EXCLUSIVE REVIEW: What we think of the Bowers & Wilkins 685 Theatre home cinema speaker package

Wed, 16 Apr 2008, 3:05pm

Bw 685 Theatre Mag Version

We've been asked many times in the Forums what we think of B&W's surround sound speaker package, and specifically the one based around the Award-winning 685 speakers.

So here, two weeks ahead of its publication in the June issue of What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision, is our verdict on the B&W 685 Theatre system.

B&W 685 Theatre

£1206

5 stars

For
Fine combination of control and openness; superb little sub; fine build

Against
At this price, nothing

Verdict
B&W builds on the 68 series' stereo success with a beautifully integrated surround setup

We really rate the latest Bowers & Wilkins 600 series, even if we still find it confusing that the company's model numbers go down as the speaker sizes go up. The 685s took a Product of the Year Award last year, and the other 68s we've tested to date have been solid buys, from the little 686s to the floorstanding 683s - see what we mean about those model numbers?

Of course, making a good pair of stereo speakers doesn't guarantee home cinema success, just as surround sound systems aren't always great with music. But B&W has an enviable reputation across both kinds of systems, with its MT-30 style system consistently scoring well in home cinema comparisons.

It also has the benefit of a truly massive range of speaker line-ups, and comprehensive coverage within those ranges.

That could all get confusing, so the company has packaged up a trio of 68-series Theatre systems, of which this is the smallest and most affordable. It combines the B&W 685 speakers for the front left and right channels, the smaller 686s for the rears, the HTM62 centre speaker and the new ASW608 subwoofer.

That combination creates a system that looks good - all the speakers apart from the sub come in a choice of four high-quality finishes -, and also promises much in sonic terms.

Dynamic, smooth presentation
All the main speakers in this B&W 685 surround system use the same tweeter, a 25mm aluminium dome, mounted on the front end of the company's tapered Nautilus tube, which loads the rear of the driver.

The mid/bass drivers are B&W's familiar yellow woven Kevlar units all round: a 16.5cm version in the 685s, 13cm in the 686s, and a pair of 13cm cones straddling the tweeter in the centre speaker. So there should be no worries about tonal matching around the system.

What's more, the system's relatively easy to drive, with reasonable sensitivity all round, and no great problems on the impedance front, so even relatively modest AV receivers won't be taxed too much.

In fact the only extra requirement is good solid support for the front three speakers, though the 685s and 686s can also be wall-mounted using built-in keyplates, or with optional ball-joint brackets.

And the sound? Well, as we'd expect of a B&W home cinema system, it works beautifully. There's power in spades from that tiny subwoofer, which proved more than capable of driving even our biggest listening room, and above it the rest of the speakers integrate superbly well, delivering a soundfield that's controlled and precise, while at the same time open and involving.

A special package
Voices sound crisp and easily intelligible without ever becoming abrasive, and spot effects are placed well and given full scope to thrill and delight. Even music is handled very well indeed, as you might expect given the pedigree of the speakers here.

This B&W 685 Theatre system a very special little package, with the wherewithal to take on the best at this level. Which is just what it'll be doing in the magazine very soon indeed.

Specifications
Sensitivity (f/c/r) 88/85/84db/W/m
Impedance (ohms) 8/6/6
Power handling (watts) Front, 100; Centre, 120; Rear, 100
Subwoofer power (watts) 200
Subwoofer driver 20cm
Finishes 4

The other 68- Theatre systems
The 685 theatre is the entry-level package in a range of three built around the company's 68 series speakers. As with the individual speakers, model numbers get smaller as the boxes get bigger.

The step-up from the system we have here is the £1626 684 Theatre, so-called because it uses 684 floorstanding speakers on the front left and right channels, and the ASW610 subwoofer, with the same centre and rear speakers as the 685 system.

The 683 system (£2546) uses a pair of 683 floorstanders and the larger HTM61 centre speaker comes into play. The rears are the DS3s, which are switchable between monopole and dipole operation, while the ASW610XP sub, with twin 200w amps, provides the thunder.

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Comments

I am just about to order the B&W 685 package but just wanted some advice on the sub. The review says good thigs about the ASW608 sub but I'm wondering whether to pay the extra £100 for the ASW610 sub. My room is 5 x 5m - will the 608 be too small?

Great to see this review at last - thank you WHFSV!  I've had this exact system since December (driven by the Onkyo TX-SR705), and it sounds absolutely great.  It's always nice to see the kit you own get 5 stars from WHF though.

Will the package be head-to-head with others in the June issue?

Nope, it's a standalone First Test in June issue (on sale 1st May) and we're planning a Group Test for the July issue.

I have the 684 package with the 705 also. Im not sure if its the pairing of Onkyo / B&W. But having spent days auditioning various bits of kit the 2 go perfect together.

hmmmm i wonder if whf will do a 685 theatre comp

[nudge nudge, wink wink]

Couple of nasty twitches you've got there...

early hayfever symptoms sorry

Looked more Alf Ippititimus to me...

Guys

Would this package be a substantial upgrade on my Tannoy Arena kit in your opinion ?

cloverleaf very much so

would this go well with a arcam movie solo 5.1?