Bowers & Wilkins 606 S2 Anniversary Edition review: Sterling sound from silver speakers

Here’s something that made me feel old: the innovative Toy Story debuted in 1995 and there have been three sequels since then. That year also saw the debut of another popular series: the Bowers & Wilkins 600. The speakers are now in their seventh iteration – the 600 S2 Anniversary series reviewed here – and just like Pixar, B&W maintains the winning formula.

Like it

  • Superb finish and build quality
  • Transparency and high-level dynamics
  • Easy to drive with a midrange receiver

I do not like

  • It can expose harder sound elements in some materials
  • More expensive than similar speakers from Q Acoustics and Elac

The Bowers & Wilkins 606 S2 Anniversary Edition looks a lot like the speaker it replaces, but many of the changes are inside. The results are a true sonic upgrade reminiscent of the more expensive 700 series – these speakers bring transparency and bang in equal parts.

If you find that your movies and music lack liveliness and impact and you want to invest in something higher Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2 or Q Acoustics 3030i, these vibrant black and white speakers look great and sound great. If, on the other hand, you already own a pair of 600 speakers – and especially those with Continuum cones – so there’s probably no rush to rip for the upgrade. The differences between the 606 and the old one 685 they were audible, but a new receiver might make a better investment, for example.

The Bowers & Wilkins 606 S2 Anniversary Edition is available now for $ 900 (£ 599, AU $ 1,299).

What’s in the box

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Ty Pendlebury / HDOT

A few years ago, B&W introduced a replacement for its iconic yellow Kevlar driver, a proprietary material called Continuum. It took some time for pilots to get to the 600 series, but now that it’s in its second iteration, it’s what you might call a proven technology.

As the original 606, the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S2 Anniversary Edition uses a 6.5-inch Continuum Cone mid-bass driver. The speaker cabinet is also fitted in the same way on the back, which leaves the dashboard clean. The front is topped with a decoupled double-dome aluminum tweeter, which comes with a mesh guard and commemorative stamp. The 606 S2 also includes an updated crossover inherited from the recent 700 Series Signature line which, in my tests, made a difference.

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Ty Pendlebury / HDOT

The speakers are generously sized for stand mount at a height of 13.5 inches, 11.8 inches deep (or 12.8 inches including the grille and terminals), and 7.5 inches wide. They are available in a choice of matte black (the one I received), matte white or white and oak. While I had some doubts about the finish of the last speaker – the white faceplate didn’t match the color of the box – I had no such problems with the sample I reviewed. The speakers are equipped with magnetically attached grilles.

The spec sheet lists a relatively high sensitivity of 88 decibels, which means they will go pretty loud with most mid-range receivers or amplifiers. In terms of frequency response, they will hit around 40Hz (-6dB) in a reasonably sized room and claimed up to 33kHz.

While it’s possible to place them on a sideboard or shelf, I’d recommend buying dedicated stands – I’ve used them with STAV 224 ($ 200), but if it’s a bit pricey, the Monolith by Monoprice 28-inch speaker stand looks decent for $ 120 per pair.

How do they sound?

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Ty Pendlebury / HDOT

As “Abbey Road Studios Official Speakers”, Bowers & Wilkins has a reputation to uphold for making products that sound highly revealing and engaging. The 606 S2 lives up to the score by bringing the hi-fi ideal to life, while also producing music to dance to. I owned B&W myself and over the years I have found that, like previous versions, the 606 S2 likes to play loud but was also able to play at lower volumes without playing too far forward. At times, the new 606 reminded us of the 707 S2 with its ability to allow the listener to peer into a recording.

While I didn’t have a set of original 606 speakers on hand, I had a pair of older 685s along with the new one Elac Uni-Fi 2.0 UB5.2. I fed the setup with Marantz SR6015 and our reference Oppo UDP-205 disc player.

In general I found that the level of stereo image and focus were similar between the Elac and the 606 S2, but the B&W stood out in its ability to sound good with a wider musical range than the Elac UniFi. Obviously, like the 606, the newer version will exhibit problems with some “badly” mixed music.

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I started with a Ryan Adams live recording playing Oh My Sweet Carolina – a tune I remember hearing on the 706 – and the benefits of the 606 immediately came to the fore. Compared to the laid-back 685, the 606 S2 offered a better virtual picture of Adams on stage, capturing his voice as he bounced off the great hall walls. The word that came to mind was “crystal clear”, and the speaker showed a bit more dynamic weight once the guitar came in. The harmonica was right there, and I could hear more of the singer’s breath passing through the reed.

Meanwhile, the Elac Uni-Fi was the more cavernous sound of the three speakers and was able to make the crowd sound huge as it cheered the singer’s entrance. Likewise the guitar echo was easy to distinguish, as was the click of the player’s fingers on the strings. While the 606 highlighted the metallic nature of the guitar and harmonica, the Elac pulled back a bit and wasn’t quite as steely. The Elac was able to capture his tenor voice but didn’t offer as much bass as the two B&Ws, and it also sounded the less dynamic.

Then I moved on to something far more abrasive: You Need Satan More Than He Needs You’s Future of the Left synth bass. The 606 S2b offered a greater sense of power than the 685, with the pounding drums sounding more present and live accentuating also the metallic edge of the distorted bass. This is a track that needs to be listened to loud and unlike other songs I’ve heard, the 606 didn’t open as much as the 685 on volume. Most surprising of all was the Elac: instead of sounding bloated, it activated the room’s natural bass response and became the funniest of the trio with this track. The sung choruses of the song also sounded bigger on the Elacs.

However, it wasn’t all good news for Elac, and he began to extricate himself with complex music. The live version of A Night Like This by the Cure compressed slightly and became a heavy midrange, while the B&W 606 S2 sounded more balanced. The B&W kept the bass present, even when the volume was turned up.

I’ve spent a lot of time watching TV and movies with B&W and found vocal articulation crisp, especially when compared to the 685. This speaker is a great addition to a home theater setup and I’ve used it alongside Klipsch speakers and SVS. I found the 606 S2 more exciting than the Elac when watching the Thanator chase scene from Avatar – the beginning of the sequence starts with muttering dialogue and buzzing insects, and the new speaker elevated these sounds, making them more present. It also offered a heavier sound to the male voices and the thud of shell plants as they retreat from Jake’s touch. The Elac was just as exciting in this scene, but it was a more measured and relaxed touch; the dropping shells and the rattle of guns did not have a metallic sound.

Should you buy them?

Like Toy Story, the technology behind the Bowers & Wilkins 600 series only gets better with age. If you want to hear every little detail in your music, the upgrade to the 606 will bring some of the benefits of hi-fi without an exorbitant price tag. The speaker isn’t all about transparency, however, there is still a decent bass base for more powerful styles of music.

While I personally prefer the older, more delicate 685, the 606 S2 offers a taste of high-end in a way that the previous speaker doesn’t, and does it for less than a grand. If you’ve set your sights on the 700 series but don’t have the money, the new 600s are closer to them in terms of sound quality than they’ve ever been. Bad problem for Bowers & Wilkins, good problem for the rest of us.

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