Bowers & Wilkins 705S2 Speaker Review
It’s a technological tour du force but there’s joy here too.
What is the Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2?The Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 is a two way standmount speaker and the largest standmount in the new 700 S2 range. At first glance, this might not be the most ‘new’ looking Bowers & Wilkins speaker that has appeared in recent years. The 705 S2 is partially (visually at least) related to the preceding CM6 S2 which itself was part of the wider CM Series of speakers. There is however more going on here than a midlife refresh. A lot more.
First up, in the time since the CM Series has appeared, Bowers & Wilkins has launched the 800 Series. This is a big deal for the company because they represent a significant move from materials that we indelibly associated with the company. The 700s are the first other members of the family to make this transition. The reactivating of the 700 Series name is also significant. The original range was both popular and successful. It also made use of plenty of 800 Series technology so the parallels are clear this time around.
There is also the rather inescapable fact that the 800 Series is a bit on the pricey side. The technologies in them work extremely well but with the budget available, this is not entirely surprising. The 705 S2 represents a chance to experience how this design thinking works at a rather more terrestrial price point. I’m not going to pretend that £1,700 is ‘lose down the back of the sofa’ money but it’s a more attainable figure than the £4,500 required to secure a pair of 805 D3s. So, just how close to the reference does the 705 S2 get?
SpecificationsThe biggest ‘deal’ in the 705 S2 is staring you in the face when you sit down in front of them. Gone is the vivid yellow Kevlar that we associate from Bowers & Wilkins for as long as I have been alive and in its place comes a ‘Continuum’ cone. The exact materials that go into this are a trade secret but Bowers & Wilkins is welling to tell us a few noteworthy details. The first is that the cone was eight years in development – a truly extraordinary time to spend researching any material and one that has few parallels anywhere else in acoustics. The second is that part of this is down to the desire to retain everything that Bowers & Wilkins likes about Kevlar (and it likes a great deal having used it for 40 years) while attending to the perceived issues.
As such, the Continuum cone is still a weave. It is still light and strong and it still finished with a central dustcap. The new material comes into its own at very high frequencies where it avoids breakup and other aberrant behaviour better than Kevlar. This might sound slightly irrelevant – who cares what a driver is doing outside of the audible spectrum? – but there is a reasoning behind it. This behaviour at very high frequencies has an effect on the cone’s performance at lower levels as that movement that has been induced is still present. As digital material in particular is sometimes being released without output at these frequencies, this behaviour now matters.
The cone is not the only new area either. In the floorstanding models there is a chassis that has been developed using Finite Element Analysis and is designed to offer far greater rigidity than before. In the specific case of the 705 where the main driver also serves as the bass unit, this is done differently and there is a decoupling arrangement employed that is also seen on more expensive models. This is combined with some standard Bowers & Wilkins niceties in the form of the dimpled port – now made from a more flexible material. The 705 S2 also retains the ability to biwire via twin terminal inputs.
The tweeter is also something that borrows from the parts kit of the 800s. The ‘tweeter on top’ idea has been present in Bowers & Wilkins speakers for some time and it continues here in the larger members of the 700 Series. The tweeter itself is not the exotic (and expensive, don’t forget expensive) diamond dome of the 800 Series. Instead, Bowers & Wilkins has used a carbon covered metal dome that is placed in its own housing. This serves two purposes. The first is that the tweeter itself is completely decoupled from the main body of the speaker and the effects that it might have on it (and the smaller members use a less elaborate method of decoupling). The second is that the enclosure itself can be used to create the optimal shape for the rear enclosure, overall volume and the form of the tweeter. While this arrangement was also in use on the preceding CM6 S2, the 705 S2 uses a housing made from a solid billet of aluminium to help the overall inertness of the enclosure.
The cabinet itself is also visually in keeping with the CM Series and when you peer under the skin, it is also very similar. Given that this cabinet was the principal advancement of the CM range, it isn’t too surprising to find it in use here. The cabinet is a stiff, MDF assembly with internal bracing (although not the ‘matrix’ style arrangement used in the 800 Series). The result feels study and very well damped. The use of flat sides and fairly sharp corners winds up looking rather contemporary too.
DesignAs one of the audio companies that has mastered ‘visual identity’ – the idea that it should be apparent who makes something without any form of visible branding – it should not be too surprising to see that the 705 is very clearly a Bowers & Wilkins product. The change in the colour of the driver hasn’t broken this visual identity of the product. This is partly down to the shape being a fairly familiar one – the CM6 was after all, around for some time before this one – but also down to careful use of other themes.
The result is a handsome speaker. The tweeter ‘pod’ will divide opinion slightly but the standard to which it has been executed is of a uniformly high standard and this makes all the difference. The proportions are elegant and attractive and this is helped by the finish options. The 705 S2 is available in the black seen here, a gloss white and a rosenut veneer. They are all clean, modern and appealing finishes and help the 705 S2 sit in most environments quite happily. This is further helped by the optional stand. This really sits off the basic proportions of the speaker very well and securely couples it to the stand via bolts. At £400, they aren’t cheap but the end result is visually and sonically effective.
Perhaps most importantly, the 705 S2 feels worth the asking price. Like KEF’s R Series it is finished to an extremely high standard with an excellent level of finish and a real sense of precision engineering having been applied at all points. Some people will prefer the slightly more ‘artisan’ nature of speakers from some smaller companies but there is a confidence to the execution and design of the 705 S2 that is extremely appealing.
The 705 S2 represents a chance to experience how this design thinking work at a rather more terrestrial price point
How was the 705 S2 tested?The 705 S2 was delivered and installed by Bowers & Wilkins and placed on a pair of dedicated stands- although it has also been tested on my resident Soundstyle units too. Partnering equipment has comprised a Naim Supernait 2 integrated amp with Naim ND5 XS streamer with XP5 XS external power supply. Some additional testing has taken place via Roksan Xerxes 20 Plus and Michell Gyrodec turntables via a Roksan VSC phono stage and PSU and Cyrus Phono signature phono stages. Test material has included lossless and high res FLAC, some DSD and Tidal as well as vinyl.
Sound QualityThe original 700 Series divided opinion a little – it was an exceptionally refined and detailed speaker that had plenty of low end grunt too. I used a pair of original 705s for a number of years and consistently enjoyed their performance. They weren’t perfect though. They frequently tended towards being a little matter of fact and when the music in question was demanding a measure of excitement, they didn’t always deliver.
Fast forward to 2017 and things are a little different. Importantly, everything I liked about the 705 S2’s ancestor is still here in spades. Listening to the 24/44.1kHz download of Dead Can Dance’s Anastis, this is still a hugely spacious and assured speaker. The vast presentation of Children of the Sun is beautifully captured and before you are much more than 90 seconds in, you are dialled into the scale and presentational delivery of the speaker. This is notable for a few reasons. The bass response remains excellent for a standmount but in the 705 S2 it is better integrated with the midrange and there is a control and – for want of a better word – taughtness, that lends the 705 S2 a sense of immediacy that is appreciated almost regardless of the material you play on it.
The work that has gone into the mystery composition of the Continuum cone pays dividends too. The Kevlar drivers of old imparted a very definite character to the performance – and not necessarily an adverse one either as Bowers & Wilkins sold a great many speakers in that time – and listening to a simple, high quality recording like Fink’s Sunday Night Blues Club reveals that this new cone is pretty much able to deliver what the signal path is sending it- that is to say, the potent, slightly dark tonality of the Naim is well handled and delivered without any significant alteration. This does mean that the Bowers & Wilkins isn’t going to work terribly well with soft or dull electronics but equally, it is extremely hard to provoke.
It is also worth noting that the dedicated stand is well worth securing if you have the budget. As previously pointed out, it looks the part but the bass response of the 705 S2 anchored to it is better controlled and more detailed than it is when secured with blutack to the – considerably cheaper – Soundstyle. The 705 S2 has clearly been carefully designed with this in mind. Adding the stands will take the price over £2,000 but on balance, it is almost certainly worth it. The footprint of the stand is rather large though and this does add to the impression that this is a speaker that needs plenty of room to do its best work. There are foam bungs for closer wall placement but this does rob the bass of some of its impact and detail.
Where the 705 S2 moves on from its predecessors is that as well as this supreme capability, there is a simple and palpable sense of joy to the way it makes music. Listening to the Tidal stream of Primal Scream’s Kill all Hippies, where you might once have had an accurate but rather matter of fact take on the track, the 705 S2 gives you all its snarling, maxed out brilliance. There hasn’t been a bassline or time signature that this speaker hasn’t simply taken and made immediately compelling. In some ways, dare I say it, this is a more entertaining speaker than the supremely capable 805 D3. There have been times where I’ve simply dialled out of the electronics and focussed on the music and surely that is the point.
Where the 705 S2 moves on from its predecessors is that as well as this supreme capability, there is a simple and palpable sense of joy to the way it makes music
- Outstanding sonic performance
- Beautifully made
- Handsome appearance
- Fairly demanding of partnering equipment
- Stand is a little expensive
Bowers & Wilkins 705S2 Speaker ReviewBowers & Wilkins is not an especially prolific company. Very little gets updated for the sake of it and the CM Series that the 700 Series replaces were still more than holding their own. Having spent some time with them, the reason why the 705 S2 exists are clear. This does everything that we might reasonably expect a Bowers & Wilkins speaker to do but incrementally improves the details where they were already strong. It then adds a useful extra helping of fun. ‘Fun’ isn’t a measurable quotient – outside of drinks anyway – but this speaker delivers on emotional engagement while ticking all the relevant performance aspects. You can buy bigger and more impressive looking speakers than this one at the price but you’ll struggle to find much if anything which has the simple all round ability of this one. For this reason, the Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 earns a Best Buy.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,799.99
Ease of Use9
Value for Money8
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