As an editor, you look forward to some tests in particular: either because you know and value the manufacturer and its products particularly well, out of sheer curiosity – or because a test promises exciting cross-comparisons. In the case of the 706 S3 compact loudspeaker from Bowers & Wilkins, the latter was above all (but by no means only!) the decisive factor because almost exactly two years ago, I tested the “little cousin,” the 606 S2 Anniversary Edition. Both test subjects are very similar in size and design, so I was all the more curious to see whether the B&W 706 S3 (2,000 euros | https://www.bowerswilkins.com/de-de/ ), our current test candidate, would be almost three times as big price is worth. Foamerma and hörmerma!
The B&W 706 S3, part of the classic 700 series, is the second most miniature compact loudspeaker in the same category, sharing this “family position” with the B&W 606 S2 Anniversary Edition in the 600 series. And that’s not the only similarity. Except for a few millimeters difference, both models have the exact housing dimensions, and both are two-way bass reflex compact loudspeakers – even the diameters of the drivers are the same. At first glance, you could also mistake the two for “identical twins”. But they are not, as I learned in a phone call with Ulf Soldan. Soldan has known the B&W portfolio for 25 years as a Senior Product Manager and knows how to talk in detail and enthusiastically.
B&W 606 S2 and 706 S3 – unequal siblings
On the differences between the 606 S2 and the 706 S3, Soldan laughs: “Look at the weight.” In fact, at 8.62 kilograms, the 706 S3 is a whopping 22 percent heavier than its sister from the 600 series. This results from two significant differences: On the one hand, the housing of the B&W 706 S3 is more elaborately manufactured and thicker; on the other hand, the 706 S3 uses a more ambitious low-frequency driver with an improved drive, which therefore also reduces the lower cut-off frequency by two compared to the 606 S2 Hertz can push southwards: Bowers & Wilkins specifies 50 Hertz here, which doesn’t read too impressive at first – but unlike many other manufacturers, B&W chooses +/- 3 dB as the reference deviation, which makes things look different again.
While the housing of the 606 S2 Anniversary Edition is completely rectangular (greetings from the classic shoe box), the B&W 706 S3 was given not only a slightly and elegantly curved baffle but also elaborate driver bezels that stand out from the baffle. However, to an extent, that seems discreet and not quite as violent as with the Fyne Audio F1-5, in which the “outstanding” driver surround is already a style-defining feature.
Soldan explains the reason for these design principles: “A baffle is generally exposed to great loads because it not only has to carry the sheer weight of the drivers but also their constant vibration.” A curvature of the baffle can improve its stability increase and mechanically stress it even less due to the protruding driver surround. In addition, as Soldan remarks with some pride, the bass-midrange driver is fastened with high-quality machine screws and corresponding metal thread mounts, not with simple Spax screws. His conclusion: “a mega-solid situation.” As is well known, after the “Kevlar years,” Bowers & Wilkins relies on the “Continuum Material” developed in-house for the membrane material.B&W 705 Signature or the B&W 606, where there is one or the other background to this material.
With aluminum and carbon: the tweeter
The tweeter of the Bowers & Wilkins 706 S3 is also different from that of the 606 S2. While that one has an aluminum dome used, the 706 S3 is equipped with a carbon dome tweeter. What does that mean? Well: The “main dome” is still made of aluminum, but it also has an excellent carbon coating on the front and a stabilizing carbon fiber ring on the back. That’s not all: so that this ring, which is only 0.1 millimeters thick, can nestle against the dome as best as possible, it was cut at an angle. And: On the back of the driver, we find a “Nautilus tube,” a plastic tube that is supposed to absorb unwanted sound reflections from the back. Last but not least, the tweeter unit is gel-mounted so that the system has the quietest possible working environment. It shows once again the typical B&W “family concept,”
Simple as a matter of principle – the crossover
As ambitious as it is with the drivers and the housing, the picture with the crossover is as simple: There is a relatively high separation between three and four kilohertz at a flat 6 decibels per octave. Soldan says this is also part of the company philosophy: “We develop and manufacture our drivers ourselves. That’s why we always try to design the drivers optimally mechanically and in terms of quality. Only then can the crossover do its actual job: assign the frequencies. Our crossovers don’t have to correct anything or iron out mistakes or dents, so we can keep them simple.”
Optics and processing of the Bowers & Wilkins 706 S3
Before we go to the good part, I have to say a word about the optics and the processing. Because there’s plenty to be happy about the quality of materials and workmanship is sensationally good. This affects standards such as the gap dimensions and the high-quality and elegant design, in which no visible screw disturbs the overall impression. The workmanship is excellent in detail, for example, when looking at the accurate curvature of the baffle or the very cleanly manufactured driver surrounds. There’s no question: Whoever lifts the B&W 706 S3 out of the box already gets a premonition of high quality. There is also no question: expectations are rising. Can the small compact meet them?
The test setup
I fed the B&W 706 S3 primarily with digital sources (the HiFi Akademie Stream6mini streamer and the CEC CD5 CD player), the Tsakiridis Alexander tube preamplifier served as the preamp and the Abacus Ampollo Dolifet and the Valvet monoblocks A4 MK2 were used alternately on the power amplifier side.
Clear and transparent like a studio monitor
Let’s go: For sentimental reasons (I tested the speaker during the Christmas season, and afterward, you’re always on the road a bit retrospectively), I once again listened to the well-received Sting album The Dream Of The Blue Turtles, namely in the song “Fortress Around Your Heart.” At first, I was a little strange with the overall sound because it seemed strangely unbalanced. I lacked power in the bass, the mids seemed a bit muddy – and when the soprano saxophone came along later in the chorus, it drowned quite a bit compared to the other instruments – and was also surrounded by a badly wet digital reverb that wasn’t really in the rest of the song’s stereophonic performance fit.
Nevertheless, the song was fun: Even if the bass should have played a little more in the foreground for my taste, it was easy to identify in the structure: Sting plays an extremely concert bass line here, which consists almost entirely of eighth notes and is constantly in motion – and at the same time rhythmically counteracts the gentle offbeat of the drums.
Since the B&W 706 S3 traces Sting’s style of play very precisely and with firm timing, one quickly notices: “Ah, maybe the bass SHOULD not play itself into the foreground over the volume, but instead has a function as a rhythm section and not as a foundation. “Interesting! What I then wrote above about the mid-range (wet reverberation, slightly smeared) turned out to be a mediocre production in a cross-comparison with various other components and loudspeakers – which I simply no longer remember and for which the B&W 706 S3 is nothing can! That’s how they mixed and mastered in 1985 when digital technology slowly entered the studio.
In other words: The B&W showed me clearly, like a studio monitor, that the mix of this now 37-year-old disc wasn’t quite right. The sensationally good high-frequency resolution was delightful again. It manifested itself above all in the multi-colored, shimmering “bell” of the ride cymbal, which bluntly defined the quarter beat slightly pushing forward in the chorus.
It was a bit like meeting a good friend from high school after 30 years: you had changed quite a bit, but in the end, it was a lovely evening.
I then immediately added some more The Police – and gradually gained an impression of what distinguishes the B&W 706 S3. Take the track “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” (Album: Regatta de Blanc): the loudspeaker can undoubtedly unleash a decent low-frequency range. In contrast to “Fortress around your heart,” the bass is clearly in the foreground here and placed more cheekily in the mix. The dotted, singing, reggae-esque figures in Sting’s bass playing make you want to dance instantly and don’t just thud in the background – instead, they ground and ground the track properly. On the other hand, however, the various noise trails in the background make it clear: Apparently, the very best mixing console was not used at the time – and on top of that, somewhat older tape machines were undoubtedly used for mixing, editing, and mastering.
Nevertheless – and it’s essential for me to say this – this and other The Police pieces ripped because the B&W firstly has sensationally good timing (important for rhythmic music like this) and also got off to a good start in terms of gross dynamics: That, in turn, fell I particularly enjoy the tracks “Synchronicity I” (Album: Synchronicity) and “Wrapped Around Your Finger” (same album), where drummer Stewart Copeland thrashes the snare, cheeks, and toms almost unleashing.
I can already see our editors nervously tapping the editing pen on the table: tonality, dynamics, rhythm, everything is mixed up here. Sorry, colleagues, sometimes it has to be because the first encounter with the 706 S3 was an exciting rollercoaster of emotions for the reasons mentioned, so let’s continue properly.
The tonality and heritage of Bowers & Wilkins
It was already shining through: The B&W 706 S3 reflects the essential tonal “heritage” of Bowers & Wilkins:
Monitors neutral with a little extra pinch of freshness in the high-frequency range. As with many other models from the British manufacturer, I don’t find this small pinch of freshness disturbing because it is also accompanied by excellent acceptable resolution.
In the bass range, the 706 S3 is in good shape for a compact device of this size. Nobody will miss a subwoofer in rooms up to 15 square meters with volumes suitable for the neighborhood. It conveys a little more draft than the similarly sized Canton Townus 30. On the other hand, an Inklang Ayers Two or XTZ Divine Delta pours in another half-octave southwards. The middle band seems to have been drawn with a ruler, “as you can see, you don’t see anything” – the 706 S3 is completely inconspicuous in a positive sense.
The resolving power of the B&W 706 S3.
“As you hear, you hear a lot,” one could wittily tie in here. Because with a view to the resolution, the Bowers & Wilkins 706 S3 makes a good impression. To tease out this talent, you need music material of the highest quality, so let’s leave Sting and his friends now – and (studio-technically) go up a league of excellence: In the piece “Blume” by Einsturzenden Neubauten (album: Tabula Rasa; listen on Amazon) there is something to discover acoustically. The melodic and rhythmic framework is a guitar figure with stopped flageolet tones. Then regular singer Blixa Geld and guest singer Anita Lane dote on each other with romantic floral metaphors. Little by little, murmuring backing vocals and increasingly ominous background noises (which have always been the hallmark of the Neubauten) are added. After each vocal verse, there is a short general pause and a whispered “Shhhh” as a retarding moment.
With the B&W 706 S3, all of this grips you emotionally very well – because they perfectly trace all sound events: the almost crumbling, imperfect flageolet tones, the raspy, sinister voice of Blixa Geld, the seductive, even erotic murmuring of Anita Lane as well as the menacing and profound rumble of percussion in the background.
It should go without saying that this high level of resolution is a lot of fun, not least with classical music. For example, string ensembles in chamber music are great fun because the violas and violins contrast so nicely playing in the same register. At this point, by the way, there is an audible difference between the 706 S3 and the 606 S2 Anniversary Edition: While the latter had an above-average resolution, especially in the treble range, the larger 706 S3 can also score in the mid-range with a resolution that is above the price range and one of the best I’ve ever heard for a pair price of 2,000 euros. Yes, I would even say the Bowers &Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 XD messen kann.
Since I can conveniently switch, I can say with certainty: Here, too, the B&W 706 S3 is a bit superior to its little sister, the 606 S2, which is primarily evident in the coarse dynamics. For example, drummer Rodney Holmes plays the album Guitar Groove by Philip Caterinea wonderfully precise, light-footed, and at the same time highly energetic drum kit. This is where virtuosity is paired with decency – and how the 706 S3 encircles the rolls on the toms, the edge impacts on the snare, and the sometimes quite nimble bass drum work in the room, is simply great fun. Since the 606 S2 Anniversary Edition looks a bit tamer and not quite as directional. However, to put things in perspective: That is appropriate; after all, we are in the 2,000 euro class – and seen in this way, what the 706 S3 delivers is an excellent and respectable standard, nothing more and nothing less. Oh yes: the Bowers & Wilkins 706 S3 has good stability and can also be played at high volumes because it saturates/distorts late.
Lively top-notch – the stage depiction
I saved a piece of cake for last: I was amazed by the stereophonic spatial representation of the B&W 706 S3. Which, of course, is especially fun with an excellent production in which the topic of space plays an important role. Here I decided on the concept album Axiom by the musician collective Archiv. The film adaptation of the complete album by the Spanish artist group NYSU is highly recommended. I’m not very promising when I say watching a film with a bit of leisure can be life-changing. What is being presented here is a dystopia that seemed improbable to all of us ten years ago, but which now seems to be happening little by little, but I digress.
The first three pieces form a small trilogy: It begins with a lovely languishing ballad (voice, strings, synthesizer), then goes into a highly apocalyptic section with increasingly creepy synthesizer pads and wild church organ bells – and ends in a rhythmically driving and also one Quite an unnerving song that comes up with a dramatic voice and wild effects.
It is almost impossible to concentrate on anything else via the Bowers & Wilkins 706 S3; the track is so captivating. The singer manifests himself life-size in the middle between the speakers – and it seems as if he has taken a step towards me from the speaker line. On the other hand, the strings are precisely rostered and form a semicircle around the singer. Then later, the church bells ring out in the whole room (apparently, there was a lot of trickery here), and the piano chords played backward in the third part seem to fly right past my head like small evil drones. This comes to me with such a matter of course, precision, and unmistakability in the sense of “this way and no other!” that it blow-dried me away.
Moment. Was I maybe just taken in by the lazy magic of modern studio technology? I then tried the whole thing with sound stereo runtime recordings (jazz recordings from the Verve Lab) and orchestral recordings – the effect was the same: It’s fantastic what the B&W 706 S3 pulls up for a believable, realistic, coherent, and wide, deep space. Realistic and live-like with handmade music – and tricked recordings sometimes lapping into the hyper-realistic/freaky, that’s really good. And I last heard that in a comparable quality with the Horn Acoustic Ferria (almost 11,000 euros).
If I had to be brief, I would say: “Compact studio monitor, but sexy.” That may not seem entirely consistent because the frequency response above the mids is not 100 percent dead straight (remember: a little extra freshness in the treble). However, anyone who has ever worked in the recording studio will confirm that this freshness can be desirable, especially when an increase in resolution accompanies it. Clear. Since the B&W 706 S3 is incorruptible and detail-loving due to its tonal profile and high resolution, you will have fun with it if you have mainly decent to excellent recordings and productions in your music collection. If this is not the case, you have to expect that the 706 S3 will now and then put a finger in the audiophile wound. Regarding coarse dynamics, the 706 S3 quickly plays at the price class level; it is also pleasingly stable for a compact device and works just as well when listening quietly and openly. What impressed me most, however, was the credibility and realism of the stage performance – that is the much-cited cherry on the cake!
Profile B&W 706 S3
- The tonality is predominantly neutral but a little fresher at the top.
- For a compact, it comes with a pleasingly powerful bass without recognizable upper bass hump.
- Clear, solid middle band, free from discolouration, very well resolved.
- Very detailed high-frequency range with a certain conciseness, which does not annoy with hissing due to the exceptionally high quality. Here I would almost like to say: typical B&W!
- In terms of coarse dynamics, the loudspeaker is jagged and fast, although low-frequency impulses in particular do not appear overly massive. Overall, appropriate for the price range, reasonably adult-looking. No “fun box” aimed at cheap effects.
- The fine dynamics are excellent – and closely intertwined with the above-average fine resolution, especially in the mid and high frequency bands.
- Sensational stereophonic stage – between extremely realistic and almost hyper-realistic, depending on the recording and production method. Particularly nice: the coherence, the effortlessness with which the B&W 706 S3 goes to work.
- Perfect workmanship, absolutely timeless look.
- Model: Bowers & Wilkins 706 S3
- Concept: passive two-way compact speaker with bass reflex system
- Price: 2,000 euros
- Nominal impedance: 8 ohms, minimum impedance at 3.7 ohms
- Efficiency: 88dB/2.83V/m
- Frequency Response: 50Hz – 28kHz (+/- 3dB)
- Dimensions & Weight: 34.5 x 19.2 x 29.7 cm (HxWxD), 8.42 kg/each
- Colours: Glossy Black, Satin White, Mocha
- Guarantee: 10 years after registration