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Review: Cambridge Soundworks Ensemble IV (1 Viewer)

Rory Buszka

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I recently came into a set of the 2-channel version of the Henry Kloss-designed Ensemble IV speakers from Cambridge Soundworks. Since there have been some questions asked about small speakers, I thought I would write about this set. This set has been discontinued, but can still be found on eBay. I will be evaluating this set in appearance, output levels, and sound quality.

Appearance
As far as looks go, these have probably the most simplistic design of any small speakers I have ever seen. The satellites are plastic and cubic in shape. The satellites are bigger than you might picture them from looking at pictures. The satellites are probably between 3-1/2 and 4 inches square and about 3-1/2" deep. The subwoofer is about the size of a shoebox, and made of 1/2"-thick MDF, with a vinyl exterior coating. A single port exits from the rear, on the same face as the wiring terminals. The subwoofer is a passive dual-voice-coil design featuring a 5.25" woofer loaded in a 4th-order Bandpass configuration. The satellites feature a 3" full-range driver with a contouring circuit added by Kloss to tame the paper-cone driver's response and allow extended treble output. On the outside these speakers are about as unassuming as it gets. Newer ensemble models feature improved styling and a better feature set, with the smallest Ensemble 56 featuring a 6.5" woofer loaded into a bandpass enclosure with a passive radiator. I am doing this review to show how the lowest Cambridge Soundworks model stacks up.

Output Levels
In reviewing these speakers, I powered them with only 5 watts per channel. I am currently looking into a larger, 30WPC amplifier, but even with the five watts, these speakers demonstrated their capabilities well, filling a fairly large room with rich, pleasing sound. The only thing lacking was a somewhat lighter bass from the bass module, but this is likely because of the low amplifier power. The satellites still performed well, which brings me to comments about the sound quality.

Sound Quality
The bottom line is that these are small speakers, featuring 3" cone drivers and a small bass driver trying to kick out a full range of sound. That said, the experience was still quite interesting. I was neither turned off nor turned on by the sound quality. The satellites' plastic enclosures exhibited a slight tendency to vibrate, coloring the midrange a bit. But the biggest thing about these speakers is that they actually do deliver in the midrange, where many other micro satellites fail to. There were no noticeable holes in the frequency response. The treble was fairly extended, missing only the last little bit of high-end sparkle, but still outstripping a set of 4" full-range drivers I have which are rated out to 15kHz. I do not think that I am getting response all the way to 20kHz but the way these speakers are, you can't really expect that anyway. For relatively large cones, these speakers are still somewhat detailed in the high end, and the frequencies all seem to be present. I have no major complaints, given the limitations still imposed on the satellites by their small enclosures. One of the most surprising things from this system is that there was actually some imaging and ambience from the satellites. The only real complaint I have with the system is that the woofer module still features a high crossover point, probably between 200 and 250 Hz, causing some skewing of the stereo image. I found that the best way to minimize this was to place the subwoofer in the corner with the port facing along the wall behind the satellites. The woofer module has quite a lot of "go" for such a small enclosure, but I would estimate that this enclosure is not hitting anything below 50 Hz. Maybe having a powered sub in my main system has made me spoiled, but these speakers are not as deep-voiced as I would have liked. The upper bass and lower midbass tended to come from the sub, with a good bit of out-of-band noise issuing from the port. Probably the worst design decision made in this system was not to include a low-pass filter beyond the acoutic filter presented by the bandpass enclosure. This sub could be very easily localized. To my understanding, Cambridge Soundworks' BassCube 6S subwoofer, which is in the system that replaces this one in the current product line, fixes many of these shortcomings, with a proper crossover at 150 Hz and deep output to 45 Hz. So, what good is there to say about the bass module? First of all, it is smaller than the Bose Acoustimass module. It is probably only 2/3 the size. Also, the deeper bass is tight and has decent transient response. I have not yet determined whether the surround on the woofer is foam or rubber, but I think it may be foam from what I could determine looking in through the port. The driver's orientation is reversed, in a technique used to minimize the out-of-band noise from a bandpass subwoofer.

Overall, if you are looking for a set of speakers for the office, these are worth considering, but don't pay more tham $50. Its successor, the Ensemble 56, is a much better option for a small apartment music system. It has much-improved satellites and a more proper subwoofer, with improved bass extension. Paired with a decently powerful stereo reciever, it looks like the Ensemble 56 is a much better option if you are looking for a full-time stereo system for yourself or a family member. It is certainly much better than the Acoustimass 3. The Ensemble IVs, however, while performing better in the midrange and treble, cannot quite match the bass capability of the acoustimass 3. The Ensemble 56 is the Acoustimass-killer.
 

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