’s more or less impossible not to draw a few general comparisons. Where the CM7 is rich, bold, and dramatically upfront, the RS5 presents a leaner, more chiseled sound that invites you in.
And here I can’t help but draw an analogy to wine. Take one varietal, say, Pinot Noir. One producer makes a big, velvety, fruit-forward version, while another’s is lighter and less overtly fruity. At day’s end you have two very different yet equally satisfying expressions of the grape.
SPECS & PRICING
B&W CM7 Floorstanding Loudspeaker
Type: Three-way, rear-vented loudspeaker
Driver complement: Nautilus tube-loaded 1" aluminum dome tweeter; 5" woven Kevlar midrange; 6.5" woven Kevlar woofer
Frequency response: 62Hz–22kHz +/-3dB
Impedance: 8 ohms
Recommended amplifier power: 30–150Wpc
Dimensions: 7.9" x 35.8" x 11.8"
Weight: 44 lbs.
B &W LOudspeakers of America
54 Concord Street
North Reading, Massachusetts 01854
Rega RS5 Floorstanding Loudspeaker
Type: Three-way, floorstanding front-vented loudspeaker
Driver complement: Rega HF20-ZRR tweeter, RR125 midrange, 7" side-firing woofer
Impedance: 6 ohms
Recommended amplifier power: 30–500Wpc
Dimensions: 9.7" x 32.7" x 9.7"
Weight: 26.5 lbs.
TW-Acustic Raven One turntable; Tri-Planar Ultimate VII arm; Transfiguration Orpheus moving-coil cartridges; Rega Elicit integrated amplifier; Sim Audio Moon CD-1 CD player; Artemis Labs PL-1 phonostage and LA-1 linestage; Nagra BPS phonostage; Kharma MP150 monoblock amplifiers; Tara Labs Zero interconnects, Omega speaker cables, The One power cords, and BP-10B Power Screen; Finite Elemente Spider equipment racks.