“ The B&W CDM 2SE's are mid-range speakers, that arguably compete with much more expensive alternatives in terms of sound. Atmospheric and smooth sound reproduction make for a very enjoyable listen. „
The B&W CDM 2 is a bookshelf speaker at the size of a larger shoebox. At around £500 per pair, this is the entry model to the CDM series which also includes the slightly larger CDM 1 (£700 / pair) and the floor-standing CDM 7 (£1,000 / pair), plus a centre speaker and subwoofer for home cinema enthusiasts. Like the other models the CDM 2 employs a 2-way system consisting of a metal 25mm / 1 inch tweeter and a Kevlar 165 mm / 6.5 inch midrange/bass woofer. Yet, unlike with the more expensive models, the tweeter is not placed separate on top of the box, but built-in above the woofer. The cabinet is solid wood, available with three different finishings. None of the usual wood-finished plastic here which is found in so many other speakers in this price range. This makes the CDM quite heavy for a speaker of its size, weighting 7 kilograms each. The manufacturing quality is perfect, and the looks aren't spectacular but fit with most surroundings. The CDM 2 comes with a bi-wiring terminal, i.e. separate input sockets for bass and treble. This allows bi-wiring (two separate cables between amplifier and speaker) and bi-amping (separate amplifiers for treble and midrange/bass channels). In its original state, the CDM 2 terminal is bridged with gold-plated connectors between the two channels which can easily be removed. The speakers also have a bass-reflex opening at the back. The CDM series was replaced in 1999 with the CDM SE (Special Edition) series, which angered me a bit as I had bought the CDM 2 only one year before. Modifications included a slightly different cone for the midrange drive and slight changes on the electronics, mainly using parts with lower tolerances. I briefly considered an upgrade, but listening to the CDM 2 SE, I found the changes rather minimal. At the beginning of 2001, the CDM SE series itself was replaced by the CDM NT (New Technology) series, and this seems to be a rather large step in refining these already
excellent speakers. The NT models employ some of the technology of B&W's top Nautilus 800 range which trades at five times the prices of the CDM models. I haven't had a chance to listen to them yet, but from what I hear they must be fantastic. As a result of these upgrades, the original CDMs can now be had for half the price second hand, and the SE models trade at around 30% discount either second hand or in stock sales of B&W dealers. All CDM models come with ten years warranty, which I find quite outstanding. SOUND DESCRIPTION Before I discuss the particular characteristics of this speaker, I should mention that the CDM 2 generally plays far above its price. When testing it in my dealer's showroom, I quickly singled out the B&W CDM 2 and the ALR Jordan Step 2, a German-made speaker, from the rest. These two speakers can easily beat many competitors which cost twice as much, and no other speaker at the same price did come anywhere near the performance of these two in my test. Bear that in mind when you come across some criticism in my review. Treble The high frequency sounds coming from this speaker are as smooth as silk. None of the harsh high pitch tones which so many metallic tweeters produce. Indeed you are lead to believe that you are listening to a speaker with a textile membrane. Yet it never lacks precision, the treble comes clear and bright. However, achieving this result requires careful selection of the speaker cable (see below). With the wrong cable the treble can sound a bit as if covered with a silk bed sheet. Midrange At midrange frequencies, i.e.70% of the tones the human ear can perceive, this speaker is just fantastic! In fact it is the best midrange speaker I have ever listened to, beating a friend's £2,500 per pair Spendor boxes. Beautifully accentuated vocals by Joan Armatrading, Lynn Miles or Rebecca Pidgeon, and an instrumental reproduction which allows
you to guess the colour of the strings employed on the guitars of Eric Clapton or Paco de Lucia. Altogether a lively, colourful, deep and precise reproduction in this frequency range, both with modern and classic music feeds. Bass Well, what can you expect from a bookshelf speaker of this size. Of course the CDM 2 cannot produce the deep bass sounds that will make the earth shiver below your feet and which are necessary for the full enjoyment of techno-style music. If that is your priority, you might consider a floor-standing B&W DM 603 for the same price. This is not to say that the CDM 2 doesn't come with a good bass. Indeed the upper bass frequencies are a bit overemphasised, which creates the warm and atmospheric sound that is so typical for British loudspeakers. Again, with the right cable and some fine-tuning, this can be turned off. Apart from that, the bass is absolutely tight and never fluffy. Very good for a speaker of this size and price. Precision & Neutrality I don't want a stereo system to interpret the music for me or leave its own mark on the reproduction, thus neutrality is the most important criterion to me. And apart from the upper bass problem, which I managed to get under control, the CDM 2 is absolutely neutral. A perfect studio monitor, which once again shows why B&W has been chosen as the sole speaker supplier to the Abbey Road studios. And the CDM 2 is painfully precise. So precise that it immediately uncovers bad recordings. It makes you want to throw away your "Californication" CD by the Red Hot Chili Peppers which is terribly over-amplified. And the Best of Billy Joel, although digitally remastered, sounds like covered with dust. You will soon give away your cheap classic collection from Naxos records, and will opt for better labels such as Teldec or the Denon One-Point-Recordings. Atmosphere The CDM 2 is just wonderful at reproducing atmosph
ere. Note the difference here between producing and reproducing. This speaker doesn't come up with superficial effects of its own, but beautifully resembles the surroundings of the original recording. Played on these speakers, Peter Gabriel's "Passion" (the soundtrack to "The Last Temptation of Christ") lets you walk barefoot through Lake Genezareth, and "The Concert in Central Park" by Simon and Garfunkel takes you to New York faster than a Concorde could do. Roominess This is the sole discipline at which the CDM 2 lost to the ALR Jordan Step 2 in my test (although it was a close race altogether). Whereas the ALR Jordan creates a three-dimensional stage in front of you no matter how you position the speakers, the B&W requires an enormous amount of effort to get it right. Especially in easy listening mode with low sound levels, it tends to be rather two-dimensional, and the music source can sound as if glued to the speakers. I finally achieved very good results with the CDM 2 after some repositioning and fine tuning, but it still requires medium to higher sound levels to fill the room. At these levels, however, the CDM 2 fulfils the ultimate test for roominess: on the album "The Soul Cages" by Sting, track three (Mad About You), position 1 minute 8 seconds, there is a bass which must come from the left corner behind you. A less able pair of speakers will reflect this sound as if coming from the front left speaker. (Try this on your own system!) MAKING THE BEST OF YOUR SPEAKERS Here are some recommendations on how to achieve the best results with your speakers in general, and with the B&W CDM 2 in particular. Speaker Selection As with all stereo components, test your speakers at home before you buy them. Your dealer may be reluctant to agree to this, particularly if you only buy a £300 midi system, but if you invest something like £ 1,500 for the w
hole system like I did, this is obligatory. You may be asked to leave a deposit, but if the dealer still refuses, pick a different shop. Make a pre-selection in the dealer's showroom, and then take the best two or three models home for a week. Speakers sound different in every room. In the showroom the B&W CDM 2 was far ahead of the ALR Step 2, but in my own surroundings the gap narrowed, making it almost a tie. Only after a week could the CDM 2 gain some more ground. How does that come? This speaker has a very long run-in period. It sounded much better after a week than on the first day. After three months there were still significant improvements. And even today, after three years in service, it sounds best after two hours warm-up. Thus if you want to make a several thousand pounds investment for your next Hi-Fi system, take a week off from work. Input, Fine-tuning & Positioning As I have explained above with the quality of the software, the CDM 2 is just as picky with the hardware that powers it. Although this speaker is a very musical addition to almost every system and can even make an overly analytical Yamaha or Denon chain sound more harmonious, it does however quickly identify the weakest link in the chain. Thus you should do it the favour and supply it with first class hardware from source to end. In my case the CDM 2 operates in the following chain of components, each of which (or their successor models) I consider best buys in their price range: CD-Player: Rotel RCD-950, £350 Tuner: Marantz ST-63, £180 Amplifier: Rotel RA-970BX, £300 Interconnects: Monitor Cable PC-OCC Crystal Symmetry, £30 each Speaker cable: Monitor Cable Cobra Silver 6mm, £15 per metre The CDM 2 is a bit critical with weak amplifiers, as it is very power hungry even at low levels. I first tried it on the Rotel RA-935BX MK2 (2 x 40W), which at slightly above £200 provides a sound quality that some £500 amplifiers can o
nly dream of. I had to operate the 935 almost at maximum output to achieve upper medium levels on the CDM 2. Thus I opted for the stronger RA-970BX with 2 x 60W. It doesn't sound much better than the RA-935, but with its huge transformer and oversized capacitors provide just the kind of power the CDM 2 longs for, in order not to sound stressed in longer bass passages. Another emphasis was put on selecting the right speaker cable. After experimenting with some Kimber and Straight Wire cables, I found the Monitor silver cables to be the perfect match, providing more precision in the treble and curing the slight overemphasis in the bass range. One thing about the cables really surprised me: when I replaced the metal bridges between the channels with 10cm of the same speaker cable, I literally thought I had a different pair of speakers in front of me. The sound was much brighter and, above all, much roomier. This effect multiplied when I bought another cable to operate the CDM 2 in bi-wiring. After spending over £150 on wire and plugs alone, I finally had the speaker I wanted to have. Although they are categorised as bookshelf speakers, the worst thing you can do to the CDM 2 is put them on a bookshelf. Instead you should place them on speaker stands. It is not necessary to buy the original B&W stands, at £200 per pair they are rather expensive. I have chosen some metal no-name stands for £40 per pair and filled them with sand (some people say you should fill them with led), and they work fine for me. Make sure that the stands elevate the speakers to ear-level, otherwise you lose detail in the treble. Positioning the CDM 2 at the perfect place in the room is a bit of a problem. You can move them half a metre from the wall for best roominess, but by doing so lose immensely in bass power. Moving them to close to the wall makes them sound two-dimensional and overloaded in the upper and middle bass. My personal preference is 35cm from the wa
ll, with a piece of carpet attached to the wall behind them for optimal bass neutrality. I have also increased roominess by not placing them parallel, but facing the listening position instead. FINAL VERDICT The B&W CDM 2 and its successor CDM 2SE is excellent value for money. Its neutrality, accentuation and atmospheric qualities make it the perfect speaker for classic music as well as instrumental and life recordings. Vocals are almost unbeatable, with one of the best midrange frequency performances available on the market, for almost any price. Its weakness in three-dimensional reproduction and its slight overemphasis in the upper bass range can be forgiven, and can be fixed with careful wiring and positioning. At £500 per pair, a significant improvement would require at least an additional £400 to buy a Dynaudio Contour 1.1 or an HGP Nightingale. The £700 for the larger CDM 1 can be justified for some deeper bass and a bit more openness, but in my view the CDM 2 comes close enough to the sound of the CDM 1 to be better value for money. P.S. This is my first review at Dooyoo UK. I have extensively written on Ciao UK as "From_The_Continent?, but following a continued decline of support, service quality and site maintenance at Ciao UK have chosen to explore other writing forums on the side, with an option to make my permanent home here at Dooyoo. I trust Dooyoo to go a more professional path than Ciao have lately done, and hope that my reviews will be well received in this community.