Bowers & Wilkins 702 Signature floorstanding loudspeaker

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Bowers & Wilkins 702 Signature

For the benefit of boisterous youngsters and their pets, the 702 Signatures are supplied with black MDF plinths that extend the footprint and make this reasonably tall speaker harder to knock over... almost impossible in fact (I used to think the EU’s ‘tilte test’ was unnecessary nannying, but a few years ago one of my nephews managed to topple one of a pair of Living Voice Auditorium speakers. The reckless youth was unscathed but the speaker didn’t enjoy the experience). That said, the plinths don’t enhance the aesthetic so I left them off for the review and used the soft feet that are supplied; those wanting the floor to vibrate along with the music can install the set of spikes that are also in the box.

I use Bowers’ 802 D3s as a reference and find them to be extremely good at revealing all aspects of the capabilities of equipment under review, and when that kit is good the results are extremely engaging. I was, therefore, a little nervous about the downgrade to something similar but in many ways very different and a lot smaller. I needn’t have worried; the 702 Signature may not have the power and resolution of its stablemate but it does a lot of the same things well enough for the transition to be wholly painless. The fact that the midrange and treble drivers are closer to the floor is actually a benefit in my room; I can’t sit that far away from the 802s, about 11 feet, which means I have to tilt the speakers down a little to have the mid and treble drivers pointed at my seated head height. The midrange on the 702 Signature is 16cm lower (just over six inches) than the 802, so it’s better suited to this relatively nearfield listening. The fact that it is smaller back to front and has less bass output means that it works closer to the wall too, so the front baffle is a foot further away from the listener. I was concerned that the rear firing port might cause bass issues but that was not the case (if it had been there are two levels of port bung supplied to tame excess low frequency energy).

With an ATC P2 power amplifier driving the 702 Signatures Bob Marley’s ‘Natural Mystic’ [Natural Mystic (The Legend Lives On), Island] doesn’t have the full girth you get with bigger loudspeakers, but it is both powerful and deep, with the groove coming through in tight, controlled fashion. Pushing the cabinets closer to the wall increased bass depth at a slight expense to midrange focus but without losing bass definition. Lana Del Rey’s voice was still visceral in its presence; her NFR! album [Polydor] is very well recorded but it still takes a good speaker to place the singer in the room in such palpable fashion. Another favourite, the Grateful Dead’s ‘Cumberland Blues’ [Europe ’72, Warner Bros], worked remarkably well too with clear differences in depth between the members of the band. This indicates a level of separation that goes beyond the norm... well beyond it. That they do this whilst maximising the boogie factor that was the band’s speciality makes it more impressive, systems often excel in one of these areas but rarely both.

I put on a couple of Joni Mitchell tracks next, ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ [Miles of Aisles, Asylum] live had my foot stomping with enthusiasm and ‘The Man I Love’ [Gershwin’s World, Herbie Hancock, Verve] had me marvelling at the nuances of expression that she brought to one of her last great recordings. At this point I remembered that the Melco S100 network switch was still in the system and probably aiding the result, but the true extent of this only became clear when I went back to the English Electric 8Switch. The latter is very good indeed but these Bowers & Wilkins speakers made it clear that the near four times price premium asked for the Melco does bring obvious rewards in depth of resolution. The EE switch is faster and drier, delivering great scale with it and allowed the 702 Signatures to continue with their impressive reproduction of all sorts of material. Including Nick Cave’s Push the Sky Away [Bad Seed] where the deluxe production comes through loud and clear in a lovely glow around instruments and voice, it made me realise that I need more Cave in the collection. Streaming services are good but locally stored, full fat rips are clearly superior.

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