The great thing about technology is that it marches ever onward. Expensive, cutting edge advancements eventually trickle down to more affordable products, to be enjoyed by more people. And high performance speakers are no exception. Last year, in honor of their 50th Anniversary, British speaker maker Bowers and Wilkins unveiled their flagship 800 D3 Diamond Series speaker: state-of-the-art sound, with a state-of-the-art price tag: $30,000/pair. You can read my listening impressions here.
This month, the company released a major update to their line with the new 700 series loudspeakers, bringing many of the design advancements pioneered in the 800 D3 Diamond Series to a smaller, much more affordable price point. The flagship of the 700 series, the 702 S2 floorstanding loudspeaker, brings home a strong taste of the performance of the 800 series for a price point of only $4,500 a pair. The entry level speaker in the new series is the 707 S2, a bookshelf or stand-mounted model that rings up at just $1,200 a pair. And even this entry-level model sports the same tweeter and midrange of its bigger borthers.
Originally developed for the 800 Series is B&W's "continuum cone" - a midrange driver made from stiff woven material that offers exceptional linearity and clarity. This silver cone material replaces the company's previous use of Kevlar with a proprietary material that is said to have superior stiffness and sonic characteristics to Kevlar. As to whether these new drivers are also bulletproof, well we're not about to test that out. The continuum cone appears in the entire 700 series line from the 707 S2 up to the 702 S2.
The top-mounted tweeter of the higher end models (705 S2, 702 S2) resembles that of their big brothers in the 800 Series as well. It sports the same high-mass cone-shaped tweeter housing. As with the 800 series, this tweeter enclosure is shaped from a solid cylinder of billeted aluminum for better stiffness and resistance from resonance. The tweeter itself is new to the 700 series, forgoing the previous models' plain aluminum cone for a new carbon-braced aluminum that offers performance very close to the 800 series diamond tweeter at a much lower price point. This tweeter appears in all 700 series models.
The model range encompasses the two top-tweeter mounted models - one floorstander and one bookshelf/stand-mounted unit - as well two more floorstanders and two more stand-mounted models. There are also two center channel speakers for use in multi-channel home theater installations. Rounding out the line, we find a new subwoofer and new stands that provide a perfect match for the bookshelf models, placing their tweeters at the same height as the floorstanding models.
On a recent visit to Bowers and Wilkins' US Headquarters in Massachusetts, we got a sneak peek of the new models compared to the older CM series speakers they replace. Even the entry-level 707 S2 ($600 each) offered excellent vocal articulation and a nice feeling of space around the performers. Compared to comparable models in the CM series, each of the 700 series speakers provided greater immediacy and transparency, as if a thin veil had been removed from the soundstage. The 707's dynamic range, bass extension and maximum SPL were a bit limited, but at reasonable volumes even the entry-level 707 S2 offered excellent sound, with pinpoint imaging.
Stepping up to the 706 and larger models offered similarly excellent sound, though with higher dynamic range and deeper bass extension. When we got up to the 702 S2 flagship, I thought it wouldn't get much better, but it did. The speakers virtually disappeared, bass extension was solid and deep, vocals and instruments floated in space, disembodied from the speakers, presenting an almost holographic sound stage. On Scout Niblett's track "Gun," the snare drum, which is very prominent in the mix, sounded like a real snare drum - with proper attack and decay. This is something that very few affordable speakers get right. On everything from classic jazz to rock to electronica, the 702 S2 turned in a supremely musical performance, one that should satisfy both audiophiles and music lovers (and those like me, who are both).
All models in the 700 series are available in a choice of Gloss Black, Satin White and Rosenut finishes.
If you're looking for that refined yet accurate and immersive "British sound" at a relatively affordable price point, Bowers and Wilkins' new 700 series speakers are definitely worth a look, and a listen.
700 Series Pricing and Model Details (2017):
HTM72 S2 Center Channel Speaker
HTM71 S2 Center Channel Speaker
DB4S Powered Subwoofer
FS-700 S2 Stands