B&W 603 loudspeaker

hfnoutstanding.pngNow classier looking and sounding, it's out with the old and in with the new for B&W's latest budget floorstander

'Things can only get better' is a mantra beloved of marketing men and women, and why not? There's an implicit notion that technological progress means everything is automatically moving forward – and those who disagree must be some kind of latter-day Luddite. They're pushing at an open door, because when people treat themselves to something shiny and new, most have already bought into the idea that it is superior to what came before.

However, as anyone who has worked their way up the upgrading ladder knows, sometimes it's not that simple. So what to make of B&W's brand new £1249 603 floorstander? The company is an assiduous upgrader of its various ranges, introducing fresh-looking new loudspeakers as regularly as car manufacturers revamp their mid-market family-sized SUVs.

This autumn, it's the turn of the company's entry-level hi-fi speaker range to go under scrutiny, and the result is the new 600 series. It's crowned by the 603 reviewed here, the sixth iteration of B&W's 'bread and butter' floorstander, which replaces the old 683 S originally launched some four years ago [see Sidebar].

Silver Dream
Superficially at least, the new 603 looks a whole lot better than what came before. Gone is the visually jarring yellow Kevlar midrange driver, and in its place is a version of B&W's silvery-grey Continuum FST cone in 150mm form. Students of the brand will already know that this has made its way into the company's higher-end loudspeakers – admittedly in a more expensive form [HFN Dec '15]. Even in this budget floorstander however, its benefits are easily measurable, both by computer mapping of the cone behaviour under load, or by the more simple expedient of listening – more of which later.

Stiff, lightweight cones have typically been the goal in the past but the Continuum, with its lossy fibre/polymer cone, represents an understanding that controlling resonances is a more practical approach than trying to push them just outside of the driver's passband. Benign modes within the driver's range are better than aggressive resonances at higher frequency, or so the thinking goes. Anyway, this Continuum unit is joined by the company's 25mm 'Decoupled Double Dome' alloy tweeter, now with a re-engineered frontal assembly, and completed by two new 165mm paper/Kevlar bass drivers.


The 603 is a classic reflex-ported three-way design, albeit with the two bass drivers working in parallel to improve the radiating area from what is a slim front baffle. The cabinet measures 985x190x340mm (hwd) but becomes more substantial when sitting on the wide bases that come supplied in the box. These provide extra stability, something to bear in mind if you have children in the room – you wouldn't want a 603 to topple over, because it weighs a not inconsiderable 24kg. It is a very well made speaker and the classic knuckle-rap on the side of the cabinet shows it to be impressively inert – certainly by the standards of other floorstanders at its price point [see KH's Lab Report].

Our review sample was supplied in a matt white eggshell finish which looks neat enough. It's actually the subtle detailing that lifts the appearance – the 603's front baffle is very tidily laid out and the new tweeter grille looks classy, as well as being strong and fairly silent when you tap it. Furthermore the front baffle grille [not shown] is now magnetically attached, obviating the need for unsightly mounting lugs. The white finished version gets a grey grille, and the black speaker has a black grille for a more discreet look. The new smoothed-out rear panel looks clean, with the company's Flowport bass port now located there.

sqnote.jpgInsightful Panorama
As a brand with real heritage, Bowers & Wilkins is more about evolutionary rather than revolutionary change. The company typically makes careful, incremental improvements in all its ranges over the years, and the 603 is no exception. So it still sounds distinctively 'B&W' while bettering the speaker it replaces in almost every key area of performance.

Like the proverbial 'new broom', this floorstander sweeps away the slightly nasal midband of its predecessor, instead delivering a wide, open and clean sound that is fundamentally more insightful and three-dimensional. In the manner of the best loudspeakers, it steps out of the way (figuratively) to give a deliciously panoramic view of the music that it's being asked to play. This is 'easy listening' with all the musical energy kept intact.

Surprisingly simple to set up, the 603 works well at just a half-metre out into the room – more for larger rooms and/or higher volumes – and requires only modest toe-in. The speaker is supplied with a two-stage reflex port bung, so you can listen with the foam bung full in, half removed, or without. The choice comes down to your own listening room and preference, but I left the port fully unimpeded, finding that any other arrangement produced a slightly stifled, albeit tighter, upper bass sound.

This done, the 603 really does perform rather well. I liked its clarity, which is something I couldn't truthfully say about its predecessor.

B&W Group Ltd
West Sussex
0800 232 1513