Cambridge Soundworks New Ensemble III Passive Subwoofer

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Great Budget Home Theater Speakers

Nov 25, 2001
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Ease of Use:
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Pros:Great sound quality for relatively little money

Cons:Needs more Bass, and more presence for music use

The Bottom Line: For home theater on a budget, it's tough to beat this speaker system. You will want to add a powered subwoofer to it, though.


OK, if you are reading about the Ensemble III, you should be aware that there are at least three versions of it that I'm aware of. Cambridge Soundworks sells a three speaker unit with two main speakers and a subwoofer that they call the Ensemble III. A friend of mine bought the Ensemble III HT system with SIX speakers, including a active (50W powered) CSW subwoofer. However, he bought his Ensemble III HT system as part of a special package, along with a receiver. I don't think the Ensemble III HT normally includes a active, powered subwoofer.

When I bought it though, I did think that it included a active, powered subwoofer, because that's what my friend got with his New Ensemble III HT speaker system. His New Ensemble III HT speaker system is identical to mine, other than the fact that his system has the 50W Powered Subwoofer.

Anyway, I'm reviewing the "New Ensemble III Home Theater" speaker system that (according to Cambridge Soundworks) includes 2 main 2-way satellite speakers, a subwoofer (not powered), 2 smaller surround satellite speakers ("Center/Surround IV"), and 1 center channel speaker ("Center Channel II"). They claim the regular price of this system is $500. I bought it "on sale" for $300.

First on hooking it up: What Cambridge Soundworks calls the "subwoofer" is actually just the other half of the three-way main (front) speaker systems. The main 2-way satellites contain two drivers and the third one is in the "subwoofer" enclosure. These three boxes together (2 satellites and subwoofer) comprise two main (front) speakers. In order to hook it up to your receiver or amplifier, you must twist together the TWO left channel speaker cables (one from sub, one from left main satellite) and then connect the twisted together wires to the left front speaker connection on your receiver or amplifier. The same procedure is followed for hooking up the RIGHT main satellite . . . you must first twist together two speaker cables so that the subwoofer is also connected to the right front channel of your receiver or amplifier.

Anyway, this is not what I think of when I think of the term "subwoofer". What Cambridge Soundworks has done (I believe) is to create a cost-effective and very good sounding three-way front speaker system that can be easily mounted just about anywhere, as the bass driver is in a separate box that they call the "subwoofer".

On sound quality . . . the sound of the New Ensemble III HT system is incredibly accurate. If you listen to your favorite music on this system, you are going to be pleasantly surprised at how well it ACCURATELY reproduces every little sound . . . especially voices. However, I would NOT recommend this system if your primary use is listening to music. See, while it does do an awesome job of reproducing music, the main speakers are too small to provide the *volume* required by most true music lovers. These speakers just do not have enough "presence" at moderate or higher volume levels.

Also on sound quality, you should be aware that this system has very little low bass reproduction. I guess that's not surprising, considering how small the "subwoofer" is (about 6"?), and the fact that it shares power with the two front satellite speakers. If you are seriously considering this speaker system, you simply must budget for a real (powered) subwoofer to go along with it. I already owned a Yamaha YST-SW90 (8" 100W) powered subwoofer. This is a GREAT match for the New Ensemble III HT speaker system. A good match for the Ensemble III HT would be a subwoofer of roughly 8" - 10", with a built-in amplifier of at least 100W, with a separate volume control for the subwoofer amp.

Also on sound quality, you should be aware that the center channel speaker sounds (to my ears) like it is much more efficient than the other four speakers. It is well matched as far as tone quality goes, but it is simply louder at the same volume level than the other speakers. So it would be HELPFUL if your receiver includes separate gain controls for each of the 5 channels. I hooked this up to an Onkyo TX-DS494. I've found the five speakers sound perfectly balanced if I reduce the output of the center channel by 3dB.

As far as home theater use goes, this is a great choice of a speaker system if your primary use is for watching movies. If you hook this up to a quality A/V receiver and drive it with a good DVD player, you will have sound quality comparable to the best movie theaters. As I said before, my A/V receiver is a low-end Onkyo 494. The DVD player I'm using is a Philips DVD711. I'm using the digital optical connectors for sound hookup. If you don't already own a receiver or DVD player, I'd recommend looking for this feature (digital optical sound connector).

On features . . . one annoying thing about Cambridge Soundworks is that they seem to deliberately hide their speaker specifications. For example, you can't find them online or even in the Owner's Manual AFTER you purchase the speakers. The specifications they DO list in the owner's manual seem to -imply- that the speakers will handle 100W continuous RMS (don't try it!). Right NOW, the New Ensemble III Home Theater speaker system is good for a maximum power output of 100W per channel at 6Ohms. Your receiver or amplifier will be a good match for this speaker system if it has a minimum RMS rating of about 50W per channel AT 6Ohms, and a MAXIMUM power rating no higher than 100W per channel AT 6Ohms. That will give you a good choice of many low-end A/V receivers on the market, if you are looking to buy the receiver at the same time. The receiver I'm using has minimum 70W RMS at 6Ohms and maximum 100W per channel at 6Ohms. It sounds great, but I think this is close to the maximum amount of continuous RMS power that the New Ensemble III HT speaker system could safely handle.

Be careful when researching your receiver and speaker power specifications, and keep in mind that the specifications I listed above are for my speaker system. They might not be applicable to YOURS. Also, as Cambridge Soundworks seems to be so secretive about their specifications, it wouldn't surprise me if the specifications are likely to change without notice. (So don't blame me if you blow up your new speakers by overdriving them!)

Overall, I'd highly recommend these speakers for someone who is mainly interested in watching movies, and already owns (or intends to buy) a separate, powered subwoofer. The sound quality is FANTASTIC, it just needs a little extra Bass.


Recommend this product? Yes


Amount Paid (US$): 299.99


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