“Deliver things small speakers usually don’t”
Authoritative presentation; powerful bass; solid engineering Sound lacks dynamic subtlety and rhythmic dexterity
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.
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.
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