In a market where everything is moving toward thin, thinner, and even thinnerest, where soundbars and even on-wall speakers are becoming positively anemic to keep up with the increasing attenuation of flat-panel TV depths, speakercraft’s CS3 TV speaker is a refreshingly rebellious release from a company that has built its reputation on practically invisible sound sources.
If only its name were as refreshing and rebellious. Because, seriously, what sorts of images does “TV Speaker” conjure up in your mind? Whatever those images may be, I can safely guess that none of them is a 28x16x4-inch 80-watt powerhouse with two down-firing woofers and enough crystal-clear, totally rocking sound output to practically drive you out of just about any room. (And for the record, yes, I know I’m ignoring the CS3’s official designation as a Stereo Center Stage Speaker, but aside from the manual and packaging, so does SpeakerCraft.)
Maybe that’s the point, but I’ve never found irony to be an incredibly effective marketing tactic. Then again, maybe that’s the point, because its nomenclature isn’t the only ironic thing about the CS3. For one thing, despite the fact that it practically hulks over soundbars with similar driver complements, you just don’t expect a cabinet of these dimensions to rock as hard as the CS3 does. It pumps out more pulse-pounding, room-filling audio than home-theater-in-a-box systems costing as much–if not way more–but does so with the simple setup of a soundbar.
There are only three physical inputs: stereo analog, coaxial digital, and Toslink. If you happen to be connecting the CS3 to a TV incapable of outputting PCM via its digital outputs, Speakercraft has also included a handy Gefen digital audio decoder in the box, which adds one minor step to setup.
I tried all three routes with my Samsung 58- inch plasma–direct stereo analog, direct digital, and analog via the digital audio decoder–just to see if it made an appreciable difference in terms of performance. It didn’t. Any way you route it, the SpeakerCraft CS3 delivers a quality and quantity of sound that’s hard to convey in words alone, but one wants to resort to hyperbole to express just how rich, dynamic, and voluminous it is, without going so far as to oversell it. Because it doesn’t live up to, say, the Anthem D2v, Infinity Towers, and oodles of disparately branded subwoofers that make up my media room’s reference sound system. Nor would you expect it to.
SpeakerCraft’s CS3 TV Speaker is a refreshingly rebellious release from a company that has made its reputation in practically invisible sound sources.What’s shocking, though, is that I’ve never been able to make a soundbar work in this room, which opens up to the adjacent kitchen and eats the SPLs of less efficient speakers for lunch. I only connected the CS3 in the media room at first to test its ability to act as a TV stand for my hefty plasma TV. (It passed that test with flying colors, and could reportedly handle three times as much weight, for the record.)
Seriously, to put it to the test in this room almost seemed unfair, but the connection is so simple I gave it a shot, just for giggles. All giggling stopped when I turned the CS3 on with the included credit card remote and, from nearly nine feet away, it nearly ripped my face clean off of my skull. I don’t mean that in a harsh, aggressive way; I simply mean that the CS3 has more than enough output to deliver an incredibly satisfying experience with even the most raucous action flicks in a room like mine, which usually laughs at even higher powered soundbars. The integration of the two down-firing woofers definitely helps, I think. It’s the sort of cohesive, unified sound that you normally don’t get from the itty-bitty subs that ship with most soundbars.
What’s also ironic for me is how good the CS3 sounds in plain old stereo mode, especially given that its width hardly covers that of my 58-inch plasma. But there’s no doubt that the faux surround mode is where it’s at, especially since–contrary to the bulk of my experience–it doesn’t sound horrific with music. Which is handy, because the CS3’s Bluetooth audio capabilities make it as much a music-streaming machine as it is a TV speaker replacement.
In surround mode, tracks like Kings of Leon’s “Sex on Fire” really thrust out into the listening space without becoming brittle and overly bright, as is so often the case with the surround processing of the sort employed by the CS3, while the nebulous opening passages of Jimi Hendrix’s “1983... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” positively bathe you in ambience thanks to the phase-y fabulousness of the effect. The woofers really add 90 percent of the kick you could ever want with music (although at times, it does require poking the Bass+ button on the remote a few times to get the right amount of bottom end. The only time it comes up lacking is with bass-heavy hip hop, like “Hey Ladies” from Beastie Boy’s Paul’s Boutique, which, incidentally, is also just about the only track I auditioned that really didn’t work well with the CS3’s surround effect. And switching between stereo mode and surround is so quick and effortless that it’s not a really big deal with those rare tracks that sound a little ooky.
As with any product, of course, finding the right room for the CS3 is key to its enjoyment. As good as it is, it’s not a replacement for a full-blown surround sound setup, and doesn’t claim to be. For a secondary room, though, or for an apartment or condo where a big theater system isn’t an option–or even for rooms where convenient music streaming is just as important as video entertainment, the CS3 is going to be a serious hit.
And the beauty of it is, no matter how big that room may be, there’s no doubt that the SpeakerCraft CS3 is up to the challenge.
The SpeakerCraft CS3 is a rocking soundbar alternative with enough punch, clarity, frequency balance, and simplicity to best HTiB systems costing significantly more, without taking up much more usable real estate than an itty bitty soundbar. it also makes a heck of a TV stand.
For what it is, there aren’t many concerns with the CS3, unless you don’t have a stand on which to place it.
• Power output: 20W continuous x4 channels
into 4 ohms; 80W total
• Frequency response: 35Hz to 20kHz
• THD: <1.00 percent
• Damping Factor: > 15
• Inputs: Stereo RCA, Toslink, Coaxial Digital
• Drivers: Two 5.25-inch down-firing woofers (paper treated cones); four 2.5-inch mid drivers (paper treated cones); two 1-inch silk dome tweeters