Getting to ‘Series 3’ of the Bowers & Wilkins 705 stand-mounting loudspeaker has been a more convoluted process than it might seem at first glance. You might imagine that ‘S3’ replaces ‘S2’, which in turn replaced ‘S1’ (or perhaps just ‘705’) – but you’d be wrong.
Getting to ‘705 S3’ initially required an original ‘705’, it’s true. But after this, the entire 700 range (for reasons no one cares to remember) became the ‘CM’ range. ‘CM’ didn’t remain a thing for all that long and was replaced by the ‘S2’ range of 700 models. Then the 705 S2 (and the 702 S2 floorstander) were singled out for the Bowers & Wilkins ‘Signature’ treatment – I reviewed the 705 Signature in issue 187 of this magazine. These ‘Signature’ editions ran alongside the ‘vanilla’ S2 models on which they were based.
The third is the fifth
This means that the 705 S3 that is under the microscope here is, in fact, the fifth version of this midrange standmounter that Bowers & Wilkins has launched. All clear?
It isn’t apparent at first glance, but the 705 S3 differs in numerous ways from the 705 S2 it replaces – and naturally, we’ll get to those differences in due course. But one difference that comes leaping out at the prospective customer concerns the asking price – and not, you’ll be less than staggered to learn, in a good way.
Admittedly the world was very different when the 705 S2 launched in 2017. Nevertheless, the £2,599 Bowers & Wilkins is asking for this 705 S3 compares with the £1,799 the S2 cost in much the same way a UK citizen’s freedom of movement in 2023 compares with the same citizen’s 2018 freedom of movement, which is not well at all. Still, I should acknowledge that this is hardly the platform for banging on about the many and various ways the United Kingdom seeks to make life hard for itself – my obligations are much more loudspeaker-related.
No vintage here
With the design of the 705 S3, Bowers & Wilkins has neatly avoided painting itself into the ‘vintage/retro’ corner that quite a few alternative loudspeaker brands currently occupy. Yes, these loudspeakers look exactly like a pair of moderately pricey Bowers & Wilkins standmounters, from their ‘tweeter-on-top’ enclosure on down – but they’re no lazy facsimile of previous glories, no exercise in nostalgia for its own sake. Instead, Bowers & Wilkins has examined its heritage and created a design with a prominent lineage that isn’t just a sentimental journey.
As far as the two drivers themselves are concerned, Bowers & Wilkins has taken the understandable and easily proven view that they weren’t broken and consequently require no fixing. So the 165mm mid/bass driver is made from Continuum, a material that the company spent a long time developing and that made its first appearance in the appropriately high-end 800 series of loudspeakers. It’s carried over unchanged from the 705 S2 and offers a bass extension down to 50Hz. The 25mm tweeter, too, is essentially the same design featured in the 705 S2 – it’s an example of Bowers & Wilkins’ wantonly complex ‘carbon dome’ arrangement. It comprises two sections: the front portion is a 30µm aluminium dome, stiffened by a vanishingly brief coating of carbon, and the second is a 300µm carbon ring (profiled to match the main dome) bonded to the structure’s inner face. The result is a low-mass tweeter that resists distortion resolutely – the first break-up point is a stratospheric 47kHz, and the upper end of the high-frequency response is 28kHz.
But while the driver technologies are familiar, the cabinet in which they reside has been thoroughly, though subtly, reworked. For example, the ‘tweeter-on-top’ enclosure is still milled from a single, solid piece of aluminium – but it’s longer than the one fitted to the 705 S2, which allows for a longer internal tube-loading system. This reworked arrangement, which draws on learnings gleaned during the development of the 800 series, is designed to reduce soundwaves emanating from the rear of the tweeter and deliver cleaner performance. And while the decoupling between the tweeter housing and the main body of the cabinet is improved, it feels more secure (and less vulnerable) than it did on the 705 S2.
The front of the main cabinet is now gently curved. It doesn’t describe as dramatic an angle as the cabinet of the 805 D4, indeed, and the other five sides of this cabinet are flat – but then the heroically complex shape of the 805 D4 contributes no end to its asking price. The curved baffle of the 705 S3 adds strength, though, and internally it benefits from a variation on the ‘Matrix’ bracing technology the more expensive speaker enjoys. The curve also makes it apparent the 165mm Continuum mid/bass driver is sitting in a partially exposed ‘pod’ – the principle is taken to its logical, hang-the-expense conclusion in the 800 series. Still, Bowers & Wilkins intends to reap some of the same performance benefits without sending the asking price through the roof.
The changes at the rear of the cabinet are less dramatic but, in their way, significant. The ‘flowport’ bass reflex port is of greater diameter than that featured on the outgoing model, while the speaker binding posts are now arranged horizontally on a nice shiny plate. They’re reassuringly chunky, too, and happily accept bare wire, banana plugs or spade connectors.
At 413 × 192 × 297mm (H×W×D) the 705 S3 is a little taller, a little narrower and a little deeper than the S2 it supersedes. The tweeter housing still overhangs the main body of the cabinet just a little, though, to provide ideal time alignment. Build quality is of a standard we’ve all come to expect from Bowers & Wilkins – it’s impeccable and an object lesson for many rival brands of many different sizes and levels of resource. Two of the three available finishes – gloss black and satin white – are carried over from the 705 S2, while the older model’s ‘rosenut’ is replaced by ‘mocha’. It’s a bit more brown, a bit less red. And as with build quality, the standard of finish here is beyond reproach. Making a product as functional as a pair of loudspeakers seem expensive, luxurious, or covetable may be challenging – but Bowers & Wilkins gets closer than most.
Once up and running, the Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3 prove, in some ways, to be remarkably laid-back and easy-going about the electronics in general, and the amplification in particular, they’re paired with. In other ways, though, they’re undeniably picky. It’s all to do with attitude.
No need for celebrations
Unlike a few rival designs at similar money, the 705 S3 doesn’t look down their nose at less expensive, more attainable or less celebrated electronics. During this examination, they are powered by Naim’s modest NAP100 power amp, the same company’s more robust Uniti Star whistles-and-bells all-in-one streamer/amp, and Roksan’s overachieving Attessa integrated amplifier. Rather than set about exposing any weaknesses in the more humble products here, the 705 S3 instead do what they can to make the best of their circumstances.
It’s worth noting at this point that all three of the amplifiers mentioned are, to a lesser or greater extent, an upfront, assertive and forward kind of listen. That’s the posture the 705 S3 thrive on. Pair them with something no less confident but a little less bold – the C3050 LE integrated from NAD, for example – and the 705 S3 can go into their shell just a little. So yes, where these Bowers & Wilkins speakers are concerned, it’s not so much about where in the hierarchy you sit but your attitude.
Nevertheless, of the amplifiers mentioned, the Uniti Star proves the best fit for the 705 S3. The speakers are mounted on a pair of Custom Design FS104 Signature stands (Bowers & Wilkins will sell you a pair of bespoke FS-700 S3 stands onto which the speakers fasten securely – but at £799 per pair, it’s not a purchase to be rushed into if you already own some competent stands), and linked to the amplifier using QED XT-400 speaker cable. The Uniti Star takes care of streaming from Bluetooth via a Nothing Phone (1) and a Buffalo TeraStation NAS device. Rega’s Apollo deals with CD content and is connected using QED Reference Audio 40 – a second pair of cables connects a Chord Heui phono stage to the Naim, fed by a Clearaudio Concept MM turntable.
It becomes apparent in reasonably short order that it doesn’t matter the source material or, to a lesser extent, its resolution – the Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3 are a full-scale, prodigiously detailed and thoroughly engaging listen in pretty much any circumstance. From a bog-standard MP3 of Richard and Linda Thompson’s ‘The Calvary Cross’ [Island] to a DSD64 file of Stevie Wonder’s ‘He’s Misstra Know-It-All’ [Tamla], from a compact disc of Patti Smith’s Land (1975 – 2002) [Arista] to a 180g reissue of Ride’s Going Blank Again [Wichita], these speakers are supremely even-handed – they strive to take themselves out of the equation as much as possible, and let the music do the talking.
The soundstage they create is large and convincing, with palpable depth and notable width. Low frequencies are confidently shaped, robustly textured, and decently rapid – without being pleased with themselves, bass sounds underpin a recording securely. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the frequency range, the tweeter arrangement offers notable clarity, bite, and similar levels of detail – the top end fairly shines but never hints at edginess or hardness, even at significant volume.
In between, the midrange is articulate, eloquent and all the other words that suggest ‘communication’. Vocal technique, whether it’s the purity of Stevie Wonder or the confrontational perspective of Patti Smith, is given plenty of room in which to express themselves – and the amount of fine detail the 705 S3 reveals makes their character and competence plain.
Cross-over is smooth in the manner of cashmere, and the top-to-bottom consistency of tonality makes the Bowers & Wilkins sound as natural or as processed as the source material demands. The low-end discipline means the speakers express rhythms with genuine positivity and can handle even the show-off time signatures and tempos of Joe Zawinul’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Stream [Vortex] without alarms.
There’s a similar sort of effortlessness on display regarding the dynamic aspect of these recordings, too. Whether the significant variations in volume and attack apparent in the Zawinul recording or the small harmonic fluctuations perceptible in Richard Thompson’s guitar-playing, the 705 S3 identify them, contextualises them and gives them precisely the sort of emphasis they demand. And such is the togetherness and unity of the presentation on offer here, the sense of ‘performance’, of a loudspeaker that would prefer to get out of the way of your music rather than impose itself on it, is tangible.
Or, at least, it’s tangible if you enjoy listening at volumes above those often described as ‘background’. The 705 S3 lose a good portion of their animation and drive at more modest levels, and they give away a lot of their conviction at the same time. They’re far from the only loudspeakers that give their best when pressing on, but their differences are quite pronounced. It would be stretching things too far to suggest the Bowers & Wilkins can sound ‘matter-of-fact’ at low volume levels – but they undoubtedly move further along that particular spectrum.
Still, it’s not as if these are the first loudspeakers to make a few demands of their owners – and I sincerely doubt they’ll be the last. And besides, when a speaker is as talented and straight-ahead listenable as Bowers & Wilkins, when you pander to it just a little, it’d be churlish not to. So for once, it turns out that the third time (or the fifth time, if you’re correctly keeping count) is a charm.
- Type 2-way, two-driver stand-mount monitor with rear-ported bass reflex vent
- Driver complement 25mm carbon dome tweeter; 165mm Continuum mid/bass driver
- Frequency response 50Hz–28kHz
- Crossover frequency 3.5kHz
- Impedance 8 Ohms nominal (3.7 Ohms minimum)
- Sensitivity 88dB/W/m
- Dimensions (H×W×D) 413 × 192 × 297mm
- Weight 9.6kg/each
- Finishes Gloss black / satin white / mocha
- Price £2,599/pair
Bowers & Wilkins