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Spine-tingling sounds from Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 speakers

The Audiophiliac gets an earful with Bowers & Wilkins' new reference-quality stand-mount speaker.

The Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 speaker in satin white
Bowers & Wilkins

Last year, the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 was the Audiophiliac's Speaker of the Year, so I couldn't turn down a chance to sample the company's new 705 S2 in the CNET listening room. Decked out in a lovely satin white finish, the 705 S2 looked sharp; it's very much a 21st-century stand-mount speaker. It's also available in gloss black or rosenut wood finishes. Priced at $2,500, £1,800 or AU$3,500 a pair, this new model is aimed at the high-end audiophile/luxury market.

Cabinet build quality and finish are superb, and the 705 S2 is topped off with a milled-from-a-solid-block-of-aluminum tweeter pod, inspired by that of the 805 D3. That speaker features a diamond dome tweeter, while the 705 S2 sports a 1-inch (25mm) "carbon" dome tweeter that Bowers & Wilkins claims offers improved sound over the previous generation speakers' aluminum tweeters. The 705 S2's other big attraction is its 6.5-inch (165mm) "Continuum" cone driver, similar to the drivers used on the 800 D3 Series models. That's big news right there, as B&W speakers have long featured Kevlar drivers. The brand-new Continuum driver is a sandwich consisting of a metallized weave and a foam core that's said to be lighter and stronger than the Kevlar cones, and which the company says results in lower distortion.

I wish I could have directly compared the 705 S2 with the 805 D3, but that one was returned to Bowers & Wilkins months ago. No worries -- I know the 805 D3's sound, and the 705 S2 is very much the same flavor, with a smidgen less resolution.

Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 speakers in gloss black

Bowers & Wilkins

It's not exactly small -- the 705 S2 measures 16x7.8.x11.2 inches (407x200x285mm) and weighs a not insignificant 20.5 pounds (9.3kg). Impedance is rated at 8 ohms, but dips down to 3.7 ohms, so I wouldn't plan on using the 705 S2 with AV receivers that have a hard time driving low-impedance speakers. I used a Rotel RA 1592 stereo integrated amp for all of my listening tests, which was a great match.

The speaker's sound was low in distortion and high in clarity, so guitarist Ry Cooder's darkly atmospheric score for the film "Paris, Texas" had oodles of detail along with the scratchy texture of his acoustic guitar. More than just resolution, the 705 S2 brought back the sound of the guitar's wood and its metal strings, it was all there. Treble was nicely extended and easy to listen to.

Then, with Alt-J's "Relaxer," the 705 S2s easily delivered the opening track's ample low bass foundation, and on some quiet tunes like "House of the Rising Sun" and "Pleader" you can hear the musicians moving about in the room, the speakers resolution was that good.

As for midrange, Frank Sinatra's vocals told the tale -- the 705 S2s all but disappeared and let the man speak for himself. Soundstage depth was good, but the stereo image wasn't terribly wide in the CNET listening room.

Still, the one area where the 705 S2 didn't get high marks was with rock music -- it just didn't have the guts to slam me against the listening chair with the Pixies' "Doolittle." The speakers played loud enough, but dynamic kicks held back a smidge. Switching over to the Klipsch Forte III speakers satisfied my lust for rock thrills, but that speaker can't touch the 705 S2 for refinement and clarity.

With top drawer audiophile music from Reference Recordings and MA Recordings the 705 S2 was a pleasure to listen to. The sound was palpably real, low in distortion, and bass definition was excellent.

If I've piqued your interest, but you need something smaller or more affordable, check out the CNET review of the 705 S2's baby brother, the 707 S2 bookshelf speaker ($1,250, £800, AU$1,500 per pair).