It was always going to be a tough ask for Bowers & Wilkins to replace its popular CM series. But the new 700 series is no David Moyes to the CMs’ Sir Alex Ferguson – and the range-topping 702 S2 are definitely the star player.
These are three-way floor-standing speakers that borrow a load of tech from the British company’s top-end 800 Diamond series – but cost a fraction of the price. Just so you know, the B&W 802 D3 cost £16,500 per pair.
Bowers & Wilkins has upped the ante in seemingly every department with the 700s. For starters, the styling is more classy, thanks in part to the decision to ditchthe CM series’ silver driver surrounds.
However, the big improvement comes from the new Continuum driver cones. Continuum is a woven material developed by B&W, and promises to distort less than the Kevlar used on the outgoing CM models. Even visually, though, it’s a step up – the silver weave looks far nicer than the old yellow Kevlar.
In the case of the 702 S2, this Continuum mid-range driver is mounted above three Aerofoil bass drivers, and it’s decoupled from the cabinet in a similar style to the system used in the 800 series.
Also brought over from the 800s is the tweeter-on-top design. A 1-inch carbon dome tweeter is fitted in a decoupled aluminium body that sits atop the main wooden cabinet. This tweeter has been designed especially for the 700 series, and promises treble performance that’s super-close to B&W’s flagship diamond tweeters. The tweeter grille is unbelievably strong, by the way – trust me, I tried standing on one – so you shouldn’t need to worry too much about damaged tweeters at any point.
Around the back is a single bass port and a set of terminals for bi-wiring. Speaker grilles are supplied and are held on by magnets, which is how they should all work.
Plinths are supplied to provide extra stability for these tall, heavy beasts, but B&W has made no secret of the fact that these optional plinths degrade sound quality. For the best performance, you should attach the supplied feet or spikes directly to the bottom of the cabinet.
As with all the models in the range, the 702 S2 are available in a choice of finishes: Rosenut, Gloss Black and Satin White. I got to see all three at a visit to the Bowers & Wilkins factory in Worthing, and it didn’t change my opinion that B&Ws always look best in black. It’s probably the memory of seeing those first Nautilus speakers, gleaming and inky, way back in 1993.
The finish on each speaker is impeccable, and the lengths B&W goes to in order to achieve this near-perfection is impressive to behold.
Sign up for the newsletter
Get news, competitions and special offers direct to your inbox
I mostly listened to the 702 S2 wired up to the sublimely transparent Leema Acoustics Tucana II Anniversary amplifier via Atlas Mavros cables. The source was a laptop using the Chord Hugo as a DAC, plus the occasional record spun on a Rega RP8.
Starting gently, I fed them Josh Ritter’s ‘Acoustic Live Vol.1’. Instantly I was struck by the clarity and resolution of that carbon tweeter and Continuum mid-driver combo, but then by the sense of airiness; the cabinets melting away and real height given to the performance. In the track ‘Galahad’, the guitar-picking shimmered but with every note stopping and starting on a sixpence, while the vocal was rock-solid and I could hear the venue spreading out and upwards.
The tweeters are just slightly on the harsh side, perhaps, making the guitars on ‘Wings’ a little fatiguing. But their superb treble extension, and the awesome mid-range texture created by those Continuum drivers, is still the stuff of dreams.
As you might expect from big speakers with triple bass drivers, there’s plenty of the low stuff here. There’s no flab to be found, however. Playing Deadmau5’s ‘Seeya’ (from ‘While 1<2’), there’s gut-punching thump aplenty; fast yet weighty, pulsing along with perfect timing.
This is an excellent all-round performance at this price. Aside from that slight lack of sweetness to the treble, the only drawback is a little fussiness when it comes to positioning. You’re going to need more than a foot of space behind that rear port, and the sweet spot is also relatively narrow. These are quite directional speakers, best suited to a single listening seat.
Bowers & Wilkins has done a stunning job with the 702 S2. They’re great floorstanders, offering not just width but also height with their wonderfully resolved soundstage. Bass is tight and thumping, while the mid-range is incredibly detailed. The treble is light and airy, if a tiny bit harsh.
If you can find the space to let them breathe, and you don’t mind their directionality, these are a must to audition.
However, it really isn’t a massive jump in cost to the Q Acoustics Concept 500, which are probably as good all-round speakers as you’ll find at almost twice the price, and offer that extra sweetness that the 702 S2 are lacking. It’s still a jump in cost, though.