B&W 600 Series Speaker System and Onkyo TX-SR805 A/V Receiver

Sense and sensibility and connectivity.

One of the home theater industry’s greatest sins is modesty. If excessively modest people hide their lights under a bushel, speaker and receiver manufacturers go them one better, hiding their achievements in boxes. Boxes with drivers on the front, boxes with buttons and knobs that sit in a rack—boxes. True, surround speaker packages that break away from the boxy norm are slowly making inroads into the conservative milieu of home theater, just as some clever surround receivers boast digital amps and slim form factors. This month’s Spotlight System does none of those things. To divine what’s special about it, you’ll have to look deeply into its soul.

Or at least check out what’s inside. Within the enclosures of the B&W 600 Series speakers, as well as the chassis of the Onkyo TX-SR805 A/V receiver, are some fairly hip things. The speakers boast technologies like B&W’s famous tapered-tube tweeter, which made its debut years ago in the bleeding-edge Nautilus Series and then trickled down into the high-end 800 Series. And the receiver is among the industry’s first to feature onboard decoding for the next-generation surround codecs via the HDMI 1.3a interface.

Pass It Down
B&W’s 14 speaker lines are too numerous to summarize quickly. Let’s just say that the 600 Series has been through several generations and has some impressive upscale siblings. One of them, the Nautilus, originated a distinctively B&W design idea that has since been passed hand to hand down the other lines, the way your brothers and sisters pass the dish of stuffing down the table at Thanksgiving (and you hope they’ll leave you some, because you love stuffing). I’m talking about the tube that holds the tweeter. Like most speaker drivers, a tweeter radiates sound on both the front and back sides, and controlling the backwave is a B&W design priority. So, although you don’t see the tube, it’s there doing its useful work.

For this latest iteration of the 600 Series, B&W has redesigned the tube tweeter to include a neodymium magnet. Smaller than the ceramic magnet it replaced, it allows for tweeter placement closer to (and to blend better with) what B&W calls the bass/ midrange driver. Various other changes to the voice coil and other parts improve efficiency and reliability, with high-frequency response doubled to 50 kilohertz. That’s well beyond human hearing, “putting any distortion well outside the audible range,” says B&W. The tweeter driver itself is a 1-inch aluminum dome with virtually no recess, providing it with excellent off-axis response.

This distinguished tweeter has three homes in the system under review (just as I’d have homes in New York, Amsterdam, and Venice if I could get away with it). In the front is a pair of the 685 monitor speakers, with a 6.5-inch bass/ midrange cone blended from Kevlar, paper pulp, and resin. Kevlar has been B&W’s signature woofer material since 1974. In the rear is a pair of the 686 monitors, with a slightly smaller 5-inch bass/midrange of the same material. Our man in the middle is the HTM62 center channel, with dual 5-inch bass/ midrange drivers flanking the tweeter. All drivers are mounted onto a 0.5-inch-thick baffle that has a soft charcoal-gray finish, pleasingly silky to the touch.

Because the 685 and crew have a fair amount of bass, they don’t need a huge subwoofer for bass reinforcement. Thus, the review system used the ASW608, a space-saving mini-sub with a single 8-inch driver. I hoisted it onto my desk (not something I do every day) for a closer look at the back panel. To my surprise, I saw three unusual things. There is a pair of volume controls, one for the stereo line inputs and one for the speaker inputs. A two-position EQ switch affects rolloff, with the A position for corner placement and the B position for other placement. B&W recommends that you place the sub somewhere between your front left and right speakers. That’s also my standard placement. Finally, an A/B/C bass-extension switch offers three tradeoffs between low-frequency extension and volume output. Because my room is relatively small and tends not to stress subs (sorry to disillusion you), I chose the A setting for maximum extension.

The Onkyo TX-SR805 receiver is one of four new THX-certified models and one of five to include HDMI 1.3a, which carries advanced audio and video. Power is rated at 130 watts per channel with seven amp channels, and you can redirect the rear surrounds to the front for biamping your left and right speakers. Audyssey MultEQ makes auto setup and room correction a breeze. For the exceptionally dedicated—and those who want even performance for every seat in the house—this version of Audyssey lets you take measurements with the supplied mike in eight locations, expanding the benefit of room equalization beyond the sweet spot. HDMI 1.3a brings video benefits, including Faroudja DCDi video processing with 1080p and 36-bit Deep Color. The receiver also supports either XM or Sirius satellite radio, in addition to standard AM/FM.