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September 2014
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Enjoy the Music.com's Top 20 Best Gear Of 2014
Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) 683 S2 Floorstanding Speakers
For present and future audiophiles.
Review By Rick Jensen

 

Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) 683 S2 Floorstanding Speaker  It had been quite some time since I had reviewed a speaker that stood squarely in perhaps the most competitive segment of the high-end market, and the segment most challenging for the manufacturer – let’s call it "under $2000". It’s the space that comes to mind whenever friends who are really interested in music and audio, but not yet part of the lunatic fringe, ask me for recommendations. Depending on the friend and the space, either a nice small box or a slim floorstander are good places to start.

Intrigued when I saw the announcement of the update to the largest speaker in B&W’s 600 series, I was fortunate to be able to get an early sample of the 683 S2s for review. To jump ahead just a little, it turned out to be a rewarding experience.

 

Setup
The 683 S2s arrived in two pretty standard but well-constructed boxes that admirably protect the speakers during shipping and yet are very easy to open. (It’s often a challenge to get large-ish speakers out of the boxes without doing damage to them, or you.) They stand on a plinth for stability and come with spikes for decoupling from the floor; the manual clearly describes how best to get them solidly on their feet. An interesting and frugal note: B&W says "If there is no carpet and you wish to avoid scratching the floor surface, use either a protective metal disc (a coin perhaps) between the spike and the floor, or use the supplied rubber feet." Kudos to B&W: anyone should be able to come up with a coin, and experienced audiophiles, of course, can choose the best-sounding discs they can afford.

The 683 S2s were finished in a black ash veneer that, along with the fine fit and finish of the drivers and the front baffle; seem much more expensive than their modest price of $1650 a pair. They have the tall, narrow profile of many floorstanding speakers: with spikes and plinth they are about 42" high, only 7.5" wide and 14.3" deep. The dimensions as well make for an attractive pair of speakers that in my opinion (one shared by my wife) aren’t overly intrusive and fit well into a room, even one of modest size. My room is about 18' x 20', so there was no problem there.

Where I did have a challenge initially was in finding the right position for the 683 S2s. Let me say up front that this was my own doing. I started as I usually do and placed them where other speakers have worked well, intending to adjust from there. I placed them about three feet off the back wall, roughly the same off the side wall, and seven feet apart, toed in about half the angle from straight ahead to my listening position. I sat down ready to enjoy. But for the first several days, while they sounded excellent in general, I couldn’t get away from perceiving a nasal quality to the upper midrange. So I played a little with what normally might work, and tried different styles of music, and couldn’t "fix" it.

John Nicoll, B&W’s public relations representative, put me in touch with Eric McBride of B&W, who convinced me to be more bold in moving them around the room and in experimenting with the toe-in. In short order, I wound up with the speakers 1 ½ feet wider apart and firing almost straight ahead (i.e. not pointing toward me), maybe angled in 5-10 degrees. The sound (about which more later) opened up and the ‘nasality’ – let me be clear, not a characteristic of the speakers – disappeared. So, the lesson here is don’t be shy, and don’t be a prisoner of your own experience or notion of what is right. It may also be that the 683 S2s benefited from some break-in. I am normally very wary of ascribing changes in sound to break-in, as I cannot tell what part of an evolving perception is me, and what is it. But this time, I think they really did sound even better over a few weeks, and longer.

 

Design
Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) 683 S2 Floorstanding SpeakersThe 683 S2s are a three-way design, with two 6.5" aluminum cone bass drivers, a 6" Kevlar midrange, and a 1" aluminum dome tweeter. The tweeter is common to all the 600 series. It is mechanically decoupled from the cabinet, which was and is the idea used in B&W’s classic Nautilus designs with the tweeter on top, but now done in a baffle-mounted driver via a gel that allows the magnet to float, so to speak. The tweeter also uses a second aluminum outer ring whose goal is to minimize the breakup mode of the unit. The Kevlar midrange unit is continued from the earlier 600 series, though it originated in the high-end 800 series. The new bass driver also uses a second outer aluminum ring for additional rigidity without weight and resonance problems, as well as a new dust cap that pushes break-up above the crossover frequency. The specified efficiency is 89dB/W/m at 8 Ohms. In the real world, the 683 S2s are very efficient. B&W recommends at least a 25 watt amplifier; while my Music Reference is more powerful than that, I just never had to turn it up far to fill the room with music.

 

Listening
The 683 S2s convey an immediate impression of impact and speed. I thought initially that the texture of the sound, overall, was on the lighter side of medium. Listening to McCoy Tyner on "Home", from the Chesky LP of New York Reunion, I found the piano had a clear, percussive character that gave the piece its drive and rhythm. The midrange and upper midrange tones jumped out, perhaps contributing to the feeling of lightness, but the entire spectrum was balanced. The 683 S2s did not have the weight of my reference Ars Aures Midi Sensorials, but the latter (at $20,000/pr) tend to some extra weight. Nor were they as silky smooth as the Midis. But the 683 S2s were smoother and more detailed in the middle ranges than my older Vienna Mozarts, and sparkled on some of Tyner's quick runs.

Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) 683 S2 Floorstanding SpeakersSo, testing the weight and solidity, I played Fleetwood Mac's "Love That Burns" Mr. Wonderful [Simply Vinyl reissue], with a slow, brooding pace and searing Peter Green blues guitar. The 683 S2s were tonally very balanced from top to bottom, with very adequate articulation of the gradations in the guitar notes. They do not romanticize the music but rather give a clear and detailed picture of it.

I should note the soundscape presented by the 683 S2s is wide, extending at least to the outside edges of the speakers. The depth of the stage extends from the front baffle rearward, and is quite impressive. Overall, a fine presentation in both dimensions. The 683 S2s are said to have horizontal dispersion of 60º (within 2dB) and, having taken the time to get the positioning right, I felt as though the listening window was pretty wide; there were several very good seats, so to speak. Vertical dispersion was just fine as well. Larger-scale orchestral works, a tough test for many speakers, suited the 683 S2s well. Just one example – for Elgar's Symphony #1 and Pomp & Circumstance by the Philharmonia Orchestra / Sinopoli [DG CD 431 663-2] I noted "great, natural balance, harmonically right". While the space was not the airiest I have ever heard, the B&Ws handled the complex passages very nicely. While I enjoyed dozens of familiar recordings via the 683 S2s, perhaps my favorite was La Fille Mal Gardeé [Decca LP SXL 2313]. This audiophile classic plays to all the strengths of the B&Ws – it demands articulation, harmonic accuracy, and speed, and is enhanced by a great spatial presentation. My highly technical expert listening notes: "Wow. Nice."

 

Final Impressions
Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) 683 S2 Floorstanding SpeakersB&W describes the 683 S2s as delivering "serious performance and amazing value". That neatly states their goal. Without trying to be all things to all people, the 683 S2s admirably reach for both those objectives. They do perform well beyond what even jaded audiophiles might expect from a good speaker. They get most of the music really right and they don’t do many things wrong. Versatile is a good word to describe the 683 S2s. Scott Rundle, B&W’s Director of Marketing, put it another way: "they’re not too big, not too pricey, but big for the money." That’s actually pretty modest from a marketing guy but it is spot on – they are great value for the money. The 683 S2s seem to really love well-recorded unamplified music, and reproduce it both truthfully and musically, and have the speed and impact for hard rock and electronica. They slot nicely into a segment of the market where it is good to be versatile and better to be very good – great for home theater or analog stereo, great for rock or classical, suitable for a small space but able to fill a large one.

They benefit from the technology and research that has made B&W one of the most successful firms in high-end audio for decades. They look good, too. The 683 S2s should be on the very short list for anyone seeking speakers under $2000. They will reward you with fine music, whether you are an old hand or new to high fidelity audio.

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear  
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Three-way vented-box floorstanding loudspeaker
Drive Units
  1" aluminum dome high-frequency
  6" woven Kevlar cone FST midrange
  6.5" aluminum cone bass, two quantity
Frequency Response: 52 Hz to 22 kHz (±3dB on reference axis)
Dispersion: Within 2dB of reference response
Horizontal: Over 60º arc
Vertical: Over 10º arc
Sensitivity: 89dB/W/m at 8 Ohms
Crossover Frequencies: 400Hz and 4kHz
Dimensions: 38.8" x7.5" x 14.3" (HxWxD)
Weight: 59.7 lbs.
Price: $1650 per pair

 

Company Information
Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) Group North America
54 Concord Street 
North Reading, MA 01864

Voice: (978) 664 2870
Fax: (978) 664 4109
Website: www.Bowers-Wilkins.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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