Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature Speaker Review

Signed, sealed, delivered

by Ed Selley
SRP: £2,699.00

Introduction - what is the 705 Signature? 

The Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature is an improved and cosmetically enhanced version of the existing 705 standmount that continues on sale alongside the Signature. Like the 702 Signature we looked at recently, the 705 Signature is viewed as part of its own family rather than an addition to the 700 Series. This pairing (no Signature centre speaker, sorry AV fans) acts as a useful bridge between the 700 and the 800 Series. Some of the truly space age technology is missing but the feel of the Signatures is rather closer to the ‘big stuff.’

Of course, this is more than a bridging exercise. The c£2,500 price point is a busy one for standmounts and it includes such luminaries at the Dynaudio Special Forty, still one of the finest speakers I’ve ever tested for AVForums and now tweaked and apparently further improved. If a spot of Signature treatment allows Bowers to participate at the price point, so much the better. Of course, this means keeping a purpose built, sonic masterpiece honest with a lightly warmed up version of a speaker that’s been on sale for some years now. Can Bowers & Wilkins perform the greatest act of make do & mend since the A-Team? Let’s cue the music and find out.

Specification and Design 

Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature
The basic lines are unchanged from the normal 705

Much of the nitty gritty that makes up the process of creating a 700 Series Signature has been covered off at length in the 702 Signature review so I will refrain from going into the same level of detail. The 705 is the largest of three standmounts in the 700 Series range and the only one that has the Tweeter on Top technology (in the same manner that the 702 is the only floorstander in the range to do so). This solid enclosure is designed to give an inert space for the tweeter to operate and it is a simplified version of the same approach in the 800 Series. The most consistently peculiar aspect of this is that the housings themselves are partially decoupled from the cabinets. This means that they exhibit considerable flex when removed from the box and, unless you happen to know that this is what Bowers & Wilkins was shooting for, it feels unavoidably odd.

The tweeter itself is mechanically unchanged from the one used in the 705 S2. It is a carbon covered metal dome unit that trickles down technology from the formed diamond of the 800 Series. The thinking behind carbon is the pursuit of stiffness over reductions in mass (although this dome is hardly what you’d call weighty). Bowers has long taken the view that this is more of a priority than the bare minimum of mass. It is joined by a 165mm mid bass driver that is made from the same ‘Continuum’ woven material as is used across the range now. Given the proprietary nature of these drivers, it should not be too surprising to see them used in an unchanged form here.

The mechanical difference between the Signature and its normal relative is the crossover. This gets uprated components and the same larger heatsink as the 702. This doesn’t sound that dramatic but crossovers matter and it’s an area where speakers can become great or lose the plot entirely. The simpler crossover of the 705 means that there is less to be changed; it lacks the complete low pass section of the 702 but there should still be improvements to be gained from the process.

Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature
Viewed from any angle, the tweeter is a curious device

Like the 705 S2, the Signature is rear ported and this has the same dimpled port as the rest of the Bowers line up that helps to control the movement of air through the port. A pair of foam bungs are supplied and these are of the two piece type that allows you to adjust the flow rate more extensively than in/out. The quoted figures are exactly the same as the normal 705 S2 although these are in themselves pretty respectable. Low end roll off is given as 50Hz at the more demanding +/- 6dB measurement and the quoted sensitivity of 88dB/w and 8 ohm impedance (albeit with a fairly severe 3.7 ohm minimum) means that the Bowers is not a tricky speaker to drive.

No less importantly, all the cosmetic upgrades are present and correct too. This means you get the same Datuk gloss ebony as the larger model. This is partnered with a brighter trim ring and grill that completes the effect. Much as I like the 702 Signature, I think that the process of ‘signification’ has worked better on the smaller speaker. The smaller cabinet of the 705 looks brilliant in the Datuk gloss and the effect is less dominating to look at. Best results would almost certainly be achieved by using the bespoke stand that works on both 705 models (and which the Signature retains the mounting bolts for on the underside to attach to this stand) but it looks pretty good parked on anything.

It’s very well made too. The wood veneering and the supporting lacquer are immaculate and everything feels assembled to a standard in keeping with the price, if not more. Like its bigger brother, the 705 Signature feels special; a cut above something churned out by the thousand (although, I’m sure it is). It’s a trick that Bowers & Wilkins excels at. The smaller nature of the 705’s cabinet, and with it the smaller boxes, means that some of the techniques available to Bowers & Wilkins on the 702 Signature to reinforce the wisdom of your purchasing decision are not really as easy to apply here but neither will you have undergone the levels of physical exertion getting them out of the box to need as much reassurance about their outlay.

Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature
The wood finish is genuinely lovely
 

Much as I like the 702 Signature, I think that the process of ‘signification’ has worked better on the smaller speaker

How was the 705 Signature tested?

The 705s arrived run in and therefore went straight into use on the end of a Cambridge Audio Edge A powered from an IsoTek Evo3 Sigmas, connected via USB to a Roon Nucleus and a Rega Planar 10 turntable connected to an AVID Pellar Phono stage. It also did a short stint running off a Naim Supernait 3 and ND5 XS while another speaker passed through. Material used has been FLAC, AIFF, DSD, Tidal, Qobuz and some vinyl.

More: Audio Formats

Performance

Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature
Biwiring is supported if you want

Let’s start this section with a flashback to the 702 Signature review where - in this same section of the review - I said;

In the dim and distant past, my personal views toward Bowers & Wilkins speakers (or ‘B&W’ as they were at that point) was pretty straightforward. The fewer the drivers, the better the sound, which meant that I loved their two way standmounts (and still regard the 805D3 as a masterpiece) but the enthusiasm began to wane as the floorstanders became larger.

The good news is that the work that Bowers has done in recent years has improved this considerably and the 702 Signature is a particularly fine example of the breed. It also means that when I unboxed the 705 Signature, which sports two drivers per cabinet and that, even in ‘normal’ form I greatly enjoy, there was a frisson that these might be something a bit special.

Let’s kick off with some basic numbers though. In keeping with a few speakers I’ve tested lately, even when 50 centimetres out into the room, the 705 Signature comfortably exceeds its quoted low end roll off. It doesn’t dip below the +/- 3dB roll off in this room until 38Hz and, because I don’t need to run it with the port bungs unlike the 702 Signature, the difference between these two drastically difference cabinets isn’t quite as significant as you might assume. It tends to strengthen my long held belief that the average UK lounge is best served by a standmount rather than a floorstander.

The standard Bowers and Wilkins technical virtues apply too. This is a superbly accurate and convincing sounding speaker. Returning to some of the older ends of my high res collection, the 24/96 version of Craig Armstrong’s Strange Kind of Love is laced with detail and ‘pluck it out of the air’ realism. Everything I’ve played on the 705 Signature has been unfailingly believable. Some of this is down to an underrated ability to come across as free of embellishment and the sort of attention grabbing flourish that really only comes from - in one form or another - messing about with the accuracy of what you’re hearing.

Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature
The two piece bungs are genuinely useful

Adding to this capability is a consistent and effortless stereo image. The 705 Signature never completely vanishes in the manner that some speakers can but they’re a consistently innocuous presence in a soundstage that extends beyond the speakers and still never suffers from any perceived hole in the middle. They also have an exceptional ability to grow and shrink this soundstage to suit what is being played. This latter ability is something that the 705 Signature does so naturally, you really only notice it when you listen to something else in its stead.

The thing is though that where the 705 Signature truly shines is that it builds on a virtue that the 705 S2 has and that - while present on its big brother - is truly delivered here. This speaker is fun,  it’s a fast on its feet, head nodding, air punching, ‘yeah, let’s listen to that again’ device that takes something that was already pretty entertaining and makes it even better. Listening to Hybrid’s Empire, which builds with the standard cinematic frenzy that Hybrid delivers so effortlessly, by the time that second drum run hits, you’re captivated by it. That aforementioned low end shove is delivered without a hint of overhang and it makes it one of the most genuinely ballistic Bowers products I can remember testing.

Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature
The veneer is book matched


Key to what’s going on here is that crossover. It takes what was already a very solid relationship between the two drivers in the 705 S2 and renders it seamless. It’s a hard thing to convey in words because as far as the supporting numbers are concerned, nothing has changed. In reality though, it's quicker, more seamless and more effortlessly together. Neither is this the preserve of heavy hitting electronica either. The frenetic 2:20 of Kings of Leon’s Pistol of Fire passes in a flurry of crunching guitars, stinging cymbals and snarled vocals. It’s an unfailingly accurate representation of the track but more (so much more) that this, it’s got all the emotional content too.  

Impressively, none of this has been bought at the expense of all the other things that the 705 S2 does so well. It would never be my choice for a lifetime of low bitrate internet radio but it’s pretty forgiving for a speaker that can resolve like it does. It never forces slower and more considered material - that same seamless behaviour between drivers is no less useful there too. Pretty much the only accusation I can level at it is that I don’t think it will flatter poor electronics but this is something that very few Bowers & Wilkins speakers do, so there should be no real surprise there. What it doesn’t need is an amp of the sort of power you can weld with. It would never be my choice for a low output valve system but 40-50 good quality watts are going to do better here than 100 poor ones.

Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature

 

This speaker is fun - it’s a fast on its feet, head nodding, air punching, ‘yeah, let’s listen to that again’ device that takes something that was already pretty entertaining and makes it even better

Verdict

Pros

  • A near perfect balance of realism and fun
  • Look great
  • Beautifully made

Cons

  • Nothing of note

Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature Speaker Review

I am glad that I’ve seen the Signatures in the order that I have because it gives a degree of context to both. The process that both speakers have been through is entirely beneficial and it is - as far as I am concerned - worth the extra outlay when the looks and performance are taken into account. The 702 Signature is a very, very good speaker that offers exceptional performance.

The 705 Signature however is a truly great speaker. It takes the solid underpinnings of the 705 S2 and turns it into something that is more than the sum of its parts. There is a sense of joy to everything you play on it that is utterly captivating and can be enjoyed without any feeling you are compromising on the reality of what you’re listening to. I haven’t listened to the latest version of the Special Forty so there is the possibility of an intriguing fight at some point in the future but for the moment, this superlative speaker has to be seen as the Best in Class.

Best In Class

Scores

Build Quality

10

Connectivity

.
.
8

Sound Quality

10

Ease of Use

.
9

Features

.
9

Value for Money

.
9

Verdict

10
10
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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