B&W Compact Domestic Monitor 1 loudspeaker

While large, floorstanding speakers appear to offer the most material for the buck, I feel that small stand-mounted speakers both offer the best value in sound quality, as well as standing the best chance of sounding good in moderate-sized listening rooms. In recent months Stereophile has reviewed a varied group of such speakers. In order of descending price, these include the Acoustic Energy AE2 Signature ($5495/pair, November '95); Dzurko Acoustics Jaguar ($4500/pair, reviewed elsewhere in this issue); Totem Mani-2 ($3995/pair, February '96); Platinum Audio Solo ($2498/pair, November '95); Coincident Speaker Technology Troubador ($1495/pair, January and February '96); Joseph Audio RM7si ($1299-$1499/pair, February '96); Acarian Alón Petite ($995-$1195/pair, January '96); Phase Technology PC80 II ($699/pair, December '95); and Spectrum 108cd ($399/pair, December '95).

The variation in sound quality in this group was as wide as the price range, with the Acoustic Energy AE2 and Totem Mani-2 achieving the highest absolute quality. However, the Platinum Solo, Alón Petite, and Phase Technology PC80 perhaps offer the best values for money, albeit at differing performance levels.

This month I review three more small stand-mounted speakers. One is from the UK, B&W's Compact Domestic Monitor 1; one from France, JMlab's Micron Carat; and one from Canada, the latest version of PSB's Stratus Mini. All are reflex-loaded two-ways. All could be regarded as high-performance minimonitors. All are very competitively priced.

B&W Compact Domestic Monitor 1: $1100/pair
Voted "Loudspeaker of the Year" by European journalists in 1995, B&W's Compact Domestic Monitor 1 (CDM 1) is an attractive-looking miniature finished on all surfaces with a mahogany-colored veneer. The most unusual aspect of its design concerns the tweeter, mounted on a sloped cutaway at the top of the baffle. The enclosure is constructed from ¾" MDF, and is made rigid by a vertical brace at the sidewall centers. I want to call this a "figure-8" brace, except that it has three rather than two holes. The cabinet walls are lined with 1" foam. The reflex port, almost 2" in diameter and 6" deep, is situated on the front baffle immediately beneath the woofer and is flared to minimize wind noise.

This HF unit is a metal-dome unit descended from the 1" tweeter used in B&W's classic Matrix 801 design. The 6.5" woofer features a yellow cone formed from Kevlar, the synthetic material used in bulletproof vests. The woofer cone is also surrounded by a circular plastic molding to minimize reflections. The tweeter is covered with a black wire mesh, the woofer and port with an elliptical grille made from black cloth stretched over a minimal plastic space frame. I did most of my auditioning with the grille in place. However, after I had removed it and replaced it a couple of times, half of the plastic bushes set into the baffle that hold the grille in place had worked themselves loose.

The crossover is set at 3kHz, with the circuit mounted on a small printed circuit board attached to the inside of the inset plastic terminal panel. The woofer low-pass filter appears to consist of a single soft-iron-cored series inductor, while the tweeter high-pass filter, a damped T section, features an air-cored inductor and non-polar electrolytic capacitors. Two sets of gold-plated knurled binding posts are provided to allow for bi-wiring. Unlike some of other speakers I have reviewed recently, these posts did not work loose with extended use.

Regular readers will be aware that my long-term reference loudspeaker is the B&W John Bowers Silver Signature. This stand-mounted two-way design retails for $8000/pair—I bought the review samples after I wrote my review for the June 1994 Stereophile (Vol.17 No.6, p.75). Well, for just over one-eighth its price, the CDM 1 sounds fundamentally similar to the Silver Signature! Not quite as good, mind you, but this speaker is definitely cut from the same cloth as its sterling cousin.

Although I primarily used the Silver Signatures as monitors during the editing and mixing of the masters for Stereophile's new CD of Robert Silverman performing works for piano by Franz Liszt (STPH008-2), I substituted the CDM 1s at frequent intervals. My motive was to see whether the decisions I was making worked as well on a lesser speaker as they did on the expensive speakers. However, the closeness of the CDM 1's and Signature's tonal balances worked against me. Putting aside false modesty, I thought the big Steinway D sounded terrific on either speaker! And the splices were as detectable or undetectable (depending how you look at it) on each. The descriptor "monitor," often misused, seems appropriate in this case.

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