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Testing Ground

Bowers & Wilkins 606 S2 Anniversary Edition: accessible bookshelf speakers at audiophile quality

By Alban Amouroux |

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of its 600 speaker series, Bowers & Wilkins are releasing them in a new generation called the S2 Anniversary Edition. This is the English manufacturer's most accessible range, so the rates are very moderate given the nature of the hardware. The 606 S2 AE we are testing here are reasonably-sized bookshelf speakers offering a summary of the B&W signature performance to as broad a range of consumers as possible.

This generation of the 600 series has been simplified, to get back to the basics and avoid complicating matters for future buyers. The Anniversary Edition series continues on this path with an offer that's condensed down to a column, two bookshelf models and a central speaker. You will notice that there is everything one needs here to make up a 5.1 (or higher) home theatre set. The speakers use the same technologies across all models. The tweeters are identical in order to maintain overall homogeneity. These speakers are complemented as necessary by one of the two B&W ASW610 subwoofers in 200 or 500 watt versions.

Two bookshelf models are available: the 607 S2 AE and the 606 S2 AE. The 607s are the smallest. They carry a woofer of 13 cm, as opposed to 16.5 cm for the 606. The 607s are also a little smaller. They are ideal if you run out of space, or for use as surround speakers in a home theatre configuration. The larger 606s are true main speakers for a stereo system. All models in the range are available in three colours: all black, all white or light oak with white front. The magnetic speaker protection grids are grey or black depending on the model.

Features

Price: Manufacturer's website
Type: bass-reflex 2-way bookshelf speaker
Speakers: 1x woofer 16.5 cm, 1x tweeter 25 mm
Bandwidth: 52-28,000 Hz (+/-3 dB)
Sensitivity: 88 dB
Nominal Impedance: 8 ohms
Recommended Power: 30-120 watts
Weight: 6.9 kg per piece
Dimensions (H x w x d) : 345 x 190 x 324 mm 

Overview of the 606 S2 AE

The design of the 606 S2 AE is deliberately sober. There are no unnecessary shapes or elements. These speakers have an absolutely classic parallelepiped format. The height of 34.5 cm is average for bookshelf speakers. These are not micro-speakers. They need some space to really express themselves. In this regard, the bass reflex vent is placed in the back. This confirms the need to keep the speakers away from the back wall. Otherwise, although it would be a shame to make use of them, B&W provides foam plugs to insert into the vents.

There is no place for spikes or other types of decoupling support. No screw pitches are provided for under the enclosure. On the other hand, you will find small self-adhesive rubber pieces in the box that allow you to avoid placing the 606 directly on the shelf. Because unless you take care, there is nothing to protect the pretty light oak veneer applied under the speaker.

The front panel, also called the baffle, has this finish and is attached to the body via a matt white wooden plate. The 16.5 cm woofer is embedded in this plate, it is fixed directly on the body. Meanwhile the tweeter is embedded in the baffle, surrounded by a metal ring on which are engraved the item reference and the note "Anniversary Edition".

The 25 mm carbon tweeter, with double decoupled dome and rear load tube, is protected by an immovable grille. The FST woofer uses the woven fibre Continuum membrane now available on all B&W living room speakers. It is associated with the Flowport vent the surface of whose mouth is dimpled like a golf ball.

The terminal block has double wiring, a technique requiring four channels of amplification which is not necessarily proportionate to the price of these speakers. Just know that it is still possible. And then it would be a shame to do without the new, improved passive filter with components that are much more advanced than those of the previous generation.

Setting up the 606 S2 AE

In its marketing materials, Bowers & Wilkins present the 606 as either standing on shelves or on legs. The 6.9 kg weight requires a solid foundation in order to get the best out of these speakers. That means that any shelves will need to be robust. Perhaps a console table or cabinet would be more suitable. The support legs are interesting but they involve a footprint which is identical to that of column speakers. However, this is an option to look at because it is often the feet that offer the best performance.

Which amplifier to use with these speakers? With a sensitivity of 88 dB and a maximum nominal permissible power of 120 watts, there is a wide choice in terms of suitable amplifiers. We achieved excellent results with a Parasound model of 125 watts per channel. Lower power should also give good results with a punchy amplifier. The 8-ohm impedance makes it even easier to choose. For this test, we used our usual streamer with Qobuz enabled. The advertised bandwidth in the lower frequencies is a little shorter than on other library speakers with a 16.5 cm woofer. Let's check what all this adds up to when listening.

Listening

Immediately, The 606 S2 AE develops a soundstage of impressive width. We find the treble characteristic of Bowers & Wilkins productions with level, precision and above all softness. The scene teems with minute detail, giving a sense of increased veracity in terms of presence. On the album Other People's Pieces by Chilly Gonzalez, the 606 reveals all the little noises surrounding the performers and instruments that have not been erased. It is normal to pick them up easily when listening with headphones, but much less so with speakers.

The excellent clarity in the high and in the middle allows the 606 to play with the complexity of certain pieces. On the latest album Out by Kimberose, and in particular on the track Escape, the speakers deliver an impeccable work where the nasal voice is supported by the instruments and a powerful bass drum, all being quite clear-cut in spite of a musical mass that could have easily tended towards the aggressive. In general, with the 606, the vocals are well-delineated, standing out above the rest of the musical message. Staying in the mid-high range, the brass section enjoys the high-resolution power of the carbon tweeters for a full-powered and enjoyable restitution of the best record by the funk band Tower of Power, their live release Soul Vaccination.

The B&W 606s are also at home with St. Germain's jazzy house. The demonic bass that never runs out of steam on the 20th anniversary version of the album Tourist, which is stuffed full of remixes. The bass is dealt with masterfully in its dynamic aspect, enjoying drag-free impact. The lowest notes are absent, which confirms the advertised bandwidth for these speakers. Returning to the soundstage, we once again enjoy an interesting scale where the sounds of these very well-made remixes fill out the spaces between the speakers and even our entire listening room. For the more demanding, and to point out the difference between this and the more high-end models (such as the 705 bookshelves, staying with B&W), the 606 lacks depth somewhat: a little extra that could virtually knock down the wall behind the speakers.

The Pros :
Sober design
Quality of the finishes
Beautiful bass dynamics
Ultra-wide soundstage
Precise and pleasant high notes

The Cons:
Slight lack of depth
Lower bass notes cut off

Power and recommended use

Conclusion

These 606 S2 Anniversary Edition speakers are entry-level models but their qualities go far beyond that. We must recognise the excellent work that Bowers & Wilkins have done on these speakers. On the one hand, the speakers master the minutest details in the treble, and on the other, they offer a real forceful impact in the bass. And in the mid-range, we get lovely vocals that are foregrounded well and clear-cut. They will satisfy all enthusiasts looking for a compact system that includes source, amplifier and speakers, and whose budget is around 1,500 to 2,000 €. With three classic, modern colours, it is easy to integrate them into any interior. To complement them in the lowest frequencies, it may be of interest to match them with a subwoofer chosen from the ample range that B&W offers in this field. That would produce a formidable 2.1 system with a quality/price ratio that's difficult to beat, even by column speakers of equivalent price.