Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature loudspeaker Page 2

With their ports open, the 705 Signatures reproduced the 1/3-octave warble tones on Editor's Choice with good power down to the 63Hz band. While the 50Hz tone was quieter, the 40Hz and 32Hz tones had reasonable weight, the latter aided by the lowest-frequency mode in my room. The 25Hz and 20Hz warbles were inaudible, but there was no audible "chuffing" from the port with these tones. With the ports blocked, the 63Hz tone still had effective weight, but the 50Hz and lower-frequency tones were suppressed. Opening the ports again, the half-step–spaced low-frequency tonebursts on Editor's Choice spoke cleanly down to 63Hz, with some emphasis of some of the tones in the octave above 512Hz. When I listened to the speakers' top, side, and front panels with a stethoscope while these tones played, I could hear some vibrational modes between 256Hz and 512Hz, but these were relatively low in level.

Test signals done with, I turned to music. One of the first recordings I played on the 705 Signatures was Respighi's Pines of Rome with Antal Doráti conducting the Minnesota Orchestra (16/44.1k ALAC file, from Mercury Living Presence: The Collector's Edition, reissued on Decca 478 509-2). Hmm...the balance was not quite what I anticipated from my experience with pink noise. While the bass pedal notes in the climax of The Pines Near a Catacomb had good weight and the stereo image had excellent stability, the violins sounded too thin, as did the solo clarinet and oboe in The Pines of the Janiculum. Though this classic 1960 performance had been recorded by legendary engineer Bob Fine, perhaps the 705 Signatures were faithfully revealing the recording's vintage sonic character.

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I turned to a more recent recording, Vltava from Smetana's Má Vlast, performed in 2014 by Jirí Belohlávek conducting the Czech Philharmonic (24/48k MQA file, unfolded to 24/96k, Decca/Tidal). This was more like what I was expecting. The violins had more body to their tone, the cellos sounded rich, and the woodwinds at the work's beginning both sounded natural and were suitably set back in the soundstage behind the plane of the strings. Roon followed the Smetana with the second symphony from a contemporary composer I had never heard of, Kevin Puts, performed by Marin Alsop (whom I have heard of) conducting the new-to-me Peabody Symphony Orchestra (16/44.1k FLAC, Naxos/Tidal). With their ports open, the Bowers & Wilkins produced a rich, enveloping sweep of airy sound, with enough low frequencies to underpin the work. The bass drum that signifies the 9/11 attacks had impressive weight for a relatively small speaker. The image of the solo violin was suitably small and positioned stably in the center of the stage, as were the piano notes that punctuate the work's elegiac ending.

With both these modern recordings, it was critical that I sat with my ears just below the tweeters, the treble otherwise becoming too lively. I experimented with different toe-in angles, but I preferred the stereo imaging with the speakers pointing directly at me.

I always turn to solo piano recordings to judge a loudspeaker's midrange quality. I recorded Canadian pianist Robert Silverman live in concert in 1992 with a spaced pair of omnidirectional microphones, so the stereo imaging on the subsequent CD (Concert, Stereophile STPH005-2) is diffuse (footnote 2). But Robert's performance of Schubert's six Moments Musicaux remains a favorite all these years later. The rich, warm tone of his Steinway that was captured by the microphones was reproduced in almost full measure by the 705 Signatures, only the lowest notes—in the middle section of the first Moment, for example—lacking body. However, the image of the piano was more forward in the low treble than I am used to, both with my Silverman recording and with Murray Perahia's 2017 performance of Beethoven's "Moonlight" piano sonata (24/96 WAV file, DG 4798353). This didn't get in the way of the music, but it does suggest that the 705 Signatures won't be an optimal match with source components or amplification that themselves have balances on the forward side.

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I continued to be impressed by the 705 Signature's clarity throughout my auditioning of different kinds of music. One of the best-engineered rock recordings I have in my library is Jimmy Webb's Suspending Disbelief (16/44,1k ALAC files, Elektra 61506), co-produced by George Massenburg. The Bowers & Wilkins shone on "Too Young to Die," Webb's paean of praise for his Cobra sports car. While the gated echo on Russ Kunkel's snare drum both dates this 1993 album and sounded somewhat "fizzy," Leland Sklar's bass guitar was reproduced with good definition and weight, and without favoring some notes over others. The 705 Signatures' transparency allowed Steve Lukather's guitar solo to soar free in front of the soundstage. And the backing voices—David Crosby, Don Henley, and J.D. Souther—were reproduced as a supportive halo around Webb's upfront vocal image.

George Massenburg was also partly responsible for one of my favorite live albums of all time, Waiting for Columbus by legendary rock band Little Feat (16/44.1k FLAC files, Warner Bros./Tidal). I saw Little Feat in 1975, playing support for the Doobie Brothers at London's Rainbow Theatre, and instantly became a fan. The opening of "Fat Man in the Bathtub" on Columbus has what is perhaps the best exposition of the white magic of rock evah, and the 705 Signatures' transparency transported me to a front-row-center seat in the audience. The B&Ws gave Richie Hayward's kickdrum enough impact and Kenny Gradney's bass guitar enough weight. Lowell George's slide guitar and singing sent shivers down my spine. I have said it before, but a stereo system in full song is a time machine.

Comparisons
My longtime reference standmounted loudspeaker is the KEF LS50, a pair of which I bought following my review in 2012. At $1300/pair, the LS50 is considerably less expensive than the 705 Signature. It is also less sensitive: I measured 84.5dB vs the 705 Signature's 87.6dB. With the levels matched, my Silverman Schubert piano recording sounded comparatively airless on the KEFs. There was also noticeably less low-frequency energy with the LS50s, though the Steinway's midrange tonality was a touch more natural-sounding on the KEFs, as was Perahia's instrument on the Beethoven piano sonata. The Smetana orchestral recording sounded thickened in the lower mids on the LS50s, however, compared with the 705 Signatures.

Turning to Jimmy Webb's "Too Young to Die," Kunkel's snare drum had less fizz on the KEFs and Sklar's bass guitar was a little warmer-sounding. However, the B&W's bass guitar had better-defined leading edges and low-frequency extension than the KEF's. Stereo imaging precision was about the same with the two different loudspeakers, though I felt I could see deeper in the soundstage on the 705 Signatures. The reverb on the drums as Kunkel rolls around his kit before the fade-out was less audible on the KEFs. And, of course, the smaller and less sensitive LS50s couldn't play the Little Feat album at the same satisfying "U R There" loudness as the 705 Signatures.

The KEFs are an excellent value, but the Bowers & Wilkins offered a more transparent window into the music, as well as deeper lows and airier highs.

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Just after I installed the 705 Signatures in my system, I picked up from Michael Fremer the Marten Oscar Duo standmounted speakers that he reviewed in the November issue. After I had written up the measurements to accompany Mikey's review, I set the Martens up in place of the Bowers & Wilkins for some listening. I had found the Oscar Duo to be 2dB less sensitive than the 705 Signature, so I adjusted the volume accordingly.

Michael very much liked the two-way Marten, writing hat this speaker offered "confounding bass performance—[the] ability to present the illusion of genuine low-frequency extension...without clogging up the lower midrange and doing damage to acoustic guitars and voices." I was also impressed by the Oscar Duo's low-frequency extension—on my Schubert piano recording it reproduced the instrument's left-hand register in almost full measure.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Marten's high frequencies didn't sound as airy or extended as the B&W's on the orchestral recordings I played, though the snare drum on "Too Young to Die" sounded more natural than it had on either the 705 Signatures or the LS50s. However, that halo of backing voices I mentioned earlier was less distinctly developed on the Oscar Duos than it had been on the B&Ws. But the Marten's extended low frequencies definitely favored the bass guitar on this cut.

At $6995/pair, the Marten Oscar Duo is significantly more expensive than the $4000/pair Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature, so perhaps it won't come as a surprise that overall I preferred its performance. But the English speaker is definitely a contender.

Conclusion
I was surprised how much I enjoyed having the Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature in my system. Surprised, because the speaker's measured performance implies a somewhat "tailored" sonic character. The 705 Signature's treble balance will work best with components that are themselves not forward-sounding. However, in my system, this elegant loudspeaker stepped out of the way of the music in a very satisfying manner. Strongly recommended


Footnote 2: This CD includes a "Mapping the Soundstage" track, in which I demonstrate how this microphone technique, while tonally accurate, distorts the recorded stereo image. See the diagrams here.
COMPANY INFO
B&W Group Ltd.
US distributor: Bowers & Wilkins
54 Concord St.
North Reading, MA 01864
(978) 664-2870
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
tonykaz's picture

Every pair has its own unique grain pattern, they say.

The Wood is an Architectural product that comes in a wide range of species but only one specie is available from B&W.

No-one seems willing to say that these Loudspeakers ( and stands ) are made in China, even the very few internet images of its rear label panel are blurred enough to conceal the printed "Made in China" declaration while all the rest of the imaging remains beautifully clear & sharp. hmm. B&W does seem proud that they actually make a few 800 series somewhere in Europe.

So, the loudspeakers are drop-dead gorgeous, probably more beautiful than anything I own. ( I do have some French Impressionist Paintings in Storage that are NOT as glitzy as these 705 Signatures )

Country of origin is a big thing now-a-days

Tony in Venice

John Atkinson's picture
tonykaz wrote:
No-one seems willing to say that these Loudspeakers (and stands) are made in China . . .

I do note that fact on the Specifications page of this review, Tony. I have always felt that including the country of manufacture is relevant information for the readers.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

tonykaz's picture

Thanks for writing

I missed it,

I only looked at "Manufacturer",

I didn't think to look at Seriel Numbers.

I applaud you, yet again.

Still, I did a quick Internet Search of all things B&W only to find a lack of accurate information. ( which is the anxiety source of my observational comment here ).

Made in China listed under Serial Numbers leads to the possibility that differing Serial numbers will have differing countries of origin, wouldn't it? ( perhaps that is the case, or is it? ) .

anyway...

Mr. Micallef's report on that Austrian Integrated Amp might be the best and most captivating Audio writing I can remember. I hope you guys double his word budget, he might be the best that's out there. "lift my jaw up with a shovel" ! ( I'll have to double check but I don't think that he uses ly words or superlatives, for gods sake )

Tony in Venice

ken mac's picture

Much appreciated.

tonykaz's picture

are you the Mr.KM that I'm complimenting?

There is a type of complementing that would apply to what you are doing for Stereophile .

Tony in Venice

BillBrown's picture

I was interested to see your measurements, the "tailored" response clearly seen, this consistent with all of the measurements I have seen of modern B&Ws. Someone is certainly voicing them with a common goal. Clicking on the measurements of the Diamonds from years ago shows that wasn't previously the case, when my impression was that they were frequently used as recording monitors and much more neutral. I'm not sure that this change in direction is a good one.

Bill

MZKM's picture

You don’t even have to look at the Diamonds; J.A. linked his measurements of the original 705 (which costed just $1500), and the measurements are miles better than this modern Signature model (and also higher in sensitivity).

The prevailing assumptions online (especially due to all the news about executives jumping ship and being sold) is that this tailored sound is to make them stand out in show rooms, that the excess HF energy could be seen as added detail.

BillBrown's picture

I certainly think your second paragraph is true and almost mentioned it, especially since B&W expanded more into the "big box" stores (Best Buy, etc.).

JHL's picture

...before comments inevitably turn to rank assumptions about amplitude response, I see that this speaker's amplitude is superb at distance, the only metric that could matter, assuming amplitude is all that relevant. It also significantly betters the arguably over-rated small KEF.

Other than that we'll have to contend ourselves with what the expert reviewer heard and now reports, always a point of contention among the "objective" reader whose unique talent in spotting lines on graphs none of the rest of us can expect to achieve. Hidden in plain sight, as it were.

BillBrown's picture

I don't think that "rank" is a needed term or the word "objective" being placed in quotes. The opportunity to discuss the desired room response and correlation with the extensive literature re. preference and perceived neutrality by skilled and unskilled listeners doesn't need to be a bad thing. JA has certainly worked very hard over many years to provide measurements in the effort to correlate subjective impressions with objective data.

My impression is that I might find these initially impressive as alluded to above, but that for long term listening I would probably find them bright and fatiguing. I think this would likely be music-source dependent. I simply prefer a different in-room response. If someone else loves and enjoys them long term that is great!

I do think that B&Ws speakers now are less suitable to monitoring (I picture the original 801s seen in classical recording monitoring environments). The recordings monitored on their modern speakers I suspect would end up "dull."

Bill

JHL's picture

...with measured data include an almost insurmountable bias that they and virtually they alone describe sound. This is simply not true. *Rank assumptions* is quite descriptive, especially when sound itself isn't the evident aim of so-called Objectivist practice. Abstracts are his aim, abstracts and criticisms of listeners who look past data.

No one said it's a negative to discuss data and so-called subjective sound, Bill. It's it's just fundamentally incorrect to assume that data describes sound while doing so.

Likewise that JA has provided measured data for decades. That's a free-standing thought - he certainly has - and that data is also free-standing, which I'm trying to point out. But it's subtext as I see it, not pretext, *especially* when simple amplitude response is the Objectivist's nearly universal data bias for sound when it *isn't* sound.

Audio is for hearing and data is presumed to aid, not define it. It's especially not to refute or deny it.

Whether B&W are suited for monitoring is just not shown in this data. In fact they have been used for professional monitoring successfully for a very long time, and apparently for good reason. Here again, the instinct to *assume* sound from data is a bias.

The terms objectivist and subjectivist are reversed. The real Objectivist is the open-minded listener. The pseudo-objectivist simply assumes or projects sound, many times while not having the terms to adequately describe it. He may even disallow "subjective" prose entirely, urgently denying it. That's hardly objective.

BillBrown's picture

I understand what you are saying, and I do agree that there are "radical objectivists," but also "radical subjectivists." I am not in either camp and think both are missing out, dare I say misguided. I don't understand why people limit their data input and not incorporate both measurements and the subjective impressions of skilled listeners that we (?I) have grown to trust. In this case I think JA perfectly described subjective impressions that correlated with his measurements, while also nicely characterizing aspects of the speakers' sound that may not be reflected in measurements.

I am equally uninspired by the subjective comments of the "measurements only" camp as I am by subjective-only comments (especially in speakers as I do believe that there is some correlation between measurements and perception, and that in some designs the choices made can be predicted to lead to certain results that will be described subjectively in a predictable way). I will take the Stereophile way, rather than, say, the ASR or TAS way.

I don't find any of it worth fighting over, though (not that you and I are).

I will disagree with you on these speakers as an effective tool for monitoring. While it is certainly possible that a skilled recording engineer could produce recordings that translate well to different systems, I think they do have flaws in this regard.

Best wishes,

Bill

JHL's picture

I'll add that of the flaws associated with both camps, if they are camps, if given one choice, I'd defer to the subjectivist side. Audio is for hearing, not measuring.

Data is an abstract. It is a generation removed from pertinence. It can be seen but it cannot be heard. I'd miss data but the point I'm making doesn't require such an extreme.

The objectivist side has, in addition to its tremendous subjectivity toward and with data, the enormous problem of cynicism. It simply assumes that without data nefarious motives and directives must apply. That is the most subjective of all the flaws of objectivism. It's personal.

Add the two together and we have exactly what we see today: Objectivism is a brew of technical assumption and personal presumption. Not only does it not hear, I doubt it can. And it appoints itself your authority.

The subjectivist, meanwhile, just spins another record. He's completely harmless and if experience is a guide, he evangelizes for the high end while objectivism demeans it. That's another strike against objectivism as a movement. Not against *data*, against abusing it.

BillBrown's picture

Especially re. leaning toward the subjectivist side (particularly with the reviewers whose ears I have grown to trust over 30+ years). But please know I started at 18 :).

I think you describe the negative aspects of radical objectivism perfectly. The cynicism, designations of conspiracy and motive, dogma, and "talking down," contempt, etc. are tiresome. I don't like know-it-alls, as I don't think anyone, certainly not me, knows-it all.

Thank you for the nice exchange,

Bill

JHL's picture

Some people reject the simple handle "The High End". Some reject subjective language - it's not subjective, of course; it's standard common human vernacular relating to a very real experience - because it's not "objective". And many assume data is not just *more* descriptive, but that it actually displace experience. You can't hear that. You must hear this. And so on.

We have it backwards. It's nuts. Nowhere else in life I can think of do we reject the personal to this degree.

Yet audio is for *personal* enjoyment, and that's borne out in the fondness so many have for the well-executed review. The prose resonates.

We have to ask why we do audio. It's either to become reconnected with performance *or* it's to talk about aspects of the abstracts that literally have nothing to do with that performance and instead - and get this part - have to do with what we've preconditioned ourselves to listen for.

Not listen to. Listen for. We've elevated the singular focus of our assumption about sound, which is simple loudness uniformity, to the point that we hear only an excess couple of decibels at 3kHz. Or insufficient output at 1kHz. We've recalibrated ourselves to hear audio as a tone control. It's astounding.

That's bias and that's data bias. Data bias is not only prevalent, it's tracked back into engineering and changed the nature of the hardware. That doesn't mean an amplitude-centric component can't sound authentic; it means that we're potentially preventing ourselves music-centric components that aren't flat.

The way I hear it great audio gets down to one thing: Enough suspension of disbelief that you question how artists could be there in your space, transparent, playing a session recorded in 1973. I am transported and I see, hear, and feel the experience. Time machine.

Everything else isn't worth the effort and cost and it certainly isn't worth the years spent online arguing about a couple decibels here or there.

At some point you have to ask why you're doing this. It's plainly obvious it's for any number of reasons, yet when I read a great review I identify with the real sound in a real space or I realize the component in question is just parts in a box. And I've done that well before I ever get to the data.

Charles E Flynn's picture

From the manual at https://www.bowerswilkins.com/sites/default/files/2018-08/707-706-705-manual.pdf (bold style added):

For bi-wire connections or bi-amplification (above right), the terminal links should be removed and each pair of terminals connected to the amplifier or amplifiers independently. Bi-wiring can improve the resolution of low-level detail.

jimtavegia's picture

I am looking at the graph and see in Fig 9 that the B & W is at 0db at 10khz and the others are below which would indicate to me that they have less HF energy than the B&Ws. I do see about +3db at 150hz, 250hz, and 6-7khz, but I would not think this is a major issue as it is all going to change in most rooms and placements. I would agree that fig 5 and 9 are quite different.

It is normal for a speaker to measure this different between these plots? Maybe this is something I have missed in reading measurements over the years?

I would think this would be a very likable speakers and with a sub, might be an excellent choice for a small or medium sized room.

AJ's picture

Fig 5 is the (quasi) anechoic response of the speaker, i.e., the initial waves launch of the speaker itself, measured at around 36-50" away.
Fig 8 & 9 are in room, at LP averaged responses, so several feet away.
They would include sum total reflections from boundaries, distance attenuation from air/boundary absorption, room modes in the lower end, etc. All are "pressure at omni microphone" measures.
> 500hz +/- we(2 ears/brain) essentially/dominantly hear the speaker response, below, the room/speaker response.
So Fig 5 is far more representative of what will be heard at high frequency, for those with normal (audiometrics) hearing. "Flat" response in room several feet away, would tend to sound a bit bright.
Luckily, older men, aka, audiophiles, will have quite a bit of HF hearing "attenuation" to compensate.

cheers,

AJ
Soundfield

jimtavegia's picture

I generally look at the in room response of where ever JA1 measures them and take that as to what they would sound like. You are right, as for me and my HF loss, flat does not help me as much, but I think this speaker measures pretty well.

I am still amazed at what Andrew Jones can do with much less money. Glad he can though.

Another poster has talked about what has happen at B & W corporate and where the company has been heading. It is a company with an illustrious history, and regardless this pandemic is not treating many people or companies well at all. I have listened to more music in the last 8+ months of lockdown than I have in the last 10 years I think. I am now into the middle of season two of the Crown and am enjoying it. The TV is showing us human beings at our best and worst on just about every channel.

TJ's picture

"...fair to note that the original 705 performed even better on the test bench. - John Atkinson". A recurring theme ever since they replaced the 800 Nautilus series. The 801N and 805N were so exceptional in both sound and test results.

Axiom05's picture

I agree that B&W seems to have changed their profile goals after the 800 Nautilus series from a maximally flat response to one that is "voiced" to have certain characteristics. Having owned N801, N803 and 802 Diamond speakers, the evolution is clear. However, I still think the Achilles Heal of the system is the FST midrange. Removing the surround leads to the requirement of a large diaphragm in order to have sufficient excursion capability at lower frequencies but gives poor off axis performance at higher frequencies. Of course it doesn't help that they make the mid/tweeter crossover so high in frequency. The two-way speakers seem to do better as the mid/woofer has a traditional surround.

TJ's picture

... which set a new standard for its on-axis response but was constrained off-axis. Likewise the FST midrange. As dazzling and mighty as the 801N was, the 805N somehow sounded more natural and life-like inside its dynamic range. I hope the new company owner takes note of KEF's impressive R&D team, rethinks its branding and gets back to its roots.

DougM's picture

I agree with you. The N805 Signature was, and still is, my dream speaker. I look at what has come after, with the loss of the awesome Kevlar wwofer/mid driver, and the poor measurements of the far more expensive Diamond series, and it has me scratching my head. I had pairs of both 601S3s and 602S3s, but unfortunately they needed to be played louder than my ears and small room can tolerate before they wake up and sound balanced, so they were sold. But, I still long for the times when I would turn them up and revel in their magic. I haven't owned anything that sounds as good since, and I've tried a lot of different speakers searching for something that could get that magic at lower volume levels, and I think Monitor Audios came the closest.

AJ's picture

Congrats John! ;-)

robertbadcock's picture

I sincerely miss the aesthetic of the original 705 - the slope of the front panel made it an item of art; and sound.

Of country of manufacture; that to me is also an item of reference - are the employees purchasing homes? Gathering 401Ks, or other benefits from their employ? Can I readily go visit the factory; or at a minimum; tour it online; as I can with Rega, Focal, Pro-Ject, and others?

Respectfully; and not unlike art (most of art - unique items can originate from horrid areas); I'm not one to purpose my economics towards an area of the world that may, or may not more or less be an epi-center of environmental, and human disposability.

Love my B&W items - 601S1s, ASW750, ASW 700, ASW600 - blocks of quasi-industrialist art in the cases of the subs; and of the 601s; well. Icons from um; me, near 20 years ago. Focals have replaced the 601s some time ago fwiw.
Classe amps, Ayre pre-amp, Luxman (Japan days) tuner, etc.
IDK, maybe it is a 'me' thing. Being able to speak of, and listen to; my gear is important.

'Braggin rights'; could be a modern day Greensbergism I suppose.

I do adore these beauties. Way far out of my reach; and I most certainly mean no harm with my words; and I also understand that many items would cost multiples more if made other than in China.

robertbadcock's picture

Just listening (lol, pun?) to this guy makes me want to buy a third TT.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tk5_VHoYvpM

Gads.

John Atkinson's picture
John Atkinson wrote:
Back in June 1994, I reviewed the Bowers & Wilkins John Bowers Silver Signature standmounted loudspeaker. . . It was the best-sounding speaker I had used in my Santa Fe listening room . . .

The most recent time I heard a pair of B&W Silver Signatures was in February 2017, when I visited an audiophile in Chicagoland for Kyomi Audio's launch of the Vivid G1 Spirit loudspeaker. Before I interviewed Vivid's Laurence Dickie - see www.stereophile.com/content/vivid-video-ja-interviews-speaker-designer-laurence-dickie - our host Mario took me down to his basement listening room, where he had a pair of Silver Signatures set up. They sounded as fantastic as I remember from my Santa Fe days.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

tabs's picture

Sorry to do this here, but is there any chance you can provide a hint when we might see the LS50 Meta review and measurements? I remember reading somewhere that you already had the Meta passive version in-hand or en route or some such. Thank you for all the hard work!

John Atkinson's picture
tabs wrote:
Sorry to do this here, but is there any chance you can provide a hint when we might see the LS50 Meta review and measurements?

My review of the KEF LS50 Meta will be published in the January 2021 issue of Stereophile, which will hit newsstands and mailboxes around December 12.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

tabs's picture

Wunderbar. Thank you!

Charles E Flynn's picture

The USPS delivery of the January 2021 issue has been completed at an undisclosed location in New England. As proof, I offer this spoiler for the cover: There is a small image of the LS50 Meta, and the text reads: TWEAKED! KEF LS50 META

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