B&W Compact Domestic Monitor 1 loudspeaker Sam Tellig, December 1998
Even Lars was impressed with the Puccini when he stopped by. (You remember my Swedish friend Lars. He's back. Long story.)
"I was in this neck of the wood and I thought I'd stop by," said Lars.
"The expression is 'neck of the woods,' Lars."
Lars said he would "poculate"—his word—on why the Audio Analogue Puccini SE amplifier sounds so lusciously tubey. I think "poculate" is a Swedish word. I'll have to ask him next time.
Lars was impoculated, too, by the B&W CDM1 Special Edition speakers I used during most of my auditioning of the Puccini.
"Those B&Ws are really yamming," he said.
"Yamming? Is something wrong?"
"No. They're yamming."
"Ah! I get it. That's what sometimes happens when Swedes play yazz." As I said, Lars is back...
The original B&W CDM1, no longer available, has long been a John Atkinson fave. So when I got wind of the CDM1 Special Edition, I decided to scoop JA.
I've been a B&W buff myself. Twenty years ago, I traded up from a pair of Large Advents to B&W DM7 floorstanders—a big improvement in transparency and musicality.
B&W is an example of a company that got very big by doing things right, and still does. (Audio Analogue is an example of a small company that has managed to pull off something the big boys haven't.) B&W has perhaps the best research and development facility of any speaker manufacturer. They manufacture their own drivers. Quality control is tops.
And—this is important—they enjoy economies of scale that smaller manufacturers can only dream of. According to Chris Browder, of B&W in the US, B&W moved about 25,000 pairs of the original CDM1 worldwide each year. B&W can spend lavishly for R&D, tooling, and amortize the cost over tens of thousands of units.
A pair of CDM1 Special Editions will set you back a mere $1100/pair. Add $300-$400 for a good pair of stands and you're still looking at only $1500/pair. A steal, considering that JA found the original CDM1 offers a good deal of the performance of his beloved $8000/pair B&W Silver Signatures.
The CDM1 SE exudes quality. Cabinetry is first-rate. The natural cherry finish looks stunning in my living room. (The speaker is also available in red ash or black ash.) The fit and finish are more what I would expect in a pair of $2000 speakers. B&W recommends stands 20-24" high. I used the excellent Osiris stands. One complaint: the B&W stands, as shown in their catalog, look like a dog's dinner.
The CDM1 SE is a two-way design rated at 88dB/2.83V/m sensitivity. Nominal impedance is rated at 8 ohms, going down to a minimum of 4.5 ohms. The 6½" Kevlar (woven fabric) woofer/midrange driver was redesigned for the CDM1 SE using some of the same technology B&W developed for its upmarket Matrix models.
Notice the bullet-shaped nose cone smack in the middle of the woofer's voice-coil, in lieu of a dustcap. B&W calls it a "dispersion modifier." Another speaker manufacturer (who prefers to remain anonymous) calls it a "woofer dick"—referring to his own speakers, of course. The tweeter is a 1" metal-dome unit.
B&W recommends 30-150Wpc of amplifier power, but I drove these speakers quite well with Gordon Rankin's $4750 "entry-level" 300B single-ended amp, the Duetta. Bass was surprisingly tight—so long as I didn't push the volume levels.
Using the more powerful solid-state Plinius SA-1 (Pliny the Elder), I was able to play louder, and got more bass extension and punch. With the Puccini, the sound was lush and lovely, but the bass became rather more untidy, as the Brits like to say. The Bryston B-60 was a terrific combination with the B&W—tight, taut bass and plenty of detail throughout the frequency spectrum. You could start a great system with the Bryston and the B&W for around $4000 or so! I'd say more—but Marina caught me borrowing "her" Bryston and demanded it back.
Don't Mess with that Mesh!
The tweeter reminds me of the top-mounted tweeter on JA's Silver Siggies and my original DM7s. It's not top-mounted, actually. The cabinet slopes back starting about 3½" from the top, and the tweeter (protected under a clear wire mesh) juts out. The effect is unusual, striking, elegant, and allows the tweeter to sound open and airy.
One thing you shouldn't do is pull off the wire-mesh cone that covers the tweeter. Once you do, you may find it all but impossible to put on again (it's easily bent out of shape). I know. Harvey Rosenberg—Dr. Gizmo—came to visit and promptly took over the listening room, moving the speakers, pulling off the tweeter's protective mesh cones. Now I can't get them on again.
Gad—sometimes I just hate it when audiophiles visit. The speakers require considerable break-in. How long? I don't know. The usual answer is 100 hours. I wasn't counting, but that seems about right. The important thing is not to yump to conclusions before the speakers are run in.
Once they are, I think you'll be delighted by the sound. The CDM1 Special Edition not only looks, but sounds, much more expensive than it is.
What it has is refinement (unlike me). That's a rather difficult quality to describe, so I'll start by saying what you don't get. You don't get that raw, rough'n'ready quality you might expect from moderately priced speakers. Instead, you get a more delicate, smooth, more sweetly extended sound. Civilized. The B&W CDM1 SEs love classical music.
And yazz and pop too, for that matter.
They're neutral, in the tradition of British loudspeaker designers like Spencer Hughes (Spendor), Dudley Harwood (Harbeth), and Jim Rogers. Which is not the tradition of certain other British speaker manufacturers.
There's only so much bass you can get from a small speaker, but the CDM1 Special Edition does very well, except for the lowest octave. Better banish that lowest octave than have the deep bass shake the cabinet and muddy the sound! You could always mate the CDM1 with a good subwoofer.
As I said earlier, the bass performance was very much dependent on the amplifier.
The Most Resolving
Listening to the CDM 1 SE with the Audio Analogue Puccini, I wondered whether or not the speakers are the most resolving. Resolution was somewhat better with the Bryston—but I missed the Puccini's fullness and sweetness of tone. The sound of the Puccini and the B&W CDM 1 SE is absolutely ravishing, however. And very good news to melomanes on a tight budget.
It was when I tried the Pathos Twin Tower amplifier ($4995), also from Italy and also distributed by Richard Kolhruss's Hi-Fi Forum, that I got a full picture of just how great the B&W CDM1 SE really is. Give the B&W CDM1 SE an amp with killer resolution and that's what you'll get...killer resolution. "Killer" in the good sense—ie, resolution and neutrality and musicality. Not sizzle—this B&W never sizzles, despite having a metal-dome tweeter on top. It never gives you detail while leaving the music behind.
With the Pathos—"only" 35Wpc into 8 ohms—the soundstage opened up. The room filled with air. I could hear the most subtle details on each CD. (this was with the no-longer-available Micromega Stage 6 player.) Great recordings sounded simply stunning. Not-so-great recordings were treated kindly—including those "golden oldies" from the 1920s and '30s (many of them 78s, direct-to-the-airwaves) that Rich Conaty plays on "The Big Broadcast" every Sunday night from 8 to 11pm over WFUV 90.7 FM in the Bronx. (People in the New York City listening area, pounce!)
There are livelier, more energetic speakers than the CDM 1 SE. For crisply articulated sound that almost jumps out of the box, you might try Epos or Mordaunt-Short. The B&W CDM1 SE is more laid-back...yet, for my tastes, not too laid-back. Just right, I would say!
What you do get for $1100/pair (minus stands) is pretty amazing: the kind of musicality, neutrality, refinement, and build quality you might expect in a pair of speakers retailing for $2000/pair, $3000/pair or more. You also get a pair of speakers that will do justice to the very finest electronics. There's no question in my mind: B&W is practically giving away the store here. I wonder what some of their more expensive models sound like with the Pathos!
The only problem is what I used to call the "Shure Phenomenon." It's no secret I still use the long-discontinued Shure Ultra 500 moving-magnet cartridge—I think it ranks with the very best. But people who have—or had—Shure cartridges seldom heard them at their best. The performance was usually compromised by inexpensive tonearms, turntables, and the like. Ditto with the B&W CDM 1 SE. Most people will put these speakers in moderately priced systems and thus not hear the absolutely stunning resolution and immediacy.
These speakers are not just warmly recommended—they're wildly recommended. Bass-extension aside, along with the ability, perhaps, to fill a very large room with loud music, the B&M CDM 1 SE comes damned close to Class A at a price more in keeping with Class C. If you're in the market for speakers you must audition these. You'll then be able then to upgrade your electronics way beyond the price of the speakers!—Sam Tellig