An entire new series of loudspeakers from Bowers & Wilkins is quite the event, so we indulged in three separate reviews in our second 2017 issue of Best Buys Audio & AV.
This first is on the babies of the series, the little but deceptively capable standmount 707 S2 (the ‘S2’ reminding us that a previous 700 Series existed until production ended in 2008). As you’ll read, the 700 Series is comfortably in the UK Bowers & Wilkins tradition, bringing technologies trickling down from the company’s top-level 800 Series Diamond to these new models, which include three floorstanders, three standmounts (with dedicated stands available), two centre-channel models and one subwoofer intended specifically for the 700 Series. That significant technology ‘trickle-down’ includes the company’s latest midrange driver designs referred to simply as “Continuum”, which is the silvery cone you can see at the top of the 702 S2 floorstander pictured here, replacing the company’s use of Kevlar with this mysterious “cleanest and most transparent midrange cone material Bowers & Wilkins has ever used”. We can certainly expect the silver midrange cone to become ‘the new yellow’ as an identifier for B&W speakers henceforth.
Similarly the bass drivers of the larger 700 Series models use Aerofoil-profile composite-sandwich bass driver design developed for the 800 Series Diamond, but in a new version using paper rather than carbon fibre for the outer skin, and possibly a variation on the foam-like base material which on the 800 Series is formed around tiny beads.
Then the two flagship models in the 700 Series use B&W’s ‘tweeter-on-top’ housings that are now crafted from solid billets of aluminium, the tweeter itself not ‘diamond’ but a 30-micron-thick aluminium dome stiffened with a layer of vapour-deposited carbon. B&W is a little secretive regarding its materials — what kind of carbon, what exactly ‘Continuum’ might be — but what was clear from our listening is that the overall quality emerging from the 700 Series is no secret at all.
Which we discovered with the 707 S2. This speaker may share its digits with a bloomin’ great Boeing, but is the smallest of the company’s new 700 Series, just 28cm high (and about the same in depth with grilles and cables taken into consideration), our review units coming in the shiny black gloss finish shown above.
Like the rest of the series, they use the 30-micron-thick aluminium-dome tweeter which has been stiffened with a layer of carbon, added by vapour deposition process before bonding to a second section, a 300-micron-thick carbon ring profiled to match the main dome.
And they have the 13cm Continuum midrange driver, here pressed into duty as a mid-bass woofer. Despite lacking the Aerofoil bass units of their brethren floorstanders, the frequency range for the 707 is quoted from 50Hz to 28kHz at -3dB, extending down to 45Hz at -6dB and up to 33kHz. The break-up mode of the tweeter is pushed to 45kHz thanks to the carbon deposition, so no danger of hitting ringing up top.
Despite their size, their rear connections feature twin sets of high quality binding posts, so you could choose to biwire or biamp them if desired. We were also supplied the dedicated stands for this model, to which the speakers screw securely, and which can be fitted with spikes should the speakers be used in suitably carpeted territory.
Before even putting speaker wires into the back, the quality of these speakers was evident. They look gorgeous, which is an achievement for a small black rectangular box, however glossy and well finished it might be. Under evening room lighting the metal rings shone around the tweeter and particularly below the mid-woofer, and they really did look downright sexy — we felt a fraction of that famous frisson of B&W ownership, even though we knew the 707s were resident only for a few weeks. While there are grilles available for them (see opposite), frankly we think it would be an absolute sin to stop them shining so.
We had them on casual TV duties for the first week of their stay, warming them up before getting on to some critical music listening. They lent easy audibility to dialogue, and enjoyable musicality to soundtracks, performing well in this role compared with our usual reference German standmounters (which are rather more expensive). Some weeks earlier we had heard these speakers during a brief listening session at their launch, and at home we didn’t at first notice the astonishing bass which had surprised us then... until we happened to have an amplification upgrade in this space, replacing an Integra receiver with a Classé HDMI-equipped integrated amplifier (Classé having long been part of the B&W group, though now with an uncertain future). Shortly after that upgrade we were watching Michael Jackson’s ‘This Is It’ on Netflix, and were amazed by some of the bass coming through with spectacular phatness from the little 707s; it was almost unbelievable the way they projected Alex Al’s synth bass work and some big solid kick drums on Jam and Thriller.
For the second week we moved them into the main listening room and bolted them onto their dedicated stands. It’s worth noting that we found the 707s highly versatile in terms of positioning, especially as regards horizontal spread. We began with them quite close, a 1.5-metre spacing with our listening position some 2.5 metres away, but later, in order to get them closer to the rear wall while still on their dedicated stands, we had them close to 2.7 metres apart, and the soundstage widened but didn’t collapse, again just expanding to fill the space, with the centre formed as solidly as ever and yielding, if anything, slightly improved front-to-back imaging.
Luna’s version of Donovan’s Season of the Witch proved a nice example of this soundstaging, the opening guitar chops spread wide, the bass full and strong down to the song’s fundamental of bottom A. Turning it up, the picture just got larger and closer to reality.
We ran some Spotify into the system, remembering that this service remains below CD quality, not that this was obvious as we ran a playlist of The Damned to complement our leafing through the new biography of the band, ‘Smash It Up’. How thunderous the opening drums on their debut New Rose, how tight and full the bass on Neat Neat Neat despite the diminutive proportions of these little speakers.
They loved a bit of jazz. Spinning the Stella Starlight Trio’s version of Don’t You Want Me at some volume, the acoustic bass lacked for nothing and the creamy vocal was impeccably toned and imaged; cymbal taps were clear, sharp and metallic. Every B&W demonstrator should have this track to hand when playing the 707s! And Sarah McLachlan’s Angel as well; ah — divine.
Brubeck’s Take Five was well separated to its ping-pong positions and the portrayal of the drum solo impressed, though we’ve certainly heard its dynamics and ambience more fully realised from larger speakers.
Back on CD, we were much impressed by Lou Reed’s classic Walk on the Wild Side. That iconic bass line isn’t down there shaking your trouser flaps, of course, but there’s no sense of anything being missing, the bass again full down to the F, and with all that string buzz at the bottom of the slide perfectly presented by the combination of Continuum and carbon. Lou’s vocal was just a smidgeon short of its best three-dimensionality, a little rounding and depth missing somewhere in the lower mids. This was a common characteristic on male vocals (females were uniformly impeccable); Leonard Cohen’s vocal didn’t do the doubling that can occur with badly crossed-over combos, and it contained depth, but lacked a little in fullness between bass and treble.
On the plus side this lightness of touch unfumbled a few commonly stodgy tracks, such as Paul McCartney’s My Valentine, which soft-sounding systems can simply smother. Here the 707s brought up the swish of brushwork and the edges of the acoustic guitar solo, and emphasised the diction of Mr McCartney over his bloom. Nor did they fail our usual shriek tests — The Teardrop Explodes’ Colours Fly Away was sufficiently underpinned, and if Dion’s vocal on I Read It In The Rolling Stone was a tad thin, the 707s countered this with a solid thud from the kick drum and enough bass depth to hold the track within the realms of enjoyability. This is unusual for small speakers, as was their ability to present some of the depth to Neil Young’s Walk With Me, which has a bass D down in the 30s of hertz. The fact that this wasn’t entirely absent through the 707s speaks to their impressive reach for speakers so small.
We did spend some time with the 707s running with a small subwoofer — the results were excellent, but you’d likely be better off investing the subwoofer funds in larger B&Ws.
Many 707s are likely to find themselves pressed into duty as rear speakers in a surround set-up — and clearly they will serve well in this position, though it seems a shame not to enjoy their abilities as standalone hi-fi stereo speakers. In a medium-sized room with good power to drive them (at 84dB/W/m sensitivity and 8-ohm impedance, underpowering them flattens the sound out rather), you’ll enjoy watching the faces of visitors as they are impressed by the level and quality of their performance.
‘Ah’, you’ll say, ‘they’re B&Ws, you see...’
Bowers & Wilkins 707 S2 stereo loudspeakers
Price: $1499 (pair); stands $799 (pair)
+ Perform beyond small speaker expectations
+ Surprising bass on some material
+ Liquid female vocals
- Male vocals sometimes thinned
- Best with high quality power
Drivers: 1 x 25mm carbon-dome tweeter, 1 x 130mm Continuum mid/bass
Quoted frequency response: 50Hz-28kHz ±3dB, 45Hz-33kHz ±6dB
Impedance: 8 ohms
Sensitivity: 84dB (2.83V@1m)
Cabinet: Bass reflex (rear Flowport)
Dimensions (hwd): 280 x 165 x 260mm
Weight (each): 6.0kg