B&W 603 S3 Loudspeaker

hfnoutstandingSeries 3 sees the eighth generation of B&W's evergreen 600 series, headed here by the 603 S3 floorstander

Bowers & Wilkins might be one of the largest loudspeaker manufacturers around, but surprisingly it doesn't have a very broad offering, fielding considerably fewer models than, say, KEF or Focal. Leaving CI products aside (and the iconic but no longer revolutionary Nautilus), there are only three main loudspeaker families coming out of Worthing, and as the 800 D4 series [HFN Nov '21, Feb '22, May & Sep '23] and 700 S3 series [HFN Mar '23] represent the most recent major updates, it was inevitable that the nearly 30-year-old 600 series would follow suit.

The current refresh also brings the 600 series to S3 status, but is in fact the seventh or eighth generation, depending on whether you consider the 603 S2 Anniversary Edition [HFN Jan '21] to be a full-blown update. The new range is all about hitting a competitive price point by taking a trickledown approach, yet it quickly becomes clear the 603 S3 closes the gap with its more expensive brethren, and this is also true when it comes to the price tag – the range-topping 603 S3 floorstander tested here, at £1999, is about £500 more than its predecessor. Inflationary pressures have inevitably played a part here, but it includes an outlay for new technology too.

A Cut Above
There are no changes to the structure of the lineup, so the new 600 series remains a streamlined family of speakers. The 603 S3 is the single floorstander on offer, while below it are the £749 606 S3 and £599 607 S3 standmount/bookshelf models (for which a new FS-600 S3 stand is available). A home theatre-specific centre speaker, the £649 HTM6 S3, completes the collection.

Three distinct colourways should give you enough options for matching the 603 S3 with your listening room. Matt black and satin white finishes are nicely done, but the oak edition (pictured here), which sports a white baffle and a seamlessly applied oak veneer to the cabinet's top and sides, really looks the part. Even considering the higher price tag, the 603 S3 has a build quality and style that's a cut above the norm.


The S3 version of the 603 features a new 25mm alloy/titanium dome tweeter, the familiar 150mm FST midrange driver with Continuum cone, plus two 165mm paper-coned bass drivers with 700 series-inspired motors

All Hail Titanium
As said earlier, there's a lot of trickledown technology at work here. The 603 S3's 150mm FST midrange driver, with proprietary Continuum cone material, is a familiar sight, but benefits from an upgraded motor assembly derived from the 700 S3 series. Improved motor systems also drive the speaker's two 165mm woofers, and these are vented by a new rear-firing bass port of '700 series specification'. B&W says this also aids in stiffening the 603 S3's enclosure, as does the new terminal tray, in addition to refinements in cabinet bracing. The crossover network has been given a 700 S3 flavour too, in the form of higher-quality capacitors.

The most significant – and presumably most expensive – upgrade for this generation is to be found in the tweeter. Diamond or carbon domes, as used higher up B&W's range, are not tenable in this price category, so instead the manufacturer has developed a new titanium dome tweeter. A two-part design, this features a 25µm-thick main dome framed by a marginally chunkier (30µm) titanium ring, and fires through a new mesh grille derived from the 800 D4 series' tweeter assembly. For this generation, the positioning of the tweeter is also closer to the midrange below (their trim rings 'overlap') to improve driver integration.

The titanium dome is mounted into an elongated tube that's hidden inside the cabinet. The principle behind this design is nothing new for B&W – albeit more apparent with its 'Tweeter-on-Top' models – and is intended to progressively attenuate the rear output of the tweeter, minimising rear reflections while also isolating the driver from pressure variations within the main cabinet.

sqnote Eyes Wide Open
Rated by B&W at 90dB sensitivity – and measuring close to that figure – the 603 S3 looks, on paper, to offer slightly higher output with lower-powered amps than the S2 model. During testing I hooked up the speakers to Denon's diminutive CEOL RCD-N12 system and had them effortlessly blasting out the percussion in the 3rd movement of Wranitzky's Symphony in C Minor [Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 19658702252; 96kHz/24-bit]. Even in this set-up, the 603 S3s performed very capably indeed, presenting a nicely defined and wide-open soundstage. It was bit of an eye-opener.

B&W Group Ltd
West Sussex
Supplied by: B&W Group Ltd
0800 232 1513