Cliffhanger Audio CHS-2 Loudspeaker and W-2 Subwoofer

      Date posted: February 24, 1999

Cliffhanger CHS-2 and W-2 Subwoofer

Cliffhanger CHS-2 Sugg. Retail: $1695 pr (CAN)
Size: 17 1/2″H x 8 1/2″W x 12″D
Cliffhanger W-2 Subwoofer Sugg. Retail: $1995 pr (CAN)
Size: 25 1/2″H x 8 1/2″W x 15 1/4″D
Manufacturer: Cliffhanger Audio Systems,
1384 Marcel St., Sudbury, Ont. P3E 4G3
(705) 522-9661 FAX 522-6232

(Reprinted from the Winter 1999 Audio Ideas Guide)

      These monitor/subwoofer matched pairs come in a configuration that, as the width measurements suggest, stacks very neatly. And the neatness is augmented by the very nice veneered finish of the boxes, with their rounded corners and black front baffle. The subwoofer contains a high-pass filter, with an extra set of gold-plated 5-way posts to send it to the CHS-2. The speakers can also be bi-wired or amped.

      In a white paper on the system’s development, designer Ian Smith describes the technical side of the CHS-2/W-2 thusly: “This loudspeaker is a two-way bass reflex design. The narrow front baffle reduces cabinet diffractions and enhances clarity and imaging. The internal full plane vertical and horizontal braces substantially suppress unwanted cabinet vibrations.”

      “The custom 6.5 inch paper/kevlar cone bass-midrange has a rubber surround and dust cap, cast aluminum frame and magnetically shielded motor system. The extremely rigid cone is hand coated with a special dampening (sic) compound to further maximize its performance.”

      “The tweeter is a highly modified soft dome design that employs a catenary profile dome, vented pole, ferrofluid cooled voice coil and magnetically shielded motor system…The crossovers are second order with a zobel network for the mid-bass driver. Extensive tuning of crossover results in an in-phase connection of the drive units. The crossover frequency…is 2.7 kHz.” “The crossover boards are mounted on a special rubber interface to reduce vibration and microphonic phenomenon (sic).”

      “The driver used in the the W-2 represents a new performance design from Hi-Vi Research. The 6-inch drivers have filled polypropylene cone with rubber surround, 3-inch voice coil, neodymium magnets, cast aluminum frame and SDMS type magnet system.” What Ian doesn’t point out is that these bass drivers are identical in appearance to a popular Dynaudio driver (used in some Totem speakers, for example) right to the large, vented dustcap, and could charitably be called a knockoff design. He claims they are better than the model for them. Hi-Vi Research is a Chinese-based company with R&D in Canada. Ian Smith is a consultant to Hi-Vi, as well as an independent speaker maker. His systems are largely sold through the internet, with additional local sales by referral. Cliffhanger Frequency Response

      Given the fit and finish, the CHS-2/W-2 system certainly looks like a good value at under $4000 a pair (or quartet, if you prefer). Its measurements maintain this appearance, and actually could be a little better, had I done all of them in bi-wire mode rather than through the high-pass section of the subwoofer. I’ll say more about this below, but let’s look first at the Pink Noise Sweep (PNS) at bottom, which was done in the bi-wire configuration after all the others above were made in high-pass mode. It is somewhat smoother than those at top: it appears that the circuit in the sub introduces some attenuation in the upper octaves, and also a dB or two of boost in the lower midrange between 500 and 1000 Hz, an important octave in musical terms because of all the voice and instrument fundamentals that fall in it. I put that measurement at bottom for clarity, but it can be seen with the other PNS and SAR curves at top also. Though its treble shelves by about 5 dB, the system in bi-wire mode is very flat through bass and midrange, close to +/-1 dB from 70 to 1 kHz.

      There is also a curve at top of just the CHS-2, which shows its low end rolloff. Speaking of low end, the smoothed nearfield PNS of the W-2 subwoofer can also be seen at top left, and impressive it is. These may be knockoff drivers, but they’re good ones, and may even be better, as claimed. The sub is +/-2 dB or better from below 30 Hz to 150 Hz, performance similar to that of the Sunfire Signature (Alm 99), though without its flexibility of crossover and phase adjustments. CHS-2 Impedence Curves

      The tweeter has a flared lens around it, and this ensures both smooth response and excellent dispersion, as can be seen in the quasi-anechoic curve below the PNS/SAR group, and the axial measurements below it, respectively. The CHS-2 will offer the same tonal characteristics anywhere in the room, and performance that is smooth and uncoloured, though just a bit down in level from the woofer, a good thing in smaller rooms.

      Since the subwoofer is a passive device, we did impedance measurements and derived phase curves from them, though this latter is less important in a subwoofer. In the top set of traces, we see the CHS-2, the impedance the top curve between 1 and 2 kHz; it is relatively high, hitting 30 ohms in the reflex bass peaks, and never dropping below 6 ohms (200 Hz). The phase angle is quite gentle in the midrange, +/-20 or better. These predict good imaging, and an easy amplifier load. The speakers are only moderately sensitive at an 88 dB rating, but will easily be driven to high levels by most 50-watt amps or receivers unless in a very large space. Cliffhanger W-2 Impedence Curves

      Below, we see the impedance curves for the W-2, and a quick look at the calibration numbers on the left show that its overall impedance is somewhat lower than that of the monitors, with a maximum of 15 ohms in the bass and a dip to 3 ohms in the 100-Hz range, with values of course rising as the subwoofer is measured beyond its operating range. The phase curve of the sub is only of importance in the bass region, showing shifts in the lowest and next two octaves; given that the measured frequency response is so smooth, these electrical phase shifts are probably largely counteracted acoustically by the reverse-phase output of the port on the sub’s rear. This is just another indication of the design care and skill that has gone into the Cliffhanger system.

      The W-2 will want some current to drive it, and is capable of moving a lot of air if sufficiently motivated. It doesn’t go quite as deep as some subs, though certainly solid to 20 Hz, but its bass is well damped and very clean at any level. The key is a good 100 watts with a few amps (as in amperes) behind it.

      The Cliffhanger system had a slightly forward sound character that was very wide range, with dynamic and well balanced bass. Midrange and treble were very natural, especially when bi-wired; I do not recommend using the woofer-to-monitor jumper because of its audible midrange emphasis.

      The system was excellent with choral voices and instrumental forces, having a high level of definition and excellent soundstaging, with very good depth. The subwoofer combined both speed and power well, giving body to orchestral music, and slam when called for to rock and jazz. Its resolution was very good in a very good group, though the detail heard from the Enigma and Oracle systems seemed a little greater, if conveyed within a more limited bandwidth and dynamic envelope. Imaging was slightly surpassed by that of the Shearwater.

      Overall, this is a very neutral system, as the measurements suggest, one that tends to disappear acoustically despite its considerable physical presence. There’s a lot to be said for smooth frequency response and even dispersion, not to mention clean, powerful bass. There are some very good speakers reviewed in this issue that come from small, engineering-driven companies, and the Cliffhanger CHS-2/SW-2 is among the best of the group, with very satisfying sound quality for its price.

Andrew Marshall

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