Bowers & Wilkins launched the 600 S2 Anniversary Edition in September 2020 to mark 25 years of its popular entry hi-fi loudspeaker series. The original series was first introduced in the mid-nineties and for many a 600-series model represents a first foray into the world of hi-fi speakers – I once owned a pair of second series 603 floorstanders with eye-catching yellow Kevlar/paper bass cones and a pair of CM7s with similarly distinctive yellow driver cones.
Now in its 7th iteration, developments introduced in the company’s premium 800 series of speakers are trickling down to the 600 range, offering incremental improvement and greater value for money with each generation.
Priced at £1,499, the three-way 603 S2 is the only floorstander in the series with the other two stereo models in the range running to the 606 and 607 two-way standmounts. A HTM6 centre speaker for AV applications along with three subwoofers complete the new range.
Decoupled Double Dome
The 600 series benefits from B&W’s 25mm Decoupled Double Dome tweeter found in the 700 series with the same upgraded neodymium magnet and attractive mesh grille but minus the special carbon coating and heatsinks. The idea behind the double decoupling is that any tiny cabinet disturbances are isolated to help further reduce tweeter distortions.
As well as the decoupled tweeter, the 600 S2 Anniversary Edition uses Continuum cone tech first introduced on the 800 Diamond range and subsequently the 700 series. This innovative 150mm cone design builds on the properties of Kevlar but is instead a woven fabric composite of a top-secret material. The idea behind the material’s development is to control the break up of the sound wave, enabling a more open and neutral delivery. It also uses the same zinc chassis with a ferrite motor found on the 700 series.
Finally, the 603 has two 165mm paper bass cones with an upgraded magnet based on previous CM series technology and the ‘improved bypass capacitors’ in the crossover have been overseen by specialist audio capacitor maker Mundorf.
The review pair has a classy black satin feel which gets a nod of approval from my wife. These speakers look the way floorstanders should, with a rigid cabinet design, style and a classic driver arrangement. They stand at just under one metre tall and sit discreetly in our low-lit lounge with only the silver Continuum cone of the midrange driver drawing any attention to their presence on either side of the fireplace. White and oak cabinet finishes are also available.
Magnetic full-length speaker grilles are supplied to cover and protect the drivers if you wish, and there’s a discreet Bowers & Wilkins moniker at the bottom of the front baffle. Below the bass port at the rear of the cabinet, the twin binding posts enable straight or bi-wiring connections via a removable metal coupling.
With the floor spikes fitted and placed on cups to protect the wooden floor, I use straight-wired Atlas Mavros speaker cables to connect them up to my Naim NAP 250 power amplifier and Naim NAC-N 272 streaming pre-amplifier with a Naim XPS power supply. I have an Atlas power conditioner and Vertere’s Redline stereo interconnect between the pre and power stages.
The floorstanders are easy to install and deliver a decent sound straight out of the box. I have them placed just over 2.5m apart and half a metre from the rear wall with a slight toe in. My listening position is around three metres away with the tweeter roughly at ear height when I am sat down.
I first started listening to these speakers after watching the slightly disturbing film the United States vs Billie Holiday on Sky TV. Naturally, I ended up playing Strange Fruit, the subject of the film, which led me on to listen to tracks by Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald courtesy of Roon’s radio algorithm. Playing these classic American jazz artists shows the 603s to have excellent vocal detail and they bring a soft tone when listening at lower volumes late at night. For example, the captivating detail comes through in the rustling snare in Sarah Vaughan’s Lullaby of Birdland played at low volume from her self-titled collection on Tidal. For a more up-to-date production, the fingered double bass detail in Lady Blackbird’s Tidal Masters recording Beware the Stranger is notable in these speakers for its clarity.
The speakers are equally at ease with a more acoustic but rhythmic track like Kodachrome from Paul Simon’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon on Tidal. With the constant tapping of the snare drum on the right of the soundstage and the cymbals tapping to the left, the speakers deliver the vocal with ease, which is set back from the plane of the speakers.
You can explore the music I used in this review in this Tidal playlist.
Having established the excellent detail that is available, I wanted to turn up the volume and flex the 603s properly with something more powerful. I often start this part of my listening process with the opening track to the Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. Even at moderate volume, the low-end bass is comfortably handled, and the amount of air shifted by the twin bass cones was enough to grab the attention of a nearby revising teenager and bring them into the room to have a listen.
Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing is a really special track for establishing the speed and handling abilities of any speaker. Here, Knopfler’s strutting neck can almost be visualised thanks to the three-dimensional soundstage that is conjured up by the 603s as the track’s opening sequence powers forward.
Punchy drums are also present on Paul Oakenfold’s heavily rhythmic Starry Eyed Surprise. The 603s respond positively to my increases in volume level with this track and there’s no hint of distortion as I get a bit carried away playing Billie Eilish’s bass-heavy concert opener Bad Guy.
Throughout my lengthy reviewing process, these B&W 603 S2s have shown considerable flexibility in sonic terms and handled late night jazz, vocal pieces, acoustic Americana and contemporary pop with consistent ease. They’ve made a good partnership for my Naim electronics system and at low or high volumes, the 603s are a remarkably fine pair of floorstanding speakers and a technological bargain at the price.
Ease of positioning
Soft late night jazz feel
Nothing at the price