Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3 Loudspeakers | REVIEW

bowers and wilkins 703 S3

I invited Diana Krall into my listening room, and she was gracious enough to send her simulacrum through the Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3. Not the B&W 703 S3, mind you, but Bowers and Wilkins.

What’s in a name? Names are important. I have an unusual spelling to my name and it affects my
life in a much different way than if I was John or Mike. Bowers and Wilkins has been going through a bit of a name problem: B&W was the official name of the speaker manufacturer until very recently. There is a Bowers and Wilkins audio dealer and their stories are intertwined.

Words and Photos by Graig Neville

Starting as an audio dealer, Bowers and Wilkins thought there were opportunities for better sound from the speakers they were selling and started tweaking the designs for friends and select customers. This service became so popular that B&W the speaker company was created and they
started manufacturing and selling their own speakers separate from the dealership.

In addition, B&W had a name that was very similar to one of my favorite car companies, BMW.
Recently, to clear up the befuddled mess and create their unique brand identity, B&W officially
changed their name to Bowers and Wilkins. So, as iconic as B&W has been in our industry they will now always be referred to as Bowers and Wilkins in print.

With that cleared up, the company sent me a pair of their new Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3
loudspeakers. For those who know my car guy tendencies, I am a huge BMW fan and have been since high school. What does a British hi-fi speaker maker and a German car company have in common? Both build precision fabricated mechanical devices that elicit passion. One is the love of music and the other is the joy of driving.

b&w tweeter

Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3: Suavé

The Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3 is a floorstanding box speaker, but the exterior fit and finish compare well with the $10,000/pr speakers that I’ve been reviewing over the past year or so. The
703 S3 retails at $5,999/pr USD, but you can find them individually for $2,999.50 should you
decide on a home theater or perhaps Brian Eno setup.

The Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3 covers a relatively small footprint, with a narrow and slightly curved baffle that reduces cabinet boundary effects. The 703 is elegant and the fit and finish are first rate for this price point. Perched atop the cabinet is the tweeter in its own aluminum housing. At first I thought the tweeter was broken as it was jiggly and it easily moved when touched. The engineer in me did not like the idea of a jiggly tweeter, so I contacted the manufacturer. The design engineers assured me that the loose tweeter is indeed a design element and had the following to say:

“Essentially we’re trying to minimise the baffle effect – the sound of a transducer mounted inside a cabinet – by minimising the structure around the transducer itself. The Tweeter-on-Top housing reduces unnecessary acoustic obstruction to a minimum and therefore makes as much use as we can of the drive unit’s radiating energy. To further enhance that effect, we mechanically isolate the entire assembly from the larger reaction forces with the enclosure that naturally occurs with rigidly coupled bass drive units. We do the same for the midrange housing – like the HF, it ‘floats’ within the enclosure.

“This approach has twin benefits: it reduces cabinet-borne coloration from other drive units upon our midrange and HF, and it also maximises the efficiency of each of those drive units within the overall assembly.”

Despite my skepticism, I soldiered on with set up. With its rear port, the Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3 needs some distance from the back wall. The owner’s manual suggests 18″, which is about where I ended up placing them. In addition to the rear port, the 703 also has a pair of 5-way binding posts on the back. These are jumpered but I removed them for bi-wiring. The posts and the back plate are mirror-polished metal.

This makes it virtually impossible to read the lettering on the back–kneeling on the floor with a
flashlight trying to figure out which post was for high frequencies and which was for low frequencies was almost impossible. I had to check the owner’s manual. I didn’t even know the lettering was there until the manual clued me in on it. Then if I got the angle of the light juuuuust right I could see faint black lettering.

Enter my AudioQuest Robin Hood bi-wire cable; it’s a bit chonky, but not of the garden hose variety I’ve seen in other systems. The mirror-polished binding posts were smooth and difficult to tighten by hand for those using spades (like me). If you are using banana connectors, however, there should be no problems. As classy as the mirror finish was, I would have been happier with a black plate with lettering I could read, and a post I could either tighten by hand, or use a small wrench for spades. I later found out that these were somewhat intentional design choices, as I was informed audiophile gorillas had broken binding posts on previous models by using too much force.

The Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3 came with either sharp or soft hemisphere spikes that go into the plinth. Installation was simple and easy, and I appreciated the ability to adjust the spike height for leveling. Another nice touch was the unpacking instructions right on the box. Looking at the top flap it tells you how to open the box and unload the speaker in the most efficient and safest manner possible. These are the little touches that make great products.

bowers and wilkins 703 s3

There were other issues with packaging, however. The speaker was noticeably loose inside the box before I even opened it. This was also the case with the JBL 4239 loudspeakers I recently reviewed, which caused me some consternation. The styrofoam inside was damaged due to the constant shifting during shipping.

The tweeter is carbon fiber in the aluminum housing. The midrange is a thin foil design that is a bit unique and shares technology with the 800 series speakers (more on that below). This gives the Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3 a distinctive look that is much different than most speakers. (Previous versions of the 800 series used a Kevlar material, but Bowers and Wilkins moved to aluminum as they believe it sounds better.)

The supporting woofers are paper cones that are germane in comparison to the upper frequency
drivers. Overall aesthetic of this speaker is more than just a conventional box speaker, mostly due to the top mounted tweeter and the protruding drivers that stick out from the cabinet, and in my opinion forge their own design path, which I think differentiates them from the mass market
products you can find most anywhere.


Trickle Down Heritage

Bowers and Wilkins has been busy updating their lines recently. I was first introduced to the new
800 D4 series of speakers at AXPONA 2022. The new S3 700 series shares much of the technological innovations of their bigger brothers. I reached out to the British engineers to get more information on the new tech packed into this elegant wooden box. In true engineer style, they answered my questions with bullets as follows. In hindsight I should have expected a spreadsheet.

What trickle-down technology has the 700 series received from the 800 series or Nautilus?

  • Tweeter-on-Top via a decoupled Solid Body Tweeter housing
  • 800 Series Tweeter grille mesh
  • Decoupling for midrange
  • FST for midrange
  • Continuum Cone
  • Biomimetic Suspension
  • Aerofoil Profile LF cone
  • Curved baffle

What improvements have occurred from the 703 S2 to the Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3?

  • Narrower cabinet (8mm less wide)
  • Thicker (32mm) curved baffle with protruding aluminum-faced pods housing midrange and LF drivers
  • HF is now housed in a Solid Body Tweeter-on-top with improved two-point decoupling
  • Larger-diameter port
  • Improved plinth with new M8 linking bolts and upgraded M6 stainless steel spikes
  • All-new upgraded terminal tray with revised layout and better contact for spade-terminated cables
  • Upgraded motors and chassis on both MF and LF units
  • Upgraded crossover (relative to standard S2 product) with new bypass capacitors. We use Mundorf Evo main capacitors as before.
  • And most significant of all – the decoupled FST midrange drive unit adds Biomimetic Suspension, as introduced in 800 D4.

bowers and wilkins 703 s3

As a result, the midrange unit in a Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3 is now the exact same as the midrange unit you’ll find in an 802 D4. It’s a sprung-decoupled 6″ FST unit with the foam Anti-Resonance plug, the Continuum Cone, Biomimetic Suspension, a full Neodymium motor system with double-copper pole and an aluminum chassis with tuned-mass damping. The 702 S3 has a Signature version for an additional $500. I asked Bowers and Wilkins to explain the differences for the Signature version:

“The Signature version you’re referring to is a premium finish and performance variant on the S2 specification. We no longer manufacture either S2 models or Signature variants of the same generation. Any left out there for sale are older stock working their way through our retail. The performance upgrades, by the way, refer to improved crossover componentry – but, to be super clear, a new ‘stock’ 702 S3 is a much better speaker than a 702 Signature, because of all the many other upgrades that the S3 range brings to the table over the outgoing S2-spec product.”

The midrange on the Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3 is really unique. I asked, “Is there anything engineering would like to elaborate on regarding the Continuum Cone, FST, Biomimetic Suspension and midrange decoupling? This seems to be a very unique driver that’s not a conventional pistonic driver. I imagine the crossover point on it is a bit higher since the suspension travel isn’t that high?”

“We’ve used flexible cones of varying types for decades in our midrange and mid/bass drive units (notably our previous material, a woven Aramid Fibre cone with its distinctive yellow colour). Continuum is our new, proprietary cone technology that replaces the older material and which we introduced in 2015. It’s a highly damped cone that uses optimised flexibility to significantly reduce unwanted coloration relative to our older materials.

“The Biomimetic Suspension is also hugely influential: it essentially replaces a conventional fabric Spider and was inspired by the older engineering principles behind the original spiders first used in loudspeakers many decades ago. By being much more ‘open’ in its construction than a flat fabric disc, it greatly reduces the secondary output that ordinary Spiders generate.

“You’re correct, FST is specifically designed to take account of the relatively limited degree of movement offered by a dedicated midrange cone next to a mid/bass drive unit: we cross over around 350Hz to the LF section. That means we can improve the midrange cone’s outer edge termination by eliminating the conventional surround that a more traditional cone (and especially a mid/bass cone) would have. The result is a cleaner presentation.”


Abbey Road

Bowers and Wilkins has been busy rebranding themselves and is now an official partner with Abbey Road studios. You won’t see the Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3 lurking in any studios at Abbey Road, but the heritage is there.

I was told that the new D4 version for the 800 series had tonality input from the Abbey Road studio engineers and some of that new tonality trickles down into the new 700 series. Bowers and Wilkins pride themselves in being one of the few speaker companies to be in recording studios as well as consumers’ homes. It’s hard to argue with that sentiment and their R&D department seems laser focused on achieving their sound design goals developed by John Bowers during the formation of the company.

bowers and wilkins 703 s3

Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3 Sound

I’ll start this listening party off by saying this speaker is perhaps the best imaging and soundstaging speaker I’ve had in my room, at any price point. Female vocals are a bit forward of the plane of the speakers with near perfect size, not a pinpoint image and certainly not a 12-foot head. Sure the recording had some impact on this, but the Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3 had the proportions right.

The high frequencies can be sparkly, which can be a bit too much on some recordings or electronics, but this makes the imaging razor sharp with precise imaging and placement of instruments within the soundstage. I did get the soundstage to extend a bit beyond the speakers and they disappeared well for a speaker in this price range.

Acoustic guitar had great body and presence, as did most acoustical music. The Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3 checks all the midrange and tweeter boxes for audiophiles. Vinyl was pleasant on the 703 S3. The sometimes softer more analog sound of vinyl plays well with the 703’s more forward presentation, making for a great soundstage with full body and 3D presentation on the right tracks.
However, not all was as rosy in the lower octaves.

graig neville listening room

“Hi, my name is Graig and I’m a bass addict.” I like big phat juicy bass. The 703 S3 was a bit thin in the bass department for my tastes. If you aren’t all about that bass the 703 S3 does other things
exceptionally well. But first, a few details about the bass tuning of the 703 S3. The bass is tuned with a foam plug. The timbre of the bass changes with the foam inserted and the center can be removed for further tuning. I think I preferred the timbre of the bass with the port fully plugged, which would be close to a sealed cabinet, but there was obviously more bass with the port open. For many folks, especially in small to medium-sized rooms, this is likely adequate. I happen to have a medium-sized room with an open floor plan, so the bass needs to pressurize about 1200 square feet, a tough ask for a speaker this size.

As part of a home theater setup, the Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3 would be supported by a subwoofer anyway, so this becomes a moot point. But for the two-channel folks out there, just know this won’t reach subterranean levels of bass. That’s not to say the 703 S3 didn’t have any bass, it just felt like it was about 6db down (that’s just a gut feeling I didn’t pull out the microphone to check). With bass heavy recordings, the balance seems about right. For example, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories has crazy levels of bass, perhaps too much for many systems. With the 703 S3, the album came alive and sounded balanced in a “get up and dance” way. I just tapped my foot, bobbed my head, and enjoyed the siren’s song from the speakers.

By the way, I asked the Bowers and Wilkins engineers what the larger 702 S3 had on offer in terms of
bass response. They replied:

“The low end frequency extension for both the 702 S3 and 703 S3 is 46Hz at -3db. What does the 3rd woofer add to the equation in the 702? I’d take a look at the -6dB for a simpler comparison, which shows 28Hz for 702 and 30Hz for 703. The -3dB is anechoic and of course, you’ll get different results in different rooms. 702 S3 has a bigger overall scale and extension than 703 S3.”

part-time audiophile

Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3 Conclusions

For those of us with aging ears that have reductions in our high frequency hearing, the Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3 can bring back some of that pizzazz that we are missing from our music. If you love mids and treble or perhaps are looking for a floorstander in a smaller room, this could be a great speaker, but with my larger open floor plan the bass just couldn’t pressurize the room on most recordings in a way that satisfied me.

This speaker could be very happy with a subwoofer or in a smaller room, which for a floorstander at this price point makes me scratch my head a bit as the cabinet volume isn’t diminutive. I would like more grunt down into the 40Hz range than what the 703 S3 offers, but as I mentioned before I’m an addict. I like big bass and I cannot lie, so ultimately the 703 S3 wasn’t my jam. But the 703 S3 is an imaging beast!

It was one of, if not the best, speaker in terms of imaging I’ve had in my listening room, besting
speakers at double its price point. I asked the engineers about what they did to get such a great
imaging speaker.

“All of the above [in the responses above], essentially. The key is to avoid the effect of a ‘box’. In an 800 or a Nautilus we can take that approach to its logical extremes: it’s harder in a more affordable product such as a 700. We have minimised the width of the cabinet and stiffened up the baffle by curving it from a thicker wood section. We’ve also placed the drive units in individual pods to move them slightly forward of the baffle and decoupled both the MF and HF from the overall assembly, including putting the HF into its own separate mechanically and acoustically optimised housing. We’ve also refined that midrange even more with the new Biomimetic Suspension, further reducing the ‘audibility’ of the complete midrange assembly as it operates by massively reducing the noise that a typical Spider-type suspension would generate. Of course, we’ve also fine-tuned the entire system using selected componentry in the crossover. All those technologies have combined to create that stellar imaging.”

The Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3 walks that fine line between being both a competent hi-fi and home theater speaker. In my experience many home theater speakers sacrifice midrange musicality for vocal clarity, and it is the right choice to make for that application. The midrange of the 703 S3 is dry in comparison to a Harbeth or a Vandersteen, which tend towards juicy and warm, respectively, in my opinion.

Pairing electronics with the Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3 should be considered. The 703 S3 is crystal clear enough that if you have harsh electronics feeding it you are going to know right away. The level of detail capable with these speakers begs for something smooth, warm, and maybe even a bit dark. I would also consider some of the excellent integrated tube amps or hybrids currently on the market. Flea watt amps need not apply, but 25 watts or so would do the trick and envelope you in musical bliss.

Folks like different levels of bass and if you want female vocals almost palpable enough to reach out and touch, acoustic guitars that tickle your senses, and instruments that are placed precisely in space at the sacrifice of some bass (or in a smaller room) the Bowers and Wilkins 703 S3 could be THE speaker for you.

bowers and wilkins 703 s3

graig neville system


1 Comment

  1. cannot(!) ever afford this, AM teaching offspring TO be able to afford it. yipee. amyways, vicariously, FANTASTIC. nice writing, great pics as always, make it happen. best wishes, Folks.

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