SMR logoCambridge Soundworks Ensemble IV Review
"The Ensemble IV Home Theater brings the thrill of great Pro Logic surround sound to more people than ever before", or so says the Cambridge Soundworks web site.  At this price-point, are these diminutive loudspeakers really the answer for the budget concious who want quality?   decided to find out on behalf of SMR Home Theatre.

Cambridge Soundworks Ensemble IV Specifications
Satellite
4" 4" 3" molded cube with perforated metal grill and nextel grey finish.
Driver complement: 3" wide range driver featuring magnetic shielding.
Key hold hanger slot and socket fitting provided for mounting.
Subwoofer
6" 8" 12" band-pass enclosure with pebble grain black finish.
Driver complement: 5.25" dual voice coil driver.
Passive crossover of 150Hz provided for left and right front satellites.
Nominal impedance: 8 ohms.
(All specifications as per manufacturer)

Cambridge Soundworks Ensemble IV Review

 

"Dear Alan,

"Please help! I have a stereo television and a hi-fi VCR. I would like to have surround sound for movies but I seem to get lost when I go into a store and see all those boxes. I have limited myself to a tight budget for both the speakers and a surround sound receiver, so I want to spend wisely. Thanks for your advice.

Signed,

Confused"

Over the many years I have been active in audio/video forums and newsgroups, I have seen the above question pop up countless times.   Keeping in mind that the investment one individual may spend on a single 1 meter pair interconnects is another individuals entire speaker budget!  I took it upon myself to search though the market and find out what the average consumer is faced with and what can be found on the market.

Cambridge Soundworks IVRight away a couple things became glaringly apparent!  First the selection of affordably priced home theater speakers is vast.  Secondly its very clear that the marketing departments of most of those product lines really had their hands into the product development!  So help me& a lot of the systems I found looked as though more money was spent on fancy trim and trick cosmetics than the speaker components themselves.  I found myself in a sea of cheap plastic boxes and even cheaper vinyl clad chipboard speaker boxes that consist of very low cost drivers one would expect to find in a table radio or "boom box".  In addition the "subwoofers" included in the bulk of these packages are best described as "substandard" by all standards!  No wonder so many non-audiophile consumers are lost and confused& its hard to sort the good from the bad.  Naturally the quality products are out there but not on a tight budget.  I refused to give up there has to be a good product out there at a very affordable price.  I was on a mission!

Im pleased to say that I found a truly stellar product at a fantastic price.  It took no farther than to look toward the Cambridge SoundWorks line to find a real winner the "lighthouse beacon" in that sea of boxes. The system I selected is the $299 Ensemble IV HT package, which is the most affordable and compact sat/sub system in the Cambridge SoundWorks Ensemble lineup.  While also available as a 3 piece stereo system at $249, the extra $50 for the HT version buys you 3 more satellites bringing the total to 5.

First a little description of the system components.   The satellites are a very compact 4" 4" 3.7" deep and feature metal grills and on the rear both key slot hanger and swivel mount sockets are provided.   The surprisingly hefty plastic cabinets consist of a wide range, magnetically shielded 3" wide range driver with a contour network to tailor the response characteristics.  The attractive finish matches the nextel found on the larger satellites in the Ensemble lineup.

'The Fifth Element'A very compact pebble grained black finish subwoofer or bass section handles Bass from below the 150Hz crossover point, as I prefer to call it.   While not shielded, at a mere 6.5" 8" 12" the compact size allows plenty of installation options.  A single long throw 5" dual voice coil bass driver provides bass though a single band-pass bass port.  Left and right front satellites are connected though the bass section.

I started out my listening tests with a simple stereo setup, with the satellites out from the wall and with the bass section against the wall and on the floor.  So much for my concerns of a limited bass!  Without any use of tone controls I was boomed out of the room!  I never expect such powerful bass from such a compact bass section to say the least!  I moved the bass section up off the floor almost 2 and out from the wall just a bit where I obtained a deep, full yet non-booming bass that defies the size of the system.  Blending of the bass section and the satellites is easy to do when you take a little time and read the excellent manual for installation tips.  After a little bit of "break-in" time, I found the satellites to be quite a pleasant surprise.  For musical listening they recreate an impressive lively sound that leans toward offering a bright "airy" presentation.  Midrange quality is very open never boxy or hollow as so many of the competitors in this market area fall short.  For soundtrack audio one cant ask for a better, more clear and articulate midrange presentation from such an affordable speaker.  Dialogue is always clear and understandable.   Most impressive of all is the just-right balance of pinpoint imaging and a wide soundstage.  With music the soundstage spread across the room smoothly while retaining a solid image.

Cambridge SoundWorks has gained a reputation for products designed for the real world.  I was pleased to find how well these speakers really hold up that heritage.  With the fine imaging and soundstage characteristics there was just enough hint of polite "veiling" of the sound to be electronics friendly.  While I used a Yamaha Dolby Pro-logic receiver for all of the tests, these speakers exhibited a politeness that leaves them as an excellent match for a low cost receiver.  Bass output was clean and extended when played in moderation in fact a casual test using the Stereophile Test CD (STPH-002-2) revealed bass output down to an impressive 40Hz(!).  However extension had taken precedence over ultimate bass quantity, and that my friends is the only real shortcoming I found.  Using my Yamaha receiver, rated at 75w/ch across the front 3 channels, I could easily overdrive the bass section when playing at high volume Cambridge Soundworks IVlevels.  How serious a problem is this?  Given the low cost of the speakers and their otherwise excellent performance Ill be specific and let you decide.  As I played the system louder, the bass impact started to "fall behind" the rhythm and pace of the music.  At truly high levels the ultimate bass output could not keep up with the satellites quick midrange attack and impressively loud volume capabilities.  I am truly reluctant to down-rate these speakers for this reason as at normal volume levels that a rational adult would every play these speakers I dont expect a problem to occur.  So I placed myself in the shoes (and ears) of the average user who is looking for a speaker system as in the opening dialogue.  For music they play loud enough to allow listening in an adjacent room.  For home theater use they provide quality surround sound that is louder than most people would care to listen to just without the special bass effects.  Also keep in mind something that I often considered if powerful deep bass is needed, all that is needed is the addition of a powered subwoofer.

I have lived with these speakers for some time now, and have allowed myself to take plenty of time to form a conclusion.  Its very difficult to assess a low cost loudspeaker system when youre used to reviewing and owning stereo pairs selling in the thousands of dollars!  Every time I think of any limitation of the Ensemble IV HT I have to remind myself of the cost.  Then I cant help but think of what an incredible buy this loudspeaker package is!  I cant think of a better affordable loudspeaker system for adding home theater sound to a system in the den or bedroom.  In fact most people would find these Ensembles to be just the ticket for the family room.  Good quality ball-swivel mounts are recommended for wall mounting of the satellites or just hide them within books on a shelf.  As I pointed out earlier, even with a tight budget I would recommend this home theater package along with a powered subwoofer even the added cost of an affordable subwoofer will provide an incredible sound for the dollar.

Now to answer that opening post&

 

Confused,

I would urge you to check out the Cambridge SoundWorks Ensemble IV HT. For under $500 you can have an impressive sounding set of home theater speakers and a receiver!

Happy shopping,

1998.

 

More information about CSW products can be found at the Official Cambridge Soundworks Web Site.

Text Alan L. Maier; HTML SMR Home Theatre and Images SMR Home Theatre & Cambridge Soundworks cannot be reproduced without permission. Dolby Pro-logic is a trademark of Dolby Laboratories Licensing Corporation.

This page resides on the SMR Home Theatre server at: https://smr-home-theatre.org/Reviews/CSW/ and contains JavaScript to prevent it being opened within a frame on another site.
Last updated 28 April, 1999

Return to the Reviews Index

Return to the SMR Home Theatre menu
(requires a JavaScript enabled browser)