Whatever the insurance companies might think if you’re ever daft enough to put ‘journalist’ on a car insurance application, being a ‘technical writer’ – which is how I describe myself for such purposes is a relatively low-risk occupation. I mean, I could be filing copy under fire, or attempting to keep an unruly sportscar on a greasy track, but about as exciting as it gets is when you open the front door to find it completely blocked by a massive pair of speakers strapped onto a pallet, with a disembodied voice from beyond the speaker-wall saying, ‘Can you sign for them, please?’ Well yes – if I could ever get out…
That experience came some years ago with a pair of Bowers & Wilkins 802 D3 floorstanders, and it took me the better part of a morning to get them off the pallet and dragged into my listening room. Fortunately, the company does sensible, too, a fact proven by the recent arrival of the new 607 S3 design, in a very small box the courier was more or less carrying with one hand. Promising much, as the entry-level model in its manufacturer’s entry-level speaker range, recently redesigned and reinvigorated, the 607 S3s are very small indeed, standing just 30cm tall and similarly compact in their other dimensions.
At £599/pr, they’re also the most affordable stereo speakers the company makes, slotting into the new 600 S3 line-up below the only slightly larger 606 S3 at £749/pr, and the compact 603 S3 floorstanders, yours for £1999/pr. There’s also a matching centre channel speaker for the surround-sound fans – the HTM6 S3 is £649 – and dedicated stands for the smaller models, the £279/pr FS-600. These stands can be filled with some weighty material (kiln-dried sand oraluminium 'gravel') to give them more stability and can be bolted to the 607 S3 and 606 S3 for a solid connection, but there’s no shortage of more affordable 60cm-tall stand alternatives out there.
The choice of finishes is similarly simple: made to very high standard in the Bowers & Wilkins-owned factory in China – these days only the flagship 800 Series, and the occasional Nautilus pair, are made in the company’s plant on the South Coast in Worthing – the new speakers come in a choice of oak, white or black, although certain Far Eastern markets also get a cherry option. That limited choice works for me, but then I think the black and white finishes are the best match to the thoroughly modern design of these little speakers and, if pressed, would probably go for white as my ultimate choice. The white and oak models come with grey grilles, held onto the front baffle with invisible fixings, and the black with black covers.
New for this latest generation of 600s – the company has been making models in this series since 1991 – is a raft of technology trickled down from the pricier 700 Series models, plus the odd innovation unique to these speakers.
The most significant change is the adoption of a titanium version of the company’s Decoupled Double Dome: in the 25mm driver here an ultra-thin 25-micron dome is supported by a 30-micron ring, also of titanium, running around its rim to add stiffness without major gains in weight. The whole assembly is mounted in the same kind of elongated Nautilus-derived tapered tube used in the latest 700 Series models, to absorb sound emanating from the rear of the dome, thereby cleaning up the main output.
The mid/bass driver is a 13cm version of the proprietary cone found across the company’s range on midrange and mid/bass duties, its low frequencies tuned using a vent (derived from the 700 S3 series) in the speaker’s rear panel. By overlapping the trim rings around the two drivers, the designers have managed to move them closer together in the quest for a more integrated sound, while improved cabinet bracing and enhanced crossover components further refine the sound.
With a quoted sensitivity of 84dB/W/m and 8ohm nominal impedance, the 607 S3 speakers are designed to work well with relatively modest amplification, the company suggesting a range of 30-100W, and weighing only 4.5kg apiece they would be as at home on suitable wall-brackets or shelves as they are on stands. While these compact speakers are most obviously designed to be used in smallish spaces, they also perform superbly well when you decide to break all the rules, using heftier amps or placing them in larger rooms or even either side of a computer monitor as desktop speakers: their footprint is certainly small enough for use in that last way, at just 16.5x23.5cm, and they sound just as good whether you listen to them up close or at a distance.
The only note of caution is that if you’re sitting some way from the speakers a little toe-in – turning them slightly towards the listening position – will be advantageous in delivering the best stereo image: just enough that you get a glimpse of the outer sides of the cabinets should do the trick, allowing the speakers to present a pleasingly three-dimensional image.
I enjoyed the 607 S3s greatly with an elderly mini-system claiming 35W per channel (but probably someway short of that), and was surprised at how good they sounded on the end of my Naim Supernait 3 reference amplifier, and also the powerful Audiolab 9000A integrated. These are speakers you can buy to use with whatever you’re listening with at the moment, confident that they’ll keep on improving when you upgrade the electronics feeding them – hit them with a high-quality amp delivering something near the upper reaches of the suggested power range and they really sing. It’s not a matter of going louder, though they’ll do that – instead it’s all about a punchier, more dynamic, and substantial sound across a wide range of music.
The presentation here is typical of the balance Bowers & Wilkins has developed over decades of the 600 Series: the 607 S3s sound bigger than speakers of this size have any right to, and deliver an open, informative midrange and treble able to extract loads of detail without ever straying into excessive brightness or forwardness. Yes, in absolute terms they’re a little polite and restrained, but this clearly conscious tuning is very well suited to the way these little speakers are likely to be used.
The latest version of the baby Bowers & Wilkins speakers shows all the benefits of continuous development without losing sight of the audience for which they’re designed: use them with a modest mini-system or amplifier and they sound easygoing, detailed and surprisingly rich; crank up the quality of the electronics and they’ll reveal even more of their hidden talents.
Yes, it’s more than possible to buy much bigger, and outwardly more impressive, speakers for less than the tag on these, but these little wonders harness extensive engineering innovation to deliver exceptionally musical results.
One of the beauties of the design of these speakers is that the Bowers & Wilkins engineers seem to have almost completely room-proofed them: You can place them almost anywhere, on shelves, wall-brackets, or a pair of £100ish third-party stands, and they’ll just perform. Use them to bring a touch of class to that all-in-one system, or partner them with an affordable stereo amp, and they’ll sound grown-up, powerful and a whole lot of fun – the perfect introduction to what great hi-fi can bring the listener.
The Rolling Stones Angry
Previewing the much-vaunted Hackney Diamonds album, rock’s best-known pensioners prove they’ve got it with this rousing number, the 607 S3s allowing Keef’s guitar to snarl and Jagger’s voice to soar. 79 and 80 respectively – how do they do it?
Kyle Eastwood Dirty Harry
So small speakers can’t do orchestral music? Not so – the little 607 S3 sound big and punchy as Kyle Eastwood and his quintet join forces with the Czech National Symphonic Orchestra to pay tribute to some of his dad’s most famous movie roles on Eastwood Symphonic
King Crimson Dinosaur
From THRAK, the album with which Robert Fripp and his band returned in 1995 from a ten-year hiatus, this driving drum-powered track is a fine example of late period prog, which the 607 S3s handle with all its pomp and detail intact
‘Small, but perfectly formed’ just about covers it: these may be compact speakers, but Bowers & Wilkins has thrown the engineering kitchen sink at them, producing a product as easy to set up and optimise as it is refined and exciting.