Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3 review

B&W sets an impressive level of speaker performance, but is it enough? Tested at £2600 / $3400 / AU$4499

Standmount speakers: Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3
(Image: © Future)

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

These capable B&W speakers impress in many ways, but they fall short of being a truly engaging listen

Pros

  • +

    Sophisticated and detailed presentation

  • +

    Very clean, low-distortion sound

  • +

    Large, spacious scale

  • +

    Excellent design and build quality

Cons

  • -

    Somewhat cool and detached presentation

  • -

    Could do with more rhythmic drive and dynamic subtlety

  • -

    Need careful partnering

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Bowers & Wilkins employ some of the best examples of trickle-down technology. The innovations that the British hi-fi brand implements in its flagship 800 Series Diamond usually find their way down to the 700 and 600 ranges below – meaning you get leading technology at more affordable prices as you go down the chain. 

Nowhere is this better showcased than in the new Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3 stereo speakers. It’s the top standmount speaker model in the new 700 Series 3 range (launched in September 2022) and features plenty of acoustic technology that was originally developed for the latest 800 Series Diamond range launched last year. 

Compared with the previous model – the 705 S2 – there has also been a significant price hike. That older model was priced at £1800 / $2500 (around AU$3699) back in 2018; the new 705 S3 speakers now retail at £2600 / $3400 / AU$4499. We’ve been seeing price hikes across the hi-fi industry as a rule in recent years so it’s not too surprising to see, but it does move the speaker into a higher, more premium price range for customers.

Build & Design

Standmount speakers: Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3

(Image credit: Future)

It’s a good thing the speakers look and feel premium, then. We always find B&W’s speakers to be elegantly put together, and the new 705 S3 is an even classier design than before. 

Part of that is down to the slight curve to the speaker's front baffle – it looks more svelte. The cabinet is a touch slimmer, too, and the build quality is impeccable. Everything is built and finished to a high quality.

Our review sample is a gloss black finish, but you can also get the speakers in satin white and a new mocha wood finish. There are optional matching stands, the FS-700 S3 (£800 / $800 / AU$1399), which have also been redesigned to match the speakers’ slimmer and curved cabinets. They’re pricey but are a natural match for the 705 S3, so we think it’s worth splashing out for them if you don’t already have speaker stands.

Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3 tech specs

Standmount speakers: Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3

(Image credit: Future)

Type Two-way standmounter

Max power 120W

Enclosure type Rear ported

Tweeter 25mm Decoupled Carbon Dome

Mid/bass 16.5cm Continuum cone

Sensitivity 88dB  

Nominal impedance 8 ohms

Dimensions (hwd) 413 x 192 x 337mm 

Weight 9.58kg 

As before, the 705 S3 is a two-way design that incorporates B&W’s distinctive solid body tweeter-on-top enclosure, which is milled from a single, solid block of aluminium and houses the 25mm carbon dome tweeter. An evolution of the tweeter-on-top found in the 800 Series Diamond, this arrangement has been revised for the new 700 Series 3. The enclosure has been lengthened: inside is a longer tube-loading system that reduces distortion by further eliminating soundwaves from the back of the tweeter, which results in a cleaner performance. It’s isolated from the speaker cabinet more effectively, too.

The 705 S3’s curved front baffle isn’t just for aesthetics; it’s also designed to reduce cabinet diffraction. Coupled with the slimmer profile and less cabinet real estate around the midrange/bass driver, this should mean you should hear less of the speaker cabinet’s effect at play on the sound quality and more of the music itself.

This is further emphasised by the returning 16.5cm Continuum cone mid/bass driver, which is now also lifted from the front baffle in an external ‘pod’ – a technical and visual nod from the 800 Series Diamond. The driver also benefits from a new motor system and improved chassis, which should result in a cleaner presentation.

Both the tweeter-on-top (which overhangs the front of the cabinet slightly) and the mid/bass driver are positioned in such a way to ensure perfect time alignment, says B&W. Additionally, the bass reflex port now has a larger diameter to deliver a bigger, more expansive sound.

Standmount speakers: Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3

(Image credit: Future)

Even the back panel has been refreshed, with a sleek mirrored plate set behind the bi-wire speaker terminals – now in a single row layout rather than staggered as previously. The terminals have more substantial contact connections, too. There’s a sense that everything has been cleaned up and streamlined. B&W shows a clear attention to detail and the overall effect exudes elegance.

As these standmount speakers are rear-ported, we’d recommend giving them enough space from a wall – about one metre – and positioned slightly toed-in towards the listening position. If placed close to the wall, you will lose out on the speaker’s pleasing openness and big-scale sound (spoilers here), which is less than ideal. Of course, these speakers will flourish even better in a bigger room.

Our listening room is plenty big enough, and we connect the 705 S3 to our reference system of Naim ND555/555 PS DR music streamer and Technics SL-1000R turntable, and Burmester 911 Mk III amplifier. We also have the Naim Supernait 3 integrated amplifier as a more price-compatible partner for the B&W speakers. And for comparison, we have a wide range of speakers from the more affordable KEF LS50 Meta to the pricier Mission 770, as well as the previous generation 705 S2 speakers, at hand.

Sound

Standmount speakers: Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3

(Image credit: Future)

All of B&W’s developments to reduce distortion levels and get a cleaner sound have paid off: the 705 S3 are wonderfully refined, with crystal clear detail that reaches new heights with low distortion. The sound quality is pristine and precise – it’s of a quality that we’d expect from more premium hi-fi speakers. 

We play through composer John Williams’ greatest hits, and as the Superman theme soars we are impressed with the vast scale of sound on offer. The sense of space around each instrument in the orchestra is excellent to hear; each musical element gets the full attention they deserve. We mentioned this before, but it’s worth emphasising: we really would recommend you play the 705 S3 speakers in a big enough room with plenty of space around them to flourish. You don’t want anything to hamper that huge, spacious presentation, and the speakers’ ability to go loud with ease. 

Play Kate Bush’s Watching You Without Me and the high-frequency notes (of which there are plenty in this song) are scrubbed clean and shimmer and soar high – and there’s still plenty of headroom left beyond it. There are no unwanted bright edges to be heard either, which is a real accomplishment.

We bring out the older 705 S2s for comparison, and the new speakers feel a clear level better. The S2 version now sounds a tad inelegant in comparison, and nowhere near as large-scaled or detailed. The 705 S3 are better in every way: there’s an astonishing level of refinement and resolution, and the presentation has a new-found sophistication.

Play something heavier such as Slipknot’s The Devil in I, and the 705 S3 speakers also show off their muscle and power with taut basslines and impactful drum hits. We could do with a bit more warmth and depth to better convey the subtle textures in Corey Taylor's vocal range, especially during more tender, emotive melodies like Snuff

Much like other B&W products we’ve heard – including the 600 and previous 700 speakers range and even the new B&W Px8 headphones – we find the brand has a tendency to tune its products to sound best at higher volumes. At lower listening levels there’s quite a lot of spark and energy missing from the sound. Push the volume higher – and usually it’s a higher level than we’d normally listen at – and the sound comes to life, with added punch and verve. We wish B&W would give just as much care and attention to the lower volume levels.  

In fact, the sound quality overall could do with a big dose of rhythmic drive and better low-level dynamics. Play Circling by Four Tet, and there's a lack of momentum and nuance to the electronic notes – each of which should sound distinct, but sound almost the same note through the B&Ws with little variation –  that stops us from fully engaging with the track.

Despite all of the 705 S3’s achievements, we find they have a rather detached presentation that can be difficult to connect with. The Jurassic Park theme’s slow, gradual build-up to an awe-inspiring, uplifting reveal of the dinosaurs should be triumphant every time – but the B&W speakers don’t convey those exciting dynamic shifts in a subtle or convincing manner. As a result, they simply don’t rouse us or elicit an emotional response – and that’s a shame, as that’s all we want good hi-fi to do.

In comparison, the pricier Mission 770 speakers show that you can marry refinement and scale with musicality and dynamism. It’s a subtler, more well-rounded sound that draws you into the music and holds your rapt attention. And yes, we feel moved and excited every time we hear the Jurassic Park theme through these speakers. 

The starker comparison is against the more affordable and Award-winning KEF LS50 Meta speakers. They may not have the grand scale, clarity and refinement of the 705 S3 speakers – but the KEFs have a lovely tone and a beautiful way with detail, agility, dynamism and rhythmic drive that captures the heart and emotion of a song. Voices and piano notes sound that much more realistic and tangible. We connect with what’s being played immediately and are swept away by every song that’s played. 

There are ways to carefully match the speakers to the rest of your system to get the best out of them. To offset that cooler tone, we’d recommend pairing the 705 S3 with the Naim Supernait 3 amplifier. This amplifier's more robust presentation gives the sound some much needed substance and dynamic punch.

Verdict

Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3 exploded tweeter-on-top

Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3 exploded tweeter-on-top (Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins)

The B&W 705 S3 speakers do many things incredibly well. That clean, large-scale, low-distortion sound with stunning levels of resolution and precision is truly laudable.

But it’s also why we find their shortcomings all the more disappointing, especially at this price point. We want to enjoy, engage and emotionally connect with every piece of music we listen to with any speaker – and the 705 S3s fall just short of providing that overall. They’re impressive speakers that improve upon the previous model in every way – we just hope B&W can add in a little more heart alongside all that impressive technology next time.

SCORES

  • Sound 4
  • Build 5
  • Compatibility 4

MORE:

Read our review of the KEF LS50 Meta 

Also consider the Mission 770

Read our ProAc Response D2R review

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