Looking into the meat and potatoes of the Bowers & Wilkins loudspeaker product offerings, you might land on the 603 S2 speakers first. This $2,300 per pair floorstanding speaker represents some of Bowers & Wilkins most attractive price points while enjoying a few of the technological breakthroughs that have trickled down from the company’s 700 and 800 Series (buy at Crutchfield). The Anniversary edition comes with some trendier finish options and an upgraded tweeter, which is enthusiastically welcomed at these price points.
This slice of the speaker marketplace—specifically, speaker pairs selling for somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000 to $2,500, is an incredibly competitive one, not only in terms of performance but also increasingly in terms of design and fit-and-finish. Can a stalwart brand like Bowers & Wilkins keep up with the competition? That’s the question, isn’t it?
What Makes the Bowers & Wilkins 603 S2 Anniversary Speakers Special?
- The speaker’s thin footprint makes it a great fit for damn-near any room.
- The new two-tone oak/white finish is sexier than you might expect for a speaker at or near this price point.
- Gone are the bright yellow Kevlar midrange drivers for which the brand was previously well know. Granted, that does make these Bowers & Wilkins speakers look a little bit more like other speakers. The new Continuum mid-range driver in the Bowers & Wilkins 603 S2 is reportedly a big improvement in terms of a woven material, though.
- There’s a lot of flexibility here. I think the 603 S2s would work just as well in a surround sound speaker setup as in a dedicated two-channel stereo system. Bowers & Wilkins has matching subs and various center speakers based around your installation needs.
- The Anniversary Edition tweeter purports to be an upgraded version of the 600 Series “Decoupled Dome” tweeter. The sophistication of the tweeter is a big part of the price increases you see from the 600 Series up the food chain to the Bowers & Wilkins 700 and 800 Series speakers.
- With a three-way bass-reflex design and a weight of over 50 pounds, the Bowers & Wilkins 603 S2s aren’t as difficult to drive as you might expect. Rated as 88.5 dB efficient, they should be a good match for a small integrated amp or a mid-level AV receiver. I used Arcam and Marantz integrated amps for most of my listening tests.
- Bowers & Wilkins speakers come with a five-year warranty and a 30-day return program if you buy them directly from the company’s website.
Why Should You Care About the Bowers & Wilkins 603 S2 Anniversary Speakers?
- If you are looking for floorstanding speakers with a real audiophile pedigree, the Bowers & Wilkins 603s S2 Anniversary speakers are a surprisingly good deal and easy on the eyes at that.
- The limited-edition nature of this loudspeaker might make it a little more collectable than a normal S2 pair of 603s.
Some Things You Might Not Like About the Bowers & Wilkins 603 S2 Anniversary Speakers…
- Even with the upgraded tweeter in the Anniversary edition, it is fair to describe these speakers as a little bit forward sounding. Some people might think that they are a bit bright. Others will love the perceived increase in detail.
- The Bowers & Wilkins 603 S2s doesn’t sound as robust in the bottom end as other speakers in the space do. Definitive Technology, Tekton Designs, MartinLogan, and others have a little more heft in the lower registers.
- You don’t need a sub with the Bowers & Wilkins 603 S2 Anniversary edition, but I would want one eventually to get the low-low-low sounds and to allow me to potentially offload some of the burden from the main speakers.
Listening to the Bowers & Wilkins 603 S2 Anniversary Speakers…
On “Love Music” from Earth Wind & Fire’s Best of Vol. 1 (1440 AIFF, CD quality) (buy at Amazon), the Bowers & Wilkins sauntered through this musical experience with ease, as the bass was tight and round (if not ultra-deep). The horns sounded lively and present in the mix. The space around the twinkling piano melodies sounded quite enjoyable and specifically open—not cluttered or veiled in any way. The cymbals before the outro had plenty of zip to them and contributed to a lively presentation overall. Overall, the speakers sounded pretty cohesive.
When playing “Poundcake” by Van Halen, one of their better Sammy-era songs, at CD quality (AIFF 1440 files) from The Best of Van Halen Vo. 1 (buy at Amazon), the speakers had a lot more sonic energy yet the bass remained tight and controlled. Alex Van Halen’s cymbals were a bit sizzly, but his brother’s guitar sound has a ripping tone to it that again held up in terms of cohesion even at pretty high listening volumes. There’s a lot to hear in this very layered track, and the Bowers & Wilkins 603 S2 Anniversary edition gives you a taste of why so much of the music you listen to is mixed and mastered on this brand of speaker.
This could be a never-ending list of speakers to consider at the $2,000-to-$2,500range.
While a completely different speaker in terms of design, the MartinLogan ESL ($2,500 per pair) (review) (buy at Amazon) come to mind. These hybrid electrostatic speakers are very positional and have a very open sound that is compelling to many, even if the “sweet spot” is quite limited when listening to these speakers. The Bowers & Wilkins 603 S2 Anniversary speakers are more traditional in their presentation and more much more traditional in their look.
Another favorite speaker of mine comes Internet-direct from Utah in the form of the $2,250 per pair Texton Design Pendragon. These ultra-easy-to-drive speakers use a new multiple driver technology that many are raving about. These are rock and roll, American speakers that will play loud, can be painted in loud colors and, well… you get the picture. The Bowers & Wilkins are a lot more reserved in both their look and sound.
Perhaps a more direct match would be to compare the Bowers & Wilkins 603 S2 Anniversary speakers with the $1,199 per pair SVS Prime Tower speakers (buy at Amazon). While pricing in a quite a bit below the Bowers & Wilkins you do get a similar form factor although not as many available finishes. The SVS speakers are pretty easy to drive and can be that rock and roll speaker, but can also hang in there with audiophile grade imaging, (expected) good bass, and more.
Do the Bowers & Wilkins 603 S2 Anniversary Speakers Have Any Resale Value?
These speakers will have good resale value, almost certainly.
Bowers & Wilkins speakers are sold in the best retailers in the world. Their brand is popping up more and more in installed car audio system like Maserati, McLaren, and Volvo. Their speakers are used at Abbey Road Studios in England and Skywalker Ranch in California.
These speakers should have a long life and an equally long relevance for their ability to playback music nicely over the years.
Final Thoughts the Bowers & Wilkins 603 S2 Anniversary Speakers…
The Bowers & Wilkins 603 Anniversary brings some slight performance tweaks and some enhanced aesthetics to one of the brand’s most important products. If you were concerned about the high-end being a little harsh but are drawn to the Bowers & Wilkins sound, then perhaps a bookshelf speaker from the 700 Series paired with a modest subwoofer would be an alternative.
The Bowers & Wilkins 603 SE Anniversary (buy at Crutchfield) is a finely made speaker that benefits from its bigger brothers in the 700 and 800 Series a bit. The overall sound of the speaker’s midrange is well balanced and accurate. The speakers present sound in a polite and accurate way. They aren’t dorm room speakers as much as they could be the speakers that give you a musical window on to the world as the Bowers & Wilkins 603 S2 Anniversary speakers can pretty much do it all—and at a pretty fair price.