Bowers & Wilkins may flaunt its flagship 800 Series of speakers as its crowning glory, but we have always had a soft spot for its entry-level 600 range of speakers. There are rave reviews throughout the range’s 20-plus year history, with the most recent 606 S2 Anniversary Edition a particular favourite and What Hi-Fi? award winner.
Its successor, the newly released Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3, has quite a lot to live up to as a result. It’s the top standmounter in the new 600 Series 3 range, and it’s also the bigger sibling to the freshly minted five-star and very charming B&W 607 S3 speakers. Can this updated 606 repeat that success?
We tested the outgoing 606 S2 Anniversary Edition model at £599 / $899 / AU$1299, but the new 606 S3 speakers that replace them have, inevitably, seen a price hike in the intervening years.
The new model is yours for £749 / $1100 / AU$1499 per pair. That’s a similar increase in price that the smaller, entry-level 607 S3 model has undergone, but the 606 S3 remains firmly in mid-range territory.
Build & design
Like its smaller 607 S3 sibling, the 606 S3 looks almost unchanged from its predecessors, at least on the outside. The build quality is of a good standard for this level, with crisp edges, minimal fascia and a smooth finish that make the speakers look smart overall. You can get the speakers in three colourways: white, black and oak.
The biggest difference between the two new models is, of course, size. The 606 S3 has a larger footprint at 34.4 x 18.9 x 30cm (and is considerably deeper than the 607 S3’s 20.7cm depth) and uses a larger 16.5cm mid/bass driver (the 607 S3 uses a 13cm unit).
Drive units 25mm tweeter, 16.5cm mid/bass
Ported? Yes (rear)
Impedance 8 ohms
Dimensions (hwd) 34.4 x 18.9 x 30cm
Finishes x3 (white, black, oak)
The 606 S3 remains a two-way vented design, with a 25mm dome tweeter and the 16.5cm cone. While the mid/bass driver continues to use B&W’s proprietary Continuum cone material, the brand has decided to use titanium for the first time in the tweeter. B&W has previously used titanium in the drivers for soundbars used with Philips TVs, but it’s the first time the material has been used in its stereo loudspeakers. The new material should improve resolution and refinement in the high frequencies, says B&W, while the grille mesh covering the new tweeter arrangement (which is inspired by the top-of-the-range 800 Signature Series) aims to deliver a more open sound.
Elsewhere, plenty of design concepts and technologies derived from the step-up 700 S3 series have been incorporated into the 606 S3 speakers. These include an improved, more powerful motor assembly for the mid/bass driver, an updated crossover with higher-quality bypass capacitors, a neater speaker terminal layout and reflex port design at the back of the speaker, and a longer tube-loading system to further reduce the amount of unwanted radiation from the back of the tweeter affecting the sound. All of this is to deliver a cleaner, more open sound with minimal distortion throughout.
Additionally, the internal bracing has been strengthened and the two driver units are now positioned closer together on the fascia. B&W says the intersecting design is to improve the integration between the two drivers and deliver better stereo imaging.
While we were somewhat disappointed with the minimal changes between the 2019 606 model and the S2 Anniversary Edition, the updates throughout the new Series 3 model give us confidence – and hope – that we’re in for a more exciting evolution.
The difference between the S2 and S3 generations is clear as day when it comes to the 606’s sound quality. We’re big fans of the 606 S2 (it’s a multiple Award-winner, after all), but the new generation is leaps ahead when it comes to clarity and dynamism. The improvements are palpable, to the point that the older model – while still a decent performer – sounds rather cluttered and dynamically flat in comparison.
The 606 S3 is a leaner, more precise and more refined beast. It offers a bigger, more open and spacious-sounding presentation, too, with plenty of room for songs to breathe and flourish. Nine Inch Nails’ Right Where It Belongs is a fantastic test of how speakers handle the spatial changes throughout the song, and the 606 S3 deftly conveys the shift from a small, intimate studio recording to the vast, crowd-cheering atmosphere of a live performance in the final chorus. The way Trent Reznor’s vocals open up, revealing layers of nuance that were previously muted, is delivered with conviction and a great amount of subtlety through the 606.
The build-up of tension is handled elegantly, while the melodic piano and buzzy synthesizers have plenty of detail and texture to sink your teeth into. Nitin Sawhney’s Beyond Skin album shows off the 606 S3’s newfound levels of refinement: there’s ample headroom for that cleaner treble to soar, while each guest vocalist with their various languages and accents come through with all their distinct personalities and tonal variances. At times, this level of detail can even be enchanting. Crank up the volume, and the speakers can reach party levels with ease and clarity that has little distortion to disrupt our enjoyment. It had no problem filling our large 3m x 7m x 4m (hwd) listening room.
With the bigger mid/bass driver and deeper cabinet comes added weight, punch and authority. Orchestral pieces roar with more conviction and in a wider soundstage than the smaller 607 S3s allow, while low frequency performance – from the brooding tones in Massive Attack’s Angel to the funkier basslines in Players by Coi Leray – are controlled and have an organic depth to them. They land with a far more satisfying thud and depth, too.
This extra bass power means the 606 S3 speakers aren’t quite as prone to the slightly excitable and forward treble of its lively 607 S3 sibling; but we’d still take some care with partnering hi-fi products to get the very best out of these speakers. An amplifier with plenty of power, detail and rhythmic prowess will work well, and we use a variety of options across a range of prices, from the powerful Cambridge Audio CXA81 to our reference PMC Cor, and even the limited edition, peppy Naim Nait 50. We’d also recommend placing these speakers on dedicated stands and leaving ample room away from a back wall so that the rear port (and that airy sense of space) isn’t obstructed.
In terms of balance, the 606 S3 are the more level-headed, mature siblings to the 607 S3’s upbeat performer. This somewhat staid, deliberate nature of the 606 S3, with its larger scale and greater degree of openness, will appeal more to some, but we find that they’re not as immediately fun as the 607s.
We find that the 607 S3 do a better job with dynamic expression, delivering a sweeter, more charming and nimble performance. While the 606 aren’t slouches when it comes to attack and agility, we find they don’t hold songs together as cohesively as when played through the 607. The smaller speakers are just a tad more agile and rhythmically adept.
Did we have any trouble playing albums continuously without getting bored through the 606? Absolutely not. The pristine, capable nature of these new standmounters is still very impressive and they are a big, easy listen.
If you can afford and accommodate a step up above the compact 607 S3 speakers, want a larger scale of sound and need more oomph to your bass, the B&W 606 S3 will be more to your liking. They could do with a hint of their smaller siblings’ enthusiasm, but the new Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 speakers are an improvement over their previous generation in every way. Pair with equally talented kit and they will shine.
- Sound 5
- Build 5
- Compatibility 4
Read our review of the Bowers & Wilkins 607 S3
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