Bowers and Wilkins 705S2 Blurring the lines

By Jeff Dorgay

After a few months of constant listening, I want to say “Bowers & Wilkins new 705s2’s kick major ass,” but that would be so un-British.

But they really do. Today, listening to Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s Brain Salad Perjury, an ambient/electronica remix of a major slice of their catalog, I continue to be impressed at the sheer scale these compact monitors deliver. There, much more polite.

In the past, Bowers & Wilkins flagship 800 series speakers have been the only models sporting their signature diamond tweeters, resulting in a fairly large gap in resolution between the two. Yet with the s2 version of the 705, they are catching up on the sonic signature of the 805, even though the 705 features B&Ws new carbon dome tweeter. This is a first, replacing the aluminum dome that used to be standard issue on the 700 series, yet it is produced in a similar way to the diamond domes, just layering carbon atoms instead of diamond atoms.

Simple or traditional?

Both the $6,000/pair 805d3 and the $2,500/pair 705s2 share B&Ws new Continuum cone material, and as was explained when I visited their US office last fall, one of the major commonalities here is that both the carbon dome and the Continuum cone for the LF driver are hand made in the UK facility, and shipped to their overseas plant for final assembly. Every aspect of the 800 series is hand built and optimized in the UK facility.

Of course the diamond tweeter requires more effort to produce, and the cabinet of the 805 features the same curvy form that distinguishes the series. Watching these come to life in their factory, layer by layer, then pressed into shape transcends mere manufacturing. And as we happen to be touring the paint shop, a few of the people in coveralls just happen to be from Rolls-Royce. Our tour guide explains “Yes, we share information on finishes.” This is industrial art in the truest sense.

Back to the 705, shall we? In addition to the cost cutting savings in manufacturing and driver technology, though B&W has incorporated their billet tweeter enclosure and flowport design from the 800 series, they have made the cabinet a simpler box shape. I can only imagine how much time this saves in the assembly process.

Value is the result

Thanks to an engineering team of nearly 100 people now, B&W has put some major heart into the 700 series. This is what you get when a company has complete control over the design and manufacturing process. With so many boutique speaker companies picking this bit or that bit off the shelf and hammering it into place to make it work, there’s a reason why B&W can produce such an incredible product for this low price. There are a number of economies of scale going, as well as depth of design prowess. And though the cabinet is a simpler shape, the level of execution is still like that of the 800 series. Personally, I love, love, love the matte white adorning our review speakers.

You might think I’m too excited. Sorry. But the longer you listen, the easier these speakers are to live with. An 88db/1 watt sensitivity and a 3.7 ohm nominal (rated 8 ohm) impedance make the 705s2s a breeze to drive with solid state or tube electronics. After auditioning them with about a dozen different amplification choices (including the Rotel RAP-1580 in concert with a pair of 707s2s and an HTM72 center channel) all provided highly satisfying sound.

Running through a gamut of quad and surround mixes underscored how much better this effect is when you use five very similar speakers, and it was easy to get lost in the trippiness of this. The Rotel/5-speaker system in a small 10 x 11 foot room delivered a massive sonic landscape that felt so much bigger than you might suspect.

Setup is a breeze. The 705d2s offer bi-wiring as an option, but we ran them with a single pair of Cardas Clear Beyond speaker cables. The only tweak I’d suggest is replacing the supplied jumpers if you do not bi-wire these speakers, with jumpers made from the same speaker cable. This is another area that the 800 series offers higher quality – their supplied wire jumpers are the best in the business. I did notice a slight jump in clarity and cohesiveness by switching to Cardas Clear jumpers.

24-inch stands are what you need. B & W offers their own 700 series stands, but they will set you back another $499, pushing the price of the 705s2s closer to the $3,000 mark. However, any of the other mini monitors in this category suffer the same fate. It’s like when you book that $34/day rental car, but you still need insurance. These speakers are excellent, don’t scrimp on the stands. Jedi rant over.

Moving in stereo

Returning to the universe of two channel, the majority of my listening was done, pairing the 705s2s with the Pass Labs INT-60. These speakers will deliver excellent results with anything from a vintage receiver on up, but because of the high resolution they do offer, pairing them with the best amplifier you can muster will pay dividends in image depth, bass grip and extension as well a high frequency smoothness that the lesser amps don’t offer. These speakers deliver performance well beyond what you might expect for this price.

$2,500 does not buy you the full enchilada, yet spending time with the flagship 800 Diamond, both at the B&W factory in the UK and a very recent experience with B&W’s Kevin Wolff in Vancouver BC at the Hi Fi Centre, it is incredible how much of the core 800 sound is here in the 705s2.

Both the $30k/pair 800s and the $2,500/pair 705s render a large musical soundfield. In a smaller room, with program material not dipping much below 45 or 50 hz, you might even be hard pressed to tell the difference. The large 800D has a forceful bottom end, rattling the walls with its output and playing incredibly loud without distortion.

Yet the small 705 can still play loud enough to satisfy most listeners in a modest size room. The Pass amplifier has tremendous headroom, and is able to propel these speakers with plenty of force. The classic track “Yulunga(spirit dancer)” from Dead Can Dance proves the 705d2s do produce formidable, high quality low frequency output. A minor miracle for a speaker in this price range. Those in a modest sized room may not need even entertain the thought of a subwoofer.

The 705d2s produce their immersive soundstage well beyond the sweet spot in the center of the couch. No doubt a result of their collaboration with Abbey Road studios, where the 800s are used as mastering speakers, and wide dispersion is a must – the mix has to sound good when sitting or standing at the console. This is an area where the 705d2s excel.

Simplicity at its best

Many audiophiles prefer the coherence of a well-designed two way speaker, feeling that a simpler is better approach, along with only one crossover point to disrupt the sonic landscape the ideal. Should this be your flavor of choice, I suspect you will be very pleased with what the 705d2s have to offer.

Along with wide frequency response and wide dynamic range, the 705d2s have a cleaner, more natural tonal rendition than their past iteration. Acoustic instruments feel correct and that bastion of audiophilia, the female vocal, is well represented. Whether it’s the quirky delicacy of Aimee Mann or the raw power of Chrissie Hynde (don’t make me go you-know-where) these mighty mini monitors are right at home.

The only remaining question? Matte white, gloss black, or rosewood. You know what I like. Don’t forget, Bowers & Wilkins is one of the few manufacturers that does not charge extra for their gloss black option. And remember, it’s Rolls Royce good.

The Bowers and Wilkins 705s2

MSRP: $2,499/pair (stands $499 addl)


Analog Source                         AVID Volvere SP/Rega RB-2000/Gold Note Machiavelli

Digital Source                         Gryphon Kalliope DAC

Amplifier                                 Pass Labs INT-60

Cable                                       Cardas Clear Beyond

Power                                      PS Audio P20