The Bowers & Wilkins 600 Series has been a fixture of sensibly priced speakers since the 1990s. The range has expanded and contracted over the years and the naming policies have varied a bit here and there, but the idea hasn’t changed. The 600 Series is the simplest expression of the ideas and materials that Bowers & Wilkins uses in all of its speakers. If you buy a speaker from the range and enjoy what it does, the idea is that the models higher up the range will embody the same qualities. The 606 S3 is the larger of two standmount models and is yours for £749 a pair.
At first glance, this latest S3 model of the 606 looks rathe similar to the preceding version and Bowers & Wilkins themselves make little secret of the processes that have gone into this new version being one of refinement rather than wholesale change. Look closer though and some aspects are all new. The tweeter is now made of titanium; the first time the material has been used on a ‘range’ Bowers & Wilkins speaker. The 25mm dome is thin but immensely stiff and it now sits in a 700 Series S3-sized diaphragm mounting plate for better, more open dispersion and has the more open tweeter grille design taken directly from the recently introduced 800 Series Signature.
This whole assembly is then moved in closer to the 165mm mid bass driver made from the mystery cocktail of ingredients woven into fibres that Bowers & Wilkins calls Continuum. This means that the trim rings for the two drivers now intersect and the advantage of this arrangement is that the time alignment; the manner in which the sound of the two drivers syncs at the point where your ear is, is improved. This relationship is further strengthened by the crossovers being garnished with parts from the 700 S3 series and the bass port also being adapted from the more expensive speakers.
The cabinet is visibly similar to the preceding model and there are no curves or sophisticated layered bracing that define the more expensive ranges to be found here. What Bowers & Wilkins has done is ensure that the more closely mounted drivers reduce the open aperture at the front of the cabinet which naturally makes the whole assembly more rigid. The bracing inside the cabinet uses a higher quality and stiffer wood than previously, to further increase ridigity and lessens the deadly vibrations that can adversely affect sound output.
Sound Advice is built on the premise of professional opinions, honestly given. Honesty dictates therefore I state that I started listening to the 606 S3 more out of a sense of obligation than out and out excitement. I thought I was settling down to listen to a gently improved version of an already talented speaker and that I’d report something to this effect. But this is not how it went...
So this is not misconstrued, the 606 S3 does all the things I was expecting it to do and it’s very much a Bowers & Wilkins product. This is a confident, accurate sounding speaker that does a fine job of taking material and opening it out into a spacious and convincing representation that manages to avoid sounding diffuse or vague at the same time. Tonality is extremely good too. While that new tweeter doesn’t significantly alter the tonal balance, as with its predecessor, it sits just on the forward side of truly neutral it does give voices and instruments an energy and engagement that helps the presentation both grab and hold your attention.
Fine detail also manifests itself a little better too. The 606 S3 walks a neat line between making sure that little nuances in the mix are not lost without over emphasising them and losing the overall balance of the material you’re playing. This in turn feeds into a frequency response that is even from top to bottom and that possesses very respectable bass for a cabinet this size. Bowers & Wilkins quotes a lower roll off of 52Hz in the specs but the review samples have comfortably bettered that in the room. It’s good bass too, with plenty of control and definition on offer as well as overall heft.
More than any of these things though, the 606 S3 is huge fun to listen to. This perhaps should not be too surprising as the more expensive ranges that the 600 Series is supposed to emulate have become more engaging too but there’s still something deeply pleasurable in the way that this latest speaker handles a variety of material.
The tightening of the relationship between the two drivers has resulted in a rhythmic energy and cohesion that breezes through complex time signatures and engages you on an emotional as well as a cerebral level. The effect is to give you a speaker that always has you wanting to finish an album regardless of how late it is… and then has you reaching for another.
This is neatly balanced against a fundamentally forgiving nature. This is still not a speaker that wants you to listen to internet radio stations using a bitrate normally associated with space telemetry, but it is able to take less than pristine recordings and ensure that they still deliver on the musical engagement that they offer. More than any of the detail changes, this is simply a more pleasurable listening partner than any 600 Series speaker I can recall testing.
Part of the work that Bowers & Wilkins have undertaken with the 600 models is to ensure that they are capable of delivering a good chunk of what they do when used with amplification that isn’t necessarily ‘hifi.’ This works up to a point. The 606 S3 is not a ridiculously hard speaker to drive and it can deliver very solid results with a modest, Bluesound Powernode Edge for example. If you can give it higher quality amplification though, it does respond very positively.
Aesthetically, the 606 S3 is not too dissimilar to its predecessors. There are black, white and oak finishes available and I feel it looks best in the latter two options. The build is entirely respectable for the asking price and little details like the new inline speaker terminal panel manage to both look smart and make the speaker easier to use. I don’t feel this is a beautiful speaker but neither is it one that’s going to stick out like a sore thumb in most living spaces. Bowers & Wilkins makes a dedicated stand for the range which the speaker can be physically bolted to for the first time but the performance on aftermarket stands is entirely respectable.
Far from being a gentle tweak of what came before, the 606 S3 is a considerable leap forward. This is an accurate, revealing and truly capable loudspeaker that manages to harness these values towards delivering a genuinely enjoyable sound that has to be seen as one of the best options under £1,000.
Elton John Madman Across the Water
Having hung up his glitzy specs, recreating the Elton John experience requires capable electronics and the scale of the 606 S3 combined with its tonal realism ensures that everything here sounds big and compellingly real.
Massive Attack Protection
This album lives or dies on the ability of your equipment to deliver bass that is deep but that also starts and stops when it should. The 606 S3 has the speed, dexterity and overall punch to make it a sublime listening experience
Public Service Broadcasting This New Noise
Released while the Bowers & Wilkins was on test, this live performance done in partnership with the wonderfully talented Jules Buckley requires a speaker to handle a full orchestra and the impressive dynamics that result. The Bowers & Wilkins rises to the challenge beautifully.
If you have respectable partnering electronics, the Bowers & Wilkins is capable of delivering a performance that very little near the price can match. If you want a truly enjoyable £750 standmount that signposts what the rest of the line up can offer, it’s this one.