Bowers & Wilkins 700 S2 Speaker Series Overview
Little did John Bowers know when he started up his speaker company with a small inheritance that it would grow to one of the most highly respected speaker companies ever over the next five decades. Yes, it's hard to believe that was back in 1966 when Bowers & Wilkins had their humble beginnings in Worthing, England. After having been picked as the monitor speaker for classic albums like Sergeant Pepper and Pet Sounds, the B&W leadership team made a bold move and invested heavily in an R&D facility in Stening, England where they pioneered the use of lasers to measure speaker cones. Over the decades, B&W would develop more new materials and technology to advance the science of sound than any company we can think of.
One thing that has kept them at the forefront of great sound is their drive to create new ways to strive for that elusive goal of live sound in your home. But the real secret to this drive is how they always seem to figure out a way to incorporate what they learn in their no holds barred products into more affordable gear.
Ever since 1979, when the first model 801 was introduced, Bowers & Wilkins has had a top of the line series representing everything they know about producing great sound. The most current 800 series Diamond is called the 800D3 series. The “D” stands for diamond and comes from their use of diamond dust for the tweeter domes used in the 800D3 models. Along with diamond dust, many other groundbreaking technologies were developed for the 800D3 models. Of course, since they start at $6000 a pair and go up to $30,000 a pair, not all music lovers can afford something at this level.
This is where the new 700 S2 series comes into play. These share much of the high-tech materials and ideas found in the 800 D3 series at a much more affordable price point, starting at ¼ the price of the first 800 D3 model.
For this overview, we will talk about the tech all or most of the models share, then go into each speaker itself so you can understand which model might fit your long term listening goals the best.
What the 700 S2 Speakers Have in Common
One thing that will jump out when you pull the cover off a 700 S2 series is the silver color of the Continuum™ driver. B&W pioneered the use of Kevlar for drivers decades ago and used this for many years. Continuum™ was developed for the 800 series and received accolades from all over the world in how it pushed midrange and midbass clarity to a new level. They actually spent over 8 years and tried 70 different versions of this new material until they were satisfied.
Their Continuum™ driver has far lower distortion than any material their engineers could find. The end listening result is a midrange that sounds super effortless while also letting you hear even further into the recording, allowing your ears to pick up on those very subtle details that make recorded music sound more like real life. All 700S2 speakers use this great new driver technology.
Carbon Double Dome Tweeters
While diamond dust has proven to be the ultimate tweeter dome material for the B&W engineers, it's certainly not very affordable! B&W discovered a very lightweight carbon dome allowing them to extend its usable frequency response out to more than double the range of human hearing to an incredible 47,000 Hz. This is used with their Double Dome design, which again trickled down from the 800 models. If you were to take the tweeter apart, you would find an inner and outer dome. This design reduces distortion.
What our ears hear with this Carbon Double Dome tweeter is a high-frequency presentation that is light and airy. Cymbals really take on a “you are there” quality with never the slightest trace of harsh sound.
Highly Braced Cabinets
B&W invented what they call Matrix cabinet bracing decades ago. The idea of a speaker enclosure is to just let the speaker drivers do their job with no additional coloration or change to the sound. B&W found through their laser analysis that by applying a lot of internal bracing, the cabinet added far less to the audio signal. The 700 S2 speakers have triple bracing inside. If you just rap your knuckles on any of the cabinets and you’ll see what they mean. They almost feel like you are rapping on a brick!
To improve the sensitivity of the 700 S2 series, all of them have ported cabinets. This type of design is very common in loudspeakers. A port allows air to escape the cabinet, but it has the disadvantage of how it reacts when it leaves the cabinet. Many companies just stick in a little port and call it a day, but the team at Stening, UK analyzed all kinds of port designs to come up with the one that performed best. Again, it's their dedication to using science to improve sound that helps set them apart.
Matched Drivers All Around
If you're thinking about the 700 S2 series for home theater, rest assured that you will have totally consistent sound for your surround sound as they all use basically the same drivers. This provides a seamless experience for special effects that pan around your room.
Every single 700 S2 model has three beautiful finish options. Your choices are gloss black, satin white, or rosenut. We have to say in a contemporary environment, the satin white is particularly stunning.
The Bowers & Wilkins 700 S2 Models
We will break this down into three sections, the tower or floorstanding speakers, the bookshelf or stand mount models, and the two center channel speakers for home theater.
700 S2 Floorstanding Speaker Models
In these models, the Continuum driver is used exclusively for the midrange frequencies. Since this is the case, they can use the special no edge material for the cone itself, which reduces coloration even more. The midrange we hear out of the towers is really close to what you hear on the 800 series. While it's not quite as effortless, it is remarkable how close they got it for the money.
The midrange driver also gets a new type of basket that uses new aluminum cast optimized chassis to further reduce distortion. Finally, this whole assembly, just like in the 800 series, is isolated from the cabinet. It's pretty neat the way they do this. The midrange driver has a tapered post that goes into the back of the magnet assembly. The other end of the post is hollow and goes over a bracket mounted to the backside of the cabinet. A spring sits inside the hollow part to totally decouple it from the cabinet. While this is something you’ll never see unless you take the entire speaker apart, it contributes to much better midrange resolution and as we say, the proof is in the listening!
All of the 700 S2 floor standers also use a newly designed bass driver called their Aerofoil™ Profile cone. Unlike most woofers, it’s thickness varies, which they designed using advanced computer modeling developed for the 800 series. The Aerofoil driver delivers very fast, deep, and dynamic bass to our ears!
702 S2 Floorstanding Speakers
The 702 S2 probably has the most tech from the 800 S3 series. One thing that you’ll immediately notice is the separate tweeter sitting on top of the cabinet. B&W first developed this idea in 1977 with the DM2 model. The housing is milled from a solid body of aluminum with a tapered shape to minimize diffraction. It is also recessed to time-align it better with the other drivers. All of the 800 models use this tweeter technology which delivers an image that makes you feel like the performers are standing right in front of you.
You’ll get deep and fast bass with the 3 6 ½” Aerofoil woofers used in the 702 S2. All of these drivers with their triple braced cabinet do add up to a pretty stout speaker. This model weighs in at 65 pounds so it's a good idea to have some help moving them around when you first set them up. We do highly recommend you use the optional support plinth which adds some size to their footprint but anchors them better for improved bass and midrange.
The 702 S2 is also the easiest to drive of all the models with a sensitivity of 90 dB. However, we suspect anyone investing in a pair of speakers of this caliber is going to know they will perform better with a great amplifier. We have found they really come to life when you put some good power behind them. Something from Cambridge, Rotel, Arcam, Anthem, or McIntosh will have them bringing a grin to your face.
These are very revealing speakers that will let you know about anything wrong with your front end as well. The better your turntable, or DAC, the more information you will hear.
We found them to perform best when placed at least 18” off the rear wall and equally as far away, if not more, from the side walls to avoid room reflections. These will certainly benefit from spending some time dialing them in to make sure (use a tape measure) they are equidistant off your back wall. We also felt they imaged better toed in just a bit but not too much.
At about half the price of the 804 D3 model, these sure give you a lot of speaker for around $5,000/pr.
703 S2 Floorstanding Speakers
When you move down to the 703 S2, you’ll have a more conventional speaker cabinet design with the Double Dome Carbon tweeter housed in the speaker cabinet. The 703 S2 is like a trimmed-down version of the 702 S2 with 2 woofers instead of three in a slightly smaller cabinet.
You will still want to use the optional plinth for setup and take the same care we recommend for the 702 S2 in setting them up.
To our ears, the midrange is very similar in presentation, but the top end does not feel as open and airy as the 702 S2. Bass is very fast but lacks the punch we get with the three drivers in the 702 S2. Don’t get us wrong, it has awesome bass, but we were just bowled over with the dynamics of the 702 S2. If you have a large room, we suggest you spend the extra $1000 and go ahead and get the 702 S2.
704 S2 Floorstanding Speakers
At first glance, the 704 S2 looks like a trimmed-down version of the 703 S2 and it is with 5” drivers, where the 703 and 702 use a bigger midrange and bass drivers. However, if you don’t have a big listening room, this one sounds just great for the money. With the cabinet being narrower than the 703 S2, we think it presents a better soundstage and those dual 5” Aerofoil woofers are super fast. The midrange also sounds quite effortless as well.
The 704 S2 to our ears, with the caveat of a smaller room, is probably the best bang for the buck in the entire line up. But don’t skimp on the amp! They are actually a little harder to drive than the two bigger ones and an amp with more control can extract faster and deeper bass from the dual 5” drivers.
The sweet sound from the carbon dome tweeters coupled with the really open and effortless midrange is very seductive on this model. If you like music that is detailed and involving, without tons of deep bass, and have a modest-sized room, you will love the sound of the 704 S2.
700 S2 Bookshelf Models
All of the bookshelf models in the 700 S2 series are a two-way design. They use the Continuum driver as a combination midrange/bass driver. Bookshelf speakers are typically used in environments where a tower speaker is too big for the room, or they can be combined with a fast subwoofer to give you that benefit in imaging a smaller speaker can present with the deep bass of a good sub.
705 S2 Bookshelf Speakers
The 705 S2 is the top of the line bookshelf and like the 702 S2 uses the separate milled aluminum housing for the tweeter with the tweeter on top of the cabinet. At Audio Advice, we love great bookshelf speakers. If you put them on a good stand (yes we know that’s not hiding them on a bookshelf) and get them out in the room, a great bookshelf speaker can throw out a very pleasing soundstage. There is just something about the sound coming from something closer to a point source that makes the speaker totally disappear. One of our favorite all-time bookshelf speakers has been the 805 in the 800 series and we have to say the 705 S2 gets darn close!
They get down to 50 Hz, which means they'll be fine without a subwoofer in a small room unless you like deep organ music or hard rock. Of course, couple them to something like the B&W DB4 subwoofer and you’ll have a combination that images like mad, with a super sweet and open sound and deep fast bass.
Now, we get down to the million-dollar question. With these being the same price as the floor standing 704 S2, which is better for your situation? The tweeter is better in the 705 S2, but it does not have the bass extension of the 704 S2. If the price of the 705 S2 tops out your budget without leaving room for a really good subwoofer and you have a modest-to-large room, get the 704 S2. However, if you already have a fast subwoofer and can put the 705 S2 on their matching stands out in the room, you’ll get the sound to make you smile. If you have to install these inside a bookcase, you certainly can, but you’ll negate some of the benefits of the top-mounted tweeter, which is why the model 706 S2 is more popular as a general bookshelf speaker.
706 S2 Bookshelf Speakers
With the 706 S2, you basically have the 705 S2 cabinet with the tweeter mounted normally instead of outside the cabinet. Bass response is identical to the 705 S2. The 706 S2 is actually our best selling bookshelf model in this line as it gives you great performance from a conventional-looking bookshelf speaker.
If your living room or home office needs a bookshelf speaker that can blend in without calling attention to itself visually, and you want that great B&W sound, the 706 S2 is probably your best choice in the whole 700 S2 series.
707 S2 Bookshelf Speakers
This is the smallest bookshelf using a 5” midrange/woofer unit. It's about 2 inches shorter and 1” narrower than the 706 S2 and is $500 less for the pair. We feel these are an ideal surround speaker to use with a 700 S2 series home theater system. But for music listening, unless you just do not have room for the extra couple of inches in size or the $500, the 706 S2 is a better value. The 707 S2 is not that easy to drive with its sensitivity of only 84 dB, and to us, the 706 S2 provides more bass impact.
However, if you have a fast subwoofer, the combination of the 707 S2 on the dedicated stands, a good amp, and a great sub is pretty compelling.
Center Channel Models
You’ll find two center channel speakers in this line and we’ll make it easy for you. Unless you can not physically fit the HTM71 S2 in your cabinet, you should buy it over the HTM72 S2. The HTM72 S2 is a great center channel, but the HTM71 S2 is an amazing center channel speaker.
If you look at the difference in the two models, the HTM71 S2 gives you a dedicated midrange driver with 2 Aerofoil woofers coupled with the Carbon tweeter. It is 8 ½” tall by 23” wide by almost a foot deep, but wow, this is one awesome center channel speaker! This is compared to the two combination 5” midrange/woofer units you’ll get in the HTM72 S2.
The center channel speaker is the most important speaker in a home theater system. All of the dialog information comes from the center channel and a good one will allow you to hear those tiny subtle details that help you feel the emotions in their voices. If you are putting together a 700 series complete home theater system, the extra $500 for the HTM71 S2 is the best money you could spend.
We hope this brief overview of the Bowers & Wilkins 700 S2 series has given you some insight into which model or models will work best for your music or home theater system. As always, if you have any questions at all feel free to reach out to us via phone, email, or online chat.