When it comes to successfully reinventing your high-end brand in order to appeal to a more budget-conscious audience, few speaker manufacturers have done it as well as Bowers & Wilkins. With its comparatively young lines of headphones and speaker docks, the company has managed to offer better priced gear while also keeping its cachet. (Alas, part of this reinvention was possible with a move of its manufacturing from the UK to China.)
Now, like a good drug pusher, Bowers and Wilkins is hoping those affordable tastes will get its new customers to graduate to more premium products, such as its new $1,100 (£750, AU$1,299) CM1 S2. (That price is for the pair of stereo speakers.) While this pair of China-built speakers is far from being Bowers & Wilkins' flagship -- the shell-shaped Nautilus is a mortgage-worthy $60,000 (£55,000, AU$95,000) -- the CM1 S2 is probably at the high end of what most people would pay for a pair of stereo speakers.
What you get for your money is a beautifully-built pair of speakers with some nifty improvements over the previous generation--that grille-covered dome tweeter is a much-needed addition--and a detailed sound that doesn't sacrifice bass response in the process. There's only a trace of sibilance in not-so-pristine recordings that could spoil things. Keep in mind that if you're not bothered by a more-utilitarian cabinet and yet want to keep most of the sound quality intact the cheaper 685 S2 offers a very good alternative.
Design and features
With their 5-inch Kevlar drivers the CM1s almost qualify as mini monitors, but with a price that's half that of equivalent American-made speakers and a finish that surpasses most of them.
What also sets the speakers apart is that 25mm tweeter: it's based on B&W's existing Nautilus tube technology but now includes improvements that debuted with the original CM10. This is a dual-layer tweeter which is made of a thin aluminum dome surrounded by a thicker aluminum ring for greater stiffness and it reportedly features a higher sensitivity over 20kHz.
If you've ever been to Best Buy's Magnolia and seen the plastic "finger guard" on B&W tweeters you'll guess how susceptible these aluminum drivers are to damage. The new tweeter grille is non-removable and will no doubt prevent a lot of future heartache. As an owner of the older DM602.5's with the impression of a drunken friend's inquisitive fingertip in the middle of the aluminum dome this innovation is unfortunately 10 years too late for me.
Though the version we received didn't have them, B&W assures us that the speakers ship with magnetic cloth grilles for added protection, but most owners would probably prefer the look (and sound) with them removed anyway.
Drivers aside, much of what you're paying for is the cabinetry: the cabinets are gorgeous with a seamless piano finish. This isn't cheap plastic, this is an old-school polished surface. Meanwhile the cabinets themselves are smaller than many with dimensions: 11 in/280mm (H), 6.5 in/165mm (W) and 10 in/255mm (D). Though you presumably won't be carrying them around very often they are also unusually heavy at 14.7 pounds (6.7kg).