B&W has a well-deserved reputation for making superb high-end loudspeakers. The moderately priced 300 Series home-theater speaker package offers the famous brand to those of more modest means. As you might expect, these bookshelf-sized speakers don't quite sound like the company's full-sized Nautilus units. But they do inherit a few of B&W's technical advancements, which may be part of the reason they sound very good. B&W has a well-deserved reputation for making superb high-end loudspeakers. The moderately priced 300 Series home-theater speaker package offers the famous brand to those of more modest means. As you might expect, these bookshelf-sized speakers don't quite sound like the company's full-sized Nautilus units. But they do inherit a few of B&W's technical advancements, which may be part of the reason they sound very good.
Two speaker series
Our evaluation system came with two pairs of B&W's bookshelf speakers ($150 each) for the front and surround channels; a matching for the center channel ($220); and a 10-inch powered subwoofer ($450), which the company threw in even though it's technically not considered part of the 300 Series.
The DM303s and the LCR3 are very conventional-looking, especially compared to the company's Nautilus line, but it's worth noting that you can choose between maple and ash vinyl veneers. Each satellite has a 6-inch fiberglass woofer and a 1-inch metal-dome tweeter. Meanwhile, the LCR3 center channel uses two 4.5-inch woofers and the same 1-inch tweeter. To enhance the clarity of high-frequency sounds, the tweeters are mounted inside tapered tubes in a manner similar to that of Nautilus tweeters.
You're best off mounting these speakers on stands or shelves, because their rear-facing bass ports require a few inches of breathing room to work properly. Those bass ports are dimpled like the surface of a golf ball. According to B&W, this helps the air move without undue turbulence.
As far as connectivity goes, the speakers use standard-issue five-way binding posts that accept bare wire, spades, and banana plugs. However, there are no threaded sockets for wall mounting.
With the whole six-piece system hooked up, we noticed what seemed like a weakness in the 300 Series' ability to smoothly integrate high and midrange sounds with the lower frequencies. We took the ASW500 sub out of the system by changing the settings on our Pioneer Elite VSX-24TX receiver and ran all of the low-frequency sound to the other speakers. Surprisingly, the problem disappeared, resulting in as good of an audio experience as we've heard from speakers in this price range.
Listening to the "Firebird Suite" on the Fantasia 2000 DVD without the sub, we felt like we could pinpoint each section of the orchestra. The satellites surprised us with their dynamic range: not only were they able to play the more subdued sections at the beginning of the piece with delicacy, but they effortlessly produced a wall-shaking explosion when the Firebird character comes to life.
Dialogue in every film we listened to came through clearly and was easily discernable from the rest of the action. For example, frantic shouts by the main character in The Mummy Returns were clearly intelligible, as swarming effects panned seamlessly around our listening room.
While everything sounded good, these speakers really brought out the best in acoustic music such as Dave Grusin's Gershwin Connection. It sounded almost like a live performance: very open, airy, and detailed. In comparison, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours sounded a bit more canned.
The 300 Series speakers deliver remarkable sound quality--especially bass response--for their size and price. All five speakers together will cost you about $820. If your listening room is 250 square feet or less, you might pick up these speakers without a subwoofer. If you eventually decide that you need something to really shake the pictures off the walls, we suggest a good, moderately priced sub such as Paradigm's ($350 list price), which delivers better bass for your buck than B&W's own ASW500.