Bowers & Wilkins 700 S3 5.1 speaker system review

Mark Craven discovers that B&W's new 700 Series offers more than just a gentle upgrade

Once again, Bowers & Wilkins has followed the refresh of its top-spec 800 Series – in 'D4' guise since 2021 – with a subsequent overhaul of its more affordable 700 range. The idea being that it can filter some of the new design and engineering tricks of the 800s down to these more mass-market speakers.

Okay, 'mass market' might be stretching it a bit. Although B&W's 700 S3 lineup is the brand's mid-range proposition, with the 600 Series and MT-50 sub/sat system below it, price points reach as high as £5,500 for the largest 702 S3 floorstander.

The look of the range will be instantly familiar to watchers of the British loudspeaker brand, and it doesn't, at first glance, appear massively different to the 700 S2 models of yesteryear, with the same driver layouts and general dimensions. Yet there has been an aesthetic refresh, making these considerably smarter-looking than before. For example, the front baffles of the cabinets are now gently curved rather than flat, to better reduce diffraction, with drivers now mounted in chrome-coloured 'pods' – an element pilfered from the 800 Series aesthetic.

Furthermore, the speakers have been on a bit of a diet, with a few millimetres shaved off the widths of the floorstander and standmount models. The plinth stands for the tower speakers are also easier on the eye, not to mention a more robust design. Indeed, on the flagship 702 S3 these are now an integral part of the package (but you still have to fit them yourself via supplied bolts), rather than the 'option' of the previous generation, due to the use of a down-firing rather than rear-firing bass reflex port.

There's a new colourway, with all 700 S3 speakers shipping in Gloss Black, Satin White and Mocha (the latter replacing the Rosenut of before). The finish of these is as opulent as you'd expect given the price points. Lastly, the supplied magnetic grilles have been redesigned, so that they now cover the full length of the cabinet rather than just protecting the drivers.

Pick and mix
The full lineup features eight models, making it B&W's most extensive. In addition to the aforementioned 702 S3, there are 703 S3 and 704 S3 floorstanders (£4,200 and £3,000 respectively); the 705 S3, 706 S3 and 707 S3 standmount/bookshelf models (£2,600, £1,650 and £1,300 respectively); and the HTM71 S3 (£1,700) and HTM72 S3 (£1,000) centre channels. Sold separately (or in pairs), buyers are free to mix and match.


Finish options are Gloss Black, Satin White and Mocha

What's particularly exciting about the S3 refresh is that B&W has changed its approach regards its Tweeter-on-Top technology, another 800 Series stalwart. Previously, only the 702 and 705 units got a distinctive, on-body tube housing the HF unit, to deliver improved dispersion and limit cabinet interference. This meant that a) specifying a multichannel system with top-mounted tweeters front and rear involved buying the most expensive models, and b) you wouldn't get one on the centre channel. Now the 703 S3 and HTM71 S3 units join the party, which gives rise to the 5.1 system auditioned here, which features the 703 floorstanders and HTM71 up front, and 705 standmount on surrounds.

What, no Mocha?
For the LFE channel, B&W's DB4S (£1,499) remains the proposed partner for its 700 Series. This is a sealed, active subwoofer with a forward-firing 10in driver and 1,000W Class D amp, plus smarts including Room EQ and control/adjustment via smartphone app. One possible annoyance is that this hasn't had its finish options updated to include Mocha, so you'll likely opt for Gloss Black.

Naturally, B&W's Tweeter-on-Top unit has been upgraded for the new range. It still uses a 25mm carbon dome, rather than the diamond dome of the 800 models, but the tube-housing has been lengthened for improved control of rear radiation, and the decoupling from the cabinet below is now two-point.

The centre and floorstanders in this system then handover from the tweeter to a dedicated mid-range driver. As before, this is a Continuum cone design, the bespoke fabric B&W introduced as a replacement for its long-running Kevlar, and like the tweeter is decoupled from the cabinet, this time via an internal sprung-mount rod and six isolator pads between its damped trim ring and the outer pod. These mid-range drivers also employ the biomimetic suspension technology debuted on the 800 D4s as a replacement for a more traditional spider. Bass units (and the bass/mid of the 703 S3) use B&W's Aerofoil Profile cones.

With tweeters on top of all this system's cabinets you won't be adding any Dolby Atmos upfiring modules. Nor, in fact, does Bowers & Wilkins make any – the company will steer you towards its CCM in-ceiling models for a 3D audio solution. But as this system proved, 5.1 can still be astonishing...

Music minded
Initial listening with the 703 S3s and stereo music revealed these £4,200 floorstanders to be absolute super-stars. The sound is dramatically full-range, with a low-end delivery that's marked by both impressive extension and nuance; a mid-band that revels in the textures of various voices and instruments; and a treble that soars sweetly without ever sounding like it's hardening up.


Front baffles are now gently curved, and drivers mounted within chrome pods

These cabinets aren't particularly big either, but the stage they create is wonderfully large – wide, deep and with a nice sense of verticality. Listening to everything from the well-recorded acoustic blues of Hans Theessink and Terry Evans' Visions album, to The Doors' energetic Morrison Hotel and Dusty Springfield's sublime Dusty in Memphis, left me in no doubt the 703 S3s are a fine, audiophile speaker. And they remain the star of the show when fronting a 5.1 system.

Helped by those matching top-mounted tweeters all around, B&W's 700 S3 system offers a really quite startling delivery of delicate movie effects, with an airy spacious nature to the soundfield that easily draws you in to the onscreen action. So it was with Terence Malick's beautifully shot and naturalistic sounding 2005 drama The New World (Sky Cinema), where the film's frequent dialogue-free passages washed over me with the gossamer sounds of birdsong, running water and wind rustling in the trees.

Even better, however, was the system's handling of the James Horner/Wagner/Mozart orchestral score. At the very end of the movie, as Pocahontas/Rebecca Rolfe (Q'orianka Kilcher) plays hide and seek with her son in an English country garden, the marriage of smooth, pure, grain-free sonics and elegiac visuals became almost hypnotic.

B&W's HTM71 S3 centre channel is quite a big thing, measuring a full 62cm wide and unlikely to fit into some below-screen AV cabinets due to that peek-a-boo, tube-housed tweeter. But it puts its size to good use, with a three-way driver configuration that's a close approximation of (although not identical to) the 703 S3. Again, there's subtlety to its sound, rending the dialogue in The New World easy on the ear, but there's heft too. The film's various male voices sounded fulsome and lifelike, and free from the cabinet.

Quickening the pace with the fight-filled fun of Hobbs and Shaw (4K BD), this 5.1 set responded by showing a more aggressive nature than the Malick movie had demanded. When our heroes are chased by Idris Elba's goons around his nuclear power station HQ (actually a coal-fired plant in North Yorkshire), and vehicles are flying through gravel and bouncing along metal, the sound becomes sharper, more pointy. Foley effects arrive thick and fast, peppering the listening position.


The 700 S3 mid-range drivers benefit from B&W's biomimetic suspension

Helping out here is the 705 S3 on surround sound duty. Like its floorstanding sibling, this is a superb-sounding speaker in its own right, and the effect of its excellent handling of the full-frequency band means the surround performance of this array feels brilliantly balanced. Soundtrack details don't arrive apologetically from the back while bursting from the front. Meanwhile, the soundstage ranges far beyond the physical boundaries of the cabinets, particularly that drawn by the 703 S3s. You always feel enveloped in the action, even though there's no Atmos height layer at work.

This Hobbs and Shaw sequence is rife with explosions and impact sounds, and the DB4S sub carries them all off with panache, filling out the soundstage with controlled, deep lows. It doesn't exactly offer the boisterous bass you could expect from a ported rival (or one without B&W's onboard DSP), but it's a superb match for the rest of the system sound – and you can always look further up the B&W chain, to its dual-driver DB series subwoofers, if you want.

Like the subwoofer, the 700 Series speakers themselves have an air of poise and maturity to them which should perhaps be expected given the premium price tags and B&W's heritage. Put another way, these sound like comprehensively well-engineered speakers, with no subjective gremlins whatsoever. The manufacturer might not be using the clever Matrix cabinet bracing of its flagship 800 Series for these mid-level siblings, but they still feel impressively solid, and that carries through to their sound – the bass here is lean and detailed when needed, but hits hard on demand without blur or bloom.

Commensurate amplification (I paired them with my Arcam AVR850) is required to get them really bursting into life, though.

Tasty upgrade
Overall, this 5.1 package has serious appeal. The new styling is excellent, so that the speakers should slot into most environments with ease, and the performance is sublime. B&W has borrowed here and there from its 800 Series D4s to give its step-down set a very tasty upgrade. Anyone hunting for a classy home cinema array that also excels with music shouldn't hesitate in hunting down an audition.

HCC Verdict: 5/5

Bowers & Wilkins 700 S3 5.1
Price: £9,999

We say: Gorgeous cabinets, exceptional build quality and a sound performance that blends lush musicality with rich immersion and hard-hitting bass. What's not to like?


703 S3
DRIVERS: 1 x 25mm Decoupled Carbon Dome tweeter; 2 x 6.5in Aerofoil Profile bass drivers; 1 x 6in Continuum cone FST mid-range ENCLOSURE: Rear-ported bass reflex FREQUENCY RESPONSE (CLAIMED): 46Hz-28kHz (+/-3dB) SENSITIVITY (CLAIMED): 90dB IMPEDANCE (CLAIMED): 8ohm (3.1ohm minimum) POWER HANDLING (CLAIMED): 200W DIMENSIONS (Including tweeter/plinth): 290(w) x 1,117(h) x 372(d)mm WEIGHT: 28.1kg

705 S3
DRIVERS: 1 x 25mm Decoupled Carbon Dome tweeter; 1 x 6.5in Continuum cone bass/mid ENCLOSURE: Rear-ported bass reflex FREQUENCY RESPONSE (CLAIMED): 50Hz-28kHz (+/-3dB) SENSITIVITY (CLAIMED): 88dB IMPEDANCE (CLAIMED): 8ohm (3.7ohm minimum) POWER HANDLING (CLAIMED): 120W DIMENSIONS (Including tweeter): 192(w) x 413(h) x 297(d)mm WEIGHT: 9.58kg

HTM71 S3
DRIVERS: 1 x 25mm Decoupled Carbon Dome tweeter; 2 x 5in Aerofoil Profile bass drivers; 1 x 5in Continuum cone FST mid-range ENCLOSURE: Rear-ported bass reflex FREQUENCY RESPONSE (CLAIMED): 50Hz-28kHz (+/-3dB) SENSITIVITY (CLAIMED): 89dB IMPEDANCE (CLAIMED): 8ohm (3.1ohm minimum) POWER HANDLING (CLAIMED): 200W DIMENSIONS (Including tweeter): 628(w) x 233(h) x 318(d)mm WEIGHT: 17.4kg

DB4S (subwoofer))
DRIVERS: 1 x 10in Aerofoil cone bass driver ENCLOSURE: Sealed FREQUENCY RESPONSE (CLAIMED): 10Hz-350Hz (-3dB) ONBOARD POWER (CLAIMED): 1,000W REMOTE CONTROL: No. (But control via B&W app) DIMENSIONS: 360(w) x 377(h) x 368(d)mm WEIGHT: 26kg FEATURES: Stereo XLR input; stereo phono input; 2 x 12V trigger; RS-232; digital preamp with Dynamic EQ; app-based setup

Bowers & Wilkins