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Speakers

3 terrific Bowers & Wilkins monitor speakers

The Audiophiliac compares the Bowers & Wilkins 685 S2, the CM6 S2, and 805 D3 speakers, and gets an earful.

In the midst of writing my Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 review I heard another, similarly sized B&W speaker, the CM6 S2 and really liked the sound. The CM6 S2 sells for around one-third the price of the 805 D3, so I wondered how the two speakers would compare. Then I remembered we had a pair of B&W's 685 S2 bookshelf speakers in the CNET listening room in NYC, and those sell for around one-third the price of the CM6 S2! How would the 685's sound differ from the CM6's? All three speakers have different 1-inch (25mm) tweeters, and 6.5-inch (165mm) mid-bass woofers, so the speakers sound different -- how different, you ask? Read on!

From left to right, the Bowers & Wilkins 685 S2, the CM6 S2, and 805 D3 speakers

Bowers & Wilkins

I used a Rotel RA-1592 stereo integrated amp for all of my listening tests, and started with the CM6 S2s. Right away I knew we were off to a good start, the sound had substantial weight, tone quality was excellent, and the treble clear. The review samples were decked out in flawless piano black, but they're also available in satin white, or rose nut real wood veneer. The 1-inch (25mm) aluminum dome tweeter is mounted in a pod on top of the cabinet, which houses a 6.5 inch (165mm) woven Kevlar mid-bass woofer. The driver arrangement is similar to the one used on the 805 D3 speaker, the CM6 S2 comes with cloth grilles to cover the mid-bass woofer, but I left them off for my listening tests. Impedance is rated at 8 ohms, and the rear bass ported design has bi-wire speaker connectors. The speaker measures 15.9 inches (403mm) high, 7.8 inches (200mm) wide, and 11.2 inches (285mm) deep. It weighs 19.6 pounds (8.9 kg). You can find more info about the 685 S2 and 805 D3 in their CNET reviews above.

Fresh from my time with the 805 D3 it was obvious the CM6 S2 shared a similar sound signature. I loved the way the CM6 S2s sound floated free of the speakers, the soundstage was broad, deep, and well-focused. The speakers' poise and refinement, especially on acoustic music was delightful, the sound was so good it nearly disengaged my reviewer's normally critical brain, I was happy to just enjoy the music!

Moving on to Aphex Twin's densely mixed electronica with the CM6 S2 the bass was deep and tuneful in the small CNET listening room, and Arcade Fire's "Reflektor" album, which can sound a tad harsh on a lot of speakers, was easy to listen to on the CM6. Rocking out with The Replacements' "Pleased to Meet Me" was taken in stride, letting the band cut loose.

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From left to right, the Bowers & Wilkins 685 S2 and CM6 S2 speakers

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

When I switched over to the 805 D3 speakers I wasn't sure what to expect, but the difference in bass, midrange, and treble clarity was immediately obvious. The CM6 S2 was very decent, but the 805 D3 was in another league. The title track from Keith Richards' new "Crosseyed Heart" album, with just Richards singing alone and playing acoustic guitar was an incredibly vivid experience. Returning to the CM6 S2 scaled back the presence, and put some distance between Richards and me. Then again, the 805 D3 sounds better in that way than most other speakers, if you crave the utmost in clarity the 805 D3 is, for it's size and price, tough to beat.

I next brought out the 685 S2 bookshelf speakers, and listened to Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" album and gravitated to Jeff Tweedy's vocals, the 685 S2s were doing a fine job. Going back to CM6 S2 the sound was clearer, that's for sure, but the sound's character shared the same DNA, they both sounded like Bowers & Wilkins speakers. With the Peter Epstein Quartet's "Staring at the Sun" CD, an audiophile recording with uncompressed dynamic range, the CM6 S2 had a advantage in liberating more of the music's energy, it felt more alive over the CM6 S2 speakers. The 685 S2 shrank the scale of the music, lost transparency, and flattened dynamics -- but otherwise maintained the music's tone.

When I played a few Kronos string quartet CDs their two violins, viola and cello sounded similar on the 685 S2 and CM6 S2, but I could hear the strings filling the recording studio's acoustic space with the CM6 S2s, which added so much to the feeling the music was a live event, the 685 S2s lost most of that. Then again, if you never heard the CM6 S2 (or 805 D3), you'd never know what you're missing. The sound and build quality differences between these three B & W speakers aren't subtle, and neither are the prices!

Pricing is as follows for speaker pairs: the 685 S2 is $700, £499, AU$1,099; the CM6 S2 is $2,000, £1,499, AU$2,999; and the 805 D3 $6,000, £4,500, AU$8,500.