B&W 705 loudspeaker Page 2

I had two first impressions of the 705. The first was that its sound, while not mellow, was very smooth. The second was that while it didn't seem to lack sensitivity, it did appear to need quite a lot of drive for the music to come to life. But come to life it certainly did, the sweep of the orchestral sound on our September 2002 "Recording of the Month," Joshua Bell performing the Beethoven and Mendelssohn violin concertos (Sony Classical SK 89505), being reproduced in a most generous manner. Despite that, the image of the solo violin was well-focused and stable, without any tendency to splash to the sides at some frequencies. And oh, how smooth the instrument's upper frequencies sounded. Similarly, Ida Levin's violin on the Schulhoff solo sonata on Stereophile's Editor's Choice CD (STPH016-2) was precisely positioned in the resonant acoustic of Santa Fe's Loretto Chapel in a convincingly realistic manner.

So many speakers seem, to me at least, to have a narrow band of brightness in the presence region. Some commentators have accused metal-dome tweeters of being the cause of this phenomenon, but I have felt it was due either to woofer breakup problems, or to the ubiquitous off-axis flare at the bottom of the tweeter's passband. The 705 was free from this brightness, its high frequencies sounding smoothly balanced and without grain. The integration of tweeter and woofer seemed particularly seamless.

Stereophile's founder, J. Gordon Holt, has recently criticized the magazine's reviewers for not commenting sufficiently on a loudspeaker's ability, or lack thereof, to reproduce midrange timbres. You can catch up on this ongoing discussion in "Letters," but I'll chip in here by saying that the kind of egregious midrange colorations that were endemic 20 years ago are largely absent from many modern speaker designs. Such was certainly the case with B&W's 705. I have been listening a lot to the debut CD from jazz trumpeter Andy Gravish, which was recommended by Wes Phillips in last December's "As We See It" (New York/Rome Hook-up, available from Andy's website). This quintet recording was made without equalization or compression, and has, as a result, natural dynamics and unexaggerated tone colors. The saxophone and trumpet had a beautifully unforced quality over the B&Ws, while the cymbals were nicely delineated, both in space and in tone color.

I followed the Gravish CD with session dubs of a new recording Tony Faulkner had made of Antony Michaelson performing the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with a crack London orchestra. (As producer, I was assembling the performances during the review period for Tony then to create the DSD and analog masters for possible release as a Stereophile SACD and LP, respectively.) Again, the instruments were reproduced with their timbres intact and, perhaps most important, with their sounds free from any feeling of strain at moderately loud levels.

The half-step toneburst scale on Editor's Choice revealed the response through the upper-bass and midrange to be commendably uniform, though listening to the enclosure walls with a stethoscope revealed some liveliness just above Middle C and again an octave higher. But unlike some speakers with an underdamped reflex alignment, the 705 "spoke" clearly on these short tonebursts. The 1/3-octave warble tones on the same CD were reproduced in good measure down to the 50Hz band, with the 32Hz tone reinforced by a room mode. The 25Hz and 20Hz tones were missing in action, but this is respectable bass extension overall for what is, in absolute terms, a small speaker. Classical piano—Rosalyn Tureck's superb if stately reading of Bach's Goldberg Variations (DG 459 599-2), for example—had both good left-hand weight and excellent definition.

With its larger cabinet and woofer, the 705 played considerably louder, without aural distress, than the miniature Klipsch RB-15 I also write about this month. At the end of the review period, I rocked out using the 705s for a Zeppelin Fest: first the DVD-Audio edition of last August's "Recording of the Month," How the West Was Won (Atlantic 83587-9), then the live DVD-Video (Led Zeppelin, Atlantic R2 970198). The 705s may be small in stature, but they did a sterling job with these rock classics. Driven by Musical Fidelity's monster 1kW monoblocks, the 705s had enough midbass to give Jonesy's Fender and Alembic basses believable weight, enough dynamic range to allow Bonzo's inventive drumming to push the music into overdrive, and a sufficiently grain- and coloration-free midrange to permit Percy's plaintive vocals to explode forward in the soundstage. And Jimmy Page? Was there ever a rock guitarist his equal when it came to the sheer range of sounds he wrung from his instruments? The 705s allowed the tonal differences between his double-neck Gibson SG and his Gibson Les Paul to stand in sharp relief.

For the past few years, my reference speaker in this price region has been the Revel Performa M20 (reviewed in January 2002), which has a more generous bass alignment than the 705. However, the Revel costs $500/pair more than the B&W. Yes, the 705 might not have enough bass or go loud enough for those wanting affordable full-range performance, but within its limitations, the new B&W is an astonishingly good loudspeaker. It offers clean, grain-free, uncolored sound for just $1500/pair. You'd have to spend a lot more to get significantly more quality. Highly recommended.

US distributor: Equity International
54 Concord Street
North Reading, MA 01864-2699
(978) 664-2870