I haven't had nearly enough quality time yet with my new CBM-170 SEs but so far I LOVE them. Most of the time I have them paired with my Hsu VTF-2 Mk 2 in my tiny mixing studio and so far they're excellent for studio monitoring.
I did take 90 minutes or so a few days ago to directly compare them to my B&W DM602 S2s (a well respected speaker, though the newer S3 version is considered a noticeable improvement) and it took no more than 30 seconds to realize the 170SE was clearly a superior speaker. Every time I listen to my 602s, I can't find anything WRONG with them... I like them a lot, I think they're very pleasant and clear, and they image really nicely. But I've never felt they had The Magic for me. As a sound engineer I can usually describe exactly what I do or don't like about a speaker in reasonably technical terms, but oddly I couldn't do that with the 602s. I just keep thinking well... They're really good! Highs aren't too dull or too bright, high and low extension seems fine, fairly detailed, pretty smooth and natural sounding, etc... So why don't they MOVE me? The 170SE tweeter was immediately, noticeably smoother, more detailed, and more natural sounding than the 602. The 170s imaged as well in my room as the 602s (which have very good imaging and soundstage) but the 170s almost completely disappeared, leaving nothing but the music. I realized when I listen to the 602s, I feel as though I'm hearing speakers -- good speakers no doubt, but still speakers. Occasionally on certain recordings they can fool me into hearing a voice rather than a speaker reproducing a voice, but not always.
But when I switched to the 170 SEs, I no longer found myself hearing or listening to speakers -- only music, voices, instruments. As a musician and engineer I have a pretty good idea what voices, violins and other stringed instruments, guitars, pianos, drums, etc. sound like both in-room and miced using a variety of mics and equipment. On the 602s I felt like I was hearing a good reproduction of the instruments and voices, whereas on the 170 SEs I felt as though much of the artificial nature of the speaker was removed, leaving only the "real" sound of the source material. In short they had The Magic -- they moved me.
After all the measurements, tech specs, etc., the real key to speaker greatness is -- I don't want to hear the speakers! A great speaker disappears and lets you hear only the performance, the music.
I think the best way to describe the difference as I heard it would be to use the analogy of low res digital music vs. higher resolution. I used to record on 16 bit 44.1 kHz ADAT multitrack machines. They were the bomb in their day -- cheap, easy to use, tapes were cheap, etc. When I first got them I was stunned by the clarity and low noise floor compared to the crappy analog multitrack machine I was using previously. (This is not to denigrate analog multitrack machines -- good ones sound AMAZING. Ours did not.) But over time as I recorded whole projects on them I started realizing my recordings were somewhat lifeless and hollow, with a very slight, vague fuzziness that I couldn't quite put a finger on, but it was definitely there. I would fight with my equipment to bring LIFE and presence, energy, Magic, out of my mixes, and it was quite frustrating. It was like I was always 95% there but couldn't quite put the Magic into my mixes.
I now know that a lot of that was due to the ADAT's primitive, fairly low quality ADCs and DACs along with the low bit rate and sampling frequency. Yeah, it was digital and fairly accurate... but it could never quite capture the life and realism of the performance. It was a subtle effect and hard to pin down. Now I record at 24 bit 48 kHz using newer, far superior converters, and whatever I send to the machine is captured. Another good analogy would be moving from low res digital photography to high res using a much better camera with better lenses, etc. Your pictures just come out far more natural and lifelike.
That's how I feel about the difference from the 602 S2 to the 170SE. It's as if the 602 sounded generally good, but just can't produce the fine detail, the clarity, the LIFE that's in the performance. The 170SE comes MUCH closer IMO to reproducing exactly what's on the source. It's not about brightness either; people often perceive a brighter speaker to be more "detailed," but I didn't find one speaker to be notably brighter than the other. Of course the 170 has fantastic flat FR, and the 602 has fairly flat FR too. It's about transparency -- the ability to look deep inside the mix and discern the finest details.
Well I hope that made some kind of sense. It's hard to explain.
This is not to say the 170s are perfect or superior in every way to the 602s. The 602s definitely have a bigger sound with more bass extension and probably a slightly warmer lower midrange, though knowing how flat the 170 FR curve is, that somewhat confirmed my feeling that the 602s have a slightly pumped up low mid to give it the illusion of deeper bass than it really has (try finding B&W FR graphs! they're not on the B&W site, far as I can tell). But as I cross my mains over to my sub at 80 Hz, the additional bass extension is a non-issue for me and I absolutely preferred the 170 SE over the 602 hands down. I'd love the chance to directly compare the 170s to the 602 S3 since one of the changes is the improved tweeter, but I'm not losing any sleep over it.
By the way, I can run the 602s full range (by choosing "Direct" on my receiver) and I don't feel them to be especially lacking in bottom. They're not true full-range speakers of course since they're really just a huge bookshelf, but they do OK full range. The 170SE, not, at least for me. I switched to Direct for a moment on the 170 and the bass and kick drum all but disappeared. This of course shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone since they're designed to cross to a sub, and my PB10-ISD is especially conspicuous when it's bypassed! But as I mentioned, I cross them to a sub and don't need them to run full range so a non-issue for me.
So as long as you're using a sub, my bottom line in this post is: IMO, CBM-170SE clearly kicks the a$$ of the B&W DM602 S2... in case you were wondering.
My circumstances, in case you're wondering:
Room is 14.5' x 12' x 8' standard single home family room; drywall, concrete floor with thick padded wall to wall carpet, windows, couple of door openings, and the wall behind the entertainment center and front speakers (which is one of the long walls) is open on the top half (so the room looks into the kitchen), with an open doorway to the kitchen just to the left of the left front speaker. It's a fairly dead sounding room due to the carpeting, furniture, etc.
Receiver: Onkyo TX-SR702 (100 watts/channel x 7 but my system is 5.1)
DVD Player: Toshiba SD-4900 Progressive Scan with DVD-A capability, connected to Onkyo via coaxial digital cable.
Speaker wire: SoundKing 12 AWG oxygen free copper zip cord (from Parts Express)
Mains: Currently B&W DM602 S2 (going away in March or April -- anyone wanna buy a pair?
) on 31" Sanus Systems BF-31B Wood Speaker Stands. Set for small, crossed over at 80 Hz. Located approx. 6-7 feet apart on either side of entertainment center, toed in slightly (front baffles are 2-3 inches out in front of the entertainment center.)
Center: BIC DV62CLR-S with Ed Frias crossover mods, located on top leading edge of entertainment center angled down towards listening position (don't laugh, it doesn't sound half bad after Ed works his magic. Got another one of these available too if anyone wants it, $100 OBO!
Surrounds: SVS SBS01 on 31" Sanus Systems BF-31B Wood Speaker Stands (haven't had the chance to do any serious movie watching with these in surround position yet but I will ASAP. I really like them so far. They replaced a pair of Boston Acoustic CR-75)
Sub: SVS PB10-ISD
For the short listening session I described above I mostly listened to Libera, several tracks from their Free and Visions CDs. If you want to TEST your tweeters, I don't know of much material that will show off their strengths or expose their weaknesses more effectively than Libera, a modern boy choir produced with modern synths and production. Picture Enya or Sade but with a boy choir instead of a female singer. The breathtaking purity of their voices is a fantastic test for your speakers' mids and highs. I also spent some time listening to tracks by Train, Diana Krall, Fourplay, Edwin McCain, Boney James, Patricia Barber, Seal, Chick Corea, Sadé and some of my own mixes, with which I'm reasonably familiar.