Bowers & Wilkins CM9 - £1,800

This large wood-veneered floorstander with advanced driver technology looks fine value

Back to the days when Bowers and Wilkins simply called itself B&W, the company had three distinct ranges of hi-fi speakers: the beer-budget 600s, the mid-market 700s and the upmarket 800s.

Perhaps the 700’s external tweeters and asymmetric enclosures were a little too radical, as some time over the last few years they seem to have been quietly replaced by a rather more conventional CM series, featuring real wood veneers or a gloss black finish, but in conventional rectilinear enclosures with normal built-in tweeters.

There were just two CMs to start with, but now there are four stereo pairs, of which this £1,800 per pair CM9 is the largest. And, unlike the neat little standmounts in the range, there’s no way anyone could accuse it of looking cute. In short, it looks a little too monolithic and massive to be considered cute, a situation not enhanced by a large, effective but also rather unattractive plinth. It’s a substantial floorstanding three-way, with twin 165mm bass drivers, a 150mm FST midrange and a 25mm aluminium-dome tweeter, all designed in-house. The bass drivers here have 120mm cones in a paper/Kevlar fibre mix. The FST midrange unit is unusual in having a ‘free edge’ compression surround, designed specifically to absorb the edge vibrations from the 145mm Kevlar cone. Sound generated from the back of the unprotected and rather vulnerable-looking aluminium dome tweeter is absorbed down an internal damped tube.

Although the driver line-up and box size are very similar to the 683 at the top of the budget 600-series range, our measurements reveal significant engineering differences over and beyond the CM9’s superior surface finish.

SOUND QUALITY

The panel singularly failed to agree on the overall quality of this speaker. While two panelists didn’t really get on with it, the other two both commented that they felt the speaker had steadily improved during the course of the presentation and that they had warmed to it by the end. This, one feels, might reflect the difficulties encountered in trying to adjust to a something that is essentially different, but by no means necessarily ‘wrong’.

Certainly the deep and full bass was universally recognised and for the most part welcomed, though it also attracted some criticism, possibly due to excessive ‘weight’ and probably exacerbated by the rather restrained treble end. Balancing the top and bottom ends with respect to the midrange is important, and more than one listener complained of insufficient top end here.

By pure coincidence, the CM9 was reviewed in the same month as Bowers and Wilkins’ new 802 Diamond (see page 50). The latter has substantially more relative treble level and this was very audible. Perhaps the CM9’s treble restraint is a deliberate decision to suit more obviously compromised systems?

The CM9 is undoubtedly a lot of handsomely presented speaker for the money. Clearly a winner in large rooms, it would certainly suit those who like their music loud, but ‘try before you buy’ is the best advice here.

LIKE: Good value with lots of bass and loudness potential
DISLIKE: Ugly plinth and vulnerable tweeter
WE SAY: Well finished speaker for the money; goes loud with plenty of bass, but not enough treble for some tastes

DETAILS
ORIGIN: UK/China
WEIGHT: 26.6kg
DIMENSIONS: (WxHxD) 200x1030x300mm
FEATURES:
• Tube-loaded 25mm aluminium dome tweeter
• 150mm woven Kevlar FST mid driver
• Flowport rear reflex port with tuning bungs
• Magnetic grille attachment
DISTRIBUTOR: B&W Group Ltd
TELEPHONE: 01903 221500
WEBSITE: bowers-wilkins.com