Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3 loudspeaker Page 2

While I had the B&Ws in my system, I acquired two new recordings of the full score of Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird. One is by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Simon Rattle (24/96 download, LSO Live LSO5096), the other by the Orchestre de Paris under Klaus Mäkelä, their young, new music director (16/44.1 download, Decca 4853946). This brilliant score is most popular as an orchestral-suite arrangement (footnote 3), but to fully appreciate Stravinsky's achievement in combining Rimsky-Korsakov's color palette with his own melodic mastery, one must listen to the full ballet score.

The full version clearly demonstrates the 705's ability to fully reveal the colors and complexity of this music. Koschei's thrilling "Infernal Dance" can pound your chest with big speakers, something the 705s can't replicate—but they can and did convey this music's exhilarating dynamism. They also uncovered delicious details of the more reflective parts of the score that demand more than brawn. I found Mäkelä's interpretation richer than Rattle's, though treble—whether in the performance or the recording—was excessive, particularly with the violins, flutes, and piccolos. Rattle was an easier listen but less fun. Either way: great detail, great soundstage.

Finally comes Fauré's Requiem, one of my many music obsessions. I have accumulated many recordings of this work over the years, none of which I can live without, but two relatively recent ones get a lot of play: Lawrence Equilbey and the Accentus choir's recording with L'Orchestre National De France (CD, Naive V5137) and Mathieu Romano and the Ensembles Aedes's recording with Les Siècles' period-instrument orchestra (Aparté AP201, auditioned from a 24/96 download). This work begins with a powerful, defining chord with, on Lawrence Equilbey's recording, impressive weight and depth. Overall, the performance is more solemn than Mathieu Romano's, whose opening chord is broad and rich. That distinction was lost with the 705s because the lowest frequency components on the Equilbey recording were simply not heard. Other fascinating distinctions were revealed, such as the more immediate recording of the chorus presentation on the Equilbey and the enrichment of Romano's more distant choir by the church acoustics where it was recorded. Despite these differences, choral detail was strikingly clear on both.

The 705 is capable of satisfying critical ears. It offers striking clarity and detail and can generate a wide, stable, realistic soundstage. The elevated upper midrange and treble of the 705 S3 contributes to its perceived clarity and soundstage. Only at very high listening levels did it seem bright. Even then it was not a disqualifier, because it seemed to remain distortion-free. At the other end, extreme low bass was left for the imagination, but in most cases (eg, in the Malena and Lofgren tracks), the 705's midbass richness compensated well for this deficiency. Large, complex orchestral or choral music can reveal the 705's shortcoming in bottom end acoustic output, but that might be ameliorated if used in a smaller room and positioned close to room boundaries.

Egregious comparisons I compared the B&W 705 S3s to my Revel F206s. They occupy about the same amount of space and, with the cost of the B&W stands included, they are similar in price. The three-way, double-woofer Revel did fill in the bottom end to restore balance to "The First Tears," but the B&W's treble seemed more detailed and spacious. On the orchestral tests, the Revel's more-extended bass and superior bass impact were obvious, but the B&W—perhaps because its attenuated bass excited fewer room modes—could sound tighter.

I also compared the B&W to the KEF Blade 2 Meta—an unfair comparison, but the little B&W held its own respectably. No surprise, the big KEFs had significantly more extended and taut bass; they also presented a deeper, taller soundstage. They were richer and fuller without any audible emphases in the midbass or treble. Still, with the B&W's tweeter at just about the same height as KEF's Uni-Q, there were moments, standing less than a meter away, when they sounded much the same.

I found only one recording that made the 705s sound small: a 16/44.1 download of Bacchanale: Saint-Saëns Et La Méditerranée, from conductor Zahia Ziouani and the Divertimento orchestra (CD, Harmonia Mundi HMM905373). This album explores Saint-Saëns's fascination with North African music by interspersing his works among pieces by contemporary and similarly engaged composers as well as several traditional pieces. It is a fascinating mélange of varied music that shares elements of tonality and rhythm. A recurring melismatic theme is sung or played over a deep bass line played by drums, traditional and orchestral. There isn't much content between the low bass and the midrange. On many of these pieces, the 705s offered little of the low bass and had nothing to play in the mid to upper bass. As a result, it sounded small and pale. Switching to either the Revel or the KEF restored the balance. Adding a good, well-equalized subwoofer to the 705s would do the job, too.

Conclusions Considering my well-established predilection for large speakers with extended bass, I didn't expect that much from these small standmounts. I should have expected more. Even though my listening room was not as favorable to the 705s as a smaller, more damped room would be, their performance was rewarding and enjoyable—no apology need be made on account of their size. Their midrange and treble resolution is outstanding, and their bass is musically satisfying. When properly set up, they will readily pull off that little trick and disappear into their own soundstage.

Footnote 3: Stravinsky created three orchestral-suite arrangements of The Firebird, as well as a piano arrangement of the full score.

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?