BOWERS & WILKINS 603 SPEAKER SYSTEM
By Michael Trei
MAYBE IT’S because our country is still young, but Americans tend to think of the British as having lots of long-standing traditions. Is that impression still valid? These days, Jaguar Cars is owned by India’s Tata Motors. Mini Cooper, Rolls Royce, and Bentley are owned by German companies. Even Marmite, that most British of toast toppings, is half-owned by the Dutch. Following that trend, it should come as no surprise to learn that a quintessentially British hi-fi company like Bowers & Wilkins is owned by a Silicon Valley, Californiabased startup called EVA Automation. Engineering and design still takes place at the company’s headquarters in Worthing, England, even if most of the actual production now takes place in Asia.
Bowers & Wilkins’ embrace of old-school tradition continues with the company’s current approach to surround sound. In recent years, the market for home theater audio has split in two directions. Dedicated enthusiasts are embracing new expanded multi-speaker technologies like Dolby Atmos, while more casual users gravitate toward simpler one- and two-box solutions like soundbars. At one time, B&W offered a range of specialized surround speakers plus a soundbar called the Panorama, but its more recent surround solutions have been based on more traditional stereo speaker combinations. To expand your surround setup beyond a standard 5.1- or 7.1-channel rig (to create an Atmos setup, for instance), you need to delve into the company’s custom installation lineup, which includes in-wall and in-ceiling speakers.
Further simplifying its offerings, Bowers & Wilkins’ recent revamp
of the entry-level 600 Series has pared the line down to the 603 tower ($1,800/pair), the HTM6 center channel ($599), and the
606 and 607 bookshelf speakers ($800 and $600/pair, respectively) along with three subwoofers that carry over from the previous 600 Series. This situation made picking a review system easy. Sticking with a 5.1 rig, I used a pair of 603 towers for the front left and right channels, an HTM6 in the center channel position, and a pair of 606 bookshelf speakers for surrounds. For subwoofing duty I used the line’s top model: the ASW610XP ($1,200).
Visually, the most striking change from Bowers & Wilkins’ earlier 600 Series speakers is the switch from the company’s iconic yellow Kevlar midrange cones to the silvery Continuum composite material first seen in the flagship 800 Series. Bowers & Wilkins claims this material provides better control over the cone’s breakup modes, resulting in a more transparent and accurate midrange performance. Cabinet finish options have also changed, with smooth matte finish vinyl available in both white and black. (The prior 600 Series came only in a black faux woodgrain vinyl in the U.S., while other finishes were available in some countries. The
The 600 Series uses a refined version of B&W'S Decoupled Double Dome tweeter (see below right).