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Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3 review: Accuracy and acoustic dynamism

With its renewed 600 Series, Bowers & Wilkins set up new standards of engineering among attentive audio listeners. While we often used the 603 S3 as a comparison with other high-quality floor-standing speakers, we never got the chance to look deeper into their specs and sonic performance.

So, let’s do these speakers justice and praise them for what they are: a celebration of cutting-edge technology and craftsmanship!

Why you should trust this review

I’m an audiophile and audio engineer, which means that when I’m testing loudspeakers, I’m mostly interested in clarity and neutrality, but I also want the sound to be enjoyable and engaging. When I use my hi-fi equipment for deep-listening sessions, I pay attention to the quality of frequency response across the spectrum, and when it comes to floor-standing speakers, I ensure they can perfectly reproduce whichever music I throw at them.

Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3 floor-standing speaker
Image: Bowers & Wilkins

Final verdict on the B&W 603 S3 5.0

The B&W 603 S3 provides a compelling and entertaining sound that feels incredibly authentic. While delivering a mostly neutral reproduction devoid of coloration, the speakers are designed to provide a captivating sound experience with a focus on clarity and detail, which enhances the beauty of vocals, as well as orchestral symphonies and acoustically-rich compositions.

Featuring a Continuum cone midrange, the speakers produce a pure and vibrant sonic representation, while the low-frequency cones deliver a precise and well-integrated bass that blends perfectly with the soundstage.

This revisited version of the iconic speaker from the 600 Series offers an upgraded sound while still preserving its unique sound signature – a dynamic and precise texture that works magnificently when playing articulate and engaging music.

What I like

  • Immersive soundstage.
  • Transparent sound that’s enjoyable and accurate.

What I don’t like

  • Competition is tough at this price range.
Buy Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3 at: Crutchfield

Build and design 4.5

The Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3 comes with a refined and robust build that delivers acoustically and aesthetically.

At the heart of this 3-way floor-stander is the 1-inch Decoupled Double Dome titanium tweeter; light and rigid, titanium is one of the go-to materials for reproducing high frequencies without distortion.

Furthermore, the decoupled double dome design minimizes resonance and vibration, allowing for a more accurate and detailed treble response.

Midrange frequencies are masterfully handled by a 6-inch Continuum cone FST midrange driver. The Continuum cone, a Bowers & Wilkins patent, is engineered to provide a precise and controlled response.

For the lower frequencies, the speakers feature dual 6.5-inch paper cone woofers. The bass-reflex cabinet design, with a rear-firing Flowport, extends the bass response and also minimizes air turbulence.

The 603 S3 comes with a plinth and carpet spikes, which is a nice addition that makes it easier to adjust the floor-standers to your listening space.

Compatibility 4.5

With an impedance of 8 ohms, the 603 S3 is compatible with a plethora of amplifiers and receivers, and Bowers & Wilkins recommends 30-200 watts as the ideal power range for optimal performance.

The inclusion of dual binding post speaker terminals is a nice addition, offering flexibility for audiophiles eager to craft a unique sound and allowing for either bi-amping or bi-wiring your hi-fi.

Another great aspect is that you can adjust the speakers to just about any position and get exceptional sound quality. A good starting point for positioning the speakers is about 50 cm away from the side and rear walls, with the speakers 1.5-3m apart. Slight angling towards the listening position can enhance the stereo image, especially if the speakers are close to side walls.

Sound 5.0

As soon as you try a pair of Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3, you’re immersed in an expansive stereo image that enhances the beauty of articulated compositions.

These floor-standers have the ability to track individual instruments with extreme precision, offering a wide soundstage where each element of the track can be appreciated by itself.

The 603 S3 shines at representing dynamic shifts, seamlessly handling varying tempos and sonic complexities, and balancing bass weight, vocal clarity, and overall detail with confidence.

The FST driver reproduces vocals in a way that is both realistic and engaging, capturing subtle nuances like the echo around a voice or the breaths between lines, bringing to life a presentation that’s both intimate and resonant.

The main highlight of these speakers is their impressive accuracy. It might sound counterintuitive, but these floor-standers offer a level of realism not unlike professional studio monitors while offering a huge soundstage and deep bass that make the tracks engaging and powerful.

Basically, they offer a neutral sound and make it easy to enjoy for hours, which is precisely what I look for in speakers.

Compared to other floor-standing speakers

The new B&W 603 S3 is, no doubts, a great option, one of the best floor-standers on today’s market. But there are a couple of alternatives that are worth looking at.

B&W 603 S3 vs 603 S2

Transitioning from the S2 to the S3 is a big step forward in audio refinement. Thanks to its upgraded driver technology, the 603 S3 brings enhanced detail and depth to its sound profile, particularly in midrange clarity and bass precision. The revised tweeter is also a big upgrade that defined the newest version’s accuracy and articulation.

B&W 603 S3 vs KEF Q950

This is a hard one because, to me, the 603 S3 and the Q950 are comparable in terms of sound, and I’m a big fan of both.

My personal opinion is that the former is better at creating a wide and detailed soundstage, while the Q950, with its distinctive Uni-Q driver, offers excellent stereo imaging and a more cohesive sound.

The KEF Q950 is slightly more affordable, which makes it a better choice if you’re on a budget, but in terms of sonic characteristics, that’s a draw to me.

B&W 603 S3 vs Klipsch RP-8000F II

Compared to the 603 S3, the RP-8000F II emphasizes a more dynamic and impactful sound, especially on the lower side of the spectrum. The soundstage is rich and full, just like with the 603 S3, but the more prominent bass adds a sense of excitement to the music you won’t get from the B&W floor-stander.

These two speakers offer a completely different listening experience: if you want a more engaging sound, go for the RP-8000F II, while if you’re more into sonic neutrality, the 603 S3 is your best option.

However, bear in mind that accuracy comes at a price: the RP-8000F II is roughly $1,000 cheaper than the 603 S3.

Who is Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3 for?

The 603 S3 is for demanding audiophiles looking for absolute clarity and realism. In other words, these are not speakers that’ll give a timeless feel to your old records with unique coloration, but they’ll reproduce them with the utmost accuracy.

The listening experience is not challenging even for the untrained ear, but for beginners, there are similarly priced floor-standers leaning more towards an easy-going sound, like the Wharfedale Evo4.4.

If accuracy and neutrality are what you’re after, then the 603 S3 is one of the best options on the market, regardless of your budget.

Buy Bowers & Wilkins 603 S3 at: Crutchfield
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