There have been a lot of changes at legendary speaker company Bowers & Wilkins over the past few years. Longtime owner Equity International sold the brand to a Silicon Valley tech company run by an NFL-team-owning multi-billionaire—who tried to transform the company from one that manufactures speakers for the likes of Abbey Road Studios, Skywalker Ranch, Volvos, and McLarens (not to mention countless audiophiles) into a competitor for Google and Amazon’s voice-controlled speakers. (Here’s a tip: Google and Amazon aren’t really in the speaker business. They’re in the “listen to your every word and use said data to market to you later” business.) Needless to say, that endeavor was as successful as New Coke and MGM’s plan to make Las Vegas a family resort destination. Only a few years later, Sound United wisely decided to buy Bowers & Wilkins and add the company to its list of AV brands that includes Definitive Technology, Polk, Denon, Marantz, and Classe. Then Sound United was itself purchased by publicly traded Masimo (MASI: NASDAQ) earlier this year. Sound United now functions as a division of Masimo from its new, smartly designed headquarters in Carlsbad, CA.
Late this summer, I was invited down to Carlsbad to see the new digs, an upgrade over Sound United’s former location in Vista (aka North County San Diego) and complete with many well-appointed, acoustically treated AV listening rooms. These demo rooms were outfitted with Bowers & Wilkins’ current 700 Series S2 speakers and the not-yet-released 700 Series S3 speakers, ready for A/B comparisons for a few lucky press people, myself included.
Andy Kerr, “the marketing guru of Bowers & Wilkins,” flew in from the U.K. to discuss the design updates on the new 700 Series—and there are many. The 700 Series sits one notch below the flagship 800 Series in the Bowers & Wilkins lineup. The price points are more affordable but still aspirational, ranging from the modest four figures into the low five figures. I recently reviewed the third-from-the-top Bowers & Wilkins 803 S4 speakers, which cost $20,000 per pair. The top speaker (assuming you don’t count the manufactured-one-at-a-time Nautilus speaker) is the 800 S4, priced at about $34,000 per pair. Considering how much technology is shared between the 800 Series S4 and the new 700 Series S3, the latter’s value becomes a little more apparent—even if this line of speakers is nowhere near entry-level.
What are the Advantages of the New Bowers & Wilkins 700 Series S3 Speakers?
- Upgraded tweeters. Much like the Diamond Tweeters on the 800 Series S4, both the above-the-speaker tweeter (used in most of the 700 Series S3) and the in-speaker tweeter (used in the lower SKUs of the 700 Series S3) are made from solid aluminum (fill in the U.K. pronunciation to be culturally accurate) and weigh over one kilogram.
- Upgraded midrange drivers. Gone are the yellow, Kevlar midrange drivers that visually and sonically defined Bowers & Wilkins speakers for a generation. The new woven “silver” midrange drivers are more flexible while still retaining needed rigidity. I asked how the company felt about giving up the yellow color of the drivers, and boy did I touch on a sore point. For a good 20 years, consumers could easily pick out a Bowers & Wilkins speaker from across the stereo store. Now the drivers will lack that standout visual cue, but the reality is, it was time to move forward and embrace a better performer.
- Upgraded bass drivers. The new 700 Series S3 speakers use a synthetic fabric to get cleaner, tighter, less distorted bass. In contrast, the 800 Series S4 uses a moldable foam that is much more complex and thus more expensive to manufacturer, which is why the 800 Series speakers cost so much more.
- More robust crossover networks. The new crossovers have far more parts and are far more complex, as one could see with the naked eye when handed the new and old versions.
- Multiple finish options. The new speakers are available in a few finish options, including white, black, and rosenut. Another wood finish is offered in Europe and can be special-ordered in North America. Unlike the 800 Series and Nautilus Series, the 700 Series S3 speakers aren’t offered in custom finishes.
- New cabinet designs. We got to inspect the old and new 700 Series cabinets, and the company has made some nice upgrades that add to the performance boost from the S2 to the S3.
The flagship speaker in the new 700 Series is the 702 S3. The line also includes the 703, 705, and 706 (which features the in-speaker tweeter instead of the above-speaker design). There are also two center-channel speakers for home theater fans—one with an internal tweeter that’s good for use in tight spaces (like a cabinet) and an upgraded model with an above-the-cabinet tweeter that has a slightly higher price tag.
How Do the Bowers & Wilkins 700 Series S3 Speakers Sound?
The short answer is, the new speakers sound noticeably better than the Series 2 version. We were able to directly compare various S2 and S3 models in the same treated rooms with the same electronics, with the volume matched on the exact same demo material.
Across the 700 Series S3 (even with the lower-end models that use the internal tweeter), I could easily hear and appreciate the improved openness. It wasn’t a subtle difference. Likewise, the midrange performance was much improved. With pianos, it sounded as if a blanket had been lifted when listening to the Series 3 versus the Series 2. I also heard some improvement in the bass, but it was not as dramatic as the differences in midrange and high-frequency performance.
Product and Pricing Information
The 700 Series S3 should be in stores nationwide later in September 2022. Official pricing has yet to be announced.
The model numbers are as follows (starting with the largest and most expensive):
HTM71 S3 (center channel)
HTM72 S3 (center channel)