B&W VM1/AS1 review

Does the compact package retain B&W's high standards?

Our Verdict

These B&Ws raise the bar for sub/sat systems, delivering a superb sound to those who need their speakers to be discreet. A very well designed and sweetly integrated package

This speaker package represents an interesting departure for sonic stalwart B&W. The brand has built its reputation on a 'sound quality first' ethos, eschewing the more style-oriented design compromises many of its rivals favour.

Until now. The home cinema explosion has created a surge of interest in small 5.1 systems. Attractive, room-friendly designs with satellite speakers and a subwoofer has proved a hit with consumers, hence the VM1/AS1.

B&W's system is based around the VM1 satellite. The initials stand for 'versatile monitor', and it's exactly that; the fairly long speaker (522mm) can be mounted either horizontally or vertically. You can even buy the VM1 with a small table stand as well as a wall bracket, with the speaker simply clipping snugly onto either. There's also an optional floor stand, ideal for use with the front pair.

Each VM1 contains a 25mm tweeter and a 12.5cm mid/bass driver crossing over at 3.5 kHz, and the latter reaching down to 75Hz. Which is where the AS1 subwoofer kicks in.

Lke the satellites, the sub keeps things compact, with a slim cabinet design and a relatively small bass driver, measuring just 16.5cm. In design and build terms, the AS1 is not as immediately impressive as the VM1 satellites, but when combined, the whole system delivers a fine performance.

Integration between the subwoofer and satellites is simply excellent, with the package responding admirably to the switch between a big movie soundtrack like The Rock and an Audioslave CD. Unlike some sub/sat systems, this product is capable of genuine subtlety. Spin an atmospheric movie like Insomnia and the eerie effects and subtle soundscapes are delivered with engrossing delicacy and detail.

The VM1/AS1 achieves an openness of sound that's particularly rare for this kind of package. And better still, it's just as faithful with higher frequencies, without ever succumbing to the kind of hard treble that so frequently blights lesser sub/sat set-ups.

For example, test the B&W with the most gunfire-and-explosion-heavy scenes from The Matrix - film sequences that will often reveal lesser speaker packages' limitations - and the VM1/AS1 manages to retain its smoothness and realism throughout. Very impressive.

Voices are natural, good dynamics make every movie a thrill, and the system can even play a tune with gusto: if you're looking for that elusive compromise between room-friendly design and real sound quality, put the VM1/AS1 on your wishlist.