REVIEW: BOWERS & WILKINS 606 STANDMOUNT / BOOKSHELF SPEAKER REVIEW
The 606 have some rather big shoes to fill as they replace the 685 S2s. Bowers & Wilkins has had five years to come up with the perfect recipe, but has it managed it?
Bowers & Wilkins
Standmount / Bookshelf Speakers
To paraphrase his royal purpleness, Prince: Five years is a mighty long time, but I'm here to tell you, there's something else. In fact, there have been many 'something else-s' from a variety of brands that have slipped into where the 606 finds itself right now.
The 600 Series is the most affordable range in B&W’s highly-respected hi-fi family. The recently refreshed range features two standmount models, the 606 that we have here, the more compact 607 (£399), the 603 floorstanders (£1249) and the HTM6 centre (£399).
The 603 has already won us over thanks to their “beautiful midrange tone, detail, soundstage and versatility” - impressive, especially at this price point.
Can the 606 achieve the same response?
These 35 x 19 x 30cm speakers are what I'd class as mid-sized. However, Bowers & Wilkins say that they’re equally happy sat on a bookshelf or a stand. My takeaway from that is B&W have some pretty deep bookshelves as the 606's bass port is around the rear of the cabinet. That also means you have to bear this in mind if placing them near a back wall. Although, saying that, they do come with foam plugs to adjust bass output.
The plus of this repositioning of the reflex port is that it has made the speakers really clean-looking and elegant in my opinion. Adding to that elegance is the use of B&W's Continuum driver technology which the company debuted in its ultra high-end 800 Diamond series. The Continuum is a driver that needs to be shown off, so it is also a great thing that there are no visible grille pegs either as the grilles are magnetically secured.
The finish is slightly different on the sides and front of the cabinet with the baffle being extremely smooth while there is a subtle textured finish to the sides and top.
Overall, the fit and finish of these speakers is laudable, and certainly worthy of a high-quality product.
The 16.5cm Continuum bass/midrange driver can plummet down to an impressive 52Hz and so promises decent amounts of bass. A 25mm decoupled double-dome aluminium tweeter joins the shiny driver. Decoupling the tweeter from the front panel reduces the degrading effects of the vibrations generated by the mid/bass unit.
As previously mentioned, B&W’s Flowport vent is around the back along with a pair of twin banana plugs for bi-wiring.
B&W 606 Sound Quality
I have heard tell of the 606 being aggressive in the highs when box fresh, but I have yet to experience this. The set that landed here at StereoNET have been doing the rounds and the pair I heard at launch already had a suitable number of hours on them. Although, from time-to-time, even with these pre-relaxed speakers, I can imagine them being a little harsh on first blush as the 606 has a keen edge on the treble.
My Musical Fidelity M6si can be a bit crisp with some speakers for instance, so, it is well worth your time to test the B&W bookshelf speakers with your amp just in case as you could end up with a harsh top-end.
Once past those notes, the 606 are an incredibly enjoyable listen.
Massive Attack's Teardrop put to rest any thoughts of the 606 lacking low-end punch. The speakers produce firm and rounded bass that's matched with a bright and snappy top.
Moving on to I Do Not Want This from Nine Inch Nails and the multi-layered track is accommodated admirably by the B&Ws. There is texture aplenty being picked up here - the distorted bass drum, the high-frequency samples, crunchy guitars and so much more without even mentioning Trent's vocals which go from plaintive to overdriven and shouty. Through the 606 I do not feel like I am missing out on anything.
The piano and Kate Bush's vocals on Moments of Pleasure highlights the well-mannered handover between the Continuum driver and tweeter. The string swells of violins underpinned by cellos and the low-register piano keys are all held in concert. There is no one frequency range here trying to outdo the other. The Bowers & Wilkins mid-sizers have a cohesive presentation.
Even I have moments where I turn the dial down, and this can sometimes be the undoing of many speakers. However, the 606s have a knack of retaining a sense musicality and projection even at low volume. Notes stop and start with snappy precision, and the lively treble adds to the clarity. However, it is not long before the dial makes its way back around the clock.
Easily Charmed by Fools by The Claypool Lennon Delirium is led by Les Claypool's gritty bass and the 60s-esque guitars get my feet tapping once again. The bass has weight and attack, and the instruments are perfectly placed all with room to express themselves.
I am really enjoying these Swiss-army speakers - a lot.
B&W 606 Conclusion
If you are looking for stand-mount or bookshelf speakers at this price point, you will no doubt have realised that you are not short of choice. You will have also noticed that there are some well-respected brands amongst that list too.
You will kick yourself if you forget to add the 606 to your shopping list. These speakers are energetic performers that deliver dynamics better than their form may suggest. The same goes for the excellently-weighted bass.
Their slightly eager high-end may warrant a test drive with your amplifier but, give them a chance, and you will soon be grinning from ear-to-ear.
Bowers & Wilkins have undoubtedly come up with the goods again and so the 606 joins the 603 with a StereoNET Applause Award.
The Bowers & Wilkins 606 are available now in matte white or matte black for £549.
For more information, go to Bowers & Wilkins.
StereoNET UK’s Editor and Bass playing gadget junkie. He’s captained the good ship GadgetyNews for over a decade, making low jargon high tech a very handy thing. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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