The CW180R are the only round speakers in this review and are designed for in-wall or ceiling mounting. They consist of an eight-inch Platinum series-derived woofer and a coaxially mounted one-inch aluminumdome tweeter. The tweeter employs a SonicGuide, a flared wave-guide component that allows the direction of the upper midrange and high frequencies to be adjusted and aimed into the listening area. It also reduces backward tweeter energy that could reflect into the woofer. The SonicGuide can be tilted 30° left or right and the entire speaker assembly, including the woofer, can be rotated ±45° to finetune the directivity of the speaker. The SonicGuide makes the CW180R particularly well-suited for in-ceiling use, where the direction of the speaker can be aimed into the listening area, but it also affects the speaker's directivity when installed in a vertical wall, where its off-axis dispersion limits the width of the "sweet-spot."
I liked most of the sound quality characteristics of the CW180R. Midbass is quite good, although the speaker sounds fuller with a subwoofer to fill-in the lowest frequencies, and the midrange is exceptionally clean and open, especially with vocals. In Holly Cole's "God Will" [Capitol Records], vocals exhibited a clean, crisp presence backed up by a very natural-sounding piano. Even the sound of the piano's mechanisms could be heard easily. There are two level switches, with a "+" and "-" position for the midrange and tweeter. Depending on the source material, treble sounded somewhat exaggerated with the level control set in the "plus" position and too subdued when set in the "minus" position. If installed in-ceiling the levels and the direction of the SonicGuide should be set according to listening preferences prior to installing the grille, because the controls are located behind the grille.
Construction quality of the CW180R is very good, and it is easy to install with the four dogleg clamps that secure it to the wall or ceiling. The speaker is attractive and the grilles can be painted to match the wall or ceiling. The PSB CW180R would make a great choice for an in-ceiling surround speaker, particularly because of the SonicGuide feature.
If you're considering the CW180R for L/R surround speakers, also take a look at the PSB M6X1 rectangular inwall loudspeakers for the front left, center, and right channels. At $550 per pair, the M6X1s also come equipped with a tweeter that can be directed toward the listening area. For an inwall subwoofer solution, PSB offers the CWS8 passive subwoofer with the CWA-1 amplifier/equalizer.
The Paradigm SA-35 in-wall/in-ceiling speakers are another offering from Canada. Paradigm manufactures a wide range of floorstanding and in-wall loudspeakers, electronics, and control products; the SA-35 is the high end of their Reference Series in-wall components. Without doubt, the SA-35 uti-
lizes the most robust mounting system of any in-wall speaker that I've ever reviewed—at least of those models that don't use a back-box or in-wall enclosure. My first clue came when I picked up the shipping carton, which was much heavier than usual for a pair of in-wall speakers. The SA-35s have a two-piece mounting system with a heavy die-cast aluminum speaker baffle and mounting bracket, which is the same size as the perimeter of the baffle. The bracket is inserted into the wall cutout then secured to the wall with eight screws. In effect, it sandwiches the wall between the speaker baffle and the aluminum bracket, stiffening the wall and thus reducing unwanted wall resonances. Paradigm calls this the Ultra-Rigid mounting system. The Ultra-Rigid system makes a lot of sense; just be sure you don't have any loose patches of drywall or they'll quickly be revealed. I discovered a few rattles in the walls when breaking in the speakers prior to critical listening. The SA-35 in-wall speakers are described as a two-and-a-half-way system with an eight-inch bass driver, an eight-inch bass/midrange driver, and a one-inch high-frequency ferrofluid- cooled dome tweeter. The Paradigm SA-35s have an exceptionally well-balanced sound quality. Midbass was outstanding, and low bass was very acceptable without a subwoofer, although a sub filled in the lowest frequencies, below 50Hz. The lower ranges of the piano sounded full and resonant even without the sub in "Crazy World" from Ultimate Mancini [Concord]. Rebecca Pidgeon's "Spanish Harlem" [Chesky] had a three-dimensional soundstage with a keen sense of space and presence.
Tapping your feet to the music is a good sign that a speaker has a pleasing sound quality. That's exactly what happened when I was listening to Steely Dan's "Glamour Profession" from the Gaucho disc [MCA]. The SA- 35s brought out the best in this busy recording.