Review: Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3

Great speaker for the money

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

Published 2024-01-31 - 8:00 am
Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3
Lasse Svendsen

Ever-increasing prices have made many things much more expensive. That’s why it’s extra satisfying to find something that really gives you a lot of bang for your buck. Like Bowers & Wilkins’ new 600 series, which is at the other end of the price scale from the 800 series.

For many, the Bowers & Wilkins 800 series is an unattainable dream. The flagship series is high-end in more than just name, and with ever-increasing costs, even the affordable 700 series has moved up a price range, almost catching up to where the 800 series was just a few years ago.

This makes it tempting to look for great sound in a completely different price range. For those who want Bowers & Wilkins sound, there are great buys in both the 700 and the more affordable 600 series.

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The cabinets are similar, but they, the drivers and crossovers are all new in the S3 generation, which consists of four models in addition to a centre speaker. 600 S3 is available in black, white and oak veneer with a white front and magnetically attached grilles.

The drivers

(Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

The new tweeter is the biggest innovation in the 600 S3 series, and the tweeter is placed right next to the midrange unit, or the midwoofer for the 607 and 606 S3. The idea behind the close placement is better integration with the midrange, which should provide a more defined stereo perspective.

The titanium-coated diaphragm is suspended with a titanium ring, and on the back of the tweeter is a tube that reduces compression and distortion. Not unlike the tube behind the tweeter in an 805 D4.

The capacitors in the crossover and bass ports are familiar from the 700 S3 series. The suspension and magnet/coil system are also from the 700 S3 series.

The compact 606 S3 is the larger of the two bookshelf models, but is technically similar to the smaller 607 S3. Only with a larger cabinet that houses a larger 16.5 cm Continuum midwoofer with the characteristic silver-grey cone.

606 S3 in black on FS-600 S3 stands (Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

Placement

The speaker can be placed on a shelf that is at least 33 cm deep or on a stand. Such as B&W’s own FS-600 S3 stands. Just remember that the speakers have a bass reflex port on the back. Placing the speakers close to the back wall can result in abnormally loud and woolly bass. In this case, you should use the included foam plugs to dampen the ports.

On the bottom, the speakers have screw threads for attaching the speakers to the stands, and on the back there are dual cable terminals.

B&W claims the frequency response to be 52 – 28000 Hz -3 dB, in a typical room, and they can reproduce frequencies down to 33 Hz at -6 dB. The sensitivity is a moderate 88 dB, the impedance is 8 Ohm, and according to B&W it never drops below 3.7 Ohm. This means that the speakers are relatively easy for the amplifier to drive.

Audibly better sound

(Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

It was clear from the first note that the new 606 S3 sounds noticeably better than the models in the previous 600 S2 series. This is especially noticeable in the midrange and treble. The sound is more open, airy and better focussed. The previous generation could sound a bit closed, and it wasn’t exactly bursting with dynamics either.

The new generation is better, also in terms of dynamics, but they’re not as exuberant as a pair of Audiovector QR1s or PMC Prodigy1s. But they do have a warmer and fuller sound. With a fatter bass reproduction that also gives double basses and percussion the necessary depth.

Connected to our trusty Hegel H190, the small speakers created a big and open sound. Lana Del Rey’s Say Yes To Heaven flowed out of the speakers with all kinds of timbres and the vocals sounded full and warm. The rhythmic control of the speakers is exemplary for a speaker of this class – and size.

Compact and engaging music facilitator (Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

The drum solo on the Keith Jarrett trio’s Bemsha Swing from The Cure album, an improvisation on Thelonius Monk’s original, fills the room with a powerful rendition of the bass drum and a sharply focused snare drum. You feel the drums physically, but it never becomes uncomfortable or distorted.

The tonal balance is flatteringly warm and comfortable, but never woolly. The vocals on Sade’s Soldier of Love are rendered with an appealing glow, and the drums at the bottom fill the room with surprisingly potent bass.

The small B&W speakers have enough body and scale to convincingly reproduce an orchestra. The speakers are exceptionally good for acoustic recordings because they don’t mask details and the atmosphere of the recording. Instead, you hear small nuances that help bring the music to life for the listener. This is really good.

Maybe they could have more dynamic contrast, but you can’t have it all.

(Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

Competitors

The selection of compact two-way speakers in this price range is not large. The aforementioned Audiovector QR1 and PMC Prodigy1 are both much more expensive speakers. The same goes for KEF’s excellent LS50 Meta, and in many ways these three are the benchmarks for small two-way speakers under €2,000. The Sonus faber Lumina II comes closest, and they have a nice weightless midrange, but not quite the same bass response as the 606 S3.

(Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

Conclusion

In this price range, the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 is a standout. It plays music with a quality that is rare in this class and can easily challenge more expensive speakers in the compact class. Apart from the lack of dynamic range, it has clear qualities as an all-round music communicator, and if you avoid connecting it to the weakest amplifiers, you can get a lot of use out of the small B&W speakers. A great buy and well worth the money.

Karakter
Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3
Basic

We think

Big, open and rich soundstage. Engaging music reproduction at a very favourable price. Limited dynamic contrast. Requires a powerful amplifier to perform at its best.

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