Saturday, September 10, 2016

Cerwin Vega XLS-215 Review 2016

I've owned my Cerwin Vega XLS-215 speakers for over 5 years, so I am very qualified to comment upon their sound.

The Cerwin Vega XLS-215 is a physically large and imposing speaker. It uses two 15" woofers, a 6" midrange and a horn loaded silk dome tweeter. With their black veneer and red speaker surrounds and CV logo on the dustcaps they will visually dominate your listening room.   If you own a pair, everyone who visits your house will make remarks about the size of these speakers, irrespective if they are audio enthusiasts or just friends and family.

Before I describe their sound I want to  make an observation about many current "Hi Fi" Audiophile type speakers you will find in your local HiFi shop. Almost all modern hifi speakers are thin towers with small woofers. When these speakers try to reproduce bass, most of the time they sound congested when trying to do so, and there is certainly no impact even if they manage to do it! My other observation is that even though they will certainly have some redeeming feature to their sound which is usually the midrange and high frequencies, I find that often after a few minutes, most of these modern "hifi" speakers sound fatiguing because they have a forced unnatural detail in the midrange. Immediately when I listen to them they sound pretty good, but soon I can hear a sound which is too forward, and frankly to me sounds unnatural and incorrect.

That was my segway into discussing the XLS-215 and I will start by mentioning the midrange. The XLS-215  produces nicely detailed almost liquid like sound which integrates seamlessly with the high frequencies. There is nothing fatiguing about the midrange or high frequencies. The 6" midrange cone is of adequate size to reproduce low enough notes to blend with the 15" woofers. Though this transition is not quite as seamless as the mid - high transition but is still very silky.

I'm sure there are a few brand snobs who wont even consider Cerwin Vega. Well, that is their loss. 
The XLS-215 does almost everything a person could want from a full range speaker. By full range I mean that the speaker plays the full range of audible frequencies, from 30Hz to 20Khz. This speaker also plays frequencies proportionately, with bass having a strong thump down low when requied but also being smooth through the mids and gentle in the highs.  If you haven't already gotten the idea of the sound I feel it necessary to stress that its sound is actually very contrary to its appearance. By looking at it you might think a few things such as that it might sound boomy in the bass, or that it has an aggressive harsh sounding high frequency horn, or that it is all "boom and tiz", but that is completely wrong!  As the saying goes, never judge a book by its cover! This speaker is almost the opposite of what you think it is. Its overall character is smooth, clear, balanced and relaxing to listen to. Fortunately you wont need to turn up the volume to get the speaker to come alive. Its high sensitivity drivers allow listening at low volume with plenty of authoritative tonally rich bass and a seductive smooth and detailed midrange, and silky smooth highs. Yes that's a stereotypical reviewers comment which I deliberately threw in there as humor, however in this case it really is true!  You wont need a powerful amp to drive these speakers. As I've been writing this review I have been listening to my XLS-215 using a 10 Watt amp I purchased from ebay. It drives these speakers to 90 + dB with ease.
I've previously owned an Emotiva XPA-2 amplifier (which output about 500 Watts per channel @ 4 ohms) and used it to power these speakers. (incidentally I do not recommend the Emotiva amp due to hum and buzz noise issues I had with it). So potential purchasers should not be scared off by thinking they need a powerful amp to drive these speakers. I have also successfully used these speakers with an 8 Watt single ended triode valve amplifier.

So is it the perfect speaker?
Well, I've yet to hear a perfect speaker, but this one comes very close!

What are its weaknesses?
In comparison to other expensive speakers I have heard, I would say there are not many weaknesses. I have compared these speakers to JBL S4700, and B&W 803, and frankly the Cerwin Vega XLS-215 sounds better to my ears, for the following reasons- the XLS-215 has a greater bandwidth (plays lower) than both the B&W and JBL, which means to me it is more immersive and correct sounding and has the correct scale to bass sounds. The midrange is a little bit more detailed on both the JBL and B&W, but both those speakers sound fatiguing and I would personally much rather a little less detail so as long as the speaker is relaxing to listen to. Of course I respect that others may have a different view. But I'm writing this review from my point of view. One other minor weakness is that occasionally I can hear the sound of the waveguide on the mid and tweeter. This gives a slightly plasticy sound to the midrange on some notes. But I need to stress that it is not obvious at all times and only happens sometimes. I should also say that I am generally not a fan of horn speakers, but the horn, AKA waveguide on the XLS-215 is very shallow and gentle on the midrange, and strangely not very audible in the high frequencies on this particular speaker which is interesting. But having said that, it is a different sort of sound when compared to a flush mounted midrange and dome tweeter. Generally I would say that a flush mounted mid and tweeter sounds more correct and natural than any horn. But nobody is making large speakers with flush mounted mids and tweeters so its a moot point.

If I had a million dollars would I still buy these speakers?
Well, since I already own them I think its safe to say I would certainly keep them because I am very happy with them.When compared to other speakers at their price point there is nothing else that even comes close. Even if you increase the price range to$15,000 there are a few options such as the JBL S4700. But when we consider that the Cerwin Vega costs only AUD $2600 per pair, its pretty good value.

Final Note.

The midrange driver uses a fabric accordion surround which takes ages to run in, meaning the surround takes ages to loosen up. When new, the midrange sounds quite recessed and not detailed. Anyone evaluating these speakers in a shop needs to be mindful of this if they are not run in.
The woofers also need a bit of time to run in.

It should be obvious to any intelligent person that there are different speakers made for different listening preferences. There is no such thing as a perfect speaker for all people and all rooms. The XLS-215 is made for people who enjoy high fidelity, full range audio, and who want to enjoy the bold dynamics of a large high sensitivity speaker, and who want to have bass frequencies which project and couple well to a large room. If you have read this article you are probably the sort of person who will enjoy these speakers.


For anyone who might have seen a video on YouTube comparing these speakers to a pair of Klipsch speakers, you might come away with the impression that the Klipsch sound clearer. I'd like to point out a flaw with the audio of that video.  The microphone used to record the sound on that video was not capable of handling the high sound pressure levels at low frequencies produced by the Cerwin Vega XLS-215. As a result, the sound was distorted when the CV speakers are playing on that video, resulting in the CV mid/high frequencies being modulated with the low frequencies. I find YouTube videos to be a very useful resource, but in the case of that particular video, be aware that the distorting audio does not provide a fair comparison. There are other videos on YouTube which show the XLS-215 speakers playing which provide a fairer demonstration of their capabilties.


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