Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3 loudspeaker
The 705 S3 is the least expensive tweeter-on-top loudspeaker in Bowers & Wilkins 700 series which was relaunched in series 3 form last September. It replaced the CM series and added trickle down tech from the mighty 800 series Diamond with Continuum cones, Aerofoil bass drivers and Carbon dome tweeters. The 705 S3 is the nearest speaker that Bowers & Wilkins makes to the 805 D4 at £7,000 but costs less than half as much. It doesn’t have the diamond tweeter of course and the cabinet is more straightforward albeit with a curved front baffle, yet there are many similarities between these ambitious two-way designs.
The tweeter housing is machined from solid aluminium and at 235mm is longer than that found on the earlier 700 S2 models and this has reduced distortion. This housing is also mounted differently with two compliant fixings that are designed to decouple the tweeter from the cabinet beneath, it will move if you push it, so don’t use it as a handle!
The tweeter itself has a carbon coating on an aluminium dome which increases stiffness and pushes the first break up point to a stratospheric 47kHz. It’s driven by a vented voice coil and has upgraded neodymium magnets for maximum control in a compact motor system. The exploded view gives some idea of how this all fits together.
The 705 S3’s woofer cone uses Bowers & Wilkins’ proprietary Continuum woven material which is found on all the company’s top flight models. It doesn’t have the Biomimetic suspension however as this is limited to dedicated midrange drivers at present. Presumably the bass requirement for the 705 S3’s main driver means it needs a greater range of movement than that suspension allows. Still, conventional spider suspension is a fully refined tech that can be found in 99.9% of cone speakers the world over, it’s safe to say that it works. This driver has a six and a half inch chassis and operates in a reflex loaded enclosure with a large, profiled port in the back of the box which means that it might need a reasonable space behind it to avoid excess bass in some rooms.
The cable terminals are very fancy chrome examples with one pair per driver arranged in a horizontal line on a stainless plate, a jumper plate is fitted so that there’s no need to bi-wire but that option exists for those who want more cables in their system. Generally I find that given the same budget a single pair of cables outperforms two, I also prefer the sound of cable jumpers to plates between terminals and used an old set of Bowers & Wilkins ones for this review.
Bowers supplies dedicated FS-700 stands for the 705 S3, these can be bolted to the speakers and come in a matching finish to the gloss black version, the bottom plate is made of MDF while the top is metal but this is hidden in use. The column itself is anodised aluminium, which is only apparent when you touch it, so good is the finish. The stands have routing for cables with an entry point underneath and a 36mm wide exit under the top plate. They are pricey but not much more so than other dedicated stands and they are finished to a very high standard.
Sound of the 705 S3
The 705 S3 review did not get off to a good start, the speakers were originally sent to Harbeth user Trevor Butler to run with his Hegel H190 amplifier in a relatively bijou listening room with pretty solid construction. The result was not to Trevor’s tastes who felt that the midrange was swamped by bass and treble, the treble could be ameliorated to some extent by positioning but it seems that wherever they were placed the bass was too much. So it found its way into my studio where the construction is less substantial and the space about twice as big, and here they have proved to be pretty damn astonishing.
I initially tried these B&Ws with the Naim NSC 222 streaming preamp and NAP 250 power amp which are on the pricey side for this speaker but they are rather good and were in the system already, what can you do. The first thing that stood out was the vinyl crackle that Portishead added to Glory Box, and this proved to be the first sign that the 705 S3 is a fiend for detail, something which was reinforced over many hours of heavily engaged listening. They also like to play loud which has long been a characteristic of Bowers & Wilkins speakers and presumably one that its customers appreciate, they really come alive when you turn them up. Not to silly levels but a little above what I normally go for at least, I suspect that I am in the minority here. Under these conditions the bass on Glory Box gets positively explosive at the crescendo of this fine song.
The degree of clarity and transparency on off from the 705 S3s is significantly higher than I have encountered in the brand’s more affordable offerings in the past, and the fact that perceived distortion is so vanishingly low makes this a very hard speaker to put down. Leading edges are precisely defined and this gives the music an immediacy that is highly engaging. It’s safe to say that the NAP 250 worked a treat with them, allowing the sound to escape the boxes with ease and throwing up substantial image scale, this was particularly true of more recent recordings where improvements in the studio were made starkly clear.
With the more powerful Moor Amps Angel 6 amplifier the sound became richer and more dynamic, the 705 S3 revealing impressive depth of image and even greater richness of detail. This allows you to hear the spaces in between notes and instruments because it opens up the soundstage and invites you into the performance. Timing is superb because of that leading edge clarity and this means that you have no choice but to become involved in the music, so much so that you may end up on your feet and shaking your proverbial ass if the right track is in action.
In an attempt to get a handle on how these speakers would fair with a more real world amp I hooked up the fabulous Rega Elex. This is not a high power amp however and it didn’t get on so well with the way that the 705 S3’s impedance drops at lower frequencies. The 88dB sensitivity is fine but a 3.7 Ohm minimum impedance figure indicates that this speaker needs power to give of its best. So the Rega went back on its shelf and I continued with the Angel 6 but with my regular Townshend Allegri Reference preamp, Auralic Aries G1 streamer and an iFi Pro iDSD Signature DAC in place of the Naim NSC 222.
Pure thrill power
This system took the Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3s to the next level in terms of pure thrill power. Their transparency revealed mountains of detail and presented it in a fashion that makes other speakers sound veiled. You have to get the system right with this degree of resolution, I found that it was sounding too bright and turned the cabinets so that they were parallel to the wall, eg not toed in. Then later I realised that I had casually used a different cable on the power amplifier and that this was robbing the system of its timing abilities. Replacing it with the regular Living Voice cable the music gained life and vitality and the tonal balance was no longer an issue. It’s alarming how much difference a power cable can make.
With everything in its right place I put on The Weather Station song Thirty and was almost overwhelmed by the power and realism of the song, Tamara Lindeman was there in front of me at a full natural height, I had a lump in my throat and my foot wouldn’t stop moving. Things were really cooking. I put on Nils Frahm’s Spaces, choosing side three to warm up the cartridge, about half way through I had to stop what I was doing and sit in front of the system. The combination of repetitive piano and low bass synth was totally captivating, ascending to an emotional height that makes it clear that enjoying music on a great system really is what living is all about.
705 S3 verdict
I note that another publication feels that this Bowers & Wilkins speaker “needs careful partnering” and I have to agree. The 705 S3 is an extremely revealing loudspeaker that’s capable of spectacular results when you get the source and amplification sorted. It may be a relatively affordable loudspeaker in the pantheon of high end audio but it warrants comparison with models from smaller brands at twice the price. Now I’ve to the end of the review and realise that there’s no mention of the bass, which is phenomenal and ridiculously powerful and extended for the box size and price. The 705 S3 is a mighty impressive and revealing loudspeaker, if you want to hear the unvarnished truth give it a go.