Some Kinda of Wonderful
The Big White Boxes
And Wide Black Horns Of
Classic Audio Reproductions'
Cinema Ensemble Loudspeakers
Review by A. Colin Flood
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The $2,250 Classic Audio Reproductions Cinema Ensembles are big white boxes with wide black horns. They are a two-way design, with three drivers. Cinema Ensembles are two feet high, over a foot wide and about a foot deep. They are super-sensitive, large Rosewood boxes, with flat white grille covers, unique dual mid-woofers and wide black mid-high horns.
To readers familiar to my rants and ramblings, it should come as no surprise that I love these big white boxes with wide black horns. In the past year, I have deprecated more conventional, but superlative, dream
systems and seen at this review/link
while extolling the virtues of spherical horns as big and glossy as tubas (as
I am also captivated by the delicate charms of low-cost flea-powered tube amplifiers more than the muscular force of solid-state ones (see my Bio for the context of my reviews). This predilection is the same with cars. I would rather sling around the curvaceous hills of New England in a red roller-skate, like our Ferrari-loving publisher, than blast down the straight-away in a big-block hemi with fat slicks.
Unlike other loudspeakers auditioned here for Enjoy the
Music.com™, the Cinema Ensembles are more like my beloved Klipsch beasts. They are superbly dynamic and easily-driven by delicate flea-power amplifiers. They cast a large and wide soundstage, have excellent imaging when properly positioned; and a clear and clean mid-range, without being hard or harsh.
These big white boxes with wide black horns are revealing. On older Robert Palmer discs, the poorly recorded rock/jazz/fusion of the mid range is shown to be muddy, yet the treble still exhibits the crispness common with horns. There is generous clarity at loud volumes. They do not sound congested or over-worked as many cone loudspeakers do when extended to their limits. Horn instruments have snap, pace. Cymbals sound like metal, so their ringing lingers.
Like my big old horns, the Cinema Ensembles seem not to add so much to the mid-range as they merely replay what has been recorded. In this regard, they are less faithful to how the instrument
should sound than how it really does. Unlike the cherry warmth of the Coincident Triumph Signatures
(reviewed here), the Cinema Ensembles are more realistically "live" than the intimate, small-group, warm studio sound. Live music often sounds its best. To slide a pair of big white boxes with wide black horns into a modest tube system is to upgrade the computer chip or the wide slicks on a sports car. It brings the thrill back to music. It makes you want to GO.
On the ten-year old and still amazing Fumbling Towards Ecstasy [Arista,
1993], Sarah McLachlin is solid, well-defined, a little deep, open and free, high and clear. Her voice is redolent with details. Positioned 3 to 4 feet away from front and side walls, the Cinema Ensembles are easily positioned with pin-point imaging for vocals, a very good sonic 3D of the singer and excellent separation between instruments. Cast by the wide black horn, soundstaging is wide; making it worth it to inch your butt this way or that way to get her imaging centered just right.
Not Neutral Nor Dull
It is hard to describe the Cinema Ensembles as neutral when that appellation is so firmly affixed to Triumph Signatures and Vince Christian E6c system. The big white boxes with wide black horns do fill the room; they seem louder, even when playing at the same volume. Although measuring quite close to the Triumph Signatures in the important bottom-end, the Cinema Ensembles are much deeper sounding, sending rumbling moans through Sarah's "Possession" ("kisses so hard they take your breath away").
The treble doesn't hiss at you as some loudspeakers can. They are NOT "spec heavy" loudspeakers that only imitate the sound. The highs neither pull apart, nor stand-alone from the musical mix. It doesn't have the realistic ringing of my big old horns, smooth flow of the E6c system or the tantalizing sizzle of valuable
Axiom M80Ti line driver arrays, with their double tweeters. Yet, their realistic treble definition makes for good WAF marks, probably due to the lingering high treble capabilities of my "Little Miss
Sensitive's" youthful ears. The Cinema Ensembles capture the joyous essence of music.
Cinema Ensembles follow the vocal line with ease, instruments are spread out spatially, like line driver arrays. The distinctive vocal timbres hold together with adroit competency. The vocals are among the best that I have heard and they rank especially high on the scorecard below. The dramatic jazz rendering of Diana
Krall, for example, was well delivered, robust, well defined, with an absence of misdeeds, but with a large-hall affect.
The Cinema Ensemble mid-range is totally open and airy, without muddiness. The mid-range response is a charming, easy-to-listen-to palette. Theirs is not a cold or sterile musical world, but it is crisp and clean sounding. Because of their clarity throughout the mid-range, coupled with the quickness of their mid-bass woofers, the Cinema Ensembles are quite involving, natural and musical.
Percussive instruments are rendered extremely clean and quick, with no compression or edginess. The vast majority of popular recordings were shown to be artificially and unpleasantly brightened. The Cinema Ensembles are fast enough to catch the fingers of nimble pianists, giving an attractively lively quality to electric guitar, vocals and string tones from well-recorded folk or jazz music. This places them among the most natural sounding mid-ranges of any loudspeaker, including big old horns and "I've got-too-much-money" dream systems.
Cinema Ensembles easily fill the stage cleanly, without a hint of electronic interference. Recordings with many instruments play with aplomb on the system, un-crowded on a stage wide enough for all of them. There is magical 3D imaging.
The super-sensitivity of the Cinema Ensembles makes them incredibly easy to drive and astonishingly dynamic. Their sensitivity brings delicate articulation and tasty details. They breathe music easily. Elegantly simple recordings by kd
lang, Nora Jones, Diana Krall and Sarah confirm this. In this listening room, the vocal reproduction is close to flawless: this is the way to enjoy the music.
There is a lack of artifice, "aw" sounding honky coloration, haze and smear in the midrange that mark lesser horn offerings. Cinema Ensemble horns reproduce sounds without any of the honky coloration of other horns. They have excellent clarity, detail, separation and naturalness, with a majestically broad soundstage and inaudible distortion.
Unlike many of the dozen loudspeakers auditioned here for Enjoy the Music.com, the big white boxes with the wide black horns DID make a noticeable difference with cable-fed movies. Oh sure, the moaning depths of the Newtronics Skates was enjoyable with almost any modern movie and certainly the action ones, but few of the musically competent models really had much to offer the action genre'. They didn't add incredible amounts of definition, tone or punch to the bland movie signal coming across the cable. Not so with the Cinema Ensembles. They made you want to view movies and listen to music. They are competent in both areas.
Where modern movie and music reproduction systems should make both movies and music into uplifting experiences in the home, most HT systems merely play more bass. Okay, that in itself is pretty nice, but HT systems should also make wonderful music. In that regard, much of the standard retail fare foisted upon tweaking audiophiles who are NOT regular readers of Enjoy the Music.com is pretty lame. Many above average cost HT systems have seemingly good specs, but little musical capabilities beyond lots of
boomy, mushy and imprecise sound.
Not so the Cinema Ensembles. Despite a price point which puts them at the top of the line for typical retail loudspeaker fare, the big white boxes with the wide black horns have not only excellent musical capabilities but also great movie characteristics as well. They are like powerful BMW sedans; sporty in performance, yet practical in seating, if not in price.
The Cinema Ensemble's movie magic was especially notable with my venerable SS amplifier. I enjoyed them with either the knock of the SS amplifier or the snap of the Bottlehead 2A3 Paramours. With the SS Pioneer, the Cinema Ensembles made Owen Wilson in the realistic Bosnia war movie "Behind Enemy Lines" surprisingly effective. Quick percussive effects stood out. Gunshots pop; they don't boom or slam. For musical loudspeakers, their movie moniker suits them.
The Cinema Ensembles are more dynamic than even the single-driver Omega TS1s. Except for the big old horns, they are the most dynamic speakers auditioned here. With the white-cone TS1s, you want to pull the nose of the amplifier back, searching for clear air. As delicate and delicious as the TS1 and Bottlehead 2A3 Paramours combination is, sometimes a little more climbing power would be nice.
With the Cinema Ensembles, you pull the yoke back often for high altitudes. Since they excel at delicacy at low volumes, yet have clarity and dynamics at high ones, you frequently climb higher with Cinema Ensembles, simply for the better view at the higher altitudes. Although I enjoyed intimate, small-group jazz in studio settings with both the TS1s and the Cinema Ensembles, I crank the engines on the big white boxes with wide black horns more frequently and blast out of the hanger more often. The Cinema Ensembles fly equally well with both rock n' roll and torchy ingénue jazz. Listening to them is a treat, in Sarah's words, that is "better than ice cream."
Though pianos do not ring like they do on my big old horns, they do resound on the Cinema Ensembles. Many female vocalists, even ones as statuesque on the charts as Diana
Krall, cloak themselves in the robes of reverb. The concert hall echo adds drama to their voice. Yet no driver shows off the dark robes like a horn. It casts the folds outward, stretching them from wall to wall and dragging them across the floor. Call it artificial; 'cause I know it is. Call it colored, 'cause I know that some do. But layer me in these robes of color; for when deployed judiciously, they make music come alive. Layer me in darkness at the end of a numbing day, so I can put my feet up. Layer me in the folds of music. Envelope and transport me to the Alpha-wave tranquility called audio nirvana.
These engaging the big white boxes with the wide black horns transport me. They are "some kinda wonderful." Send me a lower-cost model, to slay me again. Send me an even bigger version, or let me keep these charmers a little bit longer. More than any other loudspeaker auditioned for Enjoy the Music.com with my Bottlehead 2A3 Paramours, the Cinema Ensembles let me enjoy the music.
"Little Miss Sensitive Ears," with whom I permanently share my humble abode, agreed. The crisp white covers also scored critical WAF points, which is critical because their SUV size did not. Even with the premium over the smaller,
pearlescent-blue Omega TS1s, the Cinema Ensembles are my first choice of the loudspeakers reviewed here.
Perhaps I wax poetic or maybe I am simply a percussive fool. The mid-range woofers on the Cinema Ensembles are quick, nimble, leaving a feeling of naturalness and accuracy, not one of boomy or punchy power. The nimble woofers on the Cinema Ensembles make softly hammered piano notes ring and rim shots crackle like twigs. Strings jump out from the tapestry as quickly as if they are in the room, not merely confined to a spinning silver disc. The attention that dynamic loudspeakers give to percussive instruments, like castanets and sticks, make music a foot-tapping experience.
Mid-bass definition was excellent. The Cinema Ensembles do not growl as low as the leaning
Newtronics Skate transmission lines. They are not as punchy as B&W's yellow Kevlar cones with massive concrete Krell blocks, but still wonderfully zippy and swift. It is amongst the best I have heard, including some Lamborghini class dream systems. Cinema Ensemble's mid-bass is quick and clean; fast and tangible. They make percussive magic.
This illusion was not so tempting on pedestrian pop fare however, as it was on Sarah's and Diana Krall's discs. The delicacy of the Bottlehead 2A3 Paramours and the revealing nature of the horns make quality recordings a requirement. Yet the joy the Cinema Ensembles bring to even average recordings keeps them playing movies and music whenever possible.
1. Compared to the bargain-basement Axiom Audio M3Tis, the Cinema Ensembles cast a much larger soundstage with clean, clear and sharp mid-range, more revealing of details with a dynamic quickness, easy-to-drive nature and a palatable mid-bass, with a ringing treble. Axiom M3Tis are the cake at bargain prices. Cinema Ensembles are the cake with icing and ice cream. They fill the room with music. They are "some kinda wonderful" dessert.
2. Compared to the Omega TS1s, the Cinema Ensembles also have an even balance throughout the mid-range, but with out the softness of the paper cones. They exhibit quicker response, sharper highs, clearer/higher mid-range, larger soundstage, greater openness, with improved separation of instruments. The TS1s are a bargain for many of the elusive qualities that tweaking audiophiles seek with delicate flea-powered amplifiers. The Cinema Ensembles are several steps beyond them and provide a very different kind of sound. If you like the clear openness of live music versus the close, warm feelings of the studio, you will prefer the Cinema Ensembles to the soft sounding models like the TS1s or the Triumph Signatures. If possible to stretch your long-term budget for your movie and music reproduction systems, it is worth it to include them.
3. The Cinema Ensembles have three features in common with the Vince Christian E6c
system. Neither is a typical bass reflex box. Both are relatively expensive loudspeakers: at the top of the list for the models reviewed here and offered in retail salons; both the E6c and the Cinema Ensembles are thrice the price of the Omega TS1s. They both have only a
50Hz bottom, so they need powerful ($1,000+) sub-woofer support. Yet, neither requirement is a great concern compared to the joy they bring. Although in a price range where many speakers are consciously competent, the Cinema Ensembles capture much of the emotional affects of music. They are worth stretching the budget for and they deserve an investment in a really good sub; one powerful enough to match their quick mid-bass woofers.
Details & Design
The Cinema Ensembles came in the red Rosewood finish, brighter than dark cherry, yet with rivers of dark grain. The red Rosewood and their contrasting white covers are sharp-looking signatures of the line. Square black plastic emblems mark one corner of each cover. The covers affix with short wood dowels the size of a pencil eraser. Removal of the grilles is as tricky as a three-hook bra with only one free hand. You "kinda hafta
squinch" one corner up to get the other side loose. The stylish white covers do make a small difference in the sizzle of cymbals. Yet, even with their covers off, the Cinema Ensembles are hardly "bookshelf" roller skates.
They are the largest "bookshelf" loudspeakers auditioned, in my home with the same equipment, for Enjoy the Music.com. Yet, the Cinema Ensembles are the smallest and least expensive models in the Classic Audio Reproductions line. They are designed specifically for Home Theater applications where Classic Audio Reproduction's best-selling big-block hemi models - such as the sizable T-1, T-3, and T-5s, each with large woofers and big horns - serve as the main loudspeakers. Unfortunately, there are no plans for smaller or less expensive models.
The Cinema Ensembles have two dark-gray Audax 6.5" woofers with bullet-nose phasing plugs on either side of a wide dark JBL mid-high horn. The two unique mid-range woofers bracket the dark-gray rectangular horn in a D'Appolito configuration, boy-girl-boy, with the horn in the middle. The mid-woofer magnets are 120 X 20MM. The phasing plug is bigger than a thumb. It does not move - the glossy gray cones are loose around it. The woofer design is Audax. There is no special Classic Audio treatment to the drivers.
Wide Black Horns
The wide black mid-range horn is larger than the mid-range woofer cones, reaching across the middle of the box. A TAD driver is available to upgrade the midrange. Although smack-dab in the middle of the musically critical range, the crossover at 1-kHz between the mid-woofers and the mid-high horn is not noticeable.
Hidden under the stylish refinement of the Cinema Ensembles' white covers are rugged good biker looks. The drivers are studded with dull gold screws on the black faceplate like a biker's leather jacket. Although the screws aren't noticeable on many loudspeaker designs, they are here; giving the uncovered Cinema Ensembles have a rugged, burly and ready-to-rock appearance.
On either side of the lower woofer are two 2-inch simple wood ports. Two ports provide the proper amount of space for venting. A layer of wood behind the faceplate adds to the ports' depth. The front faceplate of the speaker is not reinforced or braced. A black plastic knob on the rear adjusts the mid-high driver. For all of these listening tests, it was left at the 12:00 high position.
Construction for the Cinema Ensembles is 1-inch thick walls. The signature apple-red Rosewood finish is available now. There is no interior dampening, yet the big white boxes give a good knuckle rap test. They knock not as hollow as the empty Two p Towers (reviewed last month); nor as solid as the dampened Coincident Technologies Triumph Signatures.
President, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer of Classic Audio Reproductions is John Wolff. He has been making his loudspeakers by hand - in Brighton, 50 miles west of Detroit, MI - for over 14 years. Although he has no musical or electrical background, Wolff loves listening to music. He says he "apparently has a good pair of ears and has been successful in choosing good products and applying them to making beautiful music." Wolff uses
Atma-sphere OTL, FI and
deHavilland tube amplifiers to voice his loudspeakers and it shows. With sensitivity far above average, Cinema Ensembles perform wonderfully with flea-powered Bottlehead 2A3 Paramours. They seem to be a good match for the 2A3 delicacy.
As verified by long listening tests, the Cinema Ensemble impedance range does not seem to have any amplifier challenging lows. "It is
20 Ohm at 40Hz. spikes to 60 Ohm at 53Hz. The impedance curve is down to 10 Ohms @
125Hz.," Wolff says, the impedance curve is "very constant out to 1kHz, up to
12 Ohms at 2kHz., 20 Ohms at 5kHz."
At this time, all sales are direct, but that may change soon as Wolff has some good prospects. For dealers interested in differentiating themselves from the retail chains, his big old horns, with some delicate tube amplifiers, is one very compelling way to go.
The mid-range horns should be placed reasonably near ear level, although Wolff says critical placement will vary with each room. The horns, he says, should be aimed approximately 1' to side of each ear.
The Cinema Ensembles require stands, which adds another factor in the movie and music reproduction systems equation. The proper stand, mounting and use of pads or spikes may make as much difference to the sound as the cables. Wolff does like spikes to separate the cabinet from the stand and the stand from the floor. This helps, he says, with a coherent sound field.
Although Fit n' Finish, Self Noise and Sub-bass are no more and no worse than any other loudspeaker review, that average earns the Cinema Ensembles a score of 50 on the Enjoy the Music.com scale. Many of their other charms are above average.
Hidden under refined white covers are rugged biker looks and rugged, ready-to-rock talents. Rich in red Rosewood, Cinema Ensembles are superbly dynamic, easily-driven by flea-power, cast a large and wide soundstage, have excellent imaging when properly positioned, with very clear and clean mid-range.
With either my old solid-state amplifier or the Bottlehead 2A3 Paramours, the Cinema Ensembles provide a clean, low-powered, crisp and generous slice of the audio nirvana pie. They make music better than ice cream. As Sarah sings, "I believe this is heaven to no one else but me" (Elsewhere). More than any other loudspeaker I have auditioned for
Enjoy the Music.com™, these big white boxes with wide black horns, make music and movies seem effortless, natural and alive.