The Bowers & Wilkins was a good series to build a surround setup. Now the 700 Series Speakers has been added to the brand. Renewed in different areas and again very interesting if you want to build a home cinema. In this review we test the Bowers & Wilkins 703 S2, the Bowers & Wilkins 707 S2 and the Bowers & Wilkins HTM72 S2.
Bowers & Wilkins 700 series
This autumn, the big news at Bowers and Wilkins is the presentation of the Bowers & Wilkins 700 Series. With the launch of this series, Bowers & Wilkins is completely consistent in terms of naming. Where there used to be between the 600 and 800 loudspeakers the CM-series adorned, now comes the brand new 700 Series. The concept remains the same: the budget-oriented 600 Series contains sound (but not exciting) finished speakers, while the Bowers & Wilkins 700 Series offers better technology and a higher level of finishing. The 800 D3 Series is of course a much bigger step in terms of technology and price.
In this test we look at a surround setup built around the 703 S2, 707S2 and the HTM72. These are not the highest models in this new series. The 703 S2 for example, is the direct successor of the CM9. This is still a model without an external tweeter housing, the par excellence of the 702 S2 (the successor of the CM10 S2) and the 705 S2 (succeeds CM6 S2). These top models will be discussed later on. You can also read an extensive review of the musical qualities of the 703 S2 on HiFi.nl.
Surround and music
A surround setup that consists of these models could be labeled as ‘unbalanced’. The 703 S2 is a fairly large floor stand, while the 707 S2 and the HTM72 are very compact devices. Yet it is an interesting combination. You would opt for this arrangement if you want to enjoy surround, but do not want to sacrifice a room entirely. The smaller center and rears still keep the whole quite discreet. But you also really listen to music in higher quality. That could be better with a bigger speaker like the 703 S2, a hefty three-way speaker with a Carbon Dome tweeter and a midrange driver with a Continuum cone and stiffer chassis. With that, we immediately hit one of the most important novelties from the 700 Series, because Continuum is an innovation that we first saw in the 800 D3 series and now comes to this lower series. It is a braided material that Bowers & Wilkins introduced as the successor of the well-known yellow Kevlar. A plus of Continuum is that the break-up – ie the point at which the cone begins to misbehave and no longer behaves linearly – has been checked. The Carbon Dome tweeter is completely new and uses carbon fiber on different parts of the tweeter to shift the break-up point to 47 kHz – far from the audible range. As a result, there is little chance of loss of control in the frequencies that you can hear.
Aerofoil also drips down from the 800 Series. The two woofers of the 703 S2 use cones with variable thickness made according to this method. Aerofoil is less a material than a technique, in which the cone is given the same thickness at any point on the basis of simulations, allowing high speed without break-up problems. The computer thus helps in the search for the perfect compromise between stiffness and speed. Most cones with other speakers are equally thick over the entire surface, an Aerofoil cone has a different thickness on the inside and outside.
Both the 703 S2 floorstanders and the 707 S2 monitors have a Flowport exit at the back. As always, this approach means that you have to keep an eye on the distance from the wall. A bass port will produce more ‘booming’ in the bass when the wall is placed closer. Nevertheless, a closer placement on the 703 S2 does not seem to have such a big impact.
The 700 Series comes in three familiar finishes: Gloss Black, Satin White and Rosenut. We visited both the black and the white lacquer. They all look very good, just like the speakers themselves. Gloss Black is obviously a lot more fingerprint sensitive. In terms of design you can not say much negative about the 700 Series. The speakers look modern and premium, among other things due to the lack of visible bolts or seams. You can not really talk about a design that pushes boundaries, but at the same time the 700-speakers remain more universal.
The 703 S2 comes with a separate pedestal that increases the height from 99 to 102.5 cm. The width increases from 20 to 32 cm. That seems like a small difference, but the pedestal visually makes the speaker slightly more sluggish. All models come with four connections for bi-amping / wiring, even the small 707 S2. Well, four loudspeaker cables can still be considered for the two stereo channels in the front, but connecting the rears in a surround setup seems like an overkill.
Can it be louder?
For our test setup, we work with a TX-RZ1100 AV receiver from Onkyo and a Silver W12 subwoofer from Monitor Audio. One thing was immediately apparent when watching movies: we had to give a firm push to the volume knob. Perhaps this has to do with the lower sensitivity of the speakers we test, making the receiver harder to test. The 707 S2 taps at 84 dB, the 703 S2 at 89 dB and the HTM72 S2 at 87 dB. Those are not extremely high values (the higher, the more volume you get per watt power), and an AV receiver that (really) has some extra power per channel is recommended. We are not talking about budget receivers, but that would probably not consider a 700 Series owner anyway.
Because the 700 Series is already a step towards the premium segment. With the introduction of the 700 Series, Bowers & Wilkins has slightly increased prices compared to the old CM range, but not at the level of the price increase that the 800 D3 Series brought with it. With the 800 D3 speakers there was also a huge leap in terms of materials and technology, with the new 700 Series that is less the case. The 703 S2 will cost 1,499 euros each, the 707 S2 499 euros/piece and the HTM72 S2 costs 749 euros. Are you looking for a stand for small monitors? Then there is the FS-700 S2, at 225 euros / piece. However, we have used our real stands. The full suggested retail price of the Bowers & Wilkins set-up that we are testing therefore comes to 4,745 euros.
“Let’s get the party started”
When Charlize Theron breaks out in ‘Fast & Furious 8’, the 700 Series speakers have already warmed up. We are one and a half hours away in the last part of this franchise, and Vin Diesel – undercover – is trying to penetrate a Russian military base. The goal: to hijack a nuclear submarine. The FF team and the Red Army do not feel like it, and the spectacle that follows is full of distinctive car stunts and firefights. The fresh, detailed character of the 707 S2 and the 703 S2 lends itself well to these scenes. We immediately notice that very small details in the rear channels are clearly audible. For example, if the team on a ridge looks down on the attack and discusses their tactics, then you hear the conflict very quietly but clearly in the distance. That would soon disappear in the bigger picture with a soundbar or a more compact surround set. The HTM72 is not unconcerned and serves up dialogue clearly. It is a competent speaker that integrates well with the larger 703 S2 left and right of it. Personally we like larger centers because there is quite a lot of energy in that middle channel. It may sound somewhat fuller than what we hear now. But the HTM72 has the nice advantage that the cabinet is not high and therefore perfectly positioned under the screen. A properly arranged sub that provides the necessary support is a necessity.
What about films that use less on spectacle, but have a powerful soundtrack? A nice example in this area is ‘Arrival’ by Denis Villeneuve, with a great layered music score by Jóhann Jóhannsson based on analogue tapeloops. The music is an experience in itself, and the documentary about Jóhannsson that you find with the extras on the Ultra HD Blu-ray is definitely worth watching. There is also an interesting mini documentary about the separate sound effects on the disc. And the movie? It’s great from the first second. We are enveloped by the warm cellotons of the first passage, in which we get to know the main character and the tragic loss of her daughter in a few minutes. Afterwards, if she teaches as an instructor in an auditorium and reports on the arrival of the aliens on the phones of students, then you are really in that immensely large, empty space. Do not jump out of your seat when suddenly a loud siren is heard! Those very subtle, small sound effects that are very mood-determining, and can immediately switch to a loud sound, that does the tested 700 Series very well.
The musical strength of the 700 Series is a huge plus in this film, and their greater focus on detail again provides a lot of insight into the complex soundtrack. It is true that you have to get used to these speakers, or so it was in our case. Our previous setups consisted of the Monitor Audio Silver series(they aim for an all-round display and succeed well) and Polk Audio speakers (which sound very American and darker). It came with the fact that the 703 S2 speakers that we received needed a bit of effort. In short, we found the whole sound quite aggressive at first, but that feeling diminished over time. With a good fine-tuning of the receiver that more prominent mid-high net became a source of great detail. Placing the speakers well and adjusting them is the message, because shortcomings you may hear quickly. That is the downside of better speakers.
If you want to build a relatively compact and better surround setup that handles music well, then you are certainly not bad with the combination we have tested. The Bowers & Wilkins 700 Series shines when it comes to detail reproduction, without suggesting that these are some of the qualities of these new speakers. They are also very dynamic. The 703 S2 is undoubtedly a good floor stand with its own character, while the 707 S2 despite its compact size still performs great if you use it for rear channels. The HTM72 S2 is a decent center speaker. Not bad, but you may opt for this center perhaps because this small speaker fits better in your living room than for its balanced display. If you have the place and the budget, then the HTM71 S2 may be a better option.