Two down, one to go. That’s the current situation with B&W’s 600 Series of stereo speakers.
We were impressed by the two standmounters in the range but now it’s time to turn our attention to the solitary floorstander in the family, the B&W 603s.
Build and compatibility
Whether it’s budget or high-end speakers, B&W usually delivers on the engineering front, and the 603s are no different. Peel away the magnetic grilles – a first for the 600 Series – and you’ll see what we mean.
Traditionally, a 600 Series speaker would sport B&W’s trademark yellow kevlar midrange cones. But this material has now been replaced by B&W’s eye-catching silver Continuum cone material, first introduced to its flagship 800 Series Diamond. Here, the cone is actually part of a B&W FST drive unit, which is great to see included at this price point.
FST drivers replace a traditional rubber surround with a specially designed foam ring. B&W claims the foam damps vibrations in the cone better, thus improving clarity and reducing distortion. The only limitation to the design is that it restricts the movement of the cone, so it can only be used for midrange, not bass.
Bowers & Wilkins 603 tech specs
Max power 200W
Impedance 8 ohms
Dimensions (hwd) 98.5 x 19 x 34cm
Hence the 603’s 15cm FST driver is used with a pair of 16.5cm paper bass cones. Add a 25mm double dome tweeter for high frequencies and you have a true three-way speaker, which is quite unusual at this level.
Unfortunately for the 603s, it feels like the driver design might have distracted B&W from the speaker’s overall finish. The cabinet exterior doesn’t look like it belongs on a product worth over a grand. It feels quite scratchy and basic, and the plinths seem like an afterthought. They’re functional but don’t do the 603s’ appearance any favours.
B&W recommends listening to them without the plinths for the best audio performance, so it’s a good excuse to leave them in the packaging. Compare the fit and finish of the B&W 603s to the similarly priced Fyne Audio F501s and, in our opinion, the latter come across as considerably more premium.
The 603s are rear-ported, so it helps if you can give them a bit of room to breathe. We’d suggest around 50cm from a rear wall, a decent width apart and slightly toed in to the listening position.
We start with I’m A Ghost by Australian hip-hoppers Hilltop Hoods. A solitary harp carves a furrow through the opening seconds of the track and the speakers track its plucking with intent. The track’s vocal emerges front and centre, and is met with a mixture of piano and strings. The B&Ws deliver with focus and precision, but there’s loads of space – it’s a huge, expansive stereo image that allows you to dip in and enjoy each of the elements individually.
As the track ups the tempo and injects a fluttering bassline and more percussion, the B&Ws step up their game too. The speakers handle the dynamic shifts and flows of the strings with confidence. And confident is exactly how we’d describe their character. Whether it’s bass weight, vocal clarity or general detail, the B&Ws sound like they know how to handle a tune.
Switch to Muse’s Dead Inside and the B&Ws hammer home their strong-willed sense of delivery. As the track drives along, every drum thwack hits with intent and purpose. The bass notes are deep and probing when required, the speakers reinforcing Muse’s reputation for powerful stadium rock.
Arguably the B&Ws' biggest attraction is the way they handle vocals. That FST driver does a great job of presenting and communicating with the listener. We play Jorja Smith’s Don’t Watch Me Cry, and the 603s show just how attentive and revealing they can be.
The number of musical elements in the track is stripped right back, and with the rise and fall of her vocal mirrored by the accompanying piano, the piece sounds intimate and emotional. Whether it’s the subtle echo around her voice, or the detail in the breaths between lines, the B&W speakers have no problem extracting the information and telling you what’s going on.
Our only slight reservation would is that the 603s don’t deliver the most relaxed of listens. If you prefer a balance that’s a little less forward and more easy-going, you might want to consider the Fyne Audio F501s instead. The B&Ws also time well, but the F501s have an even better sense of musicality.
We wouldn’t dock a star for this, especially given the B&Ws' outstanding talents in other departments, but if you like your speakers with a certain balance, it’s worth bearing in mind. We’d also suggest using electronics with plenty of poke to help extract the best sound possible.
Our five-star rating for the 603s makes it a full house for the B&W 600 Series – three pairs of speakers, each gaining the maximum praise we can bestow upon them.
The 603s are the kind of floorstanders that won’t struggle to sell themselves during a demo. They are blessed with a wow factor that other speakers at this price can only dream of, especially with voices. And the listening experience just gets better, thanks to their wide soundstage, impressive sense of scale and insightful delivery.
If you have just over a grand to spend on a new pair of speakers, you should give the B&W 603s a whirl.
- Sound 5
- Compatibility 4
- Build 4
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