Bowers & Wilkins 702 S2

Hardware Review

Bowers & Wilkins 702 S2
Tuesday, September 25, 2018
floor standing loudspeaker
Jason Kennedy

The 700 series sits in the middle of Bowers & Wilkins three ranges of ‘serious’ loudspeakers, flanked by the more affordable 600 series below and the more ambitious 800 series above. It has a lot of the tech from the 800s along with shiny finishes and, in the case of the 705 and 702, a separate housing for the tweeter. There is a lot of 800 series DNA in this model, most obviously in the Continuum midrange cone with its minimal FST surround and bass drivers with Aerofoil section cones, and finally the tweeter-on-top which gives the tweeter maximum dispersion capabilities along with various other advantages. It’s an aluminium tweeter not a diamond dome but it has a vapour deposit of carbon that helps to push the break up point higher, which should provide a smoother sound than regular aluminium domes.

You get a lot of speaker for your money with Bowers these days, the 702 S2 weighs in at just under 30 kilos in its metre plus tall cabinet, which is more substance than you get with most serious brands at this price. Mass is no indication of quality of course but it can confer a degree of stiffness which is always useful. The drivers are where Bowers & Wilkins has concentrated its efforts in this model, the midrange for instance has a cast aluminium chassis that was designed with the aid of FEA modelling (finite element analysis), which allows the engineers to see where there is maximum stress when the driver is reproducing sound. It takes the guess work out of the job and results in a chassis with more radial fins than you might expect. This driver is not bolted to the cabinet but decoupled using a spring to stop vibration in the cabinet from getting into the cone. 

 

 

The 702 S2 is a three-way design with three six and a half inch bass drivers that use so called Aerofoil cones, these are flat in appearance but if you cut through one to see it in section it is thicker in the middle to provide stiffness without adding unnecessary weight. Producing the top of the spectrum the tweeter sits in a machined aluminium casing that’s decoupled from the main cabinet on a compliant mounting. The so-called Double dome of the tweeter consists of an aluminium dome that’s reinforced by a carbon ring around its periphery, it’s this that increases the driver’s rigidity and pushes up the break up point.

Last year Bowers & Wilkins changed hands, long time owner Joe Atkins sold the business to Californian entrepreneur Gideon Yu, a man with a background in industrial engineering who’s company EVA will be continuing its development of a hi-res audio/video distribution platform with B&W’s input. He had been a fan of the brand since purchasing a pair of 605 S2s in the late 90s and now has a 800 series 5.1  system. But little of this was known at the time that EVA purchased the company and there was understandably concern at the time about the future of the company’s R&D facility in Steyning, West Sussex. The announcement earlier this year that this department is moving to a larger facility a few miles away in the same county is therefore very welcome news. Steyning is the largest research facility for loudspeakers in the country and it would have been tragic to have lost it.

 

 

Sound quality
Expectations for the 702 S2 were not raised when some friends told me how unimpressed they were by the sound they made at the Bristol Show last February, which probably made it easier for the speaker to make a good impression when they were first set up in my room. That positive impression grew with further listening and before long I was wondering if anyone had made a speaker of this quality at this price before. A lot of this speaker’s capability is a result of the Continuum midrange driver, this makes the 702 a fabulously revealing and entertaining loudspeaker the like of which many other brands struggle to match even at higher price points. 

Out of perverse curiousity I started listening to the 702 with a Rega Brio amplifier connected with Naim NACA5 cable, a speedy but potentially savage tonal combination that presented lots of detail and impressively low bass rumble but was a little too fierce through the midband. Switching to my regular Townshend Fractal F1 speaker cable brought significant rewards in all areas including timing and detail, these speakers are nothing if not revealing of partnering equipment. Likewise they let you know what’s going on in the music with a fair degree of precision, unveiling the various instruments on the Cowboy Junkies debut album to engaging effect. 

 

 

 

Moving up to a rather more weighty amplifier in the ATC P2 with Allegri preamplifier brought an ease and subtlety to the sound that you only get with more power, now things were starting to get very interesting, especially when it came to voice. I had a brief demonstration of Kevlar versus Continuum in 600 series models last month and the difference was not small, the new cone makes everything clearer, cleaner and more controlled. It makes what came before sound surprisingly noisy which is not something I have associated with B&Ws in the past and suggests that the (secret) new material is considerably better suited to this application.

The sense of quiet calm is brought about by the drive cone recovering from each signal impulse more quickly, a slightly technical way of saying that it doesn’t blur the signal so much. As a result the 702 is far more transparent and revealing than most other speakers at or near its price, separating out the instruments in a mix without difficulty and presenting a highly coherent and engaging sound whatever the music. I love the weight that this speaker can give the bass when it’s called for, you might think that standmounts deliver amazing bass but that’s because it’s not what’s expected of a small box, it’s a form of illusion. With a speaker of the 702’s scale you get real bass extension without compression, so you can turn it up and get the house jumping without any sense of strain. I also love the way that the sound escapes the boxes so well, the separate tweeter housing must help here as must the quality of drive unit. Whatever the reason you get a visceral sense of presence with a half decent recording. Blood Sex Sugar Magik(Red Hot Chili Peppers) is not technically such a production, it is quite obviously limited to create impact, but this doesn’t get in the way of the fabulous tunes and Flea’s inspired bass playing. I used to think that John Frusciante was the key to this band’s appeal but am coming round to pinning that on the bass player’s innate ability to tap into the funk. What’s important here is that this speaker doesn’t allow the nature of the recording to get in the way of the music, it is unusually good at opening up the sound and letting you appreciate what the musicians are doing which in this case leads to some top notch home entertainment.

 

 

Controversially I used PMC’s Cor amplifier with the 702 as well, it was a good fit, the amp’s uncannily Class A like subtlety was lapped up by the speaker and resulted in some sublime sounds, not least from Anouar Brahem’s Blue Maqams (ECM). This sounded very open, natural and detailed, a beautifully relaxed experience but also one that was compelling. The speaker’s dynamic capabilities allied to transparency to timing made sure that however chilled the music there is always something to hold your attention, so much so that I found it hard to stop listening. So I didn’t and put on Bugge Wesseltoft and Prins Thomas’s recent release where all the layers of the mix were clarified and it became obvious that there is a lot more going on than I’d thought. John Martyn’s ‘Bless the Weather’ is a simpler piece where this speaker found oodles of acoustic space as well as the beautiful tone of double bass and acoustic guitar, Martyn’s voice clearly has some effects on it to bring it out of the mix but that does no harm at all.

The Bowers & Wilkins 702 is a heck of lot of loudspeaker for the money, anyone looking to get maximum bang for their pound, kroner or buck would be highly advised give it a listen. If the source and amp are up to the job you will be surprised at just how good a speaker this is.

Specifications: 

Type: 3-way, reflex loaded, floorstanding loudspeaker
Sensitivity: 90dB (2.83V/1m)
Impedance nominal/minimum: 8/3.1 Ohms
Frequency Response (± 3 dB): 45Hz – 28kHz
Box Principle: Bass reflex rear ported
Crossover: 3 way
Bass drivers: 3x 165mm Aerofoil profile
Midrange driver: 150mm Continuum cone with FST surround
Tweeter: 25mm decoupled carbon dome
Dimensions including tweeter (W x H x D): 200 x 1087 x 337mm
Weight: 29.5kg / 65lb
Finishes: gloss black, satin white, Rosenut

Price: 
£3,299
Manufacturer Details: 

Bowers & Wilkins
T 0800 232 1513
www.bowers-wilkins.co.uk