Hardware Reviews

Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3: more is more

Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3 loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3 loudspeakers

The 603 S3 is the largest speaker in Bowers & Wilkins’s entry level 600 Series. And when we say large, we’re not just talking about physical dimensions – they pack a huge punch full of sonic thrills that make these floorstanders one of the best in class at this price level.

Like the three other models in this latest edition of Bowers & Wilkins’s long-running 600 Series, the 603 S3s include a re-designed and improved cabinet construction and incorporate many new components that are derived from the company’s more pricey 700 Series models.

The tech

Highlights here include an all-new titanium dome tweeter as well as the introduction of a new tweeter grille mesh that was first developed for the firm’s flagship Signature models and is more open and thus claimed to deliver greater transparency. This tweeter is a two part design with a bracing ring also in titanium around its periphery to add strength at the point where the coil connects to the dome. This ring is only 30 microns thick but brings improvements that can be heard and measured according to the engineers at Bowers’ research facility.

Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3 loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

This high-frequency unit sits alongside a Continuum cone midrange driver of the sort that was first used in the flagship 800 Series Diamond range, and replaced the company’s trademark Kevlar cone. The 603 is the only 600 S3 series speaker to have a midrange driver and this benefits from a motor system, eg magnet and voice coil, taken from the 700 series above it. According to Bowers & Wilkins, Continuum’s woven construction avoids what it calls the “abrupt transitions in behaviour” that can colour the performance of a conventional drive unit.

The two bass drivers on the 603 S3 have paper cones, even some of the best engineers in the audio world have difficulty in finding something better at this end of the market, and these too have motor systems from the current 700 series. The main differences between 600 and 700 S3 models is in the cabinet, on the 703 S3 the tweeter sits in its own aluminium housing on top of the main box, on the 603 S3 it is integrated into the cabinet. The tweeter does however have similar damped tube loading to absorb rearward energy from the dome.

Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3 loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

The speaker terminals on the 603 S3 are another feature derived from the 700 Series range. The layout has been improved here with the two sets of bi-wire terminals in a horizontal line, and this is said to result in a “cleaner” signal path between the amp and speakers. As you can see this speaker has a fairly large reflex port in the back which indicates that free space siting is a must in all but the least substantial of spaces.

The tunes

Well, here’s what we mean when we mentioned that large sound at the beginning. Wave System’s epic How Do You Feel is reassuringly solid as it explodes into action with its sweeping synth soundscapes filling the room and instantly engulfing the listener. As the complexity of the mix builds, the 603 S3s retain their composure and deliver the track with an effortless ease that proves truly enthralling.

Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3 loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

Switch tempo and style with Nina Simone’s Don’t Let Me Be Understood, and the 603 S3s turn in yet another blinding performance. Bowers & Wilkins’s magical ability to deliver emotion kicks-in big time here, with Simone’s vocals not only coming across with a richness of tone but also with soul. You could build speakers with the best tech in the world and create something that delivers sound that is accurate and clinical. But what’s more difficult is using all that to elicit an emotional response in listeners, something that keeps them coming back for more. That’s something you just can’t create that in a lab.

But it’s certainly something Bowers & Wilkins’s engineers have managed to do with the 603 S3s. And I wanted more of that magic, so I loaded up Luca Longobardi’s haunting piano piece Ivy’ and was truly captivated by the way these speakers just held everything together, producing a beautifully tight and utterly captivating performance. There’s no smearing of cadences and decays, these speakers are masters of timing and control, seemingly knowing when and when not to let go.

Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3 loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

If further evidence of this control is needed, try the ambient pop of Cigarettes After Sex (one of my latest earworms). The 603 S3s deliver the elegance of Don’t Let Me Go (from the 2019 CD album Cry) with no smearing around the guitar reverb and with a clarity that lesser speakers fail to delineate. Greg Gonzalez’s lead vocals are front and centre where they belong, and his breathy intonations create a dreamy atmosphere courtesy of these big boned sonic beasts.

Verdict

The Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3s have an imposing presence, both physically and aurally. They serve up a super-exciting sound (which will be perfect for larger rooms) that will keep your heart hooked, and are confident with all types of music. They are without doubt worth every penny of their asking price, and should definitely be put on your shortlist if you’re in the market for a pair of floorstanders that will expand your musical horizons.

Specifications:

Type: reflex loaded 3-way floorstanding loudspeaker
Crossover frequency: not specified
Drive units:
Bass: 2x 165mm paper cone
Midrange: 150mm Continuum cone FST
Tweeter: 25mm titanium dome
Nominal frequency response: 46Hz – 28kHz ±3dB
Nominal/minimum impedance: 8 Ohms/3 Ohms
Connectors: bi-wire binding posts
Sensitivity: 90dB @ 2.83v/1m
Dimensions HxWxD: 985 x 190 x 340mm
Weight: 27.5kg
Finishes: black, white, white/oak
Warranty: 5 years

Price when tested:
£1,999
Manufacturer Details:

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

Type:

floorstanding loudspeakers

Author:

Rahiel Nasir

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