My introduction into the audiophile world consisted of a pair of inexpensive monitor speakers mated to a simple, affordable integrated amp. Throw in some generic lamp cord and my bout with the disease we call audiophilia began. Truth be told, I value budget speakers more than ultra-high-end offerings, especially bookshelf speakers like the Bowers & Wilkins 685 reviewed here. Speakers like the 685s are a logical entry point for most consumers, which is why that sector of the market has always been a hotbed of activity and why, for as long as I can remember, Bowers & Wilkins has lead the charge.
Retailing for $600 a pair, the 685s are classic in their design, representing the iconic look of what we've come to call the bookshelf loudspeaker. With a two-way, two-driver design, the 685 has a one-inch aluminum dome tweeter mated to a single six-and-a-half-inch woven Kevlar mid/bass driver. The yellow color of the mid/bass driver is a Bowers & Wilkins staple and, believe me, the similarities to the rest of the line do not end there. Finished in your choice of Black Ash, Light Oak (not available in US/Canada), Red Cherry and Wenge, the 685 is a handsome-looking speaker. Coupled with its rather compact size, this makes it ideal for audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts with budget and space constraints.
The 685 has a stated frequency response of 49Hz-22kHz, so while its ported box design provides surprising bass response and depth, you'll likely need a sub to reach those lower octaves. The 685 has a reported sensitivity of 88dB into an eight-ohm load, making it a good fit for a solid integrated amp or modern receiver, though if you're willing to step up the electronics a bit, the 685 will reward your generosity in spades. I normally don't speak about stands too much, for they are largely an expense that comes down to taste and budget, provided they're quality, but the 685 sounds best when mounted on a stand and the Bowers & Wilkins stand designed for the 685 is just stunning.