Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 Bookshelf Speaker Reviewed

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For years, the Bowers & Wilkins 600 series has been a favorite among audiophiles looking for a great, detailed bookshelf speaker. Their latest iteration of the series, the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 (buy at Crutchfield), promises to build on that legacy. Bowers & Wilkins has made some refinements to the 606, and the promise is a noticeable step up in performance. Expect a more detailed and nuanced listening experience, they say. We’re talking a serious speaker here, all for a cool $1,100. If your audiophile heart craves a sonic upgrade from the good but small bookshelf speaker world – then the 606 S3 speakers from Bowers & Wilkins are worthy of some of your attention. 

The Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3s are the latest in the brands more affordable bookshelf speakers at $1,100 per pair (plus stands)
The Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3s are the latest in the brands more affordable bookshelf speakers at $1,100 per pair (plus stands)

What Makes the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 Bookshelf Speaker Special? 

  • Their upgraded titanium decoupled double dome tweeter technology is very impressive to me as an engineer.  Borrowing technology from Bowers & Wilkins’ acclaimed higher-end series, this enhanced tweeter design features a decoupled assembly to both minimize vibrations for remarkable clarity and push the break-up frequency higher to prevent distortion. The break-up point is what their engineers call the frequency at which the structure of the tweeter cone begins to flex and bend. When designing the tweeter, they used finite element analysis to determine that the weakest point on the tweeter is at the edge of the dome. The double dome design reinforces this weak area where the voice coil is connected to the dome by adding a 50-micron ring bonded to the rear surface. The entire tweeter is then completely decoupled from the cabinet, floating free of the baffle in a gel-like material. This helps isolate the energy generated by the tweeter from the cabinet and vice versa. The decoupled double dome tweeter delivers stunningly precise high frequencies, revealing the most subtle details and nuances embedded within your favorite recordings. 
  • The Bowers & Wilkins Continuum cone mid/bass driver is a key factor in the 606 S3’s impressive sound. This advanced driver replaces the traditional Kevlar cones found in previous models. The Continuum material is a woven composite created by Bowers & Wilkins, designed to offer superior control over its movement. It behaves in a more pistonic manner, meaning it moves back and forth more uniformly. This precision translates into a clearer, more accurate sound, especially in the crucial midrange, where vocals and many instruments reside. You’ll notice less unwanted coloration in the sound, leading to a more natural and transparent listening experience.
  • Unlike some speakers that place the bass port on the front, the 606 S3 features a rear-firing port. This design element works by channeling the low-frequency energy created by the speaker’s movement out through the back. The interaction of this energy with the wall behind the speaker can influence the bass response. While this might require some careful speaker placement for ideal sound, it allows for deeper, more impactful bass reproduction than might be possible with a similarly-sized front-ported or sealed speaker cabinet.
  • The Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 boasts an upgrade over the S2 model with its new speaker terminals. Taking design cues from the higher-end 700 Series, these improved terminals offer a cleaner layout, making connections easier. More importantly, they work to provide a purer signal path between your amplifier and the speaker drivers. This attention to detail minimizes the potential for any signal degradation, ensuring you hear the full range and detail the speaker components are capable of producing. These are, of course, high-quality bi-wire terminals, providing the option to connect separate cables for the high- and low-frequency drivers. This can potentially improve clarity and detail for serious audiophiles with supporting equipment.
  • The Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 loudspeakers exudes a clean, contemporary aesthetic that compliments a variety of spaces. Available in a choice of black, white, or oak finishes, its carefully crafted cabinet blends seamlessly into your décor. Bowers & Wilkins’ attention to detail is evident – from the smoothly curved edges to the solid construction, this speaker exudes quality and promises long-term durability.  The front grilles attach magnetically, offering a touch of customization. Choose a clean, streamlined appearance that emphasizes the sophisticated lines of the speaker itself, or remove the grilles entirely to reveal the advanced drivers — the gleaming tweeter and the distinctive weave of the Continuum cone. This thoughtful design makes the 606 S3 a worthy investment for both your ears and your eyes.

Why Should You Care About the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 Bookshelf Speaker?

The Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 is a speaker that demands the attention of discerning music lovers across a wide variety of outlooks. For seasoned audiophiles seeking a compact loudspeaker that preserves the core essence of high-end sound, the 606 S3 fulfills that promise with remarkable precision and musicality. Its sonic transparency makes it a captivating choice for those who prioritize detail and accurate reproduction of their favorite recordings.

At the same time, if you’re a music lover looking to step up from mass market speakers and experience the transformative power of true audiophile sound, the 606 S3 serves as an outstanding entry point into the world of high fidelity. Its engaging sound signature, compact form factor, and elegant finishes make it an attractive option for those seeking a speaker that seamlessly blends exceptional performance with a touch of sophistication.

The Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 speakers in Nasim Abu-Daggar's audiophile reference system.
The Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 speakers in Nasim Abu-Daggar’s audiophile reference system.

Some Things You Might Not Like About Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 Bookshelf Loudspeaker

  • While the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3’s revealing nature is one of its greatest strengths for audiophiles seeking pure, uncolored sound, it can also be a double-edged sword. This speaker’s exceptional detail retrieval means that any flaws or shortcomings in your source material or upstream components will be laid bare. If you’re using a lower-quality CD player, a turntable with a subpar cartridge, or an amplifier that lacks refinement, the 606 S3 will faithfully reproduce those imperfections. For some listeners, this might lead to a less enjoyable experience, as they suddenly become aware of details in their music they hadn’t noticed before. To fully appreciate the 606 S3’s capabilities, it’s wise to invest in a high-quality system that matches its level of performance. 
  • While the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3’s rear-firing port contributes to its impressive bass depth, it also introduces a potential drawback. Unlike front-ported speakers, the bass response of rear-ported designs is more heavily influenced by their proximity to the wall behind them. This means you may need to experiment with the speaker’s placement in your room to achieve the perfect balance of bass. Placing it too close to the wall might result in an overly boomy or muddy sound, while placing it too far away could leave the bass feeling thin. Finding the sweet spot for the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3’s bass performance might require a bit more effort than some similarly-sized bookshelf speakers

Listening to the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 Bookshelf Speakers 

To give these speakers a test, I hooked them up to my current HiFi system, composed of my Roon core as a source hooked up to a Topping e30 DAC, leading to my trusty Yamaha AS301 Class-A/B integrated amp. My office is a smaller rectangular room, which is a great testing ground for these compact speakers. I positioned the speakers a good three or four feet from the back wall and toed them in, so that they pointed towards the listening position near the middle of the room.

I like starting out with some softer acoustic stuff when reviewing speakers. One of my favorite tracks is “Green is the Color” by Pink Floyd. I usually listen at night, when my home is the quietest and I can block out all light from the room. During this song, the clarity and directionality of the acoustic guitar really stood out to me. The 606 S3s created a very convincing illusion that David Gilmour was really in the corner of the room strumming the riff during the piece. I could hear each of the chords being plucked, along with the guitar itself reverberating; it was fantastically realistic. The imaging of the rest of the instruments was just as sharp, and there was a true sense of depth, aided by the fact that, due to the darkness, my brain only could work with what the speakers were projecting. The tin whistle played by Nick Mason’s then-wife Lindy Rutter floated behind the guitar and back more towards the center of the room. 

“Green is the Color” by Pink Floyd

To test the strength of the vocals, I played Queen’s “Love of My Life,” a very well-recorded-and-mastered track with some intricate layering of both instruments and vocals. The Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3s handled Freddie Mercury’s iconic voice with remarkable clarity, conveying every nuance of his powerful performance. The delicate piano accompaniment felt full and present, providing a solid foundation for his soaring vocals. As the song builds, the way the speakers portrayed the layering of Mercury’s harmonies was impressive — each vocal track felt distinct, with plenty of room to breathe, yet they blended seamlessly for a truly emotional experience. 

Queen’s “Love of My Life”

Switching gears, I cued up some classic rock with Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” From the opening drumbeats and Robert Plant’s unmistakable wail, the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3s flexed their dynamic muscles. The punchy bass line maintained impact without becoming overbearing, ensuring a balanced presentation, even as the screeching guitars and cymbal crashes cut through the mix with satisfying clarity.

For a final test, I wanted to hear how the speakers handled a complex orchestral piece. I chose Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”  The Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3s articulated the chaotic energy of the music with finesse, navigating the rapid shifts in dynamics and instrumentation effortlessly. They showcased the full spectrum of the orchestra, from the deep rumble of timpani to the piercing shrieks of woodwinds, maintaining remarkable composure during even the most demanding passages. 

Will the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 Bookshelf Speakers Hold Their Value?

Bowers & Wilkins speakers have a well-established reputation for quality and long-term durability, which contributes to them holding their value relatively well in the used market. Specifically, the 600 Series is a popular, widely respected line, meaning there will likely continue to be a demand for these speakers even years after their initial release. However, it’s important to remember that factors like condition, market fluctuations and the release of newer models can all influence the resale value. If you take good care of your 606 S3s, you should reasonably expect to recoup a decent portion of your initial investment, should you decide to sell them down the line.

The Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3s installed in a slick, music-lovers room.
The Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3s installed in a slick, music-lovers room.

What is the Competition for the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 Bookshelf Speakers?

The KEF LS50 Meta at $1,599 (buy at Crutchfield) presents a compelling alternative to the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3, also designed in the UK. Both speakers excel in delivering a detailed and transparent sound, but there are key differences. The KEF’s unique Uni-Q driver design, with its tweeter nested in the center of the midrange cone, promises exceptional soundstage and pinpoint imaging. This means that it might have a one up on the B&Ws in the imaging department. The LS50 Meta also tends to have a slightly smoother and more forgiving presentation, while the B&W 606 S3 might come across as more analytical and revealing.  Ultimately, the best choice depends on your sonic preferences – if you crave absolute detail and want to dissect your music, the 606 S3 might be the winner, whereas those who favor a stunning soundstage and a slightly warmer touch will likely gravitate towards the LS50 Meta.

The JBL L52 Classic (buy at Crutchfield) offers a distinctly different flavor compared to the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 at $1,000 per pair.  With its retro-inspired looks and classic JBL sound signature, the L52 Classic emphasizes a warm yet punchy and lively presentation. If you enjoy the fun factor in your music (think full-bodied bass, energetic highs), the JBLs will deliver in spades. The 606 S3, with its focus on neutrality and accuracy, offers a bit more transparency and detail retrieval. The choice comes down to preference: if you want a speaker that analyzes the music, the B&W is a better fit, but if you want a vintage-inspired speaker that invites you to tap your feet and rock out, the JBL L52 Classic is likely to be the more satisfying option.

The Monitor Audio Silver 100 presents the most direct competition to the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 at $1,495 per pair. Both speakers share a British design heritage and prioritize detail and clarity. The Silver 100 might offer a slightly brighter presentation, with a bit more emphasis on the upper treble frequencies. This can translate to a sense of extra sparkle and airiness in the sound. The 606 S3, in comparison, may feel slightly smoother and refined with its detailed but less forward treble. Both speakers boast excellent build quality, but the decision ultimately depends on your treble sensitivity and sonic preference. If you desire an ultra-revealing sound with shimmering highs, the Silver 100 might be your ideal, while those who crave a touch more refinement and neutrality will likely prefer the 606 S3.

Nasim's setup streaming from his laptop and eventually into his Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 spealkers
Nasim’s setup streaming from his laptop and eventually into his Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 spealkers

Final Thoughts on the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 Bookshelf Speakers…

All in all, I really enjoyed my time listening to the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 Bookshelf Speaker. The 606 S3 confidently continues the tradition of excellence established by its predecessors. With refined technology and meticulous design, these speakers deliver a listening experience characterized by detail, clarity, and a compelling sense of musicality. Whether you’re analyzing the subtle nuances of a complex recording or simply getting lost in the emotion of your favorite album, the 606 S3 reveals new layers of depth in your music. If you’re serious about sound and ready to invest in an audiophile experience that will reward you for years to come, the 606 S3 demands your attention.

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