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Bowers & Wilkins 685 Bookshelf Speakers

A Great Value for Stereo or Surround Speakers

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Bowers & Wilkins 685 Bookshelf Speakers

B & W 685 Bookshelf Speaker

Bowers-Wilkins
Bowers & Wilkins, or B & W as they are commonly known, is a widely respected British speaker manufacturer that has been making reference quality loudspeakers since the 1960s. B & W speakers are appreciated for their sound quality as much as their unique, ultra modern designs and are found in recording studios as well as homes. Some high-end B & W speakers are priced out of range for many folks, so I looked forward to reviewing the 685 bookshelf speaker from their more-affordable 600 Series speakers that borrow some of the technology found in their higher-end models.

Features & Design

The B & W 685 is a bookshelf speaker for stereo or home theater that can be placed on a shelf or speaker stands. It comes with a bracket attached to the cabinet for wall hanging.

The 685 speakers are two-way vented enclosures with a 6.5" woven Kevlar bass/mid driver and 1" metal dome tweeter. Kevlar is a material used by B & W and other speaker manufacturers because of its lightweight and superior strength, which resists cone flexing and distortion. B & W uses Kevlar drivers in many of their speaker models.

The bass/mid driver has a phase plug, a bullet shaped form in the center of the cone to align the phase of the audio signal and to smooth the midrange frequency response.

The 685s feature dual speaker terminals for bi-amping or bi-wiring. I've reviewed more expensive speakers that do not have this performance enhancing option. Read more about the benefits of bi-amping or bi-wiring a speaker system.

The 685s come with port plugs that can be used to reduce the amount of bass that comes out of the port in the event the speakers produce too much bass. However, correct speaker placement should prevent the need to use them.

They are available in four vinyl finishes: Black Ash, Wenge and Red Cherry. My review samples were Wenge, a rich, dark brown color with a wood-grained finish.

B & W offers the D61, 24"-tall steel speaker stands, which I used in this review. The stands are sturdy and place the speakers at the right height for listening while seated. The hollow pillars of the stands can be filled with sand to acoustically couple them to the floor and reduce any potential resonance.

Stereo and Home Theater Performance

When used as stereo speakers, the 685 produced more than adequate bass from its 6.5" woofer, just right for my tastes, so I did not find it necessary to use the port plugs. For two-channel listening a subwoofer is not necessary, but I would recommend a powered subwoofer if used as main speakers in a home theater system. Let the subwoofer reproduce the LFE or .1 channel track, which reduces the power requirements of the main speakers.

Overall, the speakers have a flat, accurate sound quality, a notable characteristic of B & W speakers. They have plenty of high frequency detail, yet no sizzle or peaks in the upper ranges. I was impressed with vocal details, particularly in Ana Caram's Anos Duorados (Chesky Records). Every detail in her delicate voice sounded very distinct and the speakers also presented a clear center image with excellent soundstaging.

With instrumental recordings the system sounded well balanced. The guitars in Acoustic Alchemy's Mr. Chow and One for the Road (GRP Records) were crisp and clean and remained in balance with the bass and percussion. The B & W 685 speakers are easy to listen to with a broad range of music.

The 685s were also adept as surround channel speakers and easily handled the barrage of gunfire and surface-to-air missiles in the Blu-ray disc release of Behind Enemy Lines, a very dynamic DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.

Conclusion

The B & W 685 bookshelf speakers make a great choice for a moderately priced home theater system, a bedroom or apartment stereo system or as surround sound speakers. They're easy on the ears, and have a very balanced sound quality.

The speakers have a relatively low sensitivity specification of 88dB. As a result, I would recommend an amplifier with at least 50 watts per channel, somewhat higher than the manufacturer's nominal power recommendation of 25 watts per channel. I tested the 685s with two components: an Anthem 225 stereo integrated amplifier rated at 225-watts per channel and a Yamaha RX-V3300 home theater receiver with 130-watts per channel and although neither component had difficulty driving the speakers, it was evident that the higher power output produced better reproduction of the dynamic peaks heard in music and movie soundtracks.

While fans of B & W speakers will appreciate the level, balanced sound quality of the 685 bookshelf speakers, B & W is sure to grow their base of enthusiasts with a price of $325 each.

Specifications

  • Drivers: One 6.5" woven Kevlar bass/midrange; One 1" aluminum dome tweeter
  • Frequency range: -6dB at 42Hz and 50kHz
  • Frequency response: 49Hz – 22kHz +/- 3dB on axis
  • Sensitivity: 88dB SPL
  • Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
  • Crossover frequency: 4kHz
  • Recommended amplifier power: 25 – 100 watts
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D) 7.8" x 13.4" x 12.3"
  • Weight: 15.4 lbs.
  • Finishes: Black Ash Vinyl, Red Cherry Vinyl, Wenge Vinyl
  • Price: Speakers: $325 each, Stands: $50 each

    Manufacturer: Bowers & Wilkins; www.bowers-wilkins.com

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