CW600E CWS10 CWA-1 inwall Home theater

December 25, 2007

Concealed Concert


It’s not often that I have time to listen to music for several uninterrupted hours, so when I sit down to evaluate a pair of PSB’s new CW600E in-wall speakers, I use the opportunity to listen to almost all of my reference discs. When I finally come up for air, I head for my computer to compose my thoughts.

CW600EMy first thought: Critics of in-wall loudspeakers will have to reconsider their objections when they hear the CW600Es, because they sound more like finely tuned in-room loudspeakers than like most in-wall speakers. Indeed, because the CW600E has a tuned, sealed enclosure, it really is an in-room speaker that just happens to fit in a standard residential wall.

The critics do have a valid point about most in-wall speakers—the kind that don’t have an integral enclosure. These speakers use the wall cavity as a cabinet, which can lead to unpredictable performance—especially in the bass—and can result in less-than-ideal sound quality. The optimum design is an in-wall speaker with its own integral enclosure, with the drivers matched and tuned to the volume of the enclosure. That’s exactly what PSB founder and chief engineer Paul Barton has done with the CW600E.

PSB is a Canadian company that boasts more than 40 years of experience designing and building loudspeakers. It places significant emphasis on research; Barton was the first speaker designer to make use of the testing facilities at Canada’s National Research Council, one of the world’s premiere research centers for audio and many other sciences. Barton still uses the NRC’s facilities to test his designs.

The complement of drivers in the CW600Es includes two 6.5-inch woofers, two 3.5-inch midrange drivers, and a 1-inch dome tweeter configured in a D’Appolito driver array. A D’Appolito array uses a single tweeter bordered by two midrange drivers in vertical alignment, and when properly designed results in wider off-axis frequency response.

What first strikes me about the CW600E/CWS10 system is its full, well-balanced tonal quality, along with excellent detail and an open midrange. Both Brazilian singer Ana Caram’s sweet, graceful voice and Diana Krall’s deep, breathy voice sound unveiled, with an in-the-room presence. The multiple vocals in Steely Dan’s “Maxine” sound spacious and uncongested, easy to separate aurally.

The CW600E reveals very good transient response, especially with piano, a percussive instrument that should have a sharp, crisp attack when reproduced. Mid-bass is well-defined—each bass note sounds distinct and separate, the way it should, not heavy or bloated.

Although mid-bass sounds tight, the CW600E’s bass drops off pretty quickly below 50 hertz. Enter the CWS10 in-wall passive subwoofer and the CWA-1 subwoofer amplifier. The CWS10 features dual 10-inch woofers; each has its magnet in front, inside the cone, instead of behind it in order to make the driver slimmer. It too features an enclosed cabinet. It’s powered by the 300-watt CWA-1 subwoofer amplifier. The CWA-1 includes custom features to tweak bass performance, the most useful being a three-control parametric equalizer that lets your installer dial down the most troublesome bass frequency in your room. Bass quality and quantity is highly dependent upon placement of the subwoofer; in-wall subs have fewer room placement options, but the equalizer gives your installer some ability to overcome problems caused by non-optimal placement. Right away, though, the CWS10 proves a good match for the CW600E. The bass sounds tight and punchy, just the way I like it.

CWS10The CWA-1 offers two connection options to a receiver or processor. You can connect it to the LFE output and bypass the crossover in the CWA-1, or connect it to the preamp outputs of your electronics and use the crossover in the amp. The second option allows bass from all sources (not just the LFE signal from a 5.1 channel source) to be reproduced by the subwoofer. Both options sound good in my system.

PSB’s research has paid off—the CW600E/CWS10/CWA-1 combination is the best I’ve heard from PSB. In the broad range of in-wall speaker choices, the CW600E and CWS10/CWA-1 fall in the high-end category, but if you want a speaker to complement a big, jaw-dropping high-def picture, this speaker should be on your short list. It delivers an accurate, impressive, high-resolution sonic experience for movies and music and makes a great match for a large-screen video display. The one downside is that the speaker is larger than most in-walls, which may make some designers complain, but when the grilles are painted or wallpapered they blend well with the room décor. And of course, they occupy not a single square inch of floor space.

Those are my thoughts. I’m headed back to the couch—I have more discs to listen to, so please don’t interrupt me.

Robb Report - Home Entertainment

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