In an era of streaming services, Bluetooth, and on-the-go portability, the idea of a premium bookshelf speaker tethered to a set of bulky components through — gasp — wires feels out of touch. But leave it to British engineering to eschew a trend in favor of refining a classic.
With nearly 50 years of heritage in speakercraft, Bowers & Wilkins needs little in the introduction department. Their products, technology and design are well documented in the annals of hi-fi; they’re known for pushing boundaries on many new products like the Zeppelin Air, P-series headphones and flagship Nautilus speakers. Perhaps lesser noticed amid the noise of mass-market consumption is their adherence to careful, iterative design in their more “attainable” lines.
Much of this year’s acclaim has gone to B&W’s sequel to the B&W 685 S2 speakers, a fantastic entry-level unit that punches far above its weight class, but in our eyes B&W’s CM6 S2 tells an equally important story.
The art of a great bookshelf speaker, one that can be mounted to a stand or tucked away on the shelf of a modest room, is about precision in cabinet design, which facilitates ease of setup, performance and a low-profile aesthetic. A floorstanding tower speaker affords the luxury of volume. A large cabinet packs enough space for multiple drivers and enough internal volume for ostensible impact. Multi-channel speaker setups rely on a subwoofer to round out a system’s range. But the modest bookshelf speaker, in a pair, requires a thoughtful approach in order to deliver its audio allegory. A balance of sophisticated circuitry, rigid design constraints, and an authenticity to audio reproduction typically anchor a great bookshelf speaker. It’s probably the reason so many critics and hi-fi enthusiasts clamor over a great bookshelf speaker that delivers. The task is simply a harder engineering feat.
The kneejerk reaction when acquiring a pair of speakers is to buy them in black. Don’t get us wrong, the high-gloss black finish offering of the CM6 S2s is handsome, but the lineup’s real stunner is B&W’s semi-gloss satin white lacquer finish. It’s a perfect backdrop to B&W’s signature aspect: a yellow woven Kevlar woofer. And of course there’s the cherry, quite literally, on top: a decoupled Double Dome aluminum tweeter mounted atop the cabinet. The tweeter serves as the speaker’s visual pièce de résistance and one normally reserved for B&W’s range toppers like the 800 Diamond series. Elsewhere, B&W has updated and improved nearly every component of the CM6 S2, right down to making the cabinet screws invisible without affecting the lineup’s classic design.
The CM6 S2s are available as a full multi-channel setup, and for that purpose they do their duties admirably, but take our advice: buy them in their simplest form, a pair, and make them the centerpiece of a great two-channel setup. Musically inclined, the CM6 S2s — with propery amplification — will deliver detail, acuity and even a tuneful bass to your favorite tunes, whether they lean towards Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, The Sugarhill Gang or everywhere in between, and they’ll last for years to come.
Drive Units: 1-inch Decoupled Double Dome aluminium tweeter. 6.5-inch woven Kevlar cone bass mid
Frequency Range: -6dB at 45Hz and 50kHz
Sensitivity: 88dB spl (2.83V, 1m)
Dimensions: 15.9 x 7.8 x 11.2 inches
Weight: 19.6 pounds