Bowers & Wilkins 607 S3 Bookshelf Loudspeakers Review
Simon Lucas samples an exciting new British budget standmount loudspeaker…
Bowers & Wilkins
607 S3 Bookshelf Loudspeakers
AUD $1,149 RRP
The brand new 607 S3 that you see here is the most affordable way into ownership of a new pair of Bowers & Wilkins passive loudspeakers. Despite being called ‘Series 3’, it is actually the company’s eighth generation of entry-level hi-fi speakers, but we won’t get bogged down in the backstory here. Instead, the key point is that – as with previous generations – it is effectively the new budget box to beat. You can be sure that all of B&W’s rivals will have their sights ranged firmly on this.
At a glance, the 607 S3 is very similar to the 607 S2 Anniversary model it replaces. The 300x165x207mm [HxWxD] dimensions are so close to the outgoing speaker that they may as well be identical, and the aesthetic of this two-way model is once again cleanly businesslike. The black, white or oak vinyl-wrapped cabinets are crisp in execution and finish, and the contrasting white front panel of the oak version contrives to look quite upmarket. Build quality is impeccable at the price, which is what we all expect from Bowers & Wilkins these days, and also what we insist on when parting with this much money for any small speaker now.
The 607 S3’s front baffle is kitted out with a 25mm titanium double-dome tweeter, which is the first time this particular technology has trickled down to the Bowers & Wilkins entry-level speaker line. A 25-micron dome is reinforced by a 30-micron ring, both of which are made from titanium. This is a departure from the aluminium domed design that’s previously been used in 600 Series tweeters and should offer greater treble refinement and detail than the aluminium alternative can muster. The rear of the tweeter is tube-loaded, and for the S3, the system is lengthened in an effort to minimise rearward standing waves. At the front, the tweeter sits behind a redesigned grille inspired by that fitted to the company’s 800 Signature Series of loudspeakers. It uses less material than before and so is more open as a consequence, says the company.
Beneath the new tweeter is a 130mm version of the Continuum mid/bass driver that has been a part of the 600 Series story for nearly five years now; it proved a major upgrade on the company’s previous Kevlar cones thanks to better breakup characteristics. For the S3 implementation, it now comes backed by a heftier motor assembly. The crossover has come in for attention, too, with pricier components deployed in a drive for greater transparency. This loudspeaker’s two drive units are now mounted so close together that there’s an overlap between each driver’s trim ring, rather like a Venn diagram. This is done to achieve optimal driver integration, working towards the goal of making both units act together like a point source.
At the rear of the cabinet, there’s a bass reflex port above bi-wireable speaker binding posts. This is of the same circular, dimpled design that Bowers & Wilkins has been persevering with for years now – the company values the arrangement for its smooth airflow and resistance to chuffing. The binding posts are arranged horizontally and accept bare wire, spade, or 4mm banana plug connections. The cabinet itself enjoys revised bracing in an effort to improve rigidity, B&W says.
The upshot is a good-looking, tidily finished loudspeaker with a claimed frequency response of 52Hz to 28kHz. Sensitivity is put at 84dB, and nominal impedance is said to be 8 ohms with a 3 ohm minimum. This is just average in small-speaker terms, and some rivals are more efficient and/or don’t drop so low in load terms. However, given that modern solid-state integrated and power amplifiers are so gutsy nowadays, this really shouldn’t be an issue for most users. Bowers & Wilkins says that anything between 30 and 100W RMS is enough to let this baby box give off its best.
You have to manage your expectations where the 607 S3 is concerned. That’s because the illustrious brand name, combined with the keen asking price, primes one for stellar performance with vast room-filling scale. Yet this a small speaker of modest internal volume, with good quality but still physically small drive units. So, if you have a medium-to-large listening room, you’d be better advised to consider one of the larger designs in the range. This model works best with small-to-medium sized listening rooms, and may seem a little lost in larger ones.
All the same, in the right sized room, mounted on a decent speaker stand and sited in the correct place, the 607 S3 is seriously good. A listen to The Violent Femmes’ eponymous debut album tells you a lot about this speaker’s attitude and ability. This recording seeks to underplay its own virtuosity, and instead present itself as rather hectic. This Bowers & Wilkins speaker gets fully on board, and gives a convincing rendition. I’ll touch on specific aspects of its performance soon enough, but what is most immediately evident is how much fun the 607 S3 seems to be having. Energetic and engaging, it is more than capable of conveying the full emotional expression of this recording.
Low frequencies are surprisingly deep and solid considering the physical dimensions of the cabinet, and the speaker’s punchiness is augmented by straight-edged control of transients. This means that rhythms are accurately described, even when a recording is really motoring along. The midrange is open and detailed, so the commitment of a vocalist’s performance is revealed just as readily as their technique – or lack thereof. The reworked tweeter arrangement makes good on its promise of finesse to go along with substance, and of transparency allied to attack.
The 607 S3’s tonal balance is nicely judged, and in combination with a crossover point that is all but indiscernible, it makes for a nicely coherent performance of pronounced singularity. Listen to a CD of Warren Zevon’s glossy The Hula-Hula Boys, and this speaker presents it as a unified whole, with impressive detail levels and all the recording’s sheen intact. Yet, for all the intentional lustre of the recording, this baby Bowers & Wilkins box can identify and contextualise the grit in the pearl. It has sufficient dynamic potency to go loud when called upon and reveals the smaller variations that less attentive speakers easily lose sight of.
A TIDAL stream of Eartheater’s Supersoaker is served up confidently, too, the balance between poise and drive properly struck and the stage convincingly laid out. There’s a very pleasant sensation of flow to the 607 S3’s sound, even when a recording is as unhelpfully staccato and abrupt in its transitions as this one. There’s a degree of agility and manoeuvrability here that’s not especially common, even if you’re spending considerably more money than this.
The 607 S3 isn’t super-fussy about where it is put, but it’s worth taking a moment to get a pair of them sympathetically positioned in your room. Take a little care, and you’ll be rewarded with a respectably wide, deep soundstage and a good sensation of space between the competing elements of a recording. The temptation with a loudspeaker of this size is to consider it as a shelf-mounting option, but unless your shelves are especially deep, then I would suggest the boundary of the rear wall will be too close to the speaker’s bass port, with a skewing of the frequency range being the inevitable result. And anyway, you didn’t spend all this money on loudspeakers as accomplished as these to stick them on a shelf, did you?
Bowers & Wilkins’ new 607 S3 standmounter is – to use the technical jargon so beloved of the audio reviewing profession – a bloody marvellous little loudspeaker. It can analyse a recording if that’s what you want, make it simple to follow and offer decent insight into its innermost workings – but just as importantly, it has lots of fun doing so. Not every budget speaker knows how to have a good time, but here’s one that does. As such, if you’re looking for an affordable, compact two-way for a modestly sized room, this should be at the top of your listening list.
Simon was editor of What Hi-Fi? magazine and website and has since written for Wired, Metro, the Guardian and Stuff, among many others. Should he find himself with a spare moment, Simon likes publishing and then quickly deleting tweets about the state of the nation (in general), the state of Aston Villa (in particular) and the state of his partner’s cat.
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