Sound United recently invited a small group of writers to their headquarters in Carlsbad, California for a sneak peek at Bowers & Wilkins’ new 700 Series of speakers. Most of the press arrived the evening before the event for a group dinner. After two years of cancelled shows, it was great to see my colleagues from the audio world in person. Like any other group, we caught up on how everyone was doing and some industry gossip. The one thing that was surprisingly absent from any conversation was the new Bowers & Wilkins 700 S3 series of speakers that we all came from around the country to see, and more importantly, to listen to.
The next morning, we went to Sound United’s headquarters in Carlsbad, California, a small beach city a little north of San Diego and best known for the Legoland California theme park. Sound United’s headquarters is in an unassuming corporate park. After gathering in the well-stocked employee cafe, we assembled in a conference room where Andy Kerr, Bowers & Wilkins’ Director of Marketing and Communications, shared details about the new 700 S3 series.
Build Quality and Design
Bowers & Wilkins’ iconic 800 Series speakers is known as a studio-reference line and the 700 Series is the line they say is positioned to the bring the studio sound home. This was achieved by leveraging the 800 Series Diamond technologies into the more affordable 700 Series. The new 700 Series uses the same Continuum cone as in the 800 Series Diamond speakers. The paper-skinned Aerofoil bass cones are derived from the 800 Series Diamond drivers, which use a carbon-skinned Aerofoil bass cone driver. The carbon dome tweeter is also said to feature technology derived from the 800 Series Diamond tweeters.
The 700 Series is Bowers & Wilkins most extensive speaker range with six stereo models and two center channel speakers. The new 700 Series not only uses the trickle-down technology but also does so in a new combination in some models which feature both the tweeter-on-top design and a decoupled FST midrange. The new 700 Series comprises eight models: three floor-standing speakers; three stand-mounted speakers, and two center-channel speakers. Of course, the series would not be complete without new stands for the three stand-mounted speakers.
All the speakers in the series feature a new cabinet design with a slimmer baffle and a subtle curve that gives them a more refined look. Even though the 700 Series does not have the fancy (and expensive) curved speaker walls and Matrix bracing, the front baffle on the new 700 Series is thicker than the prior generation to reduce baffle interference. The midrange and bass drivers are mounted in “pods” which stand out about a quarter inch from the front baffle. On the rear of the speakers, you will see all new speaker terminals with four connectors across rather than the mids/highs above the bass terminals as on past designs. The plinths are an all-new design and are required for the largest floor-standing speaker, which has a downward firing port. The last two cabinet related points are more aesthetic: the full-length grilles and the new Mocha wood veneer finish to accompany Gloss White and Gloss Black options.
Four of the eight new models feature B&W’s iconic tweeter-on-top design. Andy excitedly described the new tweeter pod, holding one like an enthusiastic teacher in the front of a classroom. The pods are machined out of solid blocks of aluminum and are longer than the prior generation, providing a larger loading tube to dissipate the rear waves from the tweeter. The larger pods also act as a more effective heatsink. The pods have a radial pattern machined into the finish, which is anodized in a silver color for the White Gloss cabinets and in black for the Mocha wood and Black Gloss cabinets.
The tweeter-on-top design not only provides a distinctive aesthetic, the design also provides acoustic benefits. The baffle mounted tweeters also have elongated tubes, but they are hidden in the cabinets. The tweeters have improved motors and two-point decoupling and shock absorption gasket. The dome diaphragms themselves, while carried over from the prior series are worth noting. They are made of 30-micron thick aluminum with a thin layer of carbon applied by physical vapor deposition (“PVD”) to stiffen the dome. The design also includes a profiled ring on the back side of the dome, which helps push the breakup point to 47 kHz, up from 38 kHz. The tweeters are protected by a new protective metal mesh, which is more open, providing increased performance without sacrificing protection.
The midrange drivers in all the three-way designs in the lineup also received some interesting cascading or trickle-down technology enhancements. The driver’s motor and chassis were updated, but the item that caught my attention was the use of the Biomimetic Suspension system from the 800 Series speaker. This is a flexible polymer suspension system that replaces a traditional spider assembly. The system is concentric circles connected with bars that have a “m” cross-section. This is said to improve linearity and reduce distortion. The pod mounting system places the driver slightly in front of the baffle. The mounting system uses a threaded rod insert with a spring mount. There is a soft mount at the baffle to reduce the impact of interference with driver to cabinet, or vice versa, vibrations. A tuned mass damper is soft bonded to the chassis to further dampen vibrations.
Last, but not least, in the driver complement, the bass drivers have the same cones as the prior generation but upgraded motor and suspension assemblies. While the cones are not new, they use the Aerofoil technology from the 800 Series with varying thickness across the driver. Very similar to the cones in the 800 Series but with less expensive materials. The new S3 series features improved crossover assemblies, with improved heatsinks as compared to the S2 series to take advantage of these refinements.
The floor-standing speakers in the new 700 Series are the 702 S3 ($7,000 pair), 703 S3 ($6,000 pair) and 704 S3 ($4,000 pair). The 702 S3 and 703 S3 both feature the tweeter-on-top design with a FST midrange above three mid-bass/bass drivers. The 702 S3 loses one of the bass drivers. The 704 S3 has a similar driver configuration to the 703 S3 but with a baffle mounted tweeter instead of the tweeter-on-top design.
The stand-mounted speakers are all two-way designs, one of which, the 705 S3 ($3,400 pair) has the tweeter-on-top design. The 706 S3 ($2,200 pair) has a similar driver complement but with a baffle mounted tweeter and the 707 S3 ($1,500) has a smaller mid-bass/bass driver. The newly designed FS-700 S3 ($800) a pair stands are designed to work with all three models.
B&W advised that approximately 50% of the 700 Series system sales include a center-channel in the United States. There are also two new center-channel models; the three-way, tweeter on top, HTM71 S3 ($2,500) and the slightly smaller HTM72 S3 ($1,500) which is a two-way design. Further specifications for all the above speakers are available on the B&W website.
After spending the first part of the morning learning about the new 700 Series, we could finally listen to them alongside their predecessors. Starting with the smallest speaker in the series, the 707 S3, we listened to two tracks on both the 707 S3 and the 707 S2. We listened to Laura Marling’s “Only the Strong” and Dominique Fils-Aimé’s “Old Love” streamed from Qobuz, with a Marantz M30 providing the power. Listening to both tracks, the biggest difference was in the mid-bass, which was cleaner in the S3. I could make out more definition in the strings. Vocals were very similar between the two, positioning in the soundstage was similar but more solid with the 707 S3. The soundstage was also slightly bigger and better defined with the newer 707 S3. Moving up to the slightly larger 706 S2 and 706 S3, the differences were very similar. The newer 706 S3s provided a noticeable improvement in clarity and improved imaging.
Having had 805 D3s in my system, I was very curious to listen to the 705 S3s. We listened to Freya Ridings’ “Lost Without You”, a track that features female vocals and piano. The 705 S2 are wonderful speakers and reproduced a solid image, powerful piano notes with full bass. Vocals were clear, well formed, perhaps with an occasional touch of sibilance. When we switched to the 705 S3s, the imaging was sharped, and better defined with a better sense of space, a subtle but noticeable difference. I think this may be related to increased detail in the upper midrange and treble as both the vocals and piano seemed more defined and three dimensional. The low end also benefited from the changes made in this newest version, bass notes reached deeper and with more definition.
We then moved into a larger listening room that had a bunch of Marantz and Classe’ electronics and even a reel-to-reel tape player. A Marantz PM-10 provided the amplification for the 702 S2 and 702 S3 listening comparison. As with the other speakers, the 702 S3s set themselves apart visually from their predecessor, with their narrower baffles and speaker pods. The 702 S3s also added a plinth, which made them significantly taller than their predecessors, perhaps four inches. We listened to several tracks in this room, including Neil Young’s “Old Man” from Live at Massey Hall. In comparing the S2 and S3, the S3s sounded like the performance was in a bigger room. The guitar strings in the opening were better defined, and the vocals were cleaner as well. One of the last tracks we listened to was Bille Eilish’s “Therefore I Am” which was played at a noticeably higher sound level. Both the S2 and S3 could handle the playback level with no noticeable distortion or compression, but the S3s had deeper and weightier bass. Eilish’s vocals were a bit more refined on the S3s as well, but I noticed little a difference when it came to soundstage size on this track as I did on some earlier pieces.
So, what are the take aways here? Trickle down (or cascading in B&W parlance) technology works. The 700 Series is the beneficiary of new technologies developed for the 800 D4 Series. The application of these technologies has, across the board, provided a noticeable increase in performance. The new speakers improve upon their already formidable predecessors with increased clarity and better imaging. I don’t know if I would toss my S2 series speakers for S3s, but if I was on the fence about buying 700 Series speakers, I think this would convince me to move forward with the new S3 speakers.
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gene posts on September 22, 2022 04:42
We got a chance to listen to the 700 Series 2 vs the new Series 3 to better understand the performance differences.
Read: Bowers & Wilkins 700 S3 Demo Report