Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3 loudspeaker

Over a lifetime of involvement in audio, I have had standmount speakers—bookshelf speakers, as they were called back then—only twice. My very first loudspeaker was a vinyl-wrapped fiberboard bookshelf box with no name. It lasted barely a year and was replaced with a two-way system I built with a 12" RCA woofer in a floorstanding bass-reflex cabinet. My second bookshelf system was a Weathers "Book" speaker lashed up to a University dual-voice-coil woofer. I was determined to try that new thing, stereo.

Since then, I've had only floorstanders, home-made and manufactured, and I never seriously considered owning small speakers again except, perhaps, as part of a surround sound system. With that bias, why am I reviewing the B&W 705 S3?

One reason is that I have, on many occasions, heard such speakers at showrooms and audio shows and found their competence and balance surprisingly enjoyable. Another reason is that I have lived with and loved several B&W 800-series speakers in years past. Many of the 800-series features trickled down to the 700 series. The 705 is one of three third-generation 700-series models (the other two being the 702 and 703 floorstanders) endowed with the 800's signature solid-body tweeter-on-top technology. The tweeter in both series has a carbon diaphragm; the one in the 800 series is just a different kind of carbon: diamond. How much of the thrill my 800-series speakers had evoked could the diminutive 705 rekindle?

Arrival and assembly Unboxing the two 705s, I was struck by the beautiful mocha veneer finish. Surfaces and edges were perfect. At the back, dual pairs of hefty silver binding posts are mounted on a substantial, highly polished plate above a textured, flared 2.5" bass port. On top, mounted compliantly, is the bullet-shaped tweeter enclosure. The 705 comes with soft rubber feet, but I used the recommended FS-700 S3 stands ($799 pair), which accompanied the review samples. These 24" stands are essential for situating the tweeters at ear level and to help position the speakers the proper distance from the listener and walls.

Assembly consisted of attaching the top and bottom plates to the post, mounting the spikes to the bottom plate, and attaching the top plate to the speakers, all accomplished with the provided screws and hex keys. The post encloses two channels: one for discreetly routing the cables to the rear of the speaker, the other for loading the stand with heavy damping material. The 705 and its stand form a rigid unit with matching curved edges and silver accents. A contoured black grille complements the ensemble.

In my listening room, the optimal position for the 705s was about 3.5' from each sidewall, 5' from the front wall, and 7' apart. Placing them farther back amplified the bass but muddied it too; spacing them farther apart did not expand the soundstage; it only blurred the images at center stage. Minimal toe-in expanded the soundstage while avoiding on-axis brightness. I adjusted my listening position to be 2' closer than usual, 9' away on the centerline.

Sitting and listening During setup, I listened to snippets selected for sound characteristics, not musical content, to accustom my ears and brain to the sonic signature of the 705s and smooth the transition from my resident speakers. Three qualities of the 705s immediately became evident: satisfying bass output (belied by their size), great detail and presence, and a wall-to-wall soundstage.

Having gotten a glimpse of their capability, instead of beginning with a piano recording as I customarily do, I went all-in and clicked on "Ja-Da!" from the album The Americus Brass Band Pays Tribute to James Reese Europe's Harlem Hell Fighters' Band (CD rip, Cambria Master Recordings CD-1263). The recording was made close up and captured the size, weight, and presence of the band, properties the 705s delivered fully and impressively. Instruments appeared spread out in the space between the speakers, enfolded in a broad acoustic space. The brass and winds, notably the treble winds, were clearly defined, and the tuba drove the rhythm as if it were basso continuo. The bass drum's accents were clear and tuneful. The physical impact of the bass drum and tuba that larger speakers can convey was absent with the 705, but the musical experience was realized completely.

Now I turned to piano, choosing France and Belgium, volume 4 of Gottlieb Wallisch's four-volume set, 20th Century Foxtrots (CD rip, Grand Piano Records GP855). This album begins with a Saint-Saëns tango, from his Lola, Op.116, which Wallisch plays with puckish flair, and continues with one delightful piece after another, many from unexpected sources. For me, the highlight of this album is Pierre-Octave Ferroud's disarming 13 Danses: The Bacchante, which is based on a familiar Bach theme. The 705s presented Wallisch's Steinway center stage and full-bodied and kept me tapping my toes throughout.

Another favorite was "The First Tears" by Eriks Ešenvalds from the John Atkinson–engineered The Doors of Heaven (footnote 1), with the Portland State University Chamber Choir under Ethan Sperry (24/88.2 download, Naxos 8.579008). The song begins with a diaphanous layer of light voices, which the 705s presented with much air and detail. It becomes warm and intensifies as the mood darkens. That appealing transparency continued, but that darker mood was presented differently by the 705s than by previous speakers: Some reserve in the lower voices changed the tonal balance to be less reflective of the drama of the text. I doubt I would have noticed this subtle change were I not so familiar with this recording. It was certainly not enough to break the spell.

With the 705 S3s, the mid- to upper-bass range (where the vocals of "The First Tears" lie) was rendered clean, full, and tight over a wide range of recordings. The familiar classic "Keith Don't Go" from Acoustic Live (16/44.1, Vision Music/Qobuz) is a prime example. Nils Lofgren's guitar sounded big and ripe in the introduction and well-balanced throughout. Transients from his strings and the enveloping applause were crisp. His voice loomed over a vast soundstage in its true character and presence. The 705 S3s exceled here.

"Malena," from M•A (SACD rip, M•A Recordings, no catalog number; footnote 2), a track that conveys a huge sense of space, was truly impressive with the 705s. It was performed in a largely empty and reverberant though warm and calming space, the instruments and voices exposed within it. The pleasant surprise here was at the entry of the drum, which was both resonant and taut. Despite their relatively small size, the 705 S3s delivered it with visceral impact.

Footnote 1: "The First Tears" also appears on the 2016 album St Luke Passion/Sacred Works, with the Latvian Radio Choir, and on the 2017 album From the dim and distant past, with the State Choir Latvija.

Footnote 2: This track was originally released on Será Una Noche, M•A Recordings M052A, in 1999.

Bowers & Wilkins North America
5541 Fermi Ct. N.
CA 92008
(800) 370-3740

jimtavegia's picture

This speaker is probably right up my alley as it follows the Harman headphone curve I need these days. My only concern is the price with the stands as mentioned.

There are so many great floor speakers at $4K that would take up the same amount of floor space and fill out the bass region somewhat better. Still a great review with excellent info.

Ortofan's picture

... using an equalizer, such as the Schiit Lokius (or Loki Max) - along with the speaker of your choice.
While this B&W speaker has a high frequency peak at about 10kHz, the Harman curve peaks at around 3-4kHz.
Likewise, you could dial in however much bass boost is desired.

It'd be interesting to have a direct comparison between the 705 S3 ($3.4k + stands) and the floorstanding 704 S3 ($4k) to find out which one might be the better option for about the same total cost.

jimtavegia's picture

Your point is well taken and I would love a follow up review as you suggested.

I have looked at the EQs from Schiit as well. I have seen that the AKG K612 follow the Harman curve even better and I prefer the bass left flat for my tastes. I have found the Vali a very nice headphone amp as well and it does not have a "tube sound" that I can detect, but just sounds great to me, slightly less than my Asgard.

I have gone this route to not bother my family as much with all my music listening. I have had headphone amps from Art, Presonus, and Focusrite from my ex-USB box and the Schiit's all beat them quite easily and I have passed the others along to family and friends who could use them. Two of them are multi-headphone output models.

This might have been ever more interesting to compare the B&W's vs the KEF LS50 Meta, but the prices are quite different. This might be a good follow up for JA1.

Trevor_Bartram's picture

The Koss KSC75 headphones have gentle boost in the midrange you're seeking. They use a titanium coated polymer driver to achieve the 'sound'. Other Koss headphones using the same basic driver do not use titanium and don't have the 'sound'. The KSC75s are very inexpensive (<$20).

jimtavegia's picture

I have enjoyed my AKG K701s and just bought Monday a pair of AKG K612's for $140 off Amazon. They have a little more bass from 100hz to 400hz which makes them slightly warmer and fuller sounding with the same highs as the K701s. They are not broken in yet, but I think that based on the music it is an easy choice to pick which cans will sound better "to me". If you have excellent HF hearing you might enjoy the K612 better. The K701's are now $200 on Amazon. No dealer stocks AKG around here.

My Tony Kadleck Big Band CD "Sides" came yesterday and it is superbly recorded and sounds great. Don't miss it.

cognoscente's picture

What applies to wines also applies to audio. Or fashion. Prices are not objectively determined by quality but by prestige. I am now in the middle of the Bordeaux 2022 subscription campaign and bought a 96 point wine (average of at least 10 reviews) for 55 euros, while a wine with the same rating came on the market today for 302 euros. I would expect all 96 point wines to be about the same price. Not so, certainly not even. And 97-98 points wines are for sale from 150 euros to 999 euros. I also see it in audio, perhaps less strongly but still. Prestige determines the price and success. What is B&W type of wine?

Ortofan's picture

... variety of grapes and the production process are specified by a vintner located in the UK, while the grapes are grown and the wine made and bottled in China?

cognoscente's picture

Viewed exactly does any comparison fall short on the basis of differences that are always there, indeed. I'm just trying to make a point and clarify. Btw there is also sympathetic made-in-China like my Holo Audio dac. Invented, designed and made by Chinese in a small factory in China. To me that is the same as made-in-UK or made-in-EU or made-in-USA. Even though wages are lower there. But they are also in Greece or Italy, just to name two countries where audio also comes from.. Then we are not even talking about Romania. But I get your point.

And there is Iranian wine. Grapes from Iran, shipped to France where they are made into wine and then sold as Iranian wine world wide. Except in Iran itself, although people there make their own wine in the cellar.

Anton's picture

Is there a certain method to how they taste and rate the wines you mention?

If there are two 96 points ones, what happens if you prefer one over the other?

cognoscente's picture

As for wine ratings and reviews, I think and hope the same as with audio. Professionals who put aside subjective preference and judge it by objective standards. As I trust (some) audio reviewers, I do the same with wine reviewers. If everyone has more or less the same opinion, I trust it. Not if one or two reviewers love it and everyone else just likes it.

And yes, in the end it is the end consumer who makes an individual and personal choice. But the pre-selection, at least I leave it to professionals, after all, there is too much on the market to make the big pre-selection yourself.

PeterG's picture

A great review of a fine speaker. But having owned 3 B&W stand-mounts over the years, I'd say they are really meant to be paired with a good subwoofer. Though this adds obvious issues into the review process, I'd love to know how they'd fair against the Revels and KEFs when given an extra boost for the low stuff

Long-time listener's picture

I just don't understand why B&W continue to think that boosting the highs is such a good thing. Even listened to way off axis, the response is still significantly high between 4-8 KHz. And it's not really balanced by deep bass. As John Atkinson said, the measurements are a bit "enigmatic." I.e., puzzling.

David Harper's picture

I bought a pair of B&W stand-mounted speakers a few years ago. They were very well reviewed in the audio press. I think they were model 606(?) I don't remember. Brought them home and listened for a week.I hated them.
They sounded LOUD, harsh,bright and unlistenable. Returned them to Best Buy. I was used to Polk speakers which have a very smooth laid-back sound so maybe that's why I hated the B&w speakers.

Ortofan's picture

... high-frequency peak represents an ideal response curve, you wonder why they don't include a switch/control that would allow the selection of something closer to a flat(ter) frequency response, let alone a slight roll-off.

Given that the woofer and tweeter connections are brought out to separate terminals, one could experiment with an external network to bring down the high-frequency peak.

jimtavegia's picture

Maybe their new marketing plan should include AARP's magazine.

remlab's picture

paired with a relatively large, baffled midbass. Looks cool, but from a physics perspective, it's just a terrible idea. I'm amazed that B&W has stuck with this gimmick over the years.

johnnythunder1's picture

France's Jean Marie Reynaud brand - their Cantabile Jubile to be exact - has a decoupled silk dome tweeter and it sounds amazing. Lovely, smooth, bright and musical. They have an almost effortless electrostatic sound to them. The sound has a delicacy and spaciousness that is very appealing to me (I own them.) B+W speakers always have sounded too bright to me. Metal dome tweeters vs. silk domes maybe. Or just a tipped up treble that isn't to everyone's liking.

Ortofan's picture

... a function of the material used for the tweeter dome, consider the performance of the recently reviewed (and similarly priced) Monitor Audio Silver 500 7G. It has an aluminum/magnesium tweeter, yet the frequency response is "impressively even from 300Hz to 11kHz" and then it rolls off above that point in the audible range.

johnnythunder1's picture

- I'm sure there are speakers w silk domed tweeters that are executed poorly and metal dome ones that are smoother (or at least voiced to sound smoother.). I have never owned a speaker with a metal dome tweeter finding them just too fatiguing to my ears (sensitive+tinnitus.) Spica Tc-50s. Spendors. JMRs for the past 20+ yrs..). I have also enjoyed and considered purchasing QLN speakers and NOLA Boxers....

Trevor_Bartram's picture

What you're getting here is a superbly manufactured speaker, just look at the cumulative spectral plot to confirm, that is designed for a well heeled audience with hearing loss. The bass alignment (+3dB, 150Hz) will lead to chestiness from radio announcers etc in-room. My Paradigms have the same problem. I've inserted passive electronic equalisation between my pre & power amp to solve the problem without effecting low bass (<100Hz) as tone controls would do. Perhaps I should manufacture the circuit?