Bowers & Wilkins has been dedicated to truth in sound reproduction since John Bowers founded the company. And the company's core belief remains unchanged: "that a high-fidelity loudspeaker should be to the ear what a flawless pane of glass is to the eye; allowing the clear passage of a sensory image, uncorrupted and faithful in every last nuance to the original." In fact, the Bowers & Wilkins 800 series has been the reference speaker of choice for many great recording studios and recording engineers for decades.
If you've dreamed of owning any of the British loudspeaker manufacturer's 800 series line of loudspeakers but found them to be beyond your reach, you may be in luck. Bowers & Wilkins recently introduced the new 700 series of loudspeakers as a replacement the now discontinued CM series. Sitting between the reference 800 series and the 600 series, they're much more closely related to the 800 Series than their CM predecessors, benefitting from many of the flagship's technologies adapted for a more affordable price. Over the last two months, I've had the opportunity to live with the new 702 S2 tower loudspeakers ($2250 each), the top model of the eight currently offered in the 700 series.
The lineup is rounded out with two additional tower models, three bookshelf models, and two center channel speakers. And since we are HomeTheaterReview.com, after all, B&W also sent along one of the latter--the matching HTM71 S2 center channel ($1350 each)--along with its DB4S subwoofer ($1600 each) so that I could also experience the 702 S2 within the context of a surround sound setup.
The 702 S2 speakers sport a newly designed, one-inch carbon dome tweeter (versus the diamond tweeter of the 800 series) contained in a solid-body, bullet-shaped housing milled from aluminum billet and mounted atop the speaker cabinet for decoupling purposes. Near the top of the cabinet, there is also a decoupled six-inch Continuum FST cone midrange driver (borrowed from the 800 series) flanked by three 6.5-inch Aerofoil Profile bass drivers below. The Aerofoil design, also borrowed from the 800 series, is a variable thickness cone that Bowers & Wilkins says "provides stiffness and rigidity where it's needed most for deep and dynamic bass."
I unpacked the 65-pound, 43.5-inch tall (with plinth and spikes attached) 702 S2 speakers, taking a moment to admire their classic design and gorgeous fit and finish. The speakers came to me in Bowers & Wilkins' iconic Rosenut finish. The veneer is flawless and book matched. The speakers are also available in either a gloss piano black or satin white finish.
I attached the heavy, rather plain looking black MDF plinths with the included hardware and then threaded in the generic spikes. I would expect to see a more upscale solution such as metal outrigger feet with oversized spikes for speakers of this build quality and price point. I need to mention that the plinths also add quite a bit of width and depth to the tower's footprint, measuring near 15 by 18 inches, compared to 7.9 inches wide by 13.3 inches deep for the cabinet itself. You'll want to make sure you have the floor space available to accommodate.
Alternatively, you could opt to forego the plinths if stability isn't a concern in your case. And they would be better looking minus the plinths. I placed the speakers in the usual position where speakers tend to sound best in my room. After some test tracks, they ended up just about exactly where they started out. With the speakers placed about five feet out from the front wall and about seven and a half feet apart, there was no need to insert the foam plugs that come with the rear-ported towers and center channel. But it's nice to know they are available for taming unruly bass response issues if encountered.
I placed the HTM71 center channel on a Sound Anchors stand. Both the 700 series towers and center channel have dual sets of connectors for bi-wiring or bi-amping if desired. I left the jumpers in place and connected each speaker with a single run of WireWorld speaker cable. I connected the B&W DB4S ten-inch subwoofer with a WireWorld balanced interconnect. There are two XLR inputs for balanced connections and two sets of RCA inputs for single-ended.
To set up the subwoofer, I first needed to download the Bowers & Wilkins subwoofer app, because there are no manual controls on the sub itself. Once I plugged in the sub and opened the app, the sub was detected and calibration was automatically performed. It couldn't have been a simpler process; not having to plug in a microphone (the app uses your phone's mic) and move it to multiple locations (you perform the calibration from the main listening position only) was really convenient. There are a variety of Room EQ modes that you can select from the app to optimize the sound for different program material, or you can create your own custom EQ to your taste, or leave it disengaged if you prefer. I hope more companies take notice of what B&W has done here and follow suit. All subwoofers should be this easy to setup and control.
I used a Classé CP-800 preamp for two-channel listening and a Marantz AV8001 preamp processor for surround sound. I partnered the two preamps with a Classé CA-5300 five-channel amp. I ran the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 software onboard the Marantz to calibrate the speakers for surround sound and added a pair of Aerial Acoustics 5B monitors to the mix for surround duty. Streaming sources included the French service QoBuz for high resolution music streaming (soon to be available in the U.S.) and a Roku Ultra media player for video content. For spinning any and all shiny silver discs, I used an Oppo UDP-205 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
I followed the included B&W manual's suggestion of 15 hours of break-in to allow the drivers to reach their optimum performance before I began any critical listening.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...