Bowers & Wilkins 706 S3
Bowers & Wilkins has long convinced audiophiles that the only way to achieve total listening satisfaction is chasing the original - the sound recorded in the studio. This leads to the obvious conclusion that our home stereo system should be the last element of the chain, which starts with the microphone, and that gaining more at the end means losing less during the whole process. It's hard to argue with that. And while it's a bit pointless to compare home electronics with professional equipment, I appreciate any manufacturer who stays true to this straightforward philosophy. While the idea can be explained in a single sentence, putting it into practice is quite complicated. Transport the sound from the recording studio to the home? But, wait a minute, isn't that what almost all the people involved in this subject have been trying to achieve for 145 years (that's exactly how long it's been since the invention of the phonograph)? Yes, but no one can deny that we have made tremendous progress in this field and are still moving forward.
There's no doubt that galloping technical progress and inventions that allow us to take sound quality to a completely different level are a thing of the past. However, this doesn't mean that it's not worth the effort. You just have to have an idea for it and remember what you want to achieve. Bowers & Wilkins has two solutions for this. The first is the method of small steps. The Brits spend a lot of energy on research, only some yielding tangible results -components from which better loudspeakers can be built. It's a time-consuming and expensive process, but if we want to be sure we're going in the right direction, we have to have evidence of it, which is why computer simulations and measurements are done first at B&W's headquarters in Worthing. Only then, if the numbers and graphs look promising, can listening sessions begin. The second custom practiced by the British company for many years is the systematic transfer of solutions used in flagship models to increasingly cheaper products. This was the case, for example, with Nautilus tweeters, kevlar diaphragms, or Flowport tunnels. Twenty-five years ago, one had to pay a lot of money for the pleasure of listening to music using these inventions, while today, all three solutions can be found even in the tiny 607 S2 Anniversary Edition monitors priced at $799.
Design and functionality
As a company that bases its philosophy on science and technology, Bowers & Wilkins regularly refreshes its catalog. However, this is done quietly, without haste, so that one gets the impression that the new products - even if they enter the market with some delay with respect to the competition - are refined, tested, and polished to the smallest detail. When it comes to audiophile loudspeakers, we've seen evolutionary changes for some time. The most significant delivery of technical innovations came with the launch of the current 800 series. As for the models in the lower 700 and 600 ranges, I have the impression that they look almost the same from generation to generation. B&W's designers decided to go for a nearly Scandinavian minimalism. Quirky, strange shapes are reserved for lifestyle products, such as the Formation series speakers and the flagship 800s. All passive home speakers below this level are rectangular boxes, which - in the 700 series - can be adorned with an exposed, top-mounted tweeter.
The 700 S3 series is comprised of 8 products - 3 floorstanders, 3 bookshelf speakers and 2 center speakers, and specially tailored stands. Many manufacturers would add at least one active subwoofer, but Bowers & Wilkins has gathered them in a separate tab, so lovers of home theater or bass-turbocharged stereo systems can choose whatever model suits them. In the case of the 700 S3 series, it will probably be the DB4S with a 10-inch speaker driven by a 1000-watt amplifier. The manufacturer reports that the models belonging to the new 700 S3 range are counterparts to the designs available in the previous generation, but each has been rebuilt as part of a several-year effort, during which the cabinet design and finish were modified, and technical changes were made to improve the sound. The new 700s received slimmer enclosures with a slightly curved front panel. The distinctive design with a separate tweeter (Solid Body Tweeter-on-Top) now has as many as four models. In addition to the floor-standing 702 S3 and the entry-level 705 S3, the "flashlight" is also used in the freestanding 703 S3 and the HTM71 S3 center speaker. All designs use a carbon-dome tweeter. The company claims that compared to aluminum domes, the Carbon Dome provides the driver with a higher break-up frequency of 47 kHz. The three-way models belonging to the 700 S3 series use biomimetic composite suspension and woofers with Aerofoil diaphragms of variable thickness. In the monitors, of course, we'll see Continuum diaphragms on rubber suspension. New are massive speaker terminals modeled after those used in the top-of-the-line 800 series. The crossovers have also been modified and still use Mundorf capacitors but have been enhanced with multiple shunt capacitors. The new 700 series also features a unique finish, Mocha, which joins the two Gloss Black and Satin White variants previously available in the 700 S2 range.
None of this changes the fact that a customer interested in the described model will see only a few significant differences between it and its predecessor. My attention was drawn to only a few details - the slightly curved front without the company's logo at the bottom, the forward-extended basket of the woofer, and the terminals, which are not only really beautiful but have been completely separated from the bass-reflex port, so they are mounted lower and in line, making it easier to connect the wires. Instead of a sticker on the plastic profile, we get an elegant, chrome-plated nameplate. All this makes the 706 S3s look as good from the back as from the front. The only thing I didn't like was the grilles, which take the form of deep plastic bezels finished in black. I guess they had to be shaped like that to encompass the woofer along with the basket and some spare space for extreme diaphragm movement, but in addition, they were given the form of, hmm, a Romanesque portal. I prefer round grilles covering just the woofers because the tweeters have their protection. Maybe something along the lines of the grilles used in the Formation Duo?
The grilles are just one of several goodies to be found in the box. The manufacturer included soft, self-adhesive feet and bass-reflex plugs made of dense gray foam. They are two-part, so in case of more minor problems with reigning bass, you can remove the inner part and dampen the ports (or one of them) only partially, and if even that doesn't help, plug the holes completely. Interestingly, there are threaded bushings in the bases of the monitors, which will undoubtedly come in handy if you buy B&W's stands. The speakers and stands can then be screwed together for greater rigidity and stability. However, if you'd like to place the described monitors on a desk or dresser using the metal threads, you can find many types of furniture feet on sale, not to mention audiophile spikes and anti-vibration pads.
The 706 S3 are monitors that, at first glance, may not knock you out with their original design, but they should look good regardless of the environment they find themselves in. It's not without significance that their simplicity goes hand in hand with high-quality workmanship. The woodwork, the lacquer, even such minor details as sockets, bass-reflex ports, and beautiful terminals - all this gives us the impression of a product that was designed meticulously and not based on inventing palm leaf speakers and double-helix enclosures to attract the attention of audiophiles and please investors. Bowers & Wilkins is using a rather unpopular tactic we associate with brands like Harbeth, ProAc, and Spendor. No one expects their new speakers to be revolutionary. Cosmetic changes are enough to sustain the life of products that have been very good from the start. So while there are no spectacular differences between the current and previous generation of the 700s, at least from the outside, from the customer's point of view, this is good news. A much bigger problem is the price gap between the similar models from the 600, 700, and 800 range. A pair of the 706 S3 costs $2199. If we wanted to buy their cheaper counterpart, we would be left only with the 606 S2 Anniversary Edition, for which we will currently pay $799. We can see right away that this is a different product. If, on the other hand, we would like to upgrade our speakers, we are left with the 705 S3 for $3399 or... 805 D4 for $8499. It turns out that the 705 S3 is the best monitor from the British company that is not yet ridiculously expensive. It would be nice to have something between them and the 800s still, but that probably won't happen.
I have repeatedly scoffed at a certain sluggishness of British engineers when introducing new technical solutions. Bowers & Wilkins may convince us that every component of the speakers belonging to the new 700 series is designed from scratch. Still, differences visible to the naked eye are few, and we've seen all the components before - carbon domes, Continuum diaphragms, and bass-reflex ports covered with indentations similar to those used on golf balls. The company's biggest rival, Focal, innovates with each new speaker series. The French are so creative that the principle of transferring technical solutions to other ranges already works both ways for them, as models from the Utopia III Evo family received improvements taken directly from the Sopra series. Bowers & Wilkins plays it safe, which is why its new speakers don't attract attention in the same way. They aren't as exciting. But... It makes absolutely no difference from the point of view of a customer who is looking around for decent loudspeakers. To such people, the British company has always had something to offer, and it turns out that it still does because the real fun with the 706 S3 starts when you press "play" and start listening.
While the design of these monitors is too safe, their sound is virtually flawless. Tonal balance, neutrality, and transparency have been elevated to a level that will be hard to repeat at a similar price. The 706 S3 are incredibly reliable monitors that don't fiddle with the sound in the slightest way and then strive to cross the line that separates equipment that sounds natural but dull from that which manages to translate high fidelity into immersive realism. Let me put it another way. Imagine that you decided to create loudspeakers that don't interfere with the original recording, have no character of their own, and take themselves out of the equation. You succeeded, but you got a colorless, unengaging sound. The only way to pump some life into the music without losing the balance is to continue working on aspects such as dynamics or resolution. If we succeeded, we would get a sound that is one hundred percent correct but fast, adrenaline-charged, tangible, present, and capable of conveying emotions - those contained in the music. This is exactly what listening to the 706 S3s feels like.
Now, as a reviewer, I have a big problem because it would be appropriate to complain about something, but here there is simply nothing to criticize. To provoke the British monitors to a fault, I decided to experiment with the positioning, even testing scenarios that are not very comfortable for back-vented boxes. First, I placed them on a dresser under the TV, then in a smaller room, about 30 cm from the back wall, and finally on a desk. None of these situations brought them out of balance. I didn't even have to reach for foam plugs for the bass-reflex ports. Of course, decent stands would be the best option, if only for the sake of stability and space, but if such extravagance is not an option, know that the 706 S3s are one of the few monitors that, despite the rear-mounted ports, probably won't start booming buzzing like a broken air conditioner right away. The lows were just like the rest - flawless, without flaws. Adequately deep, adequately fast, and in tune with the midrange. If I really had to complain about something, I would grumble about the treble, which at times, could have been a bit bolder. However, this is a matter of taste, my personal feeling. From the user's point of view, this may be desirable. The 706 S3s offer a detailed sound, with the tweeters stopping just before the thin red line. Anything more, and there could be an unpleasant clamor when listening to not-so-well-made recordings - another thoughtful decision by British engineers.
Build quality and technical parameters
The Bowers & Wilkins 706 S3 is a two-way ported monitor speaker. This range uses technologies developed for the high-end 800 Diamond speakers like the previous generation. The most important of these is the Continuum midrange driver with a diaphragm made of the purest and most sonically transparent material in the history of Bowers & Wilkins. As the manufacturer explains, the Continuum cone design is based on optimized and controlled flexibility. This helps to avoid an abrupt transition from piston mode to strong impulses forcing a slight flexing of the surface. According to British engineers, the uncontrolled transition from one mode to another drastically reduces the openness and neutrality of conventional drivers. However, there's no denying that the material used in the Continuum speakers is very similar to the Kevlar used by B&W since 2007. The high frequencies are handled by the new Decoupled Carbon Dome driver, which is a 25-mm carbon dome with a system that dampens the waves generated by the back side of the diaphragm. Another chef's specialty is the Flowport - a bass-reflex port whose surface is covered with fine indentations that are supposed to minimize turbulence of air flowing in both directions. The technical parameters are almost exactly the same as in the 706 S2. The monitors have an efficiency of 88 dB and a nominal impedance of 8 Ω. However, the British also specify a minimum impedance value, which here is 3.7 Ω. Frequency response extends from 45 Hz to 33 kHz, and this is the only significant difference between the reviewed model and its predecessor. Recommended amplifier power is 30 - 120 watts at 8 Ω. Interestingly, Bowers & Wilkins even lists the maximum recommended cable impedance - 0.1 Ω.
Audiovector QR5, Equilibrium Nano, Unison Research Triode 25, Hegel H20, Auralic Aries G1, Auralic Vega G1, Marantz HD-DAC1, Clearaudio Concept, Cambridge Audio CP2, Cardas Clear Reflection, Tellurium Q Ultra Blue II, Albedo Geo, KBL Sound Red Corona, Enerr One 6S DCB, Enerr Tablette 6S, Enerr Transcenda Ultimate, Fidata HFU2, Melodika Purple Rain, Sennheiser HD 600, Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO, Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO, Meze 99 Classics, Bowers & Wilkins PX5, Pro-Ject Wallmount It 1, Custom Design RS 202, Silent Angel N8, Vicoustic VicWallpaper VMT, Vicoustic ViCloud VMT.
Since I'm a fan of Hegel electronics, I've been keeping an eye on various discussion groups for users of the brand's equipment. Bowers & Wilkins speakers are very popular among them. Whether we're talking about hi-end pre/power systems and integrated amplifiers connected to the flagship 800s, or the cheaper H95, H120, and H190 amplifiers working with the previous 700s or even older models of the British company, it's a common sight. I used to think it was obvious because Hegel and Bowers & Wilkins are a safe choice, a typical no-brainer, a system where the only cause of problems might be a mismatch between the size of the speakers and the listening room. Now I'm sure it's more than that. It's simply the same philosophy, which in one case is encased in a metal box converting the current from the socket into an electrical signal, and in the other - converting that signal into sound. If both devices do the job right, a music lover should be delighted with the outcome. This is the essence of my encounter with the 706 S3. Just as I don't see how anyone could look at these monitors and say they are ugly, I can't imagine anyone not liking their sound.
Speakers type: Stand-mounted, dynamic, ported
Sensitivity: 88 dB
Impedance: 8 Ω
Frequency response: 45 Hz - 33 kHz
Dimensions (H/W/D): 34,5/19,2/29,7 cm
Weight: 8,4 kg/piece
Manufacturer: Bowers & Wilkins