B&W 685 S2 review: Superb sound worth the extra scratch

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The Good The Bowers and Wilkins 685 S2 bookshelf speakers offer excellent sound quality in an attractive, stand-mountable package. Their versatile sound can handle both music and movies well. The redesigned tweeter offers better insight into recordings without becoming harsh, and the new tweeter cover is a godsend for parents.

The Bad Bass could go deeper; somewhat uninspiring looks.

The Bottom Line Whether you listen to death metal or nature documentaries, the Bowers and Wilkins B&W 685 S2s are an astoundingly good set of speakers and an excellent deal at this price level.

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8.8 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Sound 9
  • Value 9

It's been said many times but I'll say it again: If you want to get the best performance from your home audio system, spend your money on speakers. Not on the receiver, or the amp, or the source device or (please, no) the cables, but on the speakers.

Most people will balk at doling out $650 on a pair of stand-mounters, but I would argue that these speakers in particular are where your money should start and stop. They cost B&W AU$999 RRP in Australia and £499 in the UK.

The B&W 685 S2 is a tweaked-up version of what was already an excellent-sounding speaker , and though the US price has increased a little ($50, though more in other territories), the improvements are worthwhile.

The 685 S2 manages to outperform B&W's own CM1 , and while it's not as pretty, it's also about $400 cheaper! Whatever style of music you like, the 685's mix of agile bass, vocal clarity and brutal dynamics make it suitable for pretty much everything. These speakers will work great as the fronts for a surround system, or go old-school and watch movies in trusty stereo. Sure, they don't go that far into deep bass territory, but you can always add an inexpensive sub to get your trouser flapping on.

It's tough to consider speakers this expensive a "bargain," but if you're serious about sound, you should at least give them an audition.

Design and features

Sarah Tew/CNET

While the appearance of the B&W 685 Series 2 is very similar to the original 685 , there have been a couple of tweaks. The most obvious change is to the tweeter which is missing the striking silver nameplate and now features a metal grille.

But the new tweeter isn't simply cosmetic. The company completely redesigned its iconic tube-loaded tweeter to incorporate trickle-down technologies from its CM10 speaker. The tweeter features a thin aluminum dome surrounded by a thicker aluminum ring, and it is decoupled from the main cabinet by a layer of gel. B&W claims the result is enhanced treble clarity compared with that of the previous version.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The other, less-noticeable change is that the bullet-shaped dust cap has been replaced by a mushroom-shaped Anti-Resonance Plug borrowed from the PM1. Other than that, the stand-mount speaker retains the same 6.5-inch woofer and almost identical dimensions at 13.5 inches high by 7.5 inches wide and 12.8 inches deep.

Unlike the previous speaker, there is only one color option available at the moment, which is great so long as you love black.

Sarah Tew/CNET