It had been quite some time
since I had reviewed a speaker that stood squarely in perhaps the most
competitive segment of the high-end market, and the segment most challenging for
the manufacturer – let’s call it "under $2000". It’s the space that comes
to mind whenever friends who are really interested in music and audio, but not
yet part of the lunatic fringe, ask me for recommendations. Depending on the
friend and the space, either a nice small box or a slim floorstander are good
places to start.
Intrigued when I saw the announcement of the
update to the largest speaker in B&W’s 600 series, I was fortunate to be
able to get an early sample of the 683 S2s for review. To jump ahead just a
little, it turned out to be a rewarding experience.
The 683 S2s were finished in a black ash veneer
that, along with the fine fit and finish of the drivers and the front baffle;
seem much more expensive than their modest price of $1650 a pair. They have the
tall, narrow profile of many floorstanding speakers: with spikes and plinth they
are about 42" high, only 7.5" wide and 14.3" deep. The dimensions as well make
for an attractive pair of speakers that in my opinion (one shared by my wife)
aren’t overly intrusive and fit well into a room, even one of modest size. My
room is about 18' x 20', so there was no problem there.
Where I did have a challenge initially was in
finding the right position for the 683 S2s. Let me say up front that this was my
own doing. I started as I usually do and placed them where other speakers have
worked well, intending to adjust from there. I placed them about three feet off
the back wall, roughly the same off the side wall, and seven feet apart, toed in
about half the angle from straight ahead to my listening position. I sat down
ready to enjoy. But for the first several days, while they sounded excellent in
general, I couldn’t get away from perceiving a nasal quality to the upper
midrange. So I played a little with what normally might work, and tried
different styles of music, and couldn’t "fix" it.
John Nicoll, B&W’s public relations
representative, put me in touch with Eric McBride of B&W, who convinced me
to be more bold in moving them around the room and in experimenting with the
toe-in. In short order, I wound up with the speakers 1 ½ feet wider apart and
firing almost straight ahead (i.e. not pointing toward me), maybe angled in 5-10
degrees. The sound (about which more later) opened up and the ‘nasality’ –
let me be clear, not a characteristic of the speakers – disappeared. So, the
lesson here is don’t be shy, and don’t be a prisoner of your own experience
or notion of what is right. It may also be that the 683 S2s benefited from some
break-in. I am normally very wary of ascribing changes in sound to break-in, as
I cannot tell what part of an evolving perception is me,
and what is it. But this time, I think they really did sound even better
over a few weeks, and longer.
testing the weight and solidity, I played Fleetwood Mac's "Love That Burns" Mr.
Wonderful [Simply Vinyl reissue], with a slow, brooding pace and
searing Peter Green blues guitar. The 683 S2s were tonally very balanced from
top to bottom, with very adequate articulation of the gradations in the guitar
notes. They do not romanticize the music but rather give a clear and detailed
picture of it.
I should note the soundscape presented by the 683
S2s is wide, extending at least to the outside edges of the speakers. The depth
of the stage extends from the front baffle rearward, and is quite impressive.
Overall, a fine presentation in both dimensions. The 683 S2s are said to have
horizontal dispersion of 60º (within 2dB) and, having taken the time to get the
positioning right, I felt as though the listening window was pretty wide; there
were several very good seats, so to speak. Vertical dispersion was just fine as
well. Larger-scale orchestral works, a tough test for many speakers, suited the
683 S2s well. Just one example – for Elgar's Symphony #1 and Pomp &
Circumstance by the Philharmonia Orchestra / Sinopoli [DG CD 431 663-2] I noted "great,
natural balance, harmonically right". While the space was not the airiest I have
ever heard, the B&Ws handled the complex passages very nicely. While I
enjoyed dozens of familiar recordings via the 683 S2s, perhaps my favorite was La
Fille Mal Gardeé [Decca LP SXL 2313]. This audiophile classic plays
to all the strengths of the B&Ws – it demands articulation, harmonic
accuracy, and speed, and is enhanced by a great spatial presentation. My highly
technical expert listening notes: "Wow. Nice."
They benefit from the technology and research that has made B&W one of the most successful firms in high-end audio for decades. They look good, too. The 683 S2s should be on the very short list for anyone seeking speakers under $2000. They will reward you with fine music, whether you are an old hand or new to high fidelity audio.
Voice: (978) 664 2870