We set the front left, center, and right speaker levels to "0 dB." If you're using the CD 90 SB in its standard three-channel mode we recommend turning off your AV receiver's surround channels; that way, any sound mixed into the surround channels will be redirected to the CD 90 SB's left and right channels.
Canton doesn't claim that the CD 90 SB is a full-range speaker, but it certainly provided adequate bass when used without a subwoofer. That said, the CD 90 SB can be matched with any of Canton's AS line of active subwoofers. We didn't have an AS series sub on hand, so we briefly auditioned the CD 90 SB teamed with the subwoofer from a Canton Movie 150 QX.
Upgrading to full 5.1 or 6.1 or even 7.1 surround is also possible by adding Canton's compact CD 10 satellite speakers for a complete surround home theater system. The CD 90 SB is one of the few sound bar systems that allow a full upgrade to bona fide surround sound.
Our first impression with the CD 90 SB was entirely positive, mostly because it didn't sound like a sound bar. By that, we mean it didn't have the sort of overtly processed and fuzzy sound we associate with sound bars that try to create a facsimile of surround sound. The CD 90 SB's sound is essentially stereo, though movie dialog is heard over the center channel speaker. Still, the sound is confined to the 39.9-inch width of the speaker, without even the slightest hint of surround sound. If you crave a large, spacious sound, the CD 90 SB won't cut it.
We weren't thinking about surround when we played the 24, Season 2 DVD. The CD 90 SB's three-channel sound was confined to the size and width of the Samsung LN46A950 LCD it sat under. In that sense, the picture and sound were perfectly scaled to each other. As we mentioned, the CD 90 SB contains three two-way (tweeter/woofer) speakers, which is definitely a step up from the usual tweeterless sound bar speakers. Dialog sounded clear and natural and the CD 90 SB kept our attention on the story. But like most small speakers, the CD 90 SB has volume limitations and it will sound best up to a moderately loud level. Played too loud, the sound becomes harsh.
Across the Universe, the Beatles musical, sounded fabulous on Blu-ray, and the gospel choir belting out Let It Be was a highpoint. The singers' voices filling the church had a scale and power that few single-speaker systems can match.
We briefly listened to the CD 90 SB with a subwoofer, and yes, the sub freed up the CD 90 SB's dynamic range somewhat. The sound was closer to what you'd get from a typical 5.1-channel Canton package. But even after we disconnected the sub, we still felt that the CD 90 SB's bass was perfectly acceptable.
Piano jazz trio The Bad Plus added a vocalist for its new CD, For All I Care. The band reworked Kurt Cobain's Lithium to great effect, and the way the CD 90 SB nailed the sound of Ethan Iverson's piano was especially nice. Reid Anderson's stand-up bass had just the right balance of low-down oomph and taut pitch definition.
The CD 90 SB can also be considered a "TV speaker," similar in concept to Boston Acoustics' TVee Model Two ($400 suggested retail price), though the Boston comes with a wireless powered subwoofer. We didn't have the TVee Model Two on hand, but according to our notes (and memories) about the two systems, the Canton is the better-sounding choice, especially on music. Still, the Boston's lower price and sub might be deciding factors for some buyers.
As good as the Canton CD 90 is, the best sound bar we've heard that works with AV receivers was Definitive Technology's SSA-50. That speaker outclasses the CD 90 SB on every count, and produces a more spacious, room-filling sound. However, it also has a $1,100 suggested retail price, which is much more expensive than the Canton.