“De­liver things small speak­ers usu­ally don’t”

Au­thor­i­ta­tive pre­sen­ta­tion; pow­er­ful bass; solid en­gi­neer­ing Sound lacks dy­namic sub­tlety and rhyth­mic dex­ter­ity

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - First Tests -

Small speak­ers have in­nate lim­i­ta­tions; the Laws Of Physics see to that. But these new Bow­ers & Wilkins com­pacts prove that, with enough en­gi­neer­ing knowhow, those laws can be bent to pro­duce sur­pris­ing re­sults. Meet the 707 S2s – the small speak­ers that go loud and dig deep.

Stand­ing just 28cm tall, these boxes are the ba­bies of the com­pany’s new 700 se­ries. The range sits in a rather un­com­fort­able place be­tween the over-achiev­ing en­try-level 600s and the high-end jug­ger­naut that is the di­a­mond-tweet­ered 800s. But un­like pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions, these new 700s are am­bi­tiously de­signed to of­fer a good slice of the per­for­mance and tech­nol­ogy of their high-end rel­a­tives.

For £800, you get a beau­ti­fully made box in one of three fin­ishes; the gloss black of our re­view sam­ple, a satin white, or a nice rosenut wood op­tion. Which­ever fin­ish you choose, the re­sult is a classy pair of speak­ers that – to our eyes at least – look as good as the best of their ri­vals.

Flex­ing its mus­cles

The cabi­net feels im­pres­sively solid and is fin­ished with crisp edges and classy de­tail­ing. Look around the back and you’ll find some sturdy multi-way bind­ing posts – bi­wiring is an op­tion – and the com­pany’s dis­tinc­tive dim­pled re­flex port. The flared, dim­pled de­sign is aimed at re­duc­ing un­wanted noise as air moves in the port tube when the speak­ers are play­ing loudly.

It’s around the front where B&W has flexed its mighty en­gi­neer­ing mus­cles. The com­pany has long pro­moted alu­minium tweet­ers, and has worked hard at im­prov­ing their per­for­mance. Over the years, its en­gi­neers have added re­in­force­ment and honed the dome shape to ex­tend the fre­quency re­sponse.

The 707’s tweeter takes a no­table step for­ward by coat­ing the 30-mi­cron thick alu­minium dome with a thin layer of car­bon and fur­ther re­in­forc­ing the dome with a car­bon ring. The re­sult is a more rigid, bet­ter-damped di­aphragm that should pro­duce cleaner, less dis­torted highs. The new tweeter has greater reach too, with the first break-up mode at 47khz (rather than the 38khz of the stan­dard alu­minium dome). Of course, the mo­tor sys­tem has also been mod­i­fied to get the best out of this new dome.

Con­trolled break-ups

The 13cm mid/bass unit is just as clever. We first saw the use of Con­tin­uum as a driver ma­te­rial in the high-end 800 se­ries, and here it has trick­led down to the more af­ford­able end of the com­pany’s prod­ucts. The new ma­te­rial is some­thing that car­ries on from where Kevlar left off, rather than a move in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion (the clue's in the name). The aim is still to pro­duce a well-damped, suit­ably rigid cone that break-ups in a con­trolled man­ner. Con­tin­uum just does it bet­ter than Kevlar.

The FS 700 S2 stands match the speak­ers well. They’re in­tended for use with all three of the 700 range’s stand­moun­ters and are avail­able in both black and sil­ver fin­ishes. These sup­ports are well thought out, with pro­vi­sion for mass load­ing (rec­om­mended) and ca­ble man­age­ment. They use me­tal for the top plate and col­umn, leav­ing MDF for the large base plate.

We like that the speak­ers can be bolted onto the stands – it feels a more pre­cise (not to men­tion se­cure) way to mount speak­ers than Blu-tack or up­ward fac­ing spikes. As usual, make sure the floor spikes are tight and the stands level. The price is a rather hefty £400, but hav­ing tried nu­mer­ous al­ter­na­tives, we find they pro­duce the best-bal­anced re­sult.

Hit­ting the wall

The 707 S2s may be small speak­ers but don’t ex­pect to get the best re­sults by plac­ing them right up against a rear wall, on a shelf or desk, or in the cor­ner of a room. B&W sup­plies a two-stage port bung that helps to tune the lows for less than op­ti­mal place­ment, but the re­sults are never as con­vinc­ing as when the speak­ers are placed at least 50cm from the rear wall on their ded­i­cated stands.

You shouldn’t take short­cuts with part­ner­ing kit. It’s not just down to elec­tri­cal match­ing ei­ther, with the 707 S2s prov­ing trans­par­ent to source and sys­tem changes. The rather low claimed sen­si­tiv­ity of 84db/w/m and min­i­mum im­ped­ance of 4ohms (with a nom­i­nal of 8ohms) sug­gests a mus­cu­lar am­pli­fier is prefer­able. We get good re­sults with Rega’s Elex-r, while adding more power (not to men­tion qual­ity) in the form of our ref­er­ence Gamut D3i/d200i pre/power makes things no­tably bet­ter, as it should.

Once up and run­ning there is so much to ad­mire here. The 707 S2’s strengths are as ob­vi­ous as they are sur­pris­ing for such a com­pact de­sign. They sound as­ton­ish­ingly au­thor­i­ta­tive, with a solid, com­posed pre­sen­ta­tion that ren­ders bass with plenty of punch and power.

We start off with Hans Zim­mer’s In­ter­stel­lar OST – hardly some­thing smaller speak­ers tend to ex­cel at – and the 707 S2s re­spond with en­thu­si­asm. They de­liver a full-bod­ied and re­fined sound that brims with de­tail. They stay in con­trol even when the mu­sic gets de­mand­ing, keep­ing a firm grip on in­stru­men­tal strands with­out los­ing co­he­sion. Low notes are de­liv­ered with plenty of heft yet never threaten to dom­i­nate the pro­ceed­ings.

These speak­ers can play loudly too. In fact, they seem to pre­fer higher vol­umes, sound­ing more bal­anced when used that way. This is some­thing to con­sider if you tend to lis­ten at lower lev­els. In most small to medium-sized rooms, we think these stand­moun­ters will go as loud as most peo­ple could want. That’s say­ing some­thing for a small 28cm tall box with a 13cm mid/bass unit.

Cut­ting loose

Stereo imag­ing is pre­cise and sta­ble, though the sound­stag­ing isn’t quite as ex­pan­sive as the likes of KEF’S cheaper Q350s man­age – there isn’t quite the same sense of space be­tween the in­stru­ments ei­ther. Over­all the stereo imag­ing re­mains good though, point­ing to well matched drive units and a care­fully de­signed cross­over net­work.

We move onto Nina Si­mone’s My Baby Just Cares For Me and the B&WS are trans­par­ent enough to show up the age of the record­ing and the more ba­sic pro­duc­tion. They also ren­der Si­mone’s dis­tinc­tive vo­cal with con­fi­dence and power. It cuts through the mu­si­cal back­drop and dom­i­nates just as it should.

It’s not all good news though. We no­tice a slight lack of sparkle in the sound. Si­mone’s voice doesn’t quite have its usual pas­sion thanks to the B&W’S in­abil­ity to de­liver sub­tle nu­ances when it comes to dy­nam­ics and tim­ing, and the same ap­plies to its han­dling of the song’s jaunty pi­ano. It’s as though the speak­ers are try­ing so hard to stay in con­trol that they can’t quite let all of the song’s sense of fun come through.

That im­pres­sion is re­in­forced by Ge­orge Michael’s Fast Love, where the 707s can’t re­pro­duce that un­du­lat­ing bassline with the agility and drive it de­serves. It dis­rupts the song’s rhyth­mic flow, lead­ing to a drop in the en­joy­ment fac­tor. It seems the price of all that im­pres­sive au­thor­ity and power is a slightly mus­cle-bound ap­proach that com­pro­mises on agility, tim­ing and dy­namic sub­tlety to vary­ing de­grees.

Make no mis­take. The 707 S2s are deeply im­pres­sive in the way they de­liver things that small speak­ers nor­mally just don’t. We haven’t heard a sim­i­larly sized speaker sound so com­mand­ing or able to re­tain com­po­sure when deal­ing with heavy basslines and high vol­umes. But given a com­plex rhythm, these speak­ers are more likely to stand on the side nod­ding their head than cut loose, Tra­volta style. For some the com­pro­mises won’t mat­ter, as the 707’s strengths are so im­pres­sive. But for us, we'd like a bit more in the way of fun.

The 707 S2s are im­pres­sive in many ways, from build to sonic au­thor­ity

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