The first time I ran music through a pair of these tiny speakers, I had to double check to make sure I wasn’t listening to my larger ADAM P11A monitors (Tape Op #33). Bass extension in particular is surprisingly good for a 2-way speaker of this size.  The 4’’ Polyglass woofer, driven by a dedicated 25 watt Class AB amp, and assisted by a front port, can only move so much air physics-wise, but the CMS 40 has no problem faithfully reproducing signals down to 70 Hz (just below the open D string on a bass guitar).  From there, the response drops steeply, with 60 Hz being the usable limit (the B just below the aforementioned D), which is where harmonic distortion and port noise swamp the fundamental. The aluminum/magnesium inverted dome tweeter, driven by its own 25 watt Class AB amp, also has good extension.  17 kHz is where my way-past-youth ears no longer hear pure tones, but I can still detect higher pitches through interference with in-band frequencies as I slowly turn my head in space.  But yes, the highs seemed all there to me as I listened to the CMS 40. Taken together, the combination of drivers, amps, port, and the carefully shaped (and very weighty) aluminum enclosure creates a soundstage that is wider and more accurate than I would expect from a speaker of this size.  Over several months, I tracked, mixed, and listened to a variety of music on a CMS 40 pair in three different rooms, and I was quite impressed.

With neither hype nor artificial curves in its frequency response, the CMS 40’s full range of reproduction sounds just right to my ears.  The midrange in particular is focused and clear, and voice especially is rendered in an extremely neutral manner.  Consequently, vocals that I recorded and mixed on the CMS 40 translated very well to listening environments of all types.

In regards to the lows, I was astounded by the CMS 40’s punchiness, clarity, and balance. I did notice a small bit of extra resonance in the region immediately surrounding 120 Hz that comes off as extra density when listening to a full mix of a song.  At first, I thought I was hearing influence from the room and nearby surfaces, but I took a CMS 40 (on a tall stand) out to my studio’s patio to confirm that even in open space, I could hear this density. There is a LF shelf switch on the back that allows you to tailor the low-frequency response for placement of the speaker in your room; with the CMS 40s at least 4 ft from any walls in my various tests, the lows sounded most balanced with the shelf at 0 dB. Similarly, there’s a HF shelf switch for the highs.  I preferred the –2 dB setting to alleviate what I heard as a slight stridency at 12-14 kHz, which is most evident on high-hats, shakers, and sizzle cymbals.  These instruments didn’t sound louder than they should on the CMS 40, but they did have a little extra texture that I didn’t hear when listening to the same material on other speakers I trust, including my various ADAM models.  But generally speaking, the highs are not overhyped.

I didn’t have other Focal CMS-series monitors for comparison, but I did have a chance to audition the CMS 40s side-by-side with Focal Twin6 Be monitors (a much larger and much more expensive sibling with a completely different set of components).  The aforementioned density and stridency that I heard from the CMS 40 was not evident in the Twin6 Be’s soundstage, which demonstrated more space and differentiation between individual sounds. Nevertheless, the Lilliputian CMS 40s put on a great show, awing the owner of the comparatively giant Twin6s.

In my own room, I adopted a closefield configuration with the CMS 40 pair occupying two vertices of a small triangle and my seat the third.  Measuring tape in hand, I determined that my favorite listening distance was 18’’ from each of the CMS 40’s baffles to my ears.  Any farther out, the highs lost their balance with the midrange.  Any closer, and I heard the port, woofer, and tweeter operating as discrete sound sources rather than as a single point-like source, with the interaction between the woofer and port becoming most noticeable.  My guess is that some of the low-end density I perceived is from this woofer/port interaction, because changing the vertical angle of the CMS 40 by just a couple degrees affected the amount of density that I heard (even in open space).

The advantage of this closefield monitoring style is that the surrounding environment has less of a detrimental effect on what you hear from the speakers.  Because sound pressure level drops in an inversely proportional manner to distance, as you move a sound source closer to your ears and farther from any reflecting surfaces, the ratio of direct to reflected sound goes up dramatically.  Therefore, you hear your speakers more accurately, and consequently, it becomes easier to make critical decisions.  With two CMS 40s in a closefield configuration, each speaker’s precise imaging contributed to a picture-like 3D stage between speakers.

One last topic worth discussing is the CMS 40’s long break-in period. The manual suggests 20 hours of run-in at moderate levels. I recommend more. I feel that my units didn’t stabilize until 100 hours or so of operation, especially in the highs.

Characterizing my experience with the CMS 40, the simplest account I can give is this. The CMS 40 makes well recorded music sound phenomenal and poorly recorded sound terrible. Flabby lows, woolly midrange, screechy highs, mud, sibilance, unruly dynamics, phasing, unintentional distortion, etc. — these speakers will brutalize crap recordings. And that is the consummate goal of any studio monitor. Bottom line, I would have no qualms tracking and mixing an album using these as my primary monitors, adding a subwoofer or utilizing headphones to keep my ears on any issues with the octave or two below 70 Hz.

($395 street each; –AH

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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