Bowers and Wilkins 702 S2 Review

With sound as sophisticated as they look, these B&Ws are a jazz lover's dream

If you love instrumental music (and beautiful things), Bowers and Wilkins’ 702 S2 are a worthy investment.
If you love instrumental music (and beautiful things), Bowers and Wilkins’ 702 S2 are a worthy investment.
If you love instrumental music (and beautiful things), Bowers and Wilkins’ 702 S2 are a worthy investment.

Highs

  • Gorgeous design
  • Pristine upper register
  • Punchy low-mids
  • Wide soundstage

Lows

  • Sensitive to placement and source material
  • Expensive

Bowers and Wilkins has been a household name among audio enthusiasts for decades, and that’s largely due to the company’s remarkable consistency. For over half a century, the British manufacturer has been at the forefront of high-end sound, crafting gorgeous gear for affluent listeners around the globe.

As such, it won’t come as a shock that the company’s new 702 S2 model, the flagship of its 700 series speakers, are beautifully made. What will surprise longtime B&W listeners, who know the brand as purveyors of tight, balanced sound profiles, is that these particular speakers can be a bit touchy when it comes to performance. With the press of the shuffle button, the sound can dance between otherworldly and wholly terrestrial.

Feed the 702 S2 well-mixed acoustic music from any era — start at Louis Armstrong and move all the way to Robert Glasper — and you’ll fall in love with their incredible passion and dynamism. But if you’re a broader listener who trades in hip-hop as often as Sinatra, the 702 S2 won’t always bring the kind of vibrant energy you desire.

Out of the box

The 702 S2 arrive in large shipping boxes that house the speakers, metal base plates and two sets of feet for mounting — one set rubber, one metal spikes. The package also includes foam plugs for optional bass port dampening, which is a nice touch for those with boom-y rooms. There’s also a manual to help with installing the base plate as well as room placement.

Features and design

One thing we always love about Bowers and Wilkins models is how great they look, and the 702 S2 are no exception. If you’re trying to impress friends and relatives with a single glance, these floorstanding beauties are just the ticket. As gorgeous as anything we’ve seen from the company, the sleek, piano black edition we reviewed (they also come in glossy white and Rosenut wood) look as though they would be right at home in Jay-Z’s (or should we say Beyoncé’s?) living room.

Each 702 S2 features three 6.5-inch bass drivers in black and one 6-inch midrange driver in silver at the front. That silver driver is made from a B&W-developed material called Continuum, a coated woven fabric designed to provide more over the break-up of frequencies than the Kevlar drivers found in the company’s older models. But even with the magical new fabric on prominent display, the standout feature of the 702 S2 is B&W’s signature microphone-style tweeter, extruding from the top of each speaker cabinet like a tiny periscope. The separated tweeter isn’t just for style points, either. It’s designed to keep the tighter, high-frequency sound waves from reverberating inside the cabinet, providing a more accurate and linear response between the midrange and high frequencies.

As expected, the 702 S2 comes with magnetic grilles for the main drivers if you’re worried about grubby handed children and accidents, but we think you’d be a heretic if you used them; the speakers look so good without covers, it’s the only way to fly.

The back side of each tower has dual sets of gold speaker posts for bi-amping, with a small, dimpled bass port above them. Otherwise, the back and sides are clean and glossy, focusing as much visual attention on the front as possible.

Performance

Though we did listen to the speakers via a wide variety of amplifiers and sources, we spent the majority of our time with the 702 S2s listening to high-quality digital audio, via either an Astell & Kern A&ultima SP1000 portable player plugged into a Yamaha A-S2100, or streaming straight through Naim’s Uniti Atom network amplifier. To the credit of Bowers and Wilkins’ flashy new towers, they’re very amplifier agnostic, reproducing the same source material nearly identically regardless of which amplifier we employed.

The 702 S2 will impress friends and relatives with a single glance.

The first thing you’ll notice when you get the 702 S2s wired up and pushing sound is their vivid high end. Whether perfectly shaping the sound of jazz brushes on Ahmad Jamal’s At The Pershing or perfecting the sizzling electric guitar tone on The Beatles’ Paperback Writer, the woven midrange driver and floating tweeter offer stammering clarity up top. With a frequency response of 45Hz to 28kHz (±3dB), the speakers go well beyond the high range of human hearing (20kHz, for women, 17kHz for men give or take), and the microphone-style tweeter design absolutely seems to benefit the overall sound signature, outdoing the in-cabinet tweeter of the CM8 S2 model we’ve previously spent time with.

Bowers & Wilkins 702 S2 review
Dan Baker/Digital Trends
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

The speakers may lean into the high end of every song, but the rest of the sound signature is actually very tight and controlled — sometimes to a fault. Where we were enamored by their ability to bring jazz, folk, and orchestral string music to life, we routinely found ourselves missing the passionate fizz we expect from pricey floorstanders when reporducing high-energy rock music like the Big Star’s Live At The University of Missouri. On such muddy mixes, the speakers occasionally seemed to get a bit overwhelmed in the upper midrange, pushing those frequencies — often including the upper range of vocals — a bit back in the sound profile. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be thoroughly upset with them when listening to Peter Frampton’s Do You Feel Like I Do on full volume, but we’d perhaps look for a different type of speaker, like the excellent Klipsch Forte III, if you want a more vibrant experience.

That said, if you’re a jazz or classical music aficionado who only occasionally dabbles in other sounds, these may be the perfect speakers for you. We’ve never heard classic ballads like John Coltrane’s After The Rain sound so vast and haunting — due in large part to the speakers’ excellent high-end response — and even more rollicking big band sounds like those on Thad Jones and Mel Lewis’ Central Park North were very well done by the 702 S2.

It’s worth sharing that it also took us a while to find the perfect positioning for the speakers in our home theater room. Where most speakers are fairly simple for us to position in the space, we had to toy with a few options to find the right spot for the B&Ws. Too close to the wall and you’ll get even more highs and too much mud in the bass, too far away and you’ll get too little bass response. Thankfully, B&W included a placement chart gave us a good starting point, and we ultimately settled on the manufacturer-recommended half a meter from the back walls, with a separation between the speakers of about seven feet — the hardest point to dial. Once we had them in the proper place, we experienced a wide stereo image and the proper level of bass response in our medium sized room. Those inexperienced in audio setup may even want to have a professional install them for optimal performance.

Warranty information

Bowers and Wilkins offer a solid five-year warranty on all passive loudspeakers, covering defective workmanship and materials.

Our Take

The Bowers and Wilkins 702 S2 are a gorgeous set of floorstanding speakers that beautifully recreate instrumental music. But if you’re looking to have a dance party in your living room, they may not be for you.

Is there a better alternative?

When you step into this price range, there are many options worth considering, both aesthetically and in terms of audio performance. If you are after exactly what the Bowers and Wilkins 702 S2 do well — jazz and string music (and hyper-modern style) — they are probably about the best option you can buy. Those looking for something a bit more lively in the $4,000-per-pair region should definitely check out the Klipsch Forte III, which transform every song into a shimmering ball of energy. Another fantastic pair of speakers worth considering are the GoldenEar Triton One, which offer more restrained style but even more vibrant sound in all genres.

How long will it last?

Bowers and Wilkins has a history of manufacturing extremely high-quality products, and the 702 S2 are no exception. These speakers should last a lifetime if maintained every decade or so.

Should you buy it?

Yes, and no – depending on your taste preferences. If you’re a die-hard jazzer or classical music listener who wants a beautiful set of speakers to perfectly reproduce your favorite recordings, the 702 S2 are among the finest you’ll find. But if you want something a bit more versatile and high-energy, this particular Bowers and Wilkins option may be a little more stoic than you desire.

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