B&W 603 loudspeaker Page 2

Paul Weller's 'Above The Clouds' [Paul Weller; PCCY-00337] can sound lacklustre on lesser hi-fi systems, but the better the equipment you play it on, the more you realise it is simply less processed than most recordings of its era. Play this classic '90s guitar pop track on most similarly-priced floorstanders and it can seem bland and unresolved. Not so with the 603, which gently unpacks things, proving unexpectedly transparent with a surprising degree of focus and precision. The fretwork on Weller's lead guitar was beautifully carried by this new speaker, and the crispness with which the bass notes started and stopped was admirable.

Harmonious Balance
The Continuum cone would seem to be key to this, giving a more even and subtle tonality that lets you hear deeper into the recording, rather than being kept at bay by the 'sound' of the cone. James Taylor Quartet's 'Redneck' [Extended Play; Acid Jazz JAZID 110CD] highlighted this. It's a super warm recording that sounds positively gloopy on some budget speakers, but the 603 got a grip on the proceedings and made it an enjoyable listen. There are no particular colorations, obvious peaks, troughs or sweet spots here, where one part of the music is subsumed into another. Instead, this speaker sounds all-of-a-piece – it's a fully integrated performer that delivers the music in harmonious balance.

1218bw.grill.jpgIts ability to recreate a believable acoustic is also impressive. Fed the super clean electropop of Depeche Mode's 'Leave In Silence' [The Singles 81-85; MUTEL 1], the 603 really shone. It loves clean, well-recorded material, when it can recreate the soundstage in three dimensions. That absence of coloration and the detail on offer are factors here, and the result is a surprisingly expansive-sounding loudspeaker.

It's also easy to locate each strand in the mix. The lead vocal was pinned smack in the centre of the Depeche Mode track, behind which the accompanying synthesisers did their thing with heady abandon. There was also a fine sense of atmosphere with simple but well made recordings such as this one, even to the backing vocals, where you could almost sense the four walls of the recording booth.

Treble performance is very pleasing too. You never quite forget that you're listening to an alloy dome tweeter, yet I did wonder quite how the designers had got it to be so well behaved. It's satisfyingly crisp and extended with pop or rock music, but the real test is how well it deals with the 'space' of a concert hall and orchestra. The LPO/Haitink account of Vaughan Williams's 'London' Symphony [EMI CDC 749394 2] was conveyed with all the air and atmosphere that it warrants, the 603 giving a vivid rendition of this great performance.

Hypnotic Groove
While the 603 never comes across as bright, forceful or otherwise 'in your face', it still manages to capture the drama of most recordings – indeed it really picked up its skirt and ran with pacy beat-driven rock music tracks such as REM's 'Texarkana' [Out of Time; Warner Bros WPCP-4195]. This song pushes along at great speed, that multi-tracked jangling Rickenbacker guitar setting up a hypnotic groove to complement the frenetic bass and drum work.

Taut and tight from top to bottom, the 603 demonstrated its 'rhythmic rightness', the music bristling with energy and drive, and its finely-etched nature unpicking this densely recorded rock music to great effect. In short, at this price the 603's poise, balance and musical sophistication is pretty well unmatched.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
By the time its number came up, the old 683 S2 was some way off the pace, but B&W's new 603 shows just how far the company has progressed. It's a class-leading performer with fine transparency, a smooth tone, plus excellent soundstaging and rhythmic articulation. Best of all is how well balanced all these attributes are, making it a great performer across many types of music. A significant change for the better.

B&W Group Ltd
West Sussex
0800 232 1513