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Review: B&W 703 S2

test b&w 703 s2

Bowers & Wilkins has just released the 700 Series S2 range, which inherits state-of-the-art technology from the prestigious 800 Series range and Nautilus speaker. So, what’s new with the English sound in 2017? Here are some of the ways in which the B&W 703 S2 speaker seeks to provide an answer to that question.

B&W is, without a doubt, one of the most innovative manufacturers in the world of hi-fi and home theater products. While B&W models stand out from other speakers thanks to their unique look, the British brand does not simply focus on design. The various technologies implemented are far from being marketing ploys, and the 700 Series range’s specs are rather convincing. No spectacular frequency response here, and no preposterous sensitivity rating compared to the size of the speakers and drivers. It is with a certain yearning that we tested the new B&W 703 S2 floorstanding speaker.

test b&w 703 s2

Each speaker base is labeled with an arrow for easy installation.

test b&w 703 s2

The speakers come with two sets of spikes and semicircular feet for each base.

test b&w 703 s2

The B&W 703 S2’s base.

British style

The B&W 703 S2 floorstanding speaker boasts a simple and elegant design and comes with a large, painted base. The base is not particularly difficult to install. The speakers are marked by an arrow indicating the mounting direction, and a small Allen key is provided to help with fastening the base. Decoupling spikes and balls are also provided. The speaker’s cabinet is made of thick MDF panels to which multiple layers of lacquer have been applied. Each speaker driver is attached to the front panel without visible screws thanks to a brushed aluminium circle. The bass-reflex port is located on the lower part of the back panel, above a set of heavy-duty speaker terminals which allow for bi-amplification. Both the terminals and the tube of the bass-reflex port were cut from the same block of resin.

test b&w 703 s2

The B&W 703 S2’s carbon dome tweeter.

Smart technologies

Whereas the CM range featured dual aluminum dome tweeters, the 700 Series range adopts a more high-end design with its carbon dome tweeter. Since this material is much more rigid, it allows for an extended frequency response and reduces the driver’s attenuation frequency (> 47 kHz), which has a positive impact on the highs. The carbon dome is decoupled in order to prevent interference caused by vibrations, and the backwave is dampened by a long, thin tube similar to those used for the brand’s famous Nautilus range. The mid driver also boasts an unusual design, as this 6” (15cm) driver does not feature a surround. This technology, called FST (Fixed Suspension Transducer), limits the range of frequencies reproduced by the driver, which means it exclusively covers medium frequencies.

test b&w 703 s2

The B&W 703 S2’s Continuum FST cone driver.

The Continuum driver is fitted with a flexible cone and is decoupled from the baffle by a threaded screw combined with a spring system attached to the basket. It is possible to temporarily move the driver by simply pushing on it. An ingenious addition.

The Continuum driver is fitted with a flexible cone and is decoupled from the baffle by a threaded screw combined with a spring system attached to the basket. It is possible to temporarily move the driver by simply pushing on it. An ingenious addition.

The driver’s cone is made of braided composite material in order to minimize any dips and bumps in the frequency response. In order to ensure optimal performance from these high-sensitivity drivers, B&W connected the driver to the back panel of the speaker using a steel screw. The bass drivers (two 6.5” drivers) feature Aerofoil technology, which means the cone’s thickness varies between the center and the circumference in order to diminish distortion in the lower frequency register. The bass-reflex port benefits from Flowport technology which suppresses airflow noise at high volume. The port is sculpted and flared.

Specs

The B&W 703 S2’s frequency response ranges from 48 Hz to 28 kHz with a maximal attenuation of 3 dB. In other words, the bass-reflex enclosure was adjusted in order to favor an energetic delivery at the cost of limited bass extension. The 89 dB/1 W/1 m sensitivity rating promises a linear sound restitution. The impedance is rated at 8 Ohms at 1 kHz, with a minimal value of 3.1 Ohms in the lows. Note that an amplifier featuring an important power supply is recommended to listen to music and movies at very high volume.

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The B&W 703 S2’s Flowport Bass-Reflex port.

Listening impressions

As we sat in front of the B&W 703 S2, our attention was mostly captivated by the Continuum driver and its chainmail-style cone. Despite the driver’s 6” (15 cm) diameter, the absence of a surround makes it look more imposing than the two 6.5” (16.5 cm) bass drivers. The listening experience is just as convincing, and the 703 S2 speaker captures the listener’s attention with its clear and spacious sound restitution, as well as with its rich mids.

test b&w 703 s2

Listening to the B&W 703 S2 is a one-of-kind audio experience. The sound signature is like no other, and the brand’s DNA is instantly recognizable, particularly for those who are familiar with B&W. Nevertheless, the B&W 703 S2’s sound is completely different from that of its predecessor from the CM range. This new range benefits from noticeable improvements which result in a softer listening experience without taking anything away from the natural dynamics of the sound. The lows benefit from a convincing and consistent amount of energy throughout the whole register with both the humble Yamaha R-N602 hi-fi receiver and the excellent Hegel Röst amplifier.

The speaker does not boast an extraordinary extension in the lows but delivers convincing bass and is far from being disappointing. There is also enough punch and articulation around 50 Hz to provide an enjoyable listening experience.

The Continuum driver’s restitution of low-mids is coherent, even though this transducer has a tendency to grab the listener’s attention both visually and sonically. It is the metronome that gives the B&W 703 S2 its sense of timing. It only took us a few seconds to appreciate the spectacular analytical qualities in the mids, especially for a driver this size. The transient response and micro-dynamics were gratifying and, above all, just as strong in the low-mids as they were in the high-mids. The tweeter takes over with an appropriate neutrality and never becomes overzealous or distracts from the overall sound restitution. The new carbon dome tweeter is spot on.

test b&w 703 s2

The B&W 703 S2 speaker unleashed its full potential with Chet Baker’s For Minors Only. The dense and almost monophonic sound take would present a real challenge for any speaker. But the B&W 703 S2 properly develops the sound stage and brings a genuine sense of depth. The saxophone and trumpet are restituted over a similar dynamic range and without a hint of harshness. The percussions pop out during the drum solo but stay exactly where they’re supposed to be during the rest of the track; even the recurring cymbal hits find their rightful place. The double bass is restituted with great precision and is present without being invasive. We noticed a similar softness with Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues (live), where the size of the concert hall is recreated with striking accuracy. The low tessitura  of the vocals was faithfully delivered. With a more recent sound take more focused on the highs, such as Coldplay’s Viva La Vida (live), the B&W 703 S2 delivers a slightly shy performance at moderate volume, which prompted us to turn the volume up on the Hegel amplifier. The speaker’s dynamic capacities then came through, and we were able to fully appreciate the balanced sound and the absence of dynamic compression.

We watched Wonder Woman (2017) with a down-mixed Dolby Digital soundtrack on a home theater installation, and the speaker demonstrated a good amount of energy without being too loud during action scenes. The overall sense of integration was excellent.

Conclusion

The B&W 703 S2 speaker knows how to take good care of the listener’s ears as well as of the musical content. No downpour of decibels here, but rather a subtle blend of energy and softness. After a break-in period of about ten hours, the 703 S2 shows its full potential. It should be paired with a hi-fi amplifier offering energetic lows, while home theater receivers will find a prestigious ally in this speaker.

This post is also available in: French

About the author

Tristan Jacquel

Tristan est rédacteur chez Son-Vidéo.com. Passionné de musique, d'acoustique et de high-tech, il réalise notamment les tests matériels pour notre blog.

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