Cambridge Multimedia Speaker Review

Discussion in 'Speakers' started by Torgny Nilsson, Dec 7, 2004.

  1. Torgny Nilsson

    Torgny Nilsson Second Unit

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    I checked out the regularly recommended speakers from Logitech, Klipsch, and several other brands in my quest for a decent 2.1 multimedia speaker system to play music from my office laptop. While most of these speakers were priced right, they left something to be desired in the sound or reliability categories.

    My search led me to the Cambridge SoundWorks MegaWorks 215 Amplified Multimedia/Computer Speaker System, which I bought without listening to it. Yes, it was a risk, but the system is currently on sale, with free shipping, and I could always return it under Cambridge's generous 45-day return policy.

    I only hooked up the system this morning, but I figured that some of you might like to hear my initial impressions since a multimedia system may be on several Christmas lists and Cambridge's sale probably won't last forever.

    The system comes with two of Cambridge's Newton M50 speakers. The specs on these speakers are as follows (from the accompanying manual):

    “Dimensions: 10' H x 6 3/4' W x 7 1/4' D
    Weight: 11 lbs each
    Impedance: nominal 8 ohms”

    “The M50 can be used with any receiver rated above 10 watts per channel, but there is little advantage to using more than 100 watts per channel.” That is all the information I can find on these speakers in the manual.

    The M50 speakers come in three color choices: (1) the same graphite plastic as the accompanying sub, (2) blond maple, or (3) mahogany. Note that the maple and mahogany are real wood, not colored plastic or vinyl. While I initially thought about getting the maple speakers as they looked very nice, I decided the mahogany would better complement the rest of my modern office décor. The speakers arrived very well packed and look very nice. They are rear ported and the port and the connection area seem to be made out of some molded silver plastic.

    While the connectors are gold plated, they are screw-down connectors. (While Cambridge told me you can't use banana plugs with them, I have heard that you can if you remove the plastic plug in the middle of the connector which has apparently been placed there to prevent Europeans from plugging electrical plugs in there. I have not yet tried it though it looks like it should work.) As it arrives on your doorstep, however, you have to use bare wire connections. While disappointing, I don’t think it has much of an impact on the sound given that I am running the sound out of my computer sound card via a 3.5 mm minijack and through the accompanying sub which has sad clip connectors.

    The speakers come with rubber feet (for desktop use) and screws (for mounting). The manual mentions an additional bracket which you should order if you plan to mount the speakers on your walls. Floor stands are also available, but no desktop stands are available given the size of these speakers.

    All in all, the M50 speakers look like much more expensive speakers than they are. And they would complement any office.

    The system comes with Cambridge’s BassCube 821 sub/amplifier. The specs on the sub are as follows (again from the accompanying manual):

    Dimensions: 11 1/8' H x 10’ W x 10' D
    Weight: 14 lbs, 8 oz
    Analog input: 775 millivolts for full output, 10 kohms input impedance
    Amplifier: 150 watts continuous at 100 Hz, one channel driven at less than .3% total harmonic distortion
    Frequency response: 32 Hz to 150 Hz +/- 3 dB
    Driver: Nominal 8 inch subwoofer driver

    The sub only comes in a graphite grey plastic, which actually looks surprisingly good. While it would be really nice if the sub was offered in the same real wood as the M50 speakers, a sub is usually meant to be hidden away in some corner, so that is really not much of an issue. The sub looks very clean as it is.

    The connectors are clips connectors, which is even more disappointing than the M50’s connectors. The sub appears to be standard with most of Cambridge’s multimedia systems, including the less expensive ones. The sub is the cheapest component of the system.

    The back of the sub has separate bass and treble controls, and the wired volume control for the entire system.

    System set up was a breeze. The signal goes from your soundcard, to the sub, and from the sub out to the M50 speakers. My only gripe is that this system does not arrive on your doorstep with any speaker wire. Since most multimedia systems come with speaker wire, I just assumed this one would too. But it does not, which is just as well as you probably don’t want to use the silly excuse for speaker wire included with most multimedia systems. But, having dragged out some extra speaker wire left over from a home theater upgrade, I was in business.

    I should say that my laptop has built-in Harman/Kardon speakers. I have no idea which ones and it does not matter as they are crap and should just be ignored. They make music sound like it is being played on a radio given as a prize in a Cracker Jacks box. I was using some cast-off powered Yamaha speakers that a coworker gave me when he upgraded to a Logitech system and while they were miles better than the built-in speakers, they always lacked bass and sounded very tinny.

    The Cambridge speaker system, in comparison with everything else I have heard in its price range or below, is impressive. My musical tastes are pretty eclectic and I have already tried the speakers with a variety of CDs: everything from reggae, classical, Christmas music, chant, and polyphony. The sound is rich and warm, warmer frankly than my home system which was many times the cost of this system. I frankly think the Cambridge system would please rockers as well as classical music fans.

    For example, John Williams’ opening to Star Wars comes across in all its grandeur on the Cambridge speakers. The bells used in the piece sounded like annoying tinkles with the Yamaha speakers, but sound like crisp and clear bells with the Cambridge speakers. And while the sub is present, it does not become overbearing and intrusive like on many other multimedia systems I have heard.

    In another example, Gregory Isaacs’ inspired reggae version of “House of the Rising Sun” (the best version of this song I have ever heard) really puts the system through its paces but sounds lush and compelling, even at very loud volumes. The sub is much more present in this song, but it is supposed to be. And keeps up just fine. The bass output of the M50 speakers also becomes evident in this song. I imagine they would do very well on their own, even without the sub.

    In a final example, Chanticleer’s “In Dulci Jubilo” Christmas CD comes across clearly and with the sound you might expect if listening to them live in a cathedral. I cranked this to the point that I could feel the bass from the M50s through my desktop and it still sounded clear and without distortion.

    All in all, this system is very nice. It is by far the best sounding multimedia system I have ever heard. While the sub is obviously not made by SVS (which is the brand I have at home) or by HSU, and does not have all the controls I am used to at home, it does not suffer from the boomy, overly present sound that other multimedia systems (such as Logitech) suffer from. While the bass is there, it is not in the way of the music; rather it supports the music. This is probably due to the fact that the M50 speakers hold their own in bass, unlike other smaller speakers, and don’t need to rely on the sub for all bass. I think that the only way to top this system is to go the separate component route, and that would run you much more money and use up more space.

    Aside from the cheap connectors, I can only see a couple of minor drawbacks to this system, at least on an initial impression:

    1. If you can call it a drawback, one drawback is that the M50 speakers seem good enough to reveal problems with recordings. While I have not noticed any problems with streaming radio and most CDs, they might show the flaws of MP3 recordings and poorly recorded CDs.

    2. The speakers pop right when you turn the system on via the power switch, as a result of the signal going through the powered sub no doubt. This does not seem to be a problem, just make sure that you turn the volume down before you turn them on. But since the system shuts itself down after 30 seconds of no signal, and then automatically turns itself on again when it sees a signal, you should only have to turn them on manually once.

    3. Size: while the sub is small and can easily be hidden anywhere, the M50 speakers are not much smaller than the sub. They are easily the largest multimedia speakers I have ever seen in an office. While they would look great in a bookshelf or behind a desk, they may be just a tad too big for most people to keep on their desks. That being said, I have mine on my desk right now and they are not in the way; I will probably keep them there.

    The system normally sells for $399.99. It is currently on sale at 20% off for $319.99, plus free shipping. I found a coupon on the Internet for an additional 15% off, but I think that coupon expired at the end of November. There may be another one available this month. But even without the extra 15% off, this system is worth the price. Heck, I think it is worth the original non-sale price.

    From what I have heard, Cambridge is generally viewed as an underappreciated company that makes better speakers than others for the same money but does not get much press in the various audio forums and magazines. My impression so far is that the general view is right on the money. If Cambridge’s little M50s are this good, how much better than expected must their more expensive speakers be?

    All in all, I’d highly recommend this system if you want more from your multimedia system than the regular $50 to $199 systems offer, yet don’t want to venture into the $1,000 range that a good component system would require. In my opinion, the Cambridge SoundWorks MegaWorks 215 Amplified Multimedia/Computer Speaker System is much closer to a component system than it is to one of the regular multimedia systems.

    One final note. A coworker came into my office a little while ago and noticed my new speakers. He commented on how they look much nicer than his new Logitech speakers. And he seemed to think even less of his Logitech speakers after he actually listened to the Cambridge speakers.
     
  2. Tony Genovese

    Tony Genovese Supporting Actor

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    The easiest way to remove those plastic plugs in the middle of the binding post, btw, is with a small drill bit. Drill right into the center of the plug and it will pop right out. I've done it many times.
     
  3. ScottProulx

    ScottProulx Auditioning

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    I agree, Cambridge systems are really well balanced.
    I just bought an Infocus 4805 and hooked up "Attack of the Clones" dvd and output sound to Cambridge Soundworks FPS2000 4.1 system I bought 4yrs ago. turn Bass up 3/4 and volume up 3/4 and I could feel every swing of the light sabers in the seat of my pants... Kids usually can watch Jurassic Park, but were afraid with the sound/bass so realistic. I thought I'd be doing myself a favor by going out and getting a new receiver and sub and speakers. I tried Yamaha 5750, Onkyo 801, and I now have a Pioneer 1014 passing through the cambridge front and back speakers and Athena AS-P400 Sub.
    I could/can get the speakers to sound better, and I can get the house off the foundation, but I am very upset that I am unable to get all to play together as well as the cheap $80 PC speakers in the FPS2000 system. I'm now playing around with a Multimedia Switch from Pelican that switches 8 A/V inputs into 1 output. If I can get real good video/audio out of the switch to the Infocus/CB FPS2000, the expensive equipment is going back.... I'll be lookin into the MovieWorks line. 3 cheers for Cambridge...
    I know I could get the expensive equipment to work the way I need it to, but I have neither the time or money.
     
  4. Jackson L

    Jackson L Stunt Coordinator

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    That's a nice in depth review. Personally the Klipsch ProMedia series speakers are the best I have heard in terms of PC speakers. In my opinion nothing can come close. It's all subjective though. I have never heard those Cambrige speakers. [​IMG]
     
  5. Torgny Nilsson

    Torgny Nilsson Second Unit

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    The Klipsch speakers seem very good; I have very fond memories of the larger Klipsh speakers from my college days. But the Klipsch multimedia speakers have gotten a lot of criticism for poor reliability. There were so many, in fact, that they made me avoid Klipsch. But I hear that the system really rocks when it is working.
     
  6. Jackson L

    Jackson L Stunt Coordinator

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    I believe it was mainly the GMX series that had the problems. The ProMedia series is much better in both sound and reliability. I know several people that have had their sets for years. Unfortunately I am still using my Logitech Z-640's. While they are OK the Klipsch systems blow them away.
     
  7. Torgny Nilsson

    Torgny Nilsson Second Unit

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    The only Klipsch system I was looking at was the ProMedia 2.1 THX Certified Computer Speaker System. While that system got a lot of good reviews for its sound, especially for gaming, it also got a lot of poor reviews for its poor reliability. But even the poor reviews mentioned the system's good sound when it is working.
     
  8. Rory Buszka

    Rory Buszka Supporting Actor

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    I think the M50s use actual dome tweeters, so they would have much smoother highs than the ProMedias. It's basically like a powered sub with two extra amp channels that can power any speakers you want, but they bundle the M50s with it. It almost doesn't even fall in the category of the Klipsches.
     
  9. Jackson L

    Jackson L Stunt Coordinator

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    The Klipsch speakers do have dome tweeters. I haven't read maany reviews touting poor reliability. There are a few at Newegg that said they had problems but the overwhelming majority did not. The Klipsch speakers are used by many members at PCmech (Where I go by the name "Hi Ho") and there haven't been any complaints. The local audiophiles their recommend Klipsch souly for PC speakers.
     
  10. Matt_Smi

    Matt_Smi Second Unit

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    Whoa you are “Hi Ho”, that’s funny; I am also a member of PC Mech (under the same name as here). You are the one who posted about the Advents a few days ago right? As to the topic, I own a pair of $150 2.1 CS speakers that I bought for my computer at college. I have been pretty happy with them, I sort of wish that I went with the Klipsch for the same price, but I did not know about them back when I bought the CS.
     
  11. Jackson L

    Jackson L Stunt Coordinator

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    Hehehe yep that's me. I was the one that asked about the Advents.
     

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