When you make as many loudspeakers as Bowers & Wilkins do it must occasionally get difficult thinking up new range names. Before the 700 series there was the CM or compact monitor series that sat between the 600 and 800 ranges, a range that grew out of one model in a distinctly organic fashion. So by replacing CM with 700 S2 the UK’s biggest speaker maker has pulled things back on track and given us a clear path through the various options, well almost, the biggest 700 model is the 702 and the smallest is the 707, so things are still a little upside down.
The 705 S2 is therefore somewhere near the middle of the range yet it’s one of only two out of six that has a separate tweeter pod sitting on top. This marks it out as having a clear connection with the 805 from the significantly more ambitious range above which costs £4,500, this is less than half of that at £1,799, yet they share a main driver and most of the tweeter The 705 has a carbon rather than diamond dome but is otherwise very similar indeed. This model looks therefore like something of a bargain and, spoiler alert, it is. While it doesn’t have the capabilities of an 805 it is an exceptionally revealing and entertaining loudspeaker that performs way above the level usually encountered at this price.
One reason for this is that tweeter, it sits in a body that’s machined from aluminium for maximum stiffness and minimum vibration. It’s not the same shape as the 800 series tweeter housings, which are slightly longer but it performs in much the same way. The tweeter has an aluminium dome with a carbon deposit coating for increased stiffness, this combined with a small carbon ring that sits under the periphery of the dome and confers considerable extra stiffness, means that this tweeter can operate up to higher frequencies than most. The midbass driver features B&W’s new Continuum cone, a material developed for the latest incarnation of the 800 series that replaces the yellow Kevlar of old. It’s still a woven material but one that outperforms its predecessor quite dramatically in the 802 for instance. This driver looks very much like the mid/bass in the 805, in fact I believe it is virtually the same six and half inch unit. The reason for the cost difference is largely in the cabinet and that diamond dome.
The 705 has a straightforward rectangular box with a set of four cable terminals and a dimpled and tapered port exit on the rear, it’s a very clean looking speaker especially in white. It has a magnetic grille for those who can’t cope with the sight of silver discs and there is a dedicated 60cm stand called FS-700 (£399) that can be mass loaded and has fixing holes so that the speaker can be bolted to the top, and this was how the auditions were done.
It took a while to find the best position for this speaker, the rear port means it needs more space behind it than you’d expect for its size but eventually it was established that a 60cm gap gave the best balance of bass extension and openness. And this is an extremely open speaker, a properly wide window onto all the light that a recording contains. By which I mean it delivers oodles of high frequency information, not that it is bright or forward in the treble. The bass goes down as far as you would expect for a box of this size, which is quite low if you have a decent amplifier in charge, and frankly there’s little point in using the 705 with a low powered amp. It’s not that it’s insensitive, 88dB is pretty much average for this class, but B&Ws like to be played at higher levels. That’s where they really shine.
This is a revealing loudspeaker, it will let you know exactly how good the partnering system is but not in a critical way. I was very happy using a CAAS Elysian preamp until I switched to my usual control amp the Townshend Allegri and an even more open view of the music was delivered that had better speed to boot. Now the imaging was truly 3D, electronic music really spread out and pushed the boundaries of the room both in depth, width and height. On Chesky Records Macy Gray release Stripped the highs are immaculate, as smooth as silk yet as open as the sky, her voice really pops in the room thanks the impressive imaging skills of the 705 and the bottom end keeps everything anchored without forgoing speed. Double bass is particularly well served, it’s easy to appreciate just how articulate the player is and even easier to sit back and enjoy the tight but juicy groove being created.
I mentioned vocal projection above but this quality warrants further explanation because the 705 is so good at it, virtually all the music I played through these speakers created a strong image and singers benefited to an unusual degree. They are generally emphasised but not often delivered in such well rounded style, you get the depth of the voice and thus the full emotional impact of the song in a way that few speakers can do with such an even tonal balance. There are plenty of alternatives around that bring out the soul in certain records but leave others sounding a bit lifeless, this is often because their responses are not very even and the imbalance suits some material better than others. What you want in an audio system is maximum transparency allied to a balance that’s as neutral as possible. That’s what the 705 does so well, thanks to the uncanny extension provided by the tweeter and the power of the main driver. The other thing it does that makes it all worthwhile is speed, there is very little overhang whatsoever with this speaker if you give it enough space to work in. This is what delivers the thrill-power; the sense of immediacy is what differentiates live from reproduced music but the gap is surprisingly small here.
Volume level and the lust thereafter has also been mentioned above, if you prefer to listen quietly there may be a better speaker on the market, you don’t need to risk eviction with the volume but it sure does help. This again is a difference between live and recorded music, the former is usually louder, so an ability to deliver level is an aid to creating realistic sound in the home and when you have a decent source there is none of the distortion that often accompany high levels. I tried a couple of amps with the 705s, most of the listening was done with an ATC P2 power amp but I also harnessed the high damping factor of a Hegel H190 integrated to very entertaining effect. This amp was a little bright for my tastes but did produce excellent scale and dynamics. So you need good clean power with no obvious tonal aberrations to get the best out of the 705, but they aren’t too difficult to come by. I would have liked to try a Rega Elicit-R which has superb timing and decent detail resolution, it’s not super powerful but I suspect that it would make a good match.
The Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 is a lot of speaker for the money, the stands up the ante a bit but are not entirely essential to the end result, I tried some Custom Design stands of the same height with a Blu-tack interface and got results that were close in all but the bass. In the scheme of sub £2,000 stand mounts, make that loudspeakers in general, there isn’t that much serious competition for this model, especially if you value its remarkable capabilities in the treble. I heartily recommend you give them a listen.