Bowers & Wilkins 683 S2 Speaker System Page 2

The biggest change by far came from crossing the system over to the subwoofer at 80 Hz. By themselves, the 683 S2s could sound a little too full and congested through the midbass. Nor were they particularly powerful at the extreme bottom (though in a smaller room, their bass extension would likely satisfy many listeners). Neither of these issues was helped by the speakers being far from the front wall, and by my limited positioning options—both conditions unavoidable in my room, where the speakers must coexist with the non-acoustically transparent screen. Passing all of the bass below 80 Hz to the B&W subwoofer made a huge difference. Not only was the bass now powerful enough to completely satisfy me on music, but the midbass was much more open.

In-room measurements confirmed the enhanced bass. But they also showed that the in-room response of all three front speakers quickly plateaued down by several decibels above about 1.5 kHz—with or without my control tweaking. This may be why the system still didn’t have quite enough snap for me on fine details, at least not without dialing in more EQ than I feel is appropriate for a review.

But it wasn’t far off, and I was rarely aware of any shortcomings. Organ was deep, rich, and (the recording permitting) free of unnatural bloat. Voices and solo instruments were reproduced with an arresting immediacy and presence. La Folia (CD) isn’t a new recording, but it’s still a great reference for an open, natural, if slightly quirky sound, with instruments as diverse as guitar, flute, sitar, castanets, xylophone, and too many others to list, not to mention musicians chattering in Spanish, car engines, and car horns. With or without the subwoofer, the B&Ws punched through it all with sweet definition, fine depth, and a natural explosiveness when it’s (occasionally) called for. Stanley Clarke’s At the Movies (CD), on the other hand, is clearly a rousing, instrumental pop/jazz mix, recorded with high dynamic range. The B&Ws went very loud on this piece without strain, sounding perhaps a little forward and hard but not inappropriately so for the music. The bass on this recording was solid, particularly with the subwoofer on.

I also listened to some highresolution recordings, mostly multichannel from SACD. On Telarc’s Sampler 1, the B&Ws, with all channels and the sub engaged, ran the table beautifully, from hard-driving opening cut “Moanin’ ” to “Simple Gifts,” the latter with the Cincinnati Pops accompanied by soloist James Galway on flute and penny whistle.

The Agony and the Ecstasy, the classic Todd-AO film about Michelangelo and the painting of the Sistine Chapel, has been given a must-see transfer on Blu-ray. But our interest here is in how its soundtrack challenges the B&Ws. While the film’s 1965 audio is often limited by its pinched dynamics, limited frequency range, and distortion, the dialogue, with occasional exceptions, is very natural sounding.


This was particularly evident in the movie’s use of steered dialogue. This technique, rarely used today, positions voices wherever the actors happen to be on the screen. The left-center-right vocal timbre over the B&Ws remained believably consistent. This surprised me a bit, since in my balance check of the speakers (using band-limited pink noise), the HTM61 S2 center sounded more closed-in than did the left and right 683 S2s. But I was never aware of this when watching either this movie or others.

The B&Ws also convincingly reproduced the ambience of the spaces depicted in the film, from small, intimate settings to the huge interior of the Sistine Chapel. And the music, while not often as well recorded as in more modern films, sometimes surprised me. The swelling of the orchestra as Pope Julius II shows Michelangelo the ceiling he’s been commissioned to paint, for example, was warm, full-bodied, and captivating.

The Shadow flopped badly in 1994, well before the current craze for superhero movies began. But despite having more than a little silliness, it’s one of my favorites because of its dry humor (particularly from Alec Baldwin, in his better days) and Jerry Goldsmith’s spectacular, amazingly orchestrated score—one of his best. It’s effective in both the explosive bits and, perhaps even more so, the quieter moments. Every time I watch The Shadow, I hear something I’d missed before. This was the case here as well; the B&Ws laid it all out for me to appreciate yet again.

Flight of the Phoenix was almost universally panned when it came out in 2004. But despite being a remake of the 1965 James Stewart classic, it holds its own at least for its incredible special effects and often terrifyingly dynamic soundtrack. Suffice it to say, you’ll never see this movie on an airline flight! (Not that you’d want to.) It deserves the biggest screen and most potent speakers you can throw at it. And in no respect did the B&W 683 S2 system disappoint me. It had all the punch and over-the-top audio I could hope for, played as loud as I could tolerate (but not as loud as my local IMAX theater, which drives me to earplugs!).

The B&W subwoofer did its job on Phoenix. It didn’t go exceptionally deep; there are scenes early in the film where larger subs have more convincingly reproduced the thrum of the C-119’s engines. But the B&W nevertheless kept up the pace and sounded right on even the most raucous action scenes—neither overdone and bloated nor thin and lacking in oomph.

The sub did show its limitations on Oblivion, which has another spectacular soundtrack. When Tech 49 Jack makes his approach to the stadium early in the film, there’s a brief but extremely powerful bass riff as his chopper circles over the audience. With the entire B&W system operating, the sub seemed to handle this well. But when I listened to the sub alone at the same level (very loud but not ear-searing), eliminating the masking effect of the upper frequencies, I could easily hear an alarming rattle coming from it—with the Bass Extension set to either A or (the less challenging) B, and no other bass boost or EQ dialed in. B&W had sent me a pair of the subs. The one referenced here was the better of the two; the other misbehaved at somewhat lower levels. I didn’t use them both together.

If you play action films at high levels in a fairly large room (mine is roughly 3,300 cubic feet), the B&W sub may not cut it. In a smaller room, or at modest levels (or both), the quality of the bass this sub offers may well win you over.

It did take a little work to get the B&Ws to sing in my room, but when they did, I was very impressed by what I heard. The HTM61 S2 center speaker was also well matched to the 683 S2s in real-world playback, even when I sat off center. And while I recommend caution in using the ASW 610XP subwoofer with action soundtracks at high levels in a large room, it performed beautifully on music. If you’re shopping in this price range, definitely put the B&W 683 S2 system on your must audition list.

Bowers & Wilkins
(800) 370-3740

gmustain's picture

I purchased a full 600 series 1 surround set-up in the mid 1990's so I am not sure what "Original 600 series" this guy reviewed 6 years ago.

vqworks's picture

I'm with sathishadht with this B&W package. The good value-for-money claim just can't be made for this setup according to the average consumer's standards. Of course, even if I was in the habit of buying much more expensive equipment I still don't see the value.

The response of the speakers is ragged for the price. The sense of dynamic range is fine for movies but if it lacks the upper midrange/lower treble attack on the leading edge of high-end transients, this would be very obvious when listeners are focused on percussion-laden music.

At the price, response should be a hell of a lot flatter for the ensemble and the subwoofer's performance should be better. Hopefully, this isn't part of a trend for B&W.