Many of us have made the mistake once to buy a cheap Hi-Fi system bought at a bundle price anywhere between £300 and 500. Your audiophile needs soon outgrow the capabilities of your stereo, and it just doesn't sound as well anymore as in the dealer's presentation room during Christmas sale. But your budget is tight, and you can't convince your wife to let you spend a month's salary on a new stereo system, only half a year after you bought the last one. The easiest and cheapest way to significantly improve your stereo is to buy a decent new pair of speakers, because that's usually the weakest link in cheap chains. You can most probably leave the rest as it is. Midi systems and entry-level separate components alike can usually do a proper job playing CDs and amplifying the signals to a reasonable output level without too many distortions. But building a very good speaker at a reasonable price requires far more skill. A task at which the Hi-Fi brands sold in high street shops usually fail, including such famous names as Sony, Pioneer, Kenwood, Yamaha or Technics. An affordable cure to the typical ailments of a cheap stereo is the B&W DM 302, a bookshelf speaker for £150 per pair. I bought a pair of these over a year ago as secondary speakers and use them alternatingly in my bedroom and kitchen, as well as for parties. Sound Description Judging by the bargain price of these speakers, they are doing a fantastic job! The bass only starts at 75 Hz, but you can hardly expect deeper bass from a speaker the size of a shoebox. Nonetheless the bass is tight and clean, none of the fluffiness of so many other cheap bookshelf speakers. The midrange is soft and clear, and so is the treble. Maybe a little bit on the bright side, which is however more than equalised by great dynamics, perfectly suited for pop and rock music. Most importantly, this is a very musical speaker, it provides a well integrated, colourf
ul and harmonious reproduction, whatever the source. After so much praise, the DM 302 had to undergo a somewhat tougher test to uncover some weaknesses. I have often hooked it up to my main stereo system and tested it against my primary speakers, the B&W CDM 2 which trades at £500, more than three times the price of the DM 302. And I have been in for some surprises! Fair enough, the DM 302 cannot accentuate vocals and instruments as brilliantly and colourful as the CDM 2, and it is far from producing the same atmosphere and warmth. The DM 302 appears to play with a slight cold undertone. Yet I was surprised at the ease at which these speakers can create openness and roominess. At medium to higher levels DM 302 creates a wide and deep stage, and manages to fill medium-sized rooms. This latter result was only just matched by the far more expensive CDM 2 after a lot of repositioning and fine tuning. Even at low volume levels, the DM 302 sounds never flat or two-dimensional. This makes it the perfect all-round family speaker and the perfect upgrade for cheap stereo systems. The DM 302 feels most at home when playing pop music, but on jazz and classic it still does a good job. Built-Quality and Finishing Although the DM 302 is all vinyl, pressed wood and plastic, it makes a very solid appearance. The two available vinyl finishings look almost like real wood. The 1inch soft-dome tweeter and the 6inch bass-midrange drive are both well and nicely fitted into the case. Unfortunately the DM 302 only has one-channel connection which makes it incapable of bi-wiring. But that would be asking too much from a speaker of this price. At least it accepts banana-plugs for easy connection and switching. Positioning & Fine-Tuning A great advantage of the DM 302 is that you can place it almost anywhere without loosing much in sound quality. It will still sound reasonable between books and files on a boo
kshelf, although you should separate the speakers from the shelves with a set of spikes or (budget solution) coins. A typical problem witch cheap chains is the low quality cable used to connect the components and speakers. You should invest around £2 per metre for a copper cable with around 3mm diameter to connect the DM 302. For £3 per meter you can already get high-quality Kimber cables, which will reward the small investment with clearer, more accentuated sound. Further Information B&W's official website, www.bwspeakers.com, features all the information such as technical specifications of the DM 302, dealers lists, owners manuals and even advice on tuning your speakers by hand. More reviews like this one about practical experiences by users of this speaker can be found at www.audioreview.com which currently lists over 100 reviews of the DM 302 alone.