Review: Cerwin-Vega Professional Active Series CVA-28 and CVA-118 Speakers

I can whole-heartedly recommend a Cerwin-Vega Active Series system to anyone needing a truly professional mobile PA who cannot stand to be ignored; this PA will get sufficient public attention, I guarantee you.
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It takes a pretty confident company to regularly use an exclamation point in its own name. For over 50 years, Cerwin-Vega! — a manufacturer of professional, hi-fi, and mobile audio gear — has generated plenty of exclamation-worthy enthusiasm through their varied product lines.

Led by company founder Gene Czerwinski, Cerwin-Vega! introduced such pro products as the world’s first solid-state amplifier and an 18-inch driver-equipped sound system producing 130 dB at 30 Hz in 1954 and 1956, respectively. The thrills continued with the manufacturing of loudspeakers and other components for companies such as Fender, Sunn, and Vox during the ‘60s; a 1974 Academy Award for Special Technical Achievement; and relationships with acts such as the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and Peter Frampton throughout the ‘70s.

Today, Cerwin-Vega! — now part of the Stanton Group alongside KRK Systems and Stanton DJ — has squeezed it’s big, legendary sound into a very impressive mobile PA system. The newly unveiled Active Series features a small, powered, full-range top box — the CVA-28 — and three choices in powered subs measuring 15, 18 and 21 inches — the CVA-115, CVA-118 and CVA-121.

In this review, I tested two CVA-28 and two CVA-118 boxes in a variety of applications. And yes, what I discovered did validate typing all these exclamation points!

Features

The CVA-28 is a dual, eight-inch, active, full-range speaker with a continuous power capacity/performance level of 400 watts, 800 watts peak. Frequency response is 70 Hz – 20 kHz (+/- 3 dB), maximum SPL is 128 dB (800 watts), and sensitivity is 99 dB (1w/1m). The CVA-28’s top eight-inch M/LF driver offers a two-inch voice coil and a concentrically mounted 34mm HF voice coil; the bottom eight-inch driver also has two-inch voice coil. Cabinet dimensions are conveniently small; across the front panel, the speaker is 11 inches wide, 20.5 inches tall, and 12 inches deep. The cabinet tapers to an 8.5-inch width at its rear panel, and it weighs 48 lbs.

The CVA-28’s rear panel includes balanced XLR female and quarter-inch TRS inputs; balanced XLR male and quarter-inch TRS outputs; rotary level knob; robust toggle switches for Mic/DI or Line, No Sub or Sub, and Off or Contour selection; voltage selector; power switch; and AC input and thru-put. Variously colored LEDs for Signal, Protect, Limit, and Power also reside on the back panel. Above these rear components is the large heat sink for CVA-28’s robust amplifier.

Fast FactsApplications
Live — small to mid-sized venues and outdoor settings; Install — DJs and houses-of-worship
Features
(CVA-28) three-way; dual eight-inch active full range speaker; 400 watts continuous, 800 watts peak; 70 Hz – 20 kHz (+/- 3dB) frequency response; 128dB max. SPL (800 watts); sensitivity is 99dB (1 W/1m). (CVA-118) 18-inch active subwoofer; 700 watts continuous, 1400 watts peak; 41 Hz – 135 Hz frequency response (+/- 3dB); 131 dB max SPL at 1200 watts; sensitivity is 100 dB (1W/1m).

Prices
$849 and $1,320 (CVA-28 and CVA-118, respectively)

Contact
Cerwin-Vega! | 954-316-1501 | www.cerwin-vega.com

The CVA-118 is an 18-inch active subwoofer with a continuous power capacity/performance level of 700 watts, 1400 watts peak; its internal amp is the CVA600. Frequency response is 41 Hz – 135 Hz (+/- 3 dB), maximum SPL is 131 dB at 1200 watts, and sensitivity is 100 dB (1w/1m). Dimensions are 21 inches wide, 25 inches tall, and 23.5 inches deep; total cabinet weight is 115 lbs.

The CVA-118’s rear panel includes two balanced XLR female and two quarter-inch TRS inputs; two balanced XLR male and quarter-inch TRS outputs; one male XLR and quarter-inch Link Out outputs with Master or Slave toggle; polarity reversal toggle; power switch; and AC input. Like the CVA-28, variously colored LEDs for Signal, Protect, Limit, and Power also reside on the back panel.

Also on the CVA-118 rear panel is a high-pass filter with four settings: bypass, 65 Hz, 85 Hz, and 130 Hz. Its low pass filter is continuously sweepable from 65Hz to 130Hz via rotary control. (Additionally, the CVA-121 has a dedicated parametric EQ.) To the right of all rear controls, a large heat sink runs top to bottom of the amp’s height.

Both the CVA-28 and CVA-118 seem to be built incredibly, and strikingly, well. Cosmetically, they are truly unique; there is no mistaking these speakers for any other portable PA components on the market (see for yourself in the corresponding photos).

The Active Series’ thick, multi-ply hardwood cabinetry is available in black “Cool-X” polyurethane paint or carpet coverings. The review units I received were painted, and I’d definitely recommend this thick-coat, ding-repelling painted finish.

The same tour-grade aluminum handles were available on both the CVA-28 and CVA-118; the CVA-28 has one on its right side, while the CVA-118 has two on its left and right sides for fairly easy two-man transport. The CVA-28 comes with rubber feet on its bottom and left side (for wedge/side-firing use) as well as a pole mount on its bottom. The CVA-118 offers a pole mount on its top, allowing CVA-28 full range speakers (or whatever full-range tops you choose to use) to fly overhead. The CVA-28 boxes can be mounted, installed, or flown in various ways via dedicated fly points (for horizontal or vertical suspension), flyware kits, and double/triple speaker mount kits.

In Use

First off, both the CVA-28 and CVA-118 are relatively heavy in weight. Thus, nearly every user of a CVA-28/CVA-118 component system will need help moving it. The CVA-28 is manageable, movable, and pole-mountable by one person; the CVA-118 is not. If working alone with the system, have a hand truck or dolly handy.

Despite its heft, the Active Series is worth its weight in precious metals, and it doesn’t hurt that it looks like a million bucks. During this evaluation, casual observers of all pro audio stripes regularly went out of their way to comment on the visual appeal of the Active Series; “cool” was the common operative word.

Then, once the same folks heard the Active Series in action, the common operative word became “wow.” The system was used at both an outdoor gig with a wide audience spread and an indoor gig at a 500-capacity rock club. Both environments seemed ideal for the attributes of the system — a need for bold, clean performance to cut through lots of open air and a loud bar crowd, respectively.

Product PointsPlus

  • Great sound
  • Powerful
  • Well-built
  • Good price
  • Striking styling and design

Minus

  • The CVA-118 is heavy with no casters
  • Front grilles could be penetrable

Score
The powerful, great-sounding Active Series is a worthy attention getter and a comparable bargain.

This Active Series system’s impressive, full-frequency performance was immediate; together, the CVA-28 and CVA-118 behaved like someone had sculpted your house mix for an hour. Ultra-highs — cymbals, strings, vocal transients, etc. — were direct, powerful, clean, and pleasing. Midrange was smooth and solid. Its low-end — ah, the low-end of Cerwin-Vega! — was uniquely striking; it enveloped the crowd in both environments and never seemed too loud (but it was quite loud!) with a smooth thump that would punch you firmly in the chest, if warranted. The CVA-118’s variable LPF and HPF settings were flexible enough for my gigs’ needs, which also included between-set iPod background music that varied widely across the pop music spectrum — reggae, rock, country, and bluegrass. (Yes, summer outdoor events can offer a mixed bag of listeners — gotta keep it universally interesting). Importantly, the system offered very low inherent noise; it ran quietly as a mouse in between musical selections.

I also used the CVA-28s as full-range standalone loudspeakers for rehearsal PA, on-stage reinforcement (sidefill and wedge), and – in “little-to-no drums” applications — the full PA. I really enjoyed using the CVA-28 pair even without their sub brothers. You can plug mic/DI-level signal into their rear XLR and a pair takes up very little space in a subcompact car trunk — great for those smaller gigs.

A couple of small design-oriented issues troubled me about the boxes; while I (and everyone else) loved their striking grilles, it’s possible that something long and sharp could penetrate its rather large vertical gaps. I found myself turning them to face each other in transport to avoid this from happening. Is it possible that, in future runs, Cerwin-Vega! could discretely insert a thin “under-grille” mesh behind its great front grille? Secondly, in my opinion, any component over 100 lbs. that can be considered for use as a ‘portable PA’ should come with casters as a standard. The CVA-121 has four removable casters; I’d recommend that the CVA-118 have them, too.

Most importantly, the Active Series is a nearly custom-like PA system, configurable for virtually any small to medium live gig. Usefully, the Cerwin-Vega! website offers a handy Q/A guide to which, and how many, components are best suited for your unique gig. Check it out: www.cerwin-vega.com/configure.php.

Summary

I can whole-heartedly recommend a Cerwin-Vega Active Series system to anyone needing a truly professional mobile PA who cannot stand to be ignored; this PA will get sufficient public attention, I guarantee you. It’s compact yet hefty, smooth and discrete yet powerful, and, luckily, it’s a bargain for its build quality, design, and grade of components. And yes, it’s worthy of one more exclamation point!