Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3 Standmount Speakers Review
Paul Sechi auditions an exciting new mid-price standmounter from this iconic British speaker brand…
Bowers & Wilkins
705 S3 Bookshelf Loudspeakers
€3,000 | US$3,400
Bowers & Wilkins has been making loudspeakers for almost sixty years now and, in that time, has often been at the forefront of acoustic design developments. Throughout much of that period, the flagship 800 series has been the vehicle by which these innovations are introduced to the market, and they're then 'trickled down' to the more affordable speakers in the company's range.
The 700 series is a case in point, getting various fancy bits of tech from its bigger brothers, albeit applied in a less expensive way – which reflects the range's more mainstream positioning. The brand new Series 3 sees this continue, with extensive fettling of the previous range to make B&W's mid-price line all the more impressive.
As per 'house style', the 705 S3 is the top standmounter in the new range and retails for US$3,400 per pair in wood veneer or gloss lacquer finish. My own demo pair arrived in a new flavour – I mean colour – called mocha – and this superbly finished timber veneer has depth and lustre. Other options include gloss black, satin white and, if you live in Asian and Pacific markets, rosenut (veneer). Matching stands are available for US$800 per pair, and all S3 speakers come with an excellent five-year warranty for peace of mind.
The new 705 S3 is a classic 2-way design with a rear-mounted port, a mid-sized bass driver and a dome tweeter. B&W has engineered all the drivers, and they are, of course, tailored to the cabinet. The mid-bass unit employs the next generation B&W Continuum cone – a kind of woven polymer material – which has been used since 2015 by the company. Its superior natural damping, frequency linearity and long excursion are claimed by the manufacturer to limit compression damping under load.
The 705 S3 is the first model going up the 700 series to have an externally mounted tweeter-on-top, as B&W calls it. The tweeter's enclosure is milled from a single aluminium billet with a beautiful taper that absorbs acoustic energy and provides an optimally decoupled mounting to the veneered enclosure. This B&W-made design is a 25mm carbon dome unit featuring a linear frequency response with its first break-up mode occurring at 47kHz, says the company. This is apparently Bower's best high-frequency unit without going up to the 800 Series Diamond domes.
Each 705 S3 cabinet weighs almost 10kg. Critical bracing and a specific MDF board add to the weighty, solid feel; it measures 345x192x297mm, plus an extra 70mm of height for the tweeter pod. The mid-bass diver is 165mm in diameter with a cone diameter of just under 120mm inside-to-inside the roll surround, according to the spec sheet. The crossover sports high-quality Mundorf capacitors and custom wound inductors. Crossover slopes are first order, and the crossover point is a relatively high 4kHz.
Even the rear of the enclosure is classy, with the rear port tapered and dimpled. It's called a “Flowport” by Bowers & Wilkins and comes nicely integrated into the cabinet. I can't say I have ever been excited by rear panel terminations before but the binding posts – horizontally arranged, aesthetically and practically pleasing – are mounted on a chrome metal insert and look rather attractive. Bi-amping is possible. Magnetically attached grills are supplied and shaped to square up the front fascia. They look good, but I had them on for five seconds before I went back to staring at the veneer finish!
The matching build-yourself speaker stands come together in about ten minutes. B&W makes it possible to route speaker cables in the centre pillar rear channel and bolt the speaker to the stand top-plate. The stands cater for carpet spikes and hard surfaces via soft convex isolators.
The 705 S3's tech specs are routine for a modern standmount speaker, with a quoted efficiency of 88dB (2.83Vrms at 1m) and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms which drops down to 3.7 ohms minimum. This means that most amplifiers of most types should be able to drive it without any trouble. The frequency response is put at 50Hz to 28kHz (+/-3dB).
My review system comprised a Primare integrated amplifier and CD player, Bluesound Vault 2i streamer and SolidSteel SS-6 stands, with SerhanSwift Mu.2 speakers as my reference, plus Les Davis Audio entropic isolators and Tributaries Series 8 cables. I tried the 705 S3 on my SolidSteel SS-6 mass-loaded stands and the B&W stands and found that the mechanical bonding of the speaker to the B&W's stand top plate benefitted musical weight and detail retrieval. My review pair was positioned 900mm from my bay window, and I settled on a slight toe-in. The tweeters were just above ear height, and I was seated dead-centre 2.4 metres back.
This is a clean, crisp and consummately modern-sounding speaker. The 705 S3 has an open, easy midband, firm but not overbearing bass and a smooth but revealing treble. Midband is effortless across all musical styles, while the tweeter provides an almost ribbon-like performance in some situations – and the speaker lacks directivity. I found that I could stand-up, or go to the left or right on the lounge, and the sound was consistent.
Most important of all, however, is this speaker's musically communicative nature. For example, from the opening bars of Yazz Ahmed's Jamil Jamal, I got a fine sense of the pace and rhythm of the music. Bass lines were clear, lowest registers a little reduced as expected, but the mid-band was delicate and inviting, and as the track changes key, there was a great sense of timing cohesion in the midband.
This speaker also soundstages very well – it positively blossomed into my listening room, sounding wide, deep and layered in height. With this test track, never once did the trumpet or clarinet feel like they were being suffocated; there was plenty of air and space around them.
Midband clarity is another great plus point. Moving to male vocals with bass and drums, I spun up Resurgam by Fink. Vocals sounded clear, smooth and effortless. I replayed the track a few times to understand the bottom end response – shaking my head at how a sub-120mm driver in a small enclosure could produce such a clean bottom end, rendering those bass drum notes with great weight. I tried a couple of different volume levels to unsettle the 705 S3, but my review pair held their composure.
Feeling the need for some serious subsonics, next up was Kewpie Station by Kaki King. First impressions were good, but I felt the lower mid was a little lean. I moved the speakers back three times to various locations and settled on a 150mm change, a little closer to the wall. Suddenly the lower mid warmth was there, and guitar slaps had more body. The bottom end was still tight and did not bloat, and pace and timing were excellent. Indeed the 705 S3 showed great transient speed, and I enjoyed hearing the notes trailing off effortlessly.
Moving to the other frequency extreme, I find Fault Line by the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to be a good track for unpacking upper midband and treble alignment. The 705 S3 opened with a broad soundstage and pinpoint imaging. The guitar playing drives the timing in this track, and this speaker rightly made it a focal point. The harmonica wasn't glaring or shrill, and was located just forward of the band – precisely where it should be. Vocals were conveyed nicely, making the song very easy to follow.
Aventine by Agnes Obel served up an enjoyable wall of sound, showing me just how good the tonal accuracy of the 705 S3 is compared to its predecessors. The cello was warm and teasing, the bass drums firm, solid and well-weighted. The violin plucking was vivid, and the vocals gentle, focused and inviting.
Indeed, compared to its natural rivals – DALI's Rubicon 2, Fyne F500SP and ELAC BS283 Solano – the B&W 705 S3 compared very well. Tonally it's closer to the DALI and ELAC, although with less mid-bass warmth and less forward than the Fyne. For bass extension, the B&W standmounters win, while for cleanliness and cohesiveness, it's a tie with DALI. I felt that the 705 S3 surpassed Fyne's detail retrieval capability, which is a real feat. Regarding treble performance, the Bowers & Wilkins team is on a par with the ELAC's ribbon for delicate and effortless delivery – which is really saying something!
The new Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3 has a predominantly neutral sonic signature and treads a clever line between sounding detailed and being clinical. It has a lovely treble quality and fine instrumental separation in the midband. Soundstaging is a really strong point too. All of which makes it a great new contender in the crowded mid-price speaker market and earns it our strong recommendation.
Paul is a music appreciation fan of both live and produced music from diverse genres and cultures. Paul was interested in audio at school, did a thesis in acoustics and by day works as a technology strategist including smart environment standards and integration.
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