Surround Sound Speaker Systems

B&W VM6 Floor-standing Speakers, M-1 Surround Speakers and PV1 Subwoofer

ARTICLE INDEX

B&W VM6 speakers, M-1 Surround and PV1 Sub system


Introduction

B&W (Bowers & Wilkins) have a long history in the speaker biz since their formation in the 60's and the company as a whole probably needs little introduction to most Home Theater and Hi-Fi fans. With Rotel and Classe in the corporate stable there are components for everyone. While B&W is probably best known for its evolving 800 series speaker line and its range topping Nautilus flagship the company has branched out significantly over the last 20 years into in wall / in ceiling speakers (Custom Series) and speakers that compliment the emergence of flat screen TV's (FPM and VM6). There has also been significant technology trickle down from the 800 and Nautilus lines, some of which can be seen in the VM6 and M-1 reviewed here. The VM6 (LCR) and M-1 (Surround) came paired with B&W's PV1 sub, a sub that manages to look quite modern and cutting edge "despite" being introduced almost 6 years ago.

See our Demonstration Video on the B&W M-1 Speakers here.

Specifications

  • VM6 Main (LCR)
  • Design: 2-way, Ported
  • Drivers: One 1" Aluminum Dome Tweeter, Two 5" Kevlar Mid/Bass
  • MFR: 55 Hz - 22 kHz, ± 3 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Recommended Power: 30-100 Watts
  • Crossover: 4.5kHz
  • Sensitivity: 86 dB
  • Dimensions: 26" H x 7" W x 4.1" D
  • Weight: 12 Pounds/each (Including Stand)
  • MSRP $450/each ($125 for Floor Stand)
  • M-1 Surround
  • Design: 2-way, Ported
  • Drivers One 1" Aluminum Dome Tweeter, One 4" Fiberglass Mid/Bass
  • MFR: 80 Hz - 23 kHz, ± 3 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Recommended Power: 20-100 Watts
  • Crossover: 4 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 85 dB
  • Dimensions: 9.6" H x 4.5" W x 6.8" D, Including Stand
  • Weight: 6 Pounds/each, Including Stand
  • Finish Black, White or Silver
  • MSRP: $225/each USA
  • PV1 Subwoofer
  • Design: Sealed Enclosure
  • Drivers: Two 8" Mica Cones
  • Amplifier: 500 Watts
  • MFR: 21 Hz - 110 Hz
  • Dimensions: 13.2" H x 11.4" W x 13.7" D
  • Weight: 45 Pounds
  • Finish Black, White or Silver
  • MSRP: $1,600 USA
  • Bowers & Wilkins

Design

Since these speakers are design focused there are some interesting decisions and compromises so I'll spend a little more time than usual discussing these elements.

The thirteen language diagrammatic style manuals for the VM6 feel a bit Ikea-esque, a fact reinforced by the not one, not two, but three different sized Allen keys supplied with the speakers. The smaller M1s "only" require two Allen keys but get a boost with sixteen languages in its manual. The VM6 and M1 include several technical features common to other B&W family members - namely a tube loaded tweeter and the "inspired by the aerodynamics of a golf ball"- dimpled Flowport. The VM6 also has the family Kevlar mid/bass cone while the M1 has a glass fiber unit with "resin filled slots" that are stated to assist in minimizing distortion.

The VM6s includes a heavy base for use as a table mount and brackets for wall mounting. Floor stands are available as a third option but are not included. The stands and wall mount are friction fit and can be applied in either horizontal or vertical orientations. In a wall mount setup the VM6 will protrude almost 5" from the wall which may be an aesthetic issue for those with super low profile TVs and mounts. At 26" long these speakers are not going to fade from view.

The M1 can also be mounted vertically or horizontally as a center speaker and comes with a table mount and wall mount options. A matching floor stand is again available separately. The mounting stem attaches to the speaker with a ball joint that allows it to pivot in any direction after one of the Allen keys is used to loosen a screw. The VM6 wall mount allows some motion left to right but no vertical tilt adjustment.

The "PV" in PV1 stands for "Pressure Vessel" and in this case describes the design inspiration of the sub – namely from deep sea diving bells. The design is an attempt to obtain a small sub with decent power, bass extension and low cabinet coloration; all this from a sub that "comfortably passes through a basketball hoop". This I will have to hear for myself! The sub comes with power cable and also includes a length of 4 wire telephone style cable with an RJ11 jack on one end and bare wire on the other for use with speaker level inputs but provides no speaker level outs. RCA In and Out jacks round out the remaining connectors underneath.

The connectors and fuse are located in a recess on the underside of the sub and the five controls (power, crossover, 3 mode eq, gain and phase adjust) are on the back. The controls have obviously been designed to not detract from the looks of the unit if exposed to scrutiny. However, as a result of the styling touch to the dials they require a large coin or screwdriver to adjust. Since the controls are oriented towards the bottom of the sphere you tend to end up rolling it around like a large medicine ball if you need to make adjustments. Granted, in its target market it is more likely to be set it and forget it so this makes sense.

The VM6 speaker grills are black cloth with a chrome trim and are non-removable and essentially integrated into the gloss plastic body. The M-1 also has a gloss black body but comes with a non removable black metal grill and chromed stand. There were a few small bubbles in the trim on one of the VM6 speakers but the M1 and PV1 finishes were fine if somewhat susceptible to fingerprints.

The VM6 and M-1 are both ported (Flowport in B&W speak) and both include foam bungs for their ports which are located on the upper rear of both types of speakers.

Both the VM6 and M-1 can be utilized on their own as complete 2.1 or 5.1 systems and while all three speakers come in black or silver (grey) the M-1 and PV1 also have the option of white.

View a short video


Setup

Well packaged (yes, I have a thing about good design extending even to the packaging of consumer products) with helpful "open this side labels" on each box. The sub was double boxed and well padded enough to survive a drop from the UPS man that had my wife wondering if the garage door had somehow slammed shut on its own.

Wiring the VM6 and M-1 speakers up was an "interesting" experience. For the VM6 the speaker wires terminate on the stand or wall mount itself and will accommodate only bare wire connections (up to about 12awg) and are secured by – you guessed it – a small screw with an Allen key head. The mount friction fits with the aid of a rubber sleeve into one of two slots on the back of the speaker itself depending on your desire for vertical or horizontal orientation.

The VM6 kits also include a set of plastic 5-way speakers wire terminators that you could use to terminate your connection of choice and then run another set of wire through the mounting mechanism. Shown below includes the mount, a 16ga pigtail provided by B&W, the 5 way connector and the female end of the connection to the speakers. To keep things relatively consistent I discarded the pigtails and re-terminated with my usual test wires after removing the banana plugs.

The M1 also requires bare wire termination to the speaker stand or wall mount and this time 16awg seems to be about the largest the mounting terminals will accommodate.

Interestingly while the positive wire connects from the base terminal up the mounting stem via a physical wire within the stem (red in the picture below), the negative wire is grounded via the stem itself and then a second wire runs from the top of the stem to a Molex style clip connector in side the speaker (black).

The speaker wire connection process overall was more awkward than expected for a design focused speaker – the inclusion of the 5 way binding posts as an accessory to the VM6 and M-1 ends up feeling like a bit of a compromise. Hiding the speaker wires is well and good but in this case a design that has placed a premium on looks vs. convenience and ease of use.

For the PV1 setup was fairly easy. Plug in power, plug in RCA cable and adjust. However, the depth of the recessed connection panel underneath the PV1 is only 1.75" which meant that the length of the RCA jack in my case had the cable bent at a sharp 90 angle. On a hard floor I would need a shorter strain relief (or none) on my RCA connector.


In Use

In my case the VM6's would require the floor stands or wall mounting but that's nothing a few spare side tables can't remedy for the purposes of a review. Having lived with the VM6's for quite a while (unintentionally, a couple of PC crashes will do wonders for your ability to make notes and measure speaker performance) they did the job admirably for day to day TV and movie watching at "kids are sleeping" volumes. Since they are designed to flank a flat screen I spent most of my time with TV and movies.

As I had finally gotten around to upgrading an old standby DVD to Bluray I decided to give "Mr. Anderson" – aka "Neo" his due once again. When pushed a little harder for the true Home Theater experience I found that the speakers need a fair bit of power to really reach theater levels which is reflected in their 86db sensitivity numbers. I found myself turning the volume up further than I "normally" would to get to reference levels. Again, this is probably an unrealistic volume for the design purpose of these speakers as wall mount flat screen complements. At higher listening levels I could never really get the treble to shine despite a few EQ attempts on my receiver. It was flat and at higher volumes muddled sounding – and I'm not a fan of bright speakers to begin with. The normally lovely tinkling of shell casings and broken glass during the Morpheus rescue sequence was there but pushed into the background.

Voices and music were well portrayed in the midrange with male and female voices sounding accurate and with more depth and tone than I would have expected but the soundstage for theatre viewing was not quite as wide as I would have hoped. The bass response was a pleasant surprise. When the VM6 moved from a testing position in the middle of the room to a listening position against a wall the response was good down to the mid 50's - matching the rated 55Hz response. The same performance characteristics were present when listening to 2 channel music but the soundstage didn't really come alive until I did a lot of repositioning of the speakers. Moving the speakers a few feet closer together with no toe in seemed to do the trick in my room. This particular tweak would likely evidence a fair degree of complexity for day to day listening once they are bolted to your wall. I'd suggest moving your chair instead.

The M-1s were well suited for their surround role and provided good fill in for the side channel in a 5.1 setup. I normally use dipoles for my surround and directs for rear so moving to a 5.1 setup with just two direct radiators for sides I was not expecting a wide sound field. After level matching and auto Eq. they blended in quite well. I think I might be actually starting to prefer direct radiators even for side surrounds (sorry THX!). Timbre match to the VM6 was good, which was not surprising given the technology trickle down of the Nautilus tube loaded tweeters. While the Bass rolled off very quickly below 80Hz, for surrounds this was no issue with proper bass management and the PV1 available to fill in.

The PV1 - it's a sub – but it's small, it has a very modern looking design and therefore a logical assumption would be that it can't really be considered "seriously" for Home Theater use. Sure, it can provide some bass fill for otherwise bass compromised, "design forward" satellite mains but bass depth, strength and tone will be sacrificed – right? Well I won't go so far as to say the sub can compete with the big boys – it definitely won't pressurize my medium sized (2100 ft3) room at low frequencies but it swings far heavier than its size had lead me to believe. The almost total lack of cabinet vibration at any frequency and volume level even to the touch is a neat trick but for serious HT bass extension and power levels at low extension you will need to look elsewhere. Tucked into the favorite bass corner in my room, the PV1 had good extension down to the mid 20Hz levels but fell off rapidly after that. Being a sealed design the PV1 was fairly responsive, more so than my multi ported SVS and seemed most at home in the 40Hz-100Hz range.


On the Bench

Measurements were taken from 1 foot away at a height equal to the center of the driver.

VM6

THD+N measured 0.68% at 1kHz.

At 10 kHz, distortion was about the same as it was at 1 kHz.

Both results better than I had expected given the design constraints of a wall mount.

Here is the in-room response (from 2 meters).

M-1

At 1 kHz, THD+N measured 0.67%.

And, at 10 kHz, 0.55%.

The in-room response (2 meters) is shown below. You can see that the response is not nearly as flat as it was with the VM6.

PV1

For the subwoofer tests, the crossover was bypassed, EQ set "i", Phase at "+", and the gain was turned to 12 o'clock.

At 50 Hz, THD+N was 2.5%, 100 dB SPL.

THD+N across the frequency range was below 10% from about 35 Hz to 120 Hz and below 4% from 40 Hz to 80 Hz (having distortion below 10% has become the "standard" for acceptable performance).

The built in EQ modes performed just as advertized, attenuating the lower frequencies below about 45 Hz.

The PV1 measured 86 dB at 10% THD+N for the lower end of the frequency response spec (21 Hz). (Again, a "standard" for subwoofer performance is how loud it will play at a certain frequency when it reaches 10% THD+N).


Conclusions

Entering the review with admittedly low expectations for "lifestyle" speakers I probably should have realized that B&W, regardless of the design decisions and compromises, were not going to compromise too far on the sonic characteristics. The VM6 speakers are solid day to day performers if uninspiring at higher volume ranges and professional or at least patient installation will be required to get them wired and installed. Make sure you have enough amplification and consider tuning or EQ to bring more treble into the game and enjoy the aesthetics of a nicely paired flat screen with matching speakers.

The PV1 sub has some neat tricks, a few strange quirks, looks great, goes lower cleaner than expected and performs well at reasonable volumes. If the looks, space concerns and design are important to your listening room it may have a place despite the premium price which places it in the same range as some of the big boys. The M-1 is a well balanced performer in a supporting role and if I ever get around to upgrading my receiver and go with a couple of wall mounts for a 9.1 setup these will definitely be in consideration.