Things are afoot in Steyning. Bowers & Wilkins’ research facility in the sleepy Sussex town is being broken down and boxed up, but fear not; this is not the end of the UK’s most extensively equipped loudspeaker design laboratory, the spiritual home of many great loudspeakers including the Nautilus and its many progenies. It’s just that the R’n’D department is expanding and is moving to larger premises 20 minutes up the road in Southwater. So if anything it’s the beginning of a new era during which the engineers employed will no doubt be beavering away on technology that will find its way into a wide variety of audio products.
The 606 is the larger of two stand-mount designs in the recently launched 600 series, the sixth generation of Bowers & Wilkins entry-level range of loudspeakers. The company has made some attempt to rationalise the naming and models in this range, the previous 600 series had 68x numbers; the 606’s predecessor was the 685 S2 which while it worked for that range was inconsistent with naming in other ranges. Now all the names derive from those in the 800 series, the big boys from whence much of the tech trickles down, so the smaller the last number, the bigger the speaker. The most significant change to the new 600 series models is the introduction of the silver Continuum cone in place of the yellow Kevlar of the outgoing range. This means that there are no Kevlar coned speakers among Bowers & Wilkins audiophile models, if anywhere else for that matter. Continuum’s introduction to this end of the range means it’s the end of the ‘bulletproof’ Kevlar era, a cone material that has featured on Bowers & Wilkins speakers for decades.
At the 600 series launch former What Hi-Fi?man of action and now B&W Product Communication Director Andy Kerr demonstrated the differences between the Kevlar equipped 600s and the new models, and it was pretty stark. Continuum in these models, which have been changed in other ways but not too dramatically, makes for lower colouration, higher resolution, and greater transparency. It’s not a subtle difference. The change of port position may have helped here: the 685 S2 had a front firing port as did its smaller sibling the 686 S2, but after extensive research on the company’s part, rear-firing ports can be made without sonic compromise. The same port and terminal tray moulding is used across the 600 and 700 ranges, giving a cleaner looking speaker.
Bowers & Wilkins’ goal with 600 series is to deliver the best sound that they can at the given price points, so expense has been spared on the finishing, which is matte black or white only, and there are no shiny bits of trim either. There are bi-wire terminals, however, something that could perhaps have been shaved back to a single pair, but that benefit is not as high as using the same part across so many models. The money has been spent where it counts – on the drivers. The mid/bass unit has a Continuum cone, as mentioned; this is a woven and coated material like Kevlar, but one with a more controlled break-up characteristic that measures better in all the respects that Bowers is prepared to divulge. There is nearly always a compromise somewhere with new audio technology, but in this case, the benefits have been proven to be so significant in both 800 and 700 series that this new material is clearly a winner.