Review: Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3

Sound more expensive than they are

If you want more bass than compact speakers can provide, but still want it tight, defined and resolved, the Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3 is an obvious choice.

Published 2024-03-04 - 8:00 am
Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3
Geir Nordby

It’s almost impossible to talk about speakers without thinking of Bowers & Wilkins. The British manufacturer is a benchmark against which others measure themselves, almost in every price range, and “every” hi-fi enthusiast has a mate with a pair of B&Ws in their living room.

The manufacturer is also not known for coming up with new products just for the sake of it. We’ve probably never heard a new and updated speaker series that sounds just a little bit different from the previous one. It’s always better. And with that in mind, expectations are set for the latest 603 S3 floorstanding speakers.

Silver-coloured Continuum mids get noticed (Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

When the 600 series was launched in 2018, there wasn’t much left of the old DM600 series with its aluminium tweeter and Kevlar yellow midrange. Instead, they had inherited directly from the newer 700 and 800 series. With a silver-coloured midrange cone in braided Continuum (no, we don’t know what that material is), better and more advanced cabinets – and with a much better tweeter with titanium dome.

I was thrilled with the floorstanding 603 myself when I tested it. With its balanced and sophisticated sound, with a clean soundstage and plenty of detail up top. The only thing I missed was a bit more dynamics and aggressiveness.

I never got to test the 603 S2 Anniversary Edition, but from what I heard about the compact 606 model in the same series, there was even more detail and better focus in the soundstage, and there’s no reason to believe it was any different with the 603.

So how does the new 603 S3 differ from its predecessors?

Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3 system (AI)
(Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby – AI-generated interior)

Lots of new things

Most things are new in the S3. From the cabinets to the drivers and crossovers. The tweeters are now positioned close to the midrange for better phase and a clearer stereo perspective.

The titanium tweeter has a new suspension and a tube on the back that reduces compression and distortion. In the floorstanding 603 S3, this is combined with a new midrange speaker with B&W’s Continuum diaphragm, where the suspension and magnet/coil are taken directly from the 700 S3 series. The capacitors in the crossover and bass ports are also taken from the 700 series. The same goes for the bass unit’s suspension and magnet/coil.

Bowers & Wilkins themselves say that “the new 600 Series is the best we’ve ever made” and that they have improved every aspect of the sound, from the bass to the treble.” Of course, this also applies to the larger 603, which is said to be “more dynamic and more engaging than ever.”

Dual terminals make it possible to bi-wire or bi-amp. (Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

3-way

Like its predecessors, the 603 S3 is a three-way design with two 6.5″ paper fibre cone woofers, a 6.5″ Continuum midrange and a 1″ titanium tweeter on top.

An additional base improves contact with the floor and must be installed if you want to use the included spikes or rubber feet, which have a thread diameter of M6. If you want to avoid the base and place the speakers directly on the floor, use M8 spikes. These must then be purchased separately.

Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3 system
(Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby – background cleared with AI)

Placement

The rear bass port has a golf ball-patterned opening to prevent turbulence, but I still wouldn’t recommend placing the speakers very close to the back wall. Pull them out so that the front is about 1 metre from the back wall. The tweeter should also be no closer than 50-70 cm to each side wall.

The stereo perspective is best with the speakers angled slightly towards each other, but not pointing directly at you.

The sound of the Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3

I’ve been testing a lot of expensive equipment lately, so it’s very reassuring to know that you can also be relatively low-key and still enjoy the music to the fullest. The sound coming out of these speakers connected to a Hegel H190 with music streamed digitally via Roon is a treat for the ears.

The pop song A Little Shy by Marie Noreger has bass rhythms that massage the body if you play it on large speakers with plenty of amplifier power available. The 603 S3 are not particularly large for floorstanding speakers, but they have enough body to bring out the rhythms in a good way. Marie’s voice is also nice and airy, and I like the way the soundstage spreads out.

Also check out Top sound on a budget

Bowers & Wilkins' new 600 Series has been updated where it's most noticeable: the sound.

Our test room is fairly dampened, which many speakers thrive on. But these are a little different. You get a fairly modest dynamic range, and the music could have come further out of the speakers. But that’s just the case in our room.

In an ordinary furnished living room, it’s different. The TV room at home has a much more vibrant ambiance sound, and here many speakers are often too bright and brash. This is where the 603 S3 suddenly blossoms in a way that very few others do. There’s a kind of perfect synergy between the impact of the room and the moderate approach of the speakers. The sound is big and airy, and suddenly the vocals are also very well placed.

Icelandic Björk has plenty of quirky songs in her arsenal. The new Atopos is certainly one of them. Where brass instruments and percussion have been recorded and edited and reassembled into a strange musical creation. But it’s rhythmic and exciting, and the speakers should preferably be without colouration that obscures the details. No worries here. It’s as beautiful as it is exciting to listen to.

B&W - 603 S3 Red Cherry - Lifestyle
(Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

Electronics

While the test room at work sucks up a lot of energy and you need an amplifier that is at least as powerful as the Hegel H190 with its 2 x 150 watts, they can get by with much less in the living room. For example, I have a Lyngdorf TDAI-1120 with 2 x 60 watts, which is enough to bring the speakers to life and get your body moving to Attention by rapper Doja Cat.

I’ve also tested the speakers with the high-end power amplifier Mola Perca (review upcoming), and although it alone costs more than three times as much as a pair of 603 S3s, it shows me that the speakers thrive on resolution and tightness, rather than muscle and bass energy. In other words, they want both. But I probably wouldn’t choose an amplifier with a laid-back or overly rich sound reproduction. Or to put it another way: Rotel or Hegel over Denon, Marantz or Rega. Naim, on the other hand, works brilliantly, although the sound is often perceived as a bit warm, simply because of the fast and physical reproduction.

Competitors

This is the most refined version of the 603 to date. However, if you have one of its predecessors, I would still argue that you can get by without upgrading.

The Dali Oberon 9 has a bigger sound pressure and a bigger soundstage. But they are big and require a much larger room. You also won’t get the same density and precision as the 603 S3. The Sonus faber Lumina III has a warmth and timbre that only Sonus faber can offer, but lacks the focus and tightness of the 603s. The Audiovector QR3 has better midrange dynamics and even more air in the treble, and the PMC Prodigy5 has better deep bass and a bigger soundstage.

On the other hand, if you dream of a pair of B&W 703 S3 but can’t afford them, you’ll get much of the same enjoyment out of the 603 S3. And that’s saying something.

B&W - 603 S3 White Beauty
(Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

Conclusion

The Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3 is for those who want a versatile speaker that suits a wide range of music genres. It delivers a detailed and engaging audio experience with rich bass and clear tones. The stereo image is wide and the speakers handle both subtle details and more powerful parts.

While the speakers may not be expressive enough to be optimal in a very subdued room, they flourish in a room with a slightly more vibrant sound. This makes it much easier to understand why you’ve chosen a more subdued sound signature.

Use an amplifier with fast and dynamic transient response. This is more important than lots of power, although it should have that too.

Karakter
Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3
Premium

We think

Warm yet tight bass. Balanced and good sound that doesn't do anything wrong. We would like a little more dynamism and aggression. It's all a bit soft and "nice".

1 thought on “Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3”

  1. Juraj Vojtisek

    Hi,

    thanks for interesting review of new 603 S3. I think this last generation is a big step forward against one generation backwards.
    I just think, very strong competitor is Focal with new Theva and Vestia lines. And one must mention Triangle Borea BR 08. This will be very exciting comparison test B&W, Focal, Triangle and Dali. PMC is more a choice for “young audiophile” and demands excellent amp. This audiophile group is not a target for B&W in the 600 range. Pls. keep publishing so good reviews. Juraj

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