In its new Series 2 guise, B&W's popular and affordable 683 floorstander has just got better, says David Price
Buyers have come to know what to expect from the £1,000 price point. Lavishing this sort of sum buys you a physically largish box that is nicely if not luxuriously finished. It gets you a decent set of drive units, and you’d expect to be looking at three per speaker at least – and that’s precisely what you get here.
Here’s a three-way, four driver floorstander that’s just over a metre tall when sitting on its plinths (not shown). The vinyl wrap finish isn’t bad, but it’s far from perfect. I am disappointed to see our white review samples have three different shades of white across the speaker; the box, front baffle and driver trim rings all come in fractionally different hues. The upside is that the cabinetry is really solid. The finish may be mediocre, but the build is excellent. It’s very well damped; compared to Focal’s 926, for example, they feel as dead as an anechoic chamber.
The drive unit complement is a mixture of old and new. The 25mm tweeter is B&W’s Decoupled Dome design, using an aluminium structure which is said to be “extremely thin” for lightness, and this is surrounded by a thicker aluminium ring for rigidity. The whole assembly is physically separated in its own gel-filled cavity, to prevent the lower frequencies muddying its sound. At 4kHz, this crosses over to the Kevlar fibre cone FSTTM midrange driver. In the 600 series B&W says its 150mm midrange drivers have been tweaked to deliver lower distortion levels, while smaller voice coils further increase sensitivity. New Anti-Resonance Plugs are fitted and are claimed to reduce higher-frequency break-up. The Fixed Suspension Transducer’ design sees the edge of the cone mounted in a narrow ring of foam designed to radiate as little sound as possible – giving a virtual ‘surroundless’ suspension design.
At 400Hz, the midrange drive hands over to a pair of 165mm aluminium coned bass drivers made using a new method similar to bracing the tweeter with twin layers of aluminium. The 683 S3 is a thoroughly modern music maker then, having strong metal domes and cones at the top and bottom of the frequency band, with a taut, dry-sounding Kevlar midrange. Its choice of drive units should give it a distinctive sound, and a modern one at that. The manufacturer claims its sensitivity to be 89dB/1W/1m, making it a fairly efficient design that should be good for higher-powered valve amps and normal solid-state alike. The cabinet is a reflex-loaded design that I find works best at about 1m from the rear wall, but foam bungs are supplied to make it usable from about 20cm should your room demand this.
The 683 S2 is no shrinking violet. It’s not about soft, sumptuous sound with a relaxed gait. Rather, it plays music like it’s got ants in its pants; it’s very fast and almost restless in the way it manages to eke out every rhythmic nuance. There are few speakers I’ve heard near the price that match its infectious rhythmic gait and intensity.
Tonally, it’s a little on the bright side. Not excessively so, but that Kevlar and aluminium combo was never going to be dull. The different drivers integrate very well. There’s a slight sense of splash from the tweeters compared with some of the best at this price, but it’s not excessive and in their defence the B&W metal domes are fast and expressive. The 683 S2 weaves its tweeter in with the very different Kevlar midband driver very well, which in turn delivers that distinctive B&W ‘etched’ midband sound. The difference between this and the new Focal flax driver, for example, is marked. The B&W drive unit is very fast, quite intense and sounds like a searchlight is being directed on the mix, a sort of sonic super trooper. This makes for an intimate, upfront presentation with oodles of detail and dramatic dynamics. Yet the speaker doesn’t descend into harshness; it’s not hard and indeed sounds less nasal than earlier B&W boxes.
Then, almost as if by magic, the speaker crosses down into the bass, and this is even more seamless than the switch from treble to mid. The twin 165mm bass units are impressively discrete, and they mate well to the reflex-loaded cabinet; there’s no sense of huffing and puffing, nor do you feel like you’re listening to the bass several milliseconds after the treble. Those rather utilitarian-looking cabinets prove immaculately well behaved, never letting the bass slow things down. True, it’s not the tightest ever speaker down below; even with the foam bungs in place you’d don’t quite get a sense of bass notes switching on and off like an LED. In fairness though, no other £1,150 floorstanders do this either, and the key point is the innate musicality; the low notes bounce along in a most pleasing way.
They certainly capture the power and menace of The Human League’s Darkness brilliantly. Whereas other speakers concentrate more on the textural elements of the sound, the 683 S2s lock onto the percussive elements of the song, weaving everything together to give a gripping performance. But you don’t get the sense that these are speakers that fall over themselves to do the ‘pace, rhythm and timing’ thing. They’re accomplished at this, but never sound like they’re trying; instead the music flows in a natural way. It’s dramatic and often enthralling to listen to, but everything is melded together so skillfully that you relax into the music and get into the groove.
It’s not like they’re using their bright and spry sound to make them sound artificially fast either. Their speed comes down to good old-fashioned grip and control rather than tonal hardness and edge. This means they work whatever music you play; Herbie Hancock’s The Prisoner is just as much fun and the B&Ws remain completely on message. I’ve heard other speakers seem more natural tonally, and possessed of a more believable piano sound, for example. But somehow it doesn’t matter, because they pull you into the syncopated playing and keep you there till the music stops. The ride cymbals could be sweeter and more spacious and the piano more fruity, but you’re not left wishing they were. Instead, you get a cohesive yet propulsive presentation that makes you want to listen more.
You can force the 683 S2s out of their comfort zone, because sometimes the tweeter can draw attention to itself; the bashing, crashing hi hat on Corduroy’s 9:28 From Shibuya pushes the treble units towards coarseness, they just can’t resolve the silky, downy sheen as well as some price rivals. But there’s so much being done right that it doesn’t spoil the fun. You just take in that lovely, detailed midband and the seamless way it feeds into the bass. You bask in the excellent stereo imaging and surprisingly good stage depth, the sense of intimacy to the vocals and the general dynamic expressiveness of the music. Never a dull moment, as they say.
This is a fine pair of floorstanders with an enjoyable, detailed and insightful sound of its very own. There’s a wide choice in this part of the market, and personal taste, music taste and system synergy will all play key parts in your purchasing decision, but you really must audition B&W’s 683 S2 if you seek a serious speaker at this price.
LIKE: Engaging, detailed and spacious sound; solid build
DISLIKE: Poor finish at the price; treble less smooth than some
WE SAY: Punchy, musical sounding mid-price floorstander
PRODUCT B&W 683 S2
TYPE Floorstanding loudspeaker
DIMENSIONS (WxHxD) 190 x 985 x 364mm
• Three-way bass reflex design
• 1x 25mm aluminium dome tweeter
• 1x 150mm Kevlar midrange cone
• 2x 165mm aluminium cone bass units
• Quoted power handling 25-200W
DISTRIBUTOR B&W Group Ltd
TELEPHONE 0800 2321513
Want the latest issue of Hi-Fi Choice? Use our magazine locator link to find your nearest stockist!