B&W Compact Domestic Monitor 1 loudspeaker Page 2
This wasn't a problem with good rock recordings—the Blue Nile's first album A Walk Across the Rooftops (Linn Records LKH 1, LP; Linn/A&M CD 5087, CD), for example, where the sparse mix allows plenty of acoustic space for instruments to expand into. But when the mix was already messy, like the first album from the Dave Matthews Band (Under the Table and Dreaming, RCA 66449-2), the sound became too muddy a little too easily.
For some strange reason, a train of musical association led me to follow the Dave Matthews CD with Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" (re-released on The Best of Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel & The Furious Five, Rhino RZ 71606). Has it really been 14 years since that convoluted flood of lyrics reestablished the importance of words in popular music? Don't try cranking these speakers with this track at a party; however, in the privacy of my own listening room, the little B&Ws didn't do bad at reproducing the music's power. (Digging out my old 1982 UK pressing of the Sugar Hill LP revealed the CD to have a higher pitch, a tighter bass, and a considerably more distorted midrange/treble balance—I guess it is a jungle out there!)
The B&W's midrange was superbly clean and transparent, though its balance in this region was more forward than, say, PSB Stratus Mini. On the Silverman Liszt CD, the complex interaction between the decaying sounds of the piano strings during passages where the damping pedal is lifted was readily apparent. Not only was this so when I was listening to the 20-bit master played back from the Sonic Solutions hard-disk editing system, but the CDM 1s allowed me to hear how much of it was preserved when I was experimenting with the various noise-shaping options offered by the Meridian 518 Mastering processor. The inexpensive B&Ws were also the speakers in use when I described the readily audible degradation introduced by inadvertent truncation of the 20-bit data to 16 bits (see "As We See It," April 1996).
The B&W's highs were clean and grain-free and seemed in perfect balance with the midrange. Instruments with significant HF energy didn't jump out of the mix, instead sounding natural. Rock enthusiasts might find the treble a little polite-sounding, however.
The soundstaging was solid and stable. A CD spending quite a lot of time in the Levinson at the moment is violinist Anne Akiko Meyers' 1993 recital, with Andy Litton conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra (RCA 61700-2), and featuring, among other works, Vaughan Williams's The Lark Ascending and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Recorded in London's Henry Wood Hall by legendary English engineer Tony Faulkner and noise-shaped to 16-bit resolution with the Meridian 618 processor, the luminous sound is deliciously true to reality, though in absolute terms the soloist is a little too present in the mix.
Via the B&Ws, every instrumentalist in the orchestra could be heard, set back within the overall image with the reverberant reflections of their sounds from the hall's walls readily apparent. The beginning of Lark features a sustained pianissimo E on the double bass while the upper strings play a rising dotted folksong figure resulting in a luminous-sounding E dominant ninth chord, lacking any third, over which the solo birdsong enters, rocking from D to E to A. Without the clarity offered by speakers like the B&W (or the real thing, of course), the scoring's astringent yet sweet tonal ambiguity—reminiscent, say, of a sour apple sorbet—never quite escapes from earthbound mud, I have found. With the lark ascending from the CDM 1s, I floated away with him into the somnolent English summer countryside. In the words of poet George Meredith, who was Vaughan Williams' inspiration for this work: "And he the wine which overflows / To lift us with him as he goes / Till lost on his a;derial rings / In light, and then the fancy sings."
So, am I going to sell my Silver Signatures? No. There is an ease to the sound of the expensive speaker coupled with a sense of immediacy that I find most seductive. You feel that there is virtually nothing between you and the music. By comparison, the Compact Domestic Monitor 1 sounds a little veiled, doesn't play as loud without strain, doesn't go as deep in the bass, and sounds a little more grainy in the midrange. But the Law of Diminishing Returns is obviously kicking in with a vengeance, making the CDM 1 an excellent value.
It is always gratifying for a reviewer to "discover" a component that sounds very much better than you'd expect for its price. B&W's Compact Domestic Monitor 1 is such a product. Used on a high-quality pair of speaker stands and driven by high-performance electronics, this superbly engineered speaker offers a level of neutrality and transparency that I had not previously found to exist in loudspeakers costing less than $2000/pair. Yes, it won't go as loud or as deep as floorstanding speakers in its approximate price range, but if you want quality rather than quantity, the CDM 1 is a winner. Highly recommended!