Hands on: Bowers & Wilkins 700 Signature Series review

The Signature series shows signs of serious promise

What is a hands on review?
Bowers and Wilkins Signature side by side
(Image: © What Hi-Fi?)

Early Verdict

We'll need more time to tell, but it seems as though these Signature spin-offs offer a lot more than just a new lick of paint

Pros

  • +

    Punchy, involving and musical sound

  • +

    The 705 S3 standmounts feel especially cohesive and entertaining

  • +

    Beautiful to look at, especially in Midnight Blue

Cons

  • -

    We need more testing time

  • -

    Those finishes look susceptible to finger marks

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Bowers & Wilkins' 700 S3 loudspeaker series has seen three members join the coveted Signature club. Getting the Signature treatment usually means taking the standard speaker and adding refinement, polish and upgraded components, not to mention aesthetic embellishments or flourishes which tell the world you're the proud owner of something exclusive and just a bit special. 

The B&W 702 S3 floorstanders, 705 S3 standmounts and HTM71 S3 centre speaker have all been upgraded to join the Signature stable, and we were keen to see how the first two models would sound when bolstered by those aforementioned upgrades. A quick trip to Bowers' facilities in Clapham was just the thing to see whether the Signatures were all mouth and no trousers, or whether they could take things to the next sonic level.

Price 

Bowers and Wilkins Signature series side by side

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The original members of the 700 series were hardly bargain basement barrel-scrapers, nor were they the sort of multi-thousand-pound models designed to cater only to yacht owners and hedge fund managers. The standard 702 S3 floorstanders retailed originally at £5500 / $7000 / €6500 / AU$10,500, while the 705 S3 standmount units debuted at £2600 / $3400 / €3000  / AU$4499. 

The Signature editions are more expensive, naturally, but the jump in price isn't gargantuan. 702 S3 Signature floorstanders are currently priced at £7000 / $9000 / €8500 per pair, while the 705 S3 Signature go to market at £3400 / $4500 / €4000 per pair.  

Build & design 

Bowers and Wilkins 702 Signature terminals

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Both the 702 S3 Signature and 705 S3 Signature struck us as rather lovely things when we first saw them. We didn't get a chance to get much actual "hands-on" time with the speakers in terms of plastering our clammy mitts all over their sleek, shiny exteriors, but from a purely aesthetic perspective, they're a lovely duo to behold. 

The larger 702 floorstanders look resplendent with their Datuk Gloss wood veneers, and while sticky fingers might threaten to leave a few unwanted marks, they certainly sparkle after a quick buff and polish. The smaller standmounts, meanwhile, ooze class and a dark sense of sophistication thanks to their alluring Midnight Blue finish and shiny-trim driver adornments. There was certainly an "I want a pair of those" factor as soon as they were unveiled to our somewhat enamoured eyes.

Becoming a Signature speaker requires more than a few layers of glossy paint and a rear-mounted logo plate. The 702 S3 Signature distinguishes itself from its standard counterpart via upgraded drive units, enhancements to its crossover alongside refined capacitors, inductors and brass terminal posts, the latter of which promote a cleaner signal flow into the speaker.  

The 705 S3 houses a revised mid/bass driver, aiming for a crisper, clearer midrange and greater extension and depth from the lower-end response. The updated speaker also boasts similar enhancements to its crossovers, as well as those fancy new brass terminals as pictured above. How, though, does that all translate to that supposedly superior Signature sound? 

Sound

Bowers and Wilkins Signature side by side

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Our time listening to the speakers was limited, but we did come away from Bowers' facilities with a good initial impression of how these handsome Signatures sound. 

In short, we were impressed, with both upgraded models leaving us wanting more rather than making us feel as though we'd had our fill. Both Signature editions were heard back-to-back against their standard counterparts, and the differences were, if not night and day, reassuringly apparent. 

We started with the standard Bowers 702 S3 floorstanding speakers against their new Signature updates, and while we weren't blown away by how the standard towers sounded (perhaps they needed more running in?), their Signature counterparts were a major improvement. Where the standard speakers had felt a little soft and lacking in spark and dynamism, the Signatures brought in lavish helpings of punch, verve and cohesion to their sonic delivery.  

The Signature standmounts were possibly even more impressive. Both iterations of the 705 S3 fired out their renditions of Lady Blackbird's Blackbird, and while the standard model did a fine job of bringing out the various vocal and instrumental textures of the recording, the Signature units were a clear step up. The smooth, expressive vocals rose above the rest of the recording with acres of extra space and weight, while underlying bass plucks probed deeper and felt fuller this time around. 

They're more fun, too. We're having a bit of an OutKast phase at the moment, and eager renditions of Roses and Ms. Jackson made us think that the S3 Signatures must be big fans too, so keenly and enthusiastically did they pick out those peppy, snappy hip-hop rhythms. Clarity, space and detail were all much more in evidence with the Signature editions, but they clearly had a far greater sense of fun and spark than their standard counterparts. 

In summary, both Signature speakers felt like clear sonic improvements on their classic counterparts, and while our hands-on listening time was limited, we certainly didn't leave feeling as though we'd had to strain our ears to figure out how Bowers & Wilkins was justifying the extra cash we'd have to fork out for the Signature models.  

Early verdict 

Bowers and Wilkins 702 tweeter closeup

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Of course, we qualify every hands-on review with the reminder that these are opinions and judgements formed over just a few hours of listening and contact with the products themselves. We'll need proper time for comparative testing of the Signature models before we can come up with a definitive assessment and a proper rating. 

That said,  we left feeling impressed and, more than that, genuinely entertained. What was so striking about both Signature pairs is just how much they improved over the standard models, and while you might think that the price premiums seem hefty, the sonic improvements are too.

MORE: 

Read our recent Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3 review

These are our best floorstanding speakers: budget to premium

Here's our guide to the best Bowers & Wilkins speakers on sale now

How are B&W's flagship Diamond series made? We visited the factory to find out

Harry McKerrell
Staff writer

Harry McKerrell is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?. He studied law and history at university before working as a freelance journalist covering TV and gaming for numerous platforms both online and in print. When not at work he can be found playing hockey, practising the piano or forcing himself to go long-distance running.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.