Product Review - B&W Home Theater Speakers - April, 1996
B&W Home Theater Speakers; Model DM-603: One 1" metal dome tweeter, one 7" active bass driver, one 7" passive radiator; Frequency response 47 Hz - 20 kHz + or - 3 dB; Sensitivity 90 dB/w/m; Nominal impedance 8 Ohms; Crossover two way vented/passive radiator, fourth order, 3 kHz; Size 33 1/2"H x 9 1/4"W x 12"D; Weight 38 pounds each; Black vinyl covering; $1,000/pair; Model DM-602: One 1" metal dome tweeter, one 7" bass driver; Frequency response 52 Hz - 20 kHz + or - 3 dB; Sensitivity 90 dB/w/m; Nominal impedance 8 Ohms; Crossover two way vented, fourth order, 3 kHz; Size 19 3/8"H x 9 1/4"W x 12"D; Weight 21.6 pounds each; Black vinyl covering; $550/pair; Model CC6 Center Channel Speaker: One 1" metal dome tweeter, two 5" bass/mid drivers; Frequency response 78 Hz - 20 kHz + or - 3 dB; Sensitivity 89 dB/w/m; Nominal impedance 8 Ohms; Crossover two way vented, third order, 3 kHz; Size 6" x 17 3/4"W x 10 7/8"D; Weight 14 pounds; Black vinyl covering; $350; Model AS6 Subwoofer: One 12" driver; Vented box; 100 watt amplifier; Frequency response 30 Hz - 140 Hz + or - 3 dB; Input impedance 5 kOhm; Line level inputs, speaker level inputs; Line level outputs, speaker level outputs; Active second order lowpass variable, third order highpass 80 Hz; Size 20"H x 17 3/4"W x 18"D; Weight 53 pounds; $699; B&W Loudspeakers, Meadow Road, Worthington, BN11 2RX, UK; Phone 44-1903-524801; Fax 44-1903-524725; USA address, phone, and fax: B&W Loudspeakers of America, 54 Concord Street, North Reading, Massachusetts 01864-2699; Phone 800-370-3740; Fax 508-664-4109.
So many of our readers have asked us about B&W speakers, we just had to get our hands on some. The new 600 series arrived, courtesy of John Nicoll, of Nicoll Public Relations. The set included a pair of the DM-603s for the front left/right, a pair of the DM-602s for the rear surround, one CC6 Center Channel Speaker, and an AS6 subwoofer. We tested the system with the Parasound P/SP 1000 Preamp, Adcom GFA 7000 THX five channel amplifier, using Nordost Flatline and 2-Flat cables. Interconnects were the good old reliable Tandy Gold Patch variety. (Frequency response tests of the 602s and 603s were performed with our McCormack, Carver, and Nordost Red Dawn reference components.)
The 603s are of an unusual design. They have both a regular port and a passive radiator as well. Normally, a passive radiator serves as a port itself and depends on the rest of the enclosure being sealed to work properly. Indeed, when we used the 603s, the passive radiator did not move very much at all. B&W supplies some foam inserts which can be placed into the port for adjusting the bass output. In either case, however, we did not find the 603s to be very strong in the bass department (that is why there are subwoofers). On the other hand, they were superb in the high end, in fact, some of the most detailed home theater speakers we have listened to. The CC6 center channel speaker was very good in this regard too, as were the 602s. Regarding the 602s, we found that having rear speakers that were capable of good low frequency response, gave surprising results with surround sound. We are all familiar with the specifications of the frequency range that is supposed to be covered by the rear channel. However, that is only a suggestion from Dolby Labs. Film directors are apparently putting low frequencies into the rear surround track anyway, and the 602s revealed these sounds beautifully. It becomes obvious that larger, full range, rear speakers are in order (especially with AC-3 "Dolby Digital" at hand).
B&W uses Kevlar (tm) as the material in their bass/mid driver cones. One might think this is simply hype, but it is not. Kevlar, as you know, is used in bullet proof vests. Why? Because it disperses impact energy. The same holds for a speaker cone. When a music signal moves the cone, ideally the cone stops when the music stops. Otherwise, resonance occurs. Kevlar minimizes resonance (nothing can totally stop it). That's the technical side. Sound wise, the B&Ws are quite natural, with no boominess and very little chestiness (that irritating sound that destroys female vocals). In fact, the CC6 was one of the most natural sounding center channel speakers we have had the pleasure to test. Often, a center channel speaker requires a little EQ in the 125 Hz range (lower it by as much as 8 dB) to get rid of the problem. Perhaps it is due to sound bouncing off the face of the TV (we test them on top of the monitor, front of speaker flush with front of monitor), or the top of the TV at the sides of the center channel speaker. In any case, the CC6 did not need any EQ to get a very nice tonality, even though the frequency response test showed a bump in the 125 Hz - 160 Hz range. Front to back tonality was well balanced, and of course, because the 603s are full range, there was a bit of expected tonality imbalance with the CC6. The only way to get complete balance across the front, is to use identical LCR speakers.
The AS6 subwoofer has a 12" front firing driver and 100 watt amplifier built in. The on/off slider switch, volume control, low pass frequency control, phase control, inputs and outputs are on the rear panel, along with the heat sink. The AS6 does not appear to be very sensitive, so a high level input is necessary. We have received some complaints from readers about various subwoofers not delivering the goods, due to a low subwoofer output signal from their receivers, so we thought it would be important to mention this. If the signal is sufficient, the AS6 performs well, although not remarkable. Like many subwoofers, it can get a little boomy if the lowpass control is set high (up around 90 Hz or so). Notice that the frequency response test shows a 7 dB output drop from 40 Hz to 30 Hz. We always use a low pass setting of about 50 - 60 Hz. We have not found a sub yet that does a great job at higher settings. It is just the nature of large drivers I guess. So, if you get the AS6, or any sub for that matter, try the lowest setting first, and then turn it up a little at a time until the complete frequency range is covered, without any boominess.
Although the sound of the B&Ws is excellent, and the overall construction is fine, I did not care for the grilles. The bowed shape requires struts, and they have to be thin. The grilles on the B&Ws are made of plastic, and several of the struts were cracked when we received them. They are so delicate, we cracked a few more during our tests. They look nice, but if they are going to crack so easily, we would suggest going back to simple wood frames. However, a little glue easily fixes the cracked struts, and what the heck . . . we usually listen with the grilles off anyway. The 602s, 603s, and CC6 are bi-wirable (gold plated solid metal on 602s and 603s). They all have plugs to conform to the recent changes in European electrical code (to prevent connecting the speakers into the AC by accident). The 603s have a permanent metal plug that cannot be removed, but the 602s and CC6 are adaptable for users in the US, so that banana plugs can be inserted. I assume later production runs of the 603 will be likewise. All the speakers have rounded edges, including the subwoofer, to reduce diffraction problems. The front surface of all the speakers, except the subwoofer, has a stippled pattern in hard plastic. Presumably this is also for reducing diffraction problems, rather than just for aesthetics.
Frequency response test results were as follows: (all tests performed at 1 meter, grilles on except for subwoofer)
DM-603 (no foam plug in port):
CC6 (sitting on top of TV):
AS6 (volume control 3/4 up, phase at O degrees, low pass set to 100 Hz):
In summary, B&Ws new 600 series of speakers are up to the mark in terms of that venerable B&W sound. Highly recommended for an audition.
John E. Johnson, Jr.