As the entry-level line-up in the Bowers & Wilkins speaker range, the 600 Series has been with us for more than a quarter of a century, and anniversary marked by the launch of these compact floorstanding loudspeakers – although they’re the largest current 600 model, they stand just over 105cm tall complete with their stabilising plinth, and 19cm wide, but they pack quite a punch thanks to twin 16.5cm bass drivers, able to shift a lot of air with not very much amplifier power.
Above those big bass units sits the company’s 16.5cm ‘Continuum Cone’ midrange driver, using a proprietary woven material for lightness and stiffness, ensuring voices and instruments are delivered accurately, and the ‘Decoupled Double Dome’ tweeter, stiffened by a reinforcing ring for accurate movement and giving crisp, clean treble for lots of sparkle and a sweet balance. Meanwhile that bass power is tuned by one of the company’s Flowport bass reflex ports, venting to the rear of the speaker with its internal surface covered in ‘golfball’ dimples to smooth the airflow – foam bungs are provided with the speaker to tune the bass, and to allow flexibility in positioning. Use them close to a rear wall and you may get too much bass, slowing down the sound: the foam plugs are designed tighten things up, maximising low-frequency punch and speed. Simple, but effective.
The Anniversary versions also bring with them a new finish – as standard the speakers come in matt black or white, but there’s also the option of a white/light cherry finish, the white front panels being complemented with the light wood colour on the sides, top and rear. They’re quite the lookers, managing to appear both contemporary and distinctive, while the quality of the finish is immaculate, and the two-tone effect makes them look even more slender. Neat, too, is the way the terminals for the speaker wires are mounted low down on the rear panel, meaning there aren’t cables trailing halfway up the speakers.
And while those drive units are found elsewhere in the company’s range, with both the Continuum Cone midrange and the Double Dome idea being trickled down from the flagship 800 Series models, the Anniversary series sees upgrades to the crossover electronics used to allocate the sound to the various drivers, in the quest for greater resolution and transparency. In other words, these speakers are designed to give you more of the music.
The 603 S2 Anniversary isn’t a power-hungry design, and can be used with amplifiers of fairly modest output, but it’s worth driving with high-quality electronics to hear what it can do – which is deliver a sound that might be a little on the rich and soft side, but has good detail and is consistently easy to enjoy. There’s nothing over-sharp, brash or abrasive here, and classical instruments have a beautifully sweet, refined tone, even when you turn up the level with a large-scale orchestral piece and the speakers let rip with big, dynamic bass and superb ripeness to the brass.
Play a dense, slightly murky recording and that’s how they’ll sound, but with clean, well-produced music they can really soar: spend a little time finessing their position in the room and they’ll deliver wonderfully three-dimensional sonic pictures, with all the performers in a jazz ensemble or a skilfully produced rock band both distinct and reliably positioned before the listener. Don’t be put off by the ease with which these speakers appear to be presenting the music: it’s all there, in hugely enjoyable manner, and when you want them to power out rock or R&B at high levels they’ll do that, too, those twin bass drivers moving the air to dramatic effect, but perfectly integrated with the midband and treble to create a thrilling listening experience.
The beauty of the 600 Series has always been the ease with which you can get the best from the speakers: they’re fairly unfussy about positioning, B&W suggesting they’re used about 50cm from the wall behind them, and with those foam bungs to help get the best balance in less-than-ideal locations. Angle them in slightly towards the listening position for the best sense of a three-dimensional soundstage picture, and drive them with a good quality amplifier: they’ll sound fine with an entry-level amp, but they reveal even more as you improve the electronics. Oh, and you can use them without their plinths for the most slimline effect, but the bases add stability if you happen to have overactive children or pets!
Another fine speaker from the Bowers & Wilkins stable, the 603 S2 Anniversary is beautifully engineered and finished, with top-quality components throughout and no shortage of style. There are more open and upfront speakers out there, but this one is designed to work with a wide range of partnering equipment, from good network all-in-ones to fine stereo amplifiers. And with matching centre and surround speakers in the range, it great for multichannel set-ups, too.
Way back to the dawn of prog-rock with Yes’s 1971 Fragile album, and the Bowers & Wilkins speakers really go for it, with tight, ultra-low bass driving the track along, and all the multi-instrumental cleverness soaring out of the mix to create a madly entertaining experience.
Gregory Porter: When Love Was King
OK, this track from the Liquid Spirit album is one Bowers & Wilkins uses a lot to demonstrate its speakers, but you can see why: Porter’s voice sounds magnificent via the 603 S2 Anniversary, the brushed drums swish beautifully, and the upright bass is deep and tight, with wonderful resonance.
Elvis Costello: (I Don’t Want to Go To) Chelsea
From the 2021 re-release of This Year’s Model, this track sees the 603 S2 Anniversary’s ability to pound out a thundering rhythm section while keeping crisp focus on both Costello’s vocals and those winding, spiralling keyboard lines. The impassioned songwriting has lost none of its uneasy anger, even after 45 years (yes, really).
WhatHi-Fi?’s reviewers praised the Bowers and Wilkins 603, stating that the longer you used them, the better the listening experience got. They also thought you should give thema whirl for yourselves, saying They were blessed with a wow factor that other speakers at this price could only dream of.
The Part-Time Audiophile website reckoned that these impressive speakers sounded every bit like a premium product should, while our star reviewer, Ed Selley, writing for AV Forums, acknowledged that clever and talented people have worked hard to ensure this was a speaker you can live with day in day out.
The best 600 Series speaker yet, the 603 S2 Anniversary doesn’t just look the business, it sounds it, too. Compact enough to fit almost any room, it can also fill large spaces with clean, powerful music as loud as you like, and can create wonderfully open and involving sonic pictures. And that makes it just a bit magical!