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Bowers and Wilkins 606 review: More bass and better dynamics, but bright sound isn't for everyone

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The Good The Bowers and Wilkins 606 offers better dynamics and deeper bass than most speakers its size. Its clear sound adds insight into well-recorded music and punch to movies, particularly at high volume. The new silvery Continuum driver and domed driver lends the speaker a sense of class. The speakers also feature magnetic grilles.

The Bad With the wrong system the speakers can sound too bright, and it's not the best speaker for so-called "badly recorded" music. A price increase over the previous model pushes it into a different class of speakers, but the finish doesn't correspond.

The Bottom Line The Bowers and Wilkins 606 bookshelves offer bucketfuls of resolution and bass power, but they're more expensive and not as versatile as their predecessors.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Sound 8
  • Value 7

Bowers and Wilkins' 600 series has been the bedrock of the storied British speaker brand since it was first introduced in 1991. The newest model in the series, the 606, is a fresh start. 

It's the first entry-level B&W speaker to use the company's own silvery Continuum driver introduced several years ago. With a list price of $800 (£550 or AU$1,150) -- or $100 more than the 685 S2 it replaces -- the 606 marks a shift toward a more revealing, dynamic sound. 

If you crave more excitement from your music and movies, the 606 certainly delivers. Dynamics and bass heft is noticeably better in than the excellent 685 S2. The 606 is best at creating a large sound stage and uncovering hidden details of jazz combos, singer songwriters, blues musicians and classical ensembles. Other types of music, in particular modern pop or rock, may simply sound too bright for the B&Ws, especially at lower volumes.

If you're careful about the electronics you pair the 606 with, you will get a lot out of them, but fans of more forceful music styles may be better served by the Klipsch RP-600M -- or even by the cheaper, more versatlie Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2. We were big fans of the 685 S2 but feel that the new step toward "excitement" could be going in the wrong direction.

To Continuum and beyond!

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Sarah Tew/CNET

While Bowers and Wilkins' proprietary Continuum cone may not be new, it is new to this speaker, having trickled down from more-expensive speaker lines. The 6.5-inch woofer is complemented by a double-dome aluminum driver that's now decoupled from the cabinet to inhibit interference from the mids and bass.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

At 13.5 inches high, 7.5 inches wide and 11.8 inches deep, the cabinet itself is roughly the same size as that of the 685 S2. The main difference is that it's ported at the rear. 

It's debatable whether this actually influences bass response. There's a school of thought that front-mounted ports can be placed closer to walls, but we've found that even unported, sealed speakers also exhibit boundary effect, or boosted bass, in the same position. B&W told us the difference isn't meaningful between front- or rear-mounted ports on this model. Even so, you'd still want to give the 606 a little breathing room -- at least 6 inches from a wall. While you're fiddling around at the back of the speaker, you'll find two sets of binding posts below the proprietary Flow Port. 

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Sarah Tew/CNET

As intriguing as the technological enhancements are, some of the speaker's overall luster is held back by a somewhat humdrum finish. It doesn't quite look or feel like an $800 speaker.

The speaker comes in a choice of two color options -- black or white. Our review sample had a white-matte finish with a face plate that was a different shade of white from the very light gray speaker box. The subtle color mix has its appeal, but it may upset sticklers used to the seamless, single-color finish of the 700 series or that of competing speakers from Q Acoustics. In addition, the 606's driver surround is plastic and will flex at the touch.

All that said, at a seated distance though the speakers look sharp, and we particularly like the addition of magnetic speaker grilles, though like all speakers they sound slightly better with the grilles removed.

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