In the 1970s, Cerwin-Vega was a big name in the speaker business, but it fell off the radar a while back. It never really went away but instead focused on building speakers for car audio, clubs, and movie theaters. The company's biggest coup in the latter venue was its development of Sensurround speaker technology with Universal Studios, which used special Cerwin-Vega subwoofers to supply ultra deep bass for Sensurround-encoded movies such as Earthquake and Midway. The new CVHD 5.1 (Cerwin-Vega High Definition) series marks the brand's return to the consumer market, and--thanks to its combination of impressive sound quality and relatively modest price--it looks and sounds like a winner. Cerwin-Vega's engineers insisted the new system had to have five identical satellite speakers to guarantee seamless surround imaging. And each of those speakers sports a whopping seven drivers--six woofers and one tweeter--a safety-in-numbers strategy that ensures the speaker can handle power and deliver full home theater dynamics while maintaining low distortion. The CVHD 5.1's seriously potent 12-inch subwoofer supplies the motivation to rock your world. Best of all, the CVHD 5.1 is equally adept with home theater and music, a rare feat for flat-screen-friendly speaker packages, especially one as affordable as the CVHD 5.1. Our only real complaint is that there's a hidden charge for anyone who's not mounting the speakers on the ceiling or the wall: you'll need to invest an additional $280 to $435 in floor stands for five satellite speakers, above and beyond the set's $1,000 list price. Thankfully, the fact that the speakers can be found online for hundreds less takes out a bit of the sting.
The Cerwin-Vega CVHD 5.1 is a six-piece satellite/subwoofer system. Each of the five identical satellite speakers (CVHD 63) measures 22.5 inches high by 5 inches wide by 5 inches deep--far smaller than full-size bookshelf or tower speakers, but a tad bigger and bulkier than some competing svelte flat-screen models, but attractive enough. The speaker's front surface has a thin silver plastic frame and nonremovable black cloth grille, and the cabinet is made of molded black plastic. The speakers come with metal wall-mount brackets, or you can opt for OmniMount wall/ceiling mounts.
Adjustable floor stands with wire management to hide speaker cables are sold separately, and they're not too expensive--the CVHD-FST (for the front and back lefts and rights) list for $180 per pair (but can be found for as little as $110 online) and CVHD-CS (for the center channel, which sits horizontally) goes for $75 or less. Wall or ceiling mounts or floor stands are your only choices--the satellite's curved ends prevent it from standing on its own, and Cerwin-Vega doesn't offer a table stand. That means you're either mounting these speakers or investing up to $435 for floor stands.
The 17.75-inch-high-by-16.75-inch-wide-by-16.5-inch-deep subwoofer sure looks like it means business, but its textured black paint and black cloth grille won't win any beauty contests. Pop off the cloth grille and you can ogle the red-ringed 12-inch woofer and Cerwin-Vega logo--the sight will quicken the pulse of any audiophile old enough to remember the brand's glory days in the 1970s, but the color may be too flashy for more subdued tastes. The sub is built like a tank and weighs 48.5 pounds.
Cerwin-Vega recommends an unusually high subwoofer-to-satellite crossover setting of 150 hertz, and that's what we used for most of our listening tests. But many receivers' bass management systems come with fixed crossovers, set to 80 or 100 Hz, so we also listened that way and didn't hear much difference in the sound. If you can dial in the 150 Hz setting, go for it--otherwise don't sweat it.
The five satellite speakers are two-way designs employing six 3-inch cellulose/composite woofers and a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter. The satellites are extremely efficient (95 dB)--that's a good thing, because they can play really loud with low power receivers (maximum power handling is rated at 125 watts continuous). Instead of the typical plastic-spring clip connectors, the speakers boast heavy-duty five-way binding posts--they accept banana plugs, spades, or bare wire ends.