Bowers & Wilkins 603 S2 Anniversary Edition

Twenty five years is a long time in the world of hi-fi. It’s sufficient to see off many rivals altogether, so it’s impressive that Bowers & Wilkins has now been producing the 600 Series for a quarter of a century. In that time every part has changed, but the job of the range has remained the same: to give an affordable flavour of what the more expensive models the company offers can do. Also during this time, the series has spent an impressive amount of time being seen as the benchmark at the price too.

The latest range of speakers to be described as Anniversary products comprise four models, two standmounts, a centre for AV duties (subwoofers continue in a parallel in their own range) and the range-topping 603 S2 floorstander before you. This is the seventh generation of the 600 Series that builds on the developments introduced in the preceding sixth iteration from 2018. That was the first 600 Series to move from the long-running Kevlar drivers to the new ‘Continuum’ cone material that’s now employed across the entire Bowers & Wilkins range.

In the 603 S2 Anniversary Edition, this is partnered with a version of the 25mm Double Dome tweeter in a decoupled mount that is used by the company at all points below Diamond. This has a claimed upper frequency response of 38kHz and is home to the only visible ‘Anniversary’ branding. It’s partnered with a 150mm Continuum midrange dome that’s similar to the one used in the 700 Series.

The 603 is then augmented by a pair of 165mm paper bass drivers operating together via a three-way crossover. The crossover is the area that has seen the most work for the Anniversary Edition models and borrows from some of the development undertaken for the 700 Signatures. New bypass capacitors fine tuned in collaboration with Mundorf are partnered with new high-frequency and midrange frequency units. B&W claims much improved transparency and resolution across the frequency response.

Frequency response is quoted as 48Hz-28kHz at +/- 3dB and sensitivity at a benign 88dB/W (albeit with a minimum quoted impedance of 3ohm). The most noteworthy detail in the specifications, however, is that, if you measure the 603 at the less demanding +/- 6dB figure, the low-frequency extension drops to a healthy 28Hz, which is fairly impressive at the price.

Aesthetically, the Anniversary Edition is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Script around the tweeter aside, it is fairly similar to its predecessor although a wood finish (oak in some markets, cherry in others) has been added for all models. Given there wasn’t a great deal wrong with how the 600 Series looked, this is far from the end of the world. The appearance is clean and reasonably appealing and a hefty plinth is supplied that would probably impart enough stability to allow for use on a North Sea trawler. You can attach spikes or domes directly to the underside if you don’t want to use it at the cost of reduced stability.

The large rear bass port can be adjusted via a two-piece foam bung and there are full-length grilles if you want to use them. Relatively unusually, you can bi-wire the 603 if you wish.

Sound quality
The most immediately noticeable aspect of the 603 isn’t so much sonic as it is practical. This is an easy speaker to drive to any domestically acceptable level. Running with a Cyrus i7-XR (HFC 473) makes for a satisfying and capable partnership regardless of the almost comedic disparity in size between the two devices.

Beyond the practical aspects, the 603 S2 Anniversary Edition manages to do an awful lot right. The work that has been undertaken on the crossovers really pays dividends. Ignorance by The Weather Station shows this to excellent effect. The magnificent opening track Robber is understated but complex and the B&W does a fine job of pulling it together in a cohesive but believable way. At no stage is there any perception of four drivers at work and it’s extremely tricky to judge the crossover points between them. It’s key to the suspension of disbelief when listening.

With the mechanics of the speaker less present in its performance, the other positive qualities of the design are easier to appreciate. Tamara Lindeman’s vocals are beautifully reproduced with presence and detail that makes them the centre of attention without sacrificing anything else. The combination of Continuum cone and the Double Dome tweeter results in a speaker that, even in partnership with the fairly well-lit Cyrus, is detailed and lively without tipping over into brightness even under provocation.

If you do keep up in your efforts to unsettle the 603 S2 Anniversary Edition, the issues – such as they are – become more apparent at the bottom end. As the specs suggest, it has prodigious low end; in room, the roll-off in output below 40Hz is barely noticeable. However, even when used in free space, there is a fractional sluggishness to the bass output that robs Hayley Williams’ Simmer of some of its edge. I find the best results come from running it with the bung in place, which sacrifices a tiny fraction of bottom end but speeds its delivery up rather effectively.

With the bungs in place, the 603 S2 Anniversary Edition is impressively close in its overall presentation and character to the considerably more expensive 702 Signature. This is never a cossetting or gentle listen, but it’s consistently able to create a tangible sense of what you are playing and it is transparent enough to deliver the character of the source and amplification. Something that helps this is that the 603 S2 Anniversary Edition is able to deliver more intimate material without imparting a scale that it really doesn’t warrant. That it can do this while effortlessly sounding very large indeed when required makes it a highly flexible partner across a wide spread of different material.

This is fitting because this has been the stated design intention of the 600 Series ever since the original appeared 25 years ago. This has long been the effortless all-rounder you chose to do justice to a diverse music collection. While the 603 S2 Anniversary Edition doesn’t seek to re-write this mission statement or try to do anything truly new, it doubles down and does a better job than ever before. There are still some fine rivals at a similar price, but this is a polished and capable performer that will work with a wide selection of partnering equipment and sound extremely compelling as it does so. ES    

Product: Bowers & Wilkins 603 S2 Anniversary Edition
Type: Three-way floorstanding loudspeaker

● 25mm aluminium dome tweeter
●  2x 165mm paper bass drivers
●  150mm Continuum mid/bass driver
●  Quoted sensitivity: 88.5dB/1W/1m (8ohm)

Read the full review in  Issue 474

Bowers & Wilkins