I bought these speakers new in 1992 and still use them everyday. I added two more satelites ( same as the originals) and a center channel all from Cambridge over the years to round out the system.
Great sound, highs and midranges are clear and truly outstanding.
The subwoofers in this system are really not subs but good woofers. If you really want deep base for movies or music with heavy bass you will want to add a seperate sub. I added a Klipsch 10" powered sub in the mid 90's and have been very happy with the system.
I have used several recievers moslty Denon ranging from 65W to 125W, the speakers performed pefectly in all cases.
I have no interest in repalcing these and will probally keep them till they wearout, which maybe never. I still have my Smaller Advents which were also designed by Herry Kloss from 1972 and they are still going strong, as well as my Kloss designed KLH model 21 radio made in august 1966.
In shory Henry Kloss designed great products ment to last a lifetime.
I got the original Ensemble set that my father got in 1990 when my father moved to a bigger house, and decided to get a 5.1 surround home theater system for his larger living room. I unboxed them and decided to use them in my den to replace an older set of speakers I was using hooked up to a high end Yamaha receiver. These speakers fit into the space in the den nicely, without being obtrusive, and I liked the fact that the slim woofer cabinets could be placed behind a couch and table where they didn't take up space, the satellites I positioned on the back wall behind the couch where they give a good stereo image and a nice open sound. The overall sound was pleasant, mids were well defined and open, and the highs were bright but not brassy. However, the bass was rather understated. But, I'm a pretty handy guy, and I made a slight modification to the woofer box that has made a dramatic improvement in the bass response. I listen to a lot of rock and modern music, so a warm yet solid bass is what I was looking for. I realize you're never going to get bass like you would from a subwoofer, or a larger 12" woofer from the 8" ensemble driver, but if you can use a jigsaw and electric screwdriver, you can get some pretty solid performance out of these little guys. I simply bought two 8" passive radiators, and installed them in the Ensemble cabinets at the top of the cabinet in the same position as the woofer. Before installing the passives, I removed all the fiberglass wadding that was factory installed in the woofer box. No wonder the bass was so drowned out, these things were packed so tightly with wadding material that the volume of the filler was about twice that of the box once it was removed! This simple modification has made a big difference in the bass output. The bass is better defined, and has a warmth and punch that it previously lacked, without the muddiness or boominess that can occur with a port. It is also capable of playing very loudly with no audible distortion, as the passive radiator takes over at the lowest frequencies, lessening the excursion of the woofer cone at these frequencies. The passive radiators cost $13 each, and I probably paid another dollar for a dozen self tapping mounting screws to secure the passives in the box. The Ensemble system easily gives enough bass now for music and tv or movie sound for our small 10x12 den, and the only visible speakers are the tiny satellites hanging on the wall. I'll probably have them in there for many years to come as long as they keep working. Not bad for an hour or so labor, and a free pair of speakers that had been in the family since 1990.
This is a revisitation with an old, highly regarded speaker system.
We bought the original Cambridge SoundWorks Ensemble in 1991. These four speakers served as the main left and right speakers for our first combined home theater and music listening area. Beginning in 2001 the Ensemble was used by other family members. After a while, they began using a different speaker system and placed the Ensemble aside in a storage closet. They remained unused for several years until 2009. We needed speakers to provide us with better sound from our small TV. The internal TV speakers were utterly lacking in definition and bass extension, but by adding the old Ensemble connected to a Sony STRDE935 receiver, our TV sound has come alive. Although it does not descend to the deepest possible bass, the bass is more than satisfactory. Now voice and music come through the Ensemble with definition, timbre, treble extension, and bass foundation.
We do our primary music listening and film viewing in another part of the house with a 7.1 speaker system and a large-screen TV, but the Ensemble significantly improved the audio of the smaller TV. We are quite pleased that the 18-year old Ensemble has again found a place in our lives. In spite of its age, the Ensemble has lost none of its fine aural character, I think we'll use it for another 18 years.
This review is directed at audiophiles who want to get high performance on a budget from this system, which may be available used for very little money.
Professional musician and recording engineer Dennis states in a post below that we should ignore the "audiophile snobs" on this forum who denigrate Henry Kloss' Ensemble. True, but he probably doesn't know that the Snob-Snob-Snobbiest of them all, The Absoulute Sound, has annointed the Ensemble into the High End. Here are exerpts from their November/December, 1990 review, at the list price of $599.00:
"Every once in a while, a new product comes along that steals the show. Unfortunately, many of these new products also steal your wallet. What is unusual about this speaker is the combination of its low price, high sound quality, and the ease with which it fits into one's living environment...
Bottom line, I have not heard a loudspeaker system, even at twice the price, perform this well...
If you want high quality on a budget, or excellence in a second listening system, I highly recommend the Cambridge Soundworks Ensemble." --- Patrick H. Donleycott
Reviewer Judy Davidson, after complaining that the previous system she reviewed-- which cost about FOUR times as much as the Ensemble-- was unsatisfactory, goes on to say, "When I replaced them with the Cambridge system, I suddenly realized how much music I had been missing. I had almost forgotten how good recorded music can sound and found myself... pulling out record after record and listening all the way through each one, basking in the music itself and forgetting about speakers and cables and amps and placement and imaging and response and such... only the music was important. Any speaker that can evoke such a reaction deserves high recommendation, and the Cambridge Ensemble well deserves it. Again, I echo PHD, buy the Cambridge Ensemble before they figure out how much it is really worth!"
Another professional review exerpt:
Ensmeble has "...crisp, balanced sound... stereo image is phenomenally sharp-- some of the best I've heard... the dynamics are stunning.... some of the speakers I'm comparing it to cost $1900.00 to $2800.00..."--- High Performance Review
As for myself, I agree with Dennis and Rich posted below that the Ensemble is a high-end bargain lurking in the mass market. I also think that the Kloss CSW Model Six is the same, at a lower price and performance point. Both systems need care in placement, and sufficient break-in to satisfy. And they will jump to life if fed a quality signal from an amp that can deliver short bursts of high current on demand. This type of amplification is available on the cheap from NAD in the new C320BEE integrated, among others. With a 1991 model 60 wpc. Philips receiver, the Ensemble sounds OK, but the limitations of the amplifier are fully evident. The same probably goes for most mass-market receivers which are ten years or more newer than that one. The Ensemble is inefficient, with an 85 dB rating. An efficient, ported design would be a better choice for mass market amplification. (The CSW Model Six has a 90 dB rating, and is also acoustic suspension.)
Unfortunately, CSW does not publish a break-in period for their Kloss designs. (I was told by Walter, one of their first telephone advisors, that they need break-in when I called to question their sound.) I think that about 50 hours is needed at a moderately loud level, with full-range, dynamic program material. (Try a copy of Sergio Mendes' Brasiliero)*. Some say that break-in is purely psychological, and that it is the ears and brain of the listener which get used to the sound of the new speaker. Surely this happens when the speakers are listened to. I have listened to brand new speakers briefly, and then broken them in WITHOUT listening (even though this is a pain in the butt, and I dislike wasting time and effort). I think they sound better after being used awhile. You must decide for yourself. Some highly regarded speaker designers advocate break-in. It is surely true that speakers, as mechanical and electrical devices, will sound worse as they get many years of use, depending on the materials they are made of. The Ensemble satellites need solid, sand-fillable stands to perform. They sound bad on the flimsy ones that CSW and others sell for satellites. These two oversights are the result of the meeting of a high-end speaker with the mass-market sales approach, in my opinion.
Ensemble vs. New Ensemble
I have just purchased a New Ensemble because I plan to listen for another 30 years, and might need a spare. CSW discovered a few of these pushed back in their warehouse. They were supposed to have been gone a year and a half ago. I couldn't resist the price of $249. As of now, I have 50 hours of break-in time on the new ones, and have made a comparison to the originals. There is either a little more energy in the upper midrange or a little less energy in the lower midrange from the new satellites. I can't say which I prefer, and I know that I wouldn't notice this without anal-retentive audiophile listening. I have heard much greater change with substituting interconnects or speaker cables. More time on the new ones, or a bit different distance from the rear wall for each set, will probably erase the slight difference. Or, maybe my old set is showing just a hint of aging, and the new set is identical to the originals when they were new. The
tweeters in both are the final versions of the Kloss cone with center dome tweeter, which one of the most highly regarded designers in history developed during a 30 year career.
Finally, the Ensemble has allowed me to spend many, many times its price on source and amplification components and carefully chosen "budget" high end cables-- and recordings! I have heard the effect (or no effect) of each equipment change and have built the system around these speakers. I enjoy the well made and played recordings and am bothered by the poorly made ones, especially if the music is good. But, that is what you get with a fairly uncolored system.
Some tips on getting the most out of the Ensemble
Again, solid, sand-fillable stands are essential for the satellites. I can get a 34" height with the ones I use, which are not made anymore (Arcici Rigid Riser, tall version). I think that 40" is too high and 28" is the minimum. I have requested an adjustable, sand-fillable stand from Studio Tech, in their SP line. We shall see if they make one. Use three balls of Handi-Tak about 1/2 inch diameter to mount the speaker directly to the top plate. Better yet, make a platform of plexiglass or finished plywood to fit on the top plate spikes and mount the speaker to the platform. Put the speaker very near the front edge of the platform or top plate. Don't skip the sand. Much of the complaint of thin lower midrange and upper bass on this forum, and of confused imaging, is caused by poor speaker support.
The bass units' performance can be improved by making spiked stands. Use 1 1/2 X 5 3/8 inch lumber, cut to the long dimension of the cabinet. Paint them gloss or semi-gloss black. Buy spikes from Parts Express. Mount the speakers with three balls of Handi-Tak about 7/8 inch diameter. If you want to mount the bass units with the speakers upward, put them flush to one side of the stand and put ballast weight on the other side of the stand. In a small room, the satellites can give a full midrange at 18-24 inches from the rear wall. They should be closer in a larger room. Experiment with bass unit positions. More low bass-- closer to room boundries and/or closer to each other. Less low bass-- farther away from room boundaries and from each other. (With movie sound effects in the mind of the designer, who invented home theatre about 15 years too early and lost plenty of money doing it, the bass units and satellites were designed to reject frequencies below 40 hertz which could damage the drivers.)
Use a bi-wire connection, one cable to each speaker from the same set of amp terminals. You can experiment with speaker placement using zip cord, but the speakers deserve high quality cable if they are receiving a high quality signal. I favor Audioquest Type 4+, and I think it is unnecessary to spend more. Of course, all cables should be the same length.
*Speaker break-in technique. You need a mono signal, with one side connected out of phase.
Place the speakers facing each other. You need about 1 1/2 to 2 inches of separation for the bass. With satellites, you can place them closer together to get maximum cancellation of the
midrange, and some of the treble. The out of phase signals will cancel the bass almost
entirely. This way you can turn it up and not have much sound. Be sure that you don't overdrive the amp to clipping, which will wreck the speakers.
I bought these speaker when Best Buy was disconting selling them I can remember how much I paided though I think around $200. I've Been really pleas with them they work great for play music or for use as suround sound speakers. I found the sound to be smooth and very clean even when played at high volumes. The bass responce is a bit lacking though a problem I've solved by adding a bass cube 10. Over all they've been an excelent speaker the sound good at high and low volumes I haven't heard a better sud/sat. set of speakers for under $500.