Note: measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
I have many fond memories of listening to loudspeakers from Bowers & Wilkins, and over the years have owned several pairs of B&W speakers—including the very first product I reviewed for the SoundStage! Network, the 705 S2 two-way standmount ($2999.99/pair, all prices USD), B&W’s smallest tweeter-on-top model.
B&W announced their latest Signature editions, all based on models from their 700 series, in June 2020. I’ve just spent time with the new 705 Signature ($3999.99/pair), which is based on the 705 S2. There’s also the floorstanding 702 Signature ($6499.99/pair), whose tweeter is also housed in a nacelle that sits atop the cabinet proper.
I expected that the experience of taking delivery of the 705 Signatures would be a blend of seeing an old friend and meeting someone new. Launches of B&W Signature editions are rare—the last one was the Signature Diamond, in 2007. And who can forget the very first, the Silver Signature of 1991, released in celebration of B&W’s 25th anniversary?
The differences between the 705 S2 and 705 Signature? Well, the 705 Signature costs $1000 more per pair, but in terms of dimensions and weight, the two models are identical. Each has a cabinet measuring 13.4″H x 7.8″W x 11.2″D (add 2.6″ of height for the tweeter nacelle) and weighing 20.5 pounds, with a 1″ Carbon Dome (carbon deposited on aluminum) tweeter and a 6.5″ Continuum midrange-bass driver.
Outwardly, the two editions look quite different. The 705 Signature is available only in a luxurious veneer of ebony-colored Datuk Gloss with distinctive grain. Subtler cosmetic differences are visible in the tweeter’s silver (instead of the usual black) metal grille, and the silver ring surrounding the midrange-woofer. When I first saw the press release for the 705 Signatures, I wasn’t enthusiastic about the finish—but my review samples of the 705 Signatures were finished to the highest standard, and in person they looked beautiful.
But B&W hasn’t just jazzed up the finish for this new Signature edition; the crossover now includes specially treated bypass capacitors from Mundorf, and the crossover boards have bigger heatsinks. B&W claims that these upgrades “improve the already-remarkable resolution, openness and spatial retrieval on offer, lending [the 705 Signature] an even-more polished, refined and involving sound.” On the rear panel are two pairs of quality five-way binding posts to accommodate biwiring, and the dimpled Flowport to reinforce the low frequencies.
B&W’s specifications for the 705 Signature are identical to the 705 S2’s: a frequency response of 50Hz-28kHz, ±3dB; a sensitivity of 88dB SPL (2.83V RMS at 1m); and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms. The second- and third-harmonic distortion levels at 90dB/1m are <1%, 100Hz-22kHz; and <0.5%, 150Hz-20kHz.
Both 705 Signatures came well packed in a single box, along with two black, magnetically attached grilles, which I left off for optimal listening.
My dedicated listening room is relatively small at 15′L x 12′W x 8′H, and is treated with broadband absorption at the first-reflection points on the sidewalls and on the long wall behind the speakers. There’s a homemade bass trap in each front corner.
I placed the 705 Signatures atop the 24″-high stands that came with my Focal Sopra No1 minimonitors. My listening chair and the B&Ws described a 9ʹ equilateral triangle, the rears of the speakers’ cabinets about 22″ from the front wall and their outer side panels about 34ʺ from the sidewalls. I used to own a pair of 705 S2s, and knew that 18° of toe-in would be perfect, yielding a very focused center image while reducing brightness, compared to having the speakers aimed straight at my ears.
I connected the 705 Signatures to the 8-ohm taps of my 300Wpc McIntosh Laboratory MC302 power amp, which in turn was connected to my McIntosh C47 preamp with Monoprice balanced interconnects. The source component was a Bluesound Node 2i streamer, its optical digital output connected to a miniDSP DDRC-22D room-correction digital processor (with its built-in Dirac Live disabled), which was connected to the DAC in my C47. All digital connections were made using AmazonBasics optical (TosLink) links. The Node 2i served as an endpoint for the Roon app installed in my Microsoft Surface Pro 6 laptop computer. The music sources were Qobuz, Tidal, and my library of CDs ripped as FLAC files and stored on a Synology NAS.
I began with classic Canadiana: “Wheat Kings,” from The Tragically Hip’s Hipeponymous (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Universal). It begins with plucked acoustic guitar at hard left, and hearing it through the B&W 705 Signatures took me back to the long hours I’d enjoyed listening to my 705 S2s. Each vibrating string was clear, distinct from the next. Then, at hard right, the second guitar enters with uncanny sparkle and attention-grabbing leading-edge bite. The transparency of the sound was beyond reproach—notes seemed to dance around the speaker cabinets. All I could hear was the attack of each note, then that note’s decay into oblivion, unsullied by the telltale fingerprints of cabinet colorations.
At 0:42, Gord Downie begins to sing—his voice was pure and airy, floating dead center between and about 2ʹ above the B&Ws’ tweeter nacelles, just as it had with the 705 S2s. In fact, the 705 Signatures were imaging champs, carving out a precise, well-defined space for Downie’s voice to occupy. I could also hear the layers of depth delineated by the accompanying acoustic guitars: one at left, way behind Downie, the other at right and much closer to the front of the stage. Downie’s voice also had a tangible, upfront presence that I remember liking through my 705 S2s, and enjoy with my current reference speakers, Focal’s Sopra No1s.
I then focused on vocal sibilance, crossing my fingers in hopes that B&W had somewhat tamed the hot tweeter in the 705 S2. Downie’s s sounds were still accentuated, at times to a distracting degree, but perhaps less than I remembered from the 705 S2. But I wasn’t sure; to confirm this, I’d have to do more listening—and some measuring.
I very much wanted to determine whether or not the 705 Signatures sounded better than the 705 S2s. But I haven’t owned a pair of 705 S2s for nearly a year now, and aural memory isn’t dependable enough for me to feel comfortable handing down judgments about the relative values of small audible differences between any two audio products. For that, I’d need to perform direct, level-matched A/B comparisons. For what it’s worth, when I began listening, the 705 Signatures generally sounded as I remember the 705 S2s sounding. But in many ways I was starting with a clean slate.
Next up was “Here But I’m Gone,” from Vanessa Fernandez’s Use Me (16/44.1 FLAC, A&M/Qobuz), which begins with hard-struck kick drum. In a word, Wow! The 705 Signatures produced outstanding bass for minimonitors, giving me punch that was tight and quick, impact I could feel in my chest, and superb low-end extension—I felt the bottom end of that drum kit through my seat. They also were articulate, letting me hear the different layers of low-frequency microdynamic detail between the kick drum and the electric bass guitar to left of center. You’d be hard-pressed to find better bass quality, or even bass quantity, anywhere from two cabinets of this size, each with only a single 6.5ʺ midrange-woofer. Well done.
As they had with the Hip’s “Wheat Kings,” the 705 Signatures reproduced the acoustic guitar to right of center in “Here But I’m Gone” with exquisite detail, vibrancy, and transparency. These are true audiophile speakers—they completely “disappeared” from my room as perceived sources of the sound, leaving only each note hanging in space. The effect was so convincing that I felt I could reach out and touch each note. Throughout the beginning of “Here But I’m Gone,” to left of center, is some subtle cymbal work by drummer Victor Indrizzo. Since selling the 705 S2s, I’ve been used to hearing those cymbals farther back on the stage with my current speakers—the 705 Signatures pushed them a bit forward again. It wasn’t distracting, just different, and the cymbal sounds themselves were reproduced with delicacy and shimmer. What stood out was Fernandez’s voice—at dead center, high above the speakers, surrounded by gobs of air between her and the accompanying instruments. Overall, it was a wonderful listening experience.
I cued up a perennial favorite I know exceedingly well: “Bad Timing,” from Blue Rodeo’s Five Days in July (16/44.1 FLAC, Warner Bros./Qobuz). I was unsurprised yet still very impressed by what I heard. The harmonica at the beginning, downstage and to right of center, had just the right amount of bite. The strummed acoustic guitar to left of center imaged entirely free of the speakers, with all the detail I could ask for. At 0:13, just to right of center, singer Jim Cuddy’s voice emerged from a “black” background with liquid smoothness—he seemed to be right there in the room with me, the B&Ws conveying all of his emoting. Every so often, the 705 Signature oddly accentuated one of Cuddy’s sibilants—this speaker seems to emphasize the highs to about the same degree that my 705 S2s did—but, by and large, this track doesn’t have a bright sound, so I was barely aware of it.
Greg Keelor sings backing vocal in the chorus of “Bad Timing,” and the 705 Signatures delivered the imaging goodies, as I suspected they might from my experience of the 705 S2s. His voice was reproduced distinctly, to the right and just behind Cuddy, high above and just inside the right speaker. In fact, every voice and instrument in this track was cleanly reproduced by the 705 Signatures, even at high SPLs of up to 95dB (C-weighted), with every ounce of detail I’m used to hearing from my reference speakers.
After several hours, over many days of listening to these tracks and many others, I measured the B&W 705 Signatures with my miniDSP UMIK-1 calibrated microphone and the Room EQ Wizard measuring software—I needed to see, in hard figures, if there’d been a change in the 705’s treble response from S2 to Signature, because I still wasn’t sure of what I was hearing.
I took my usual nine measurements around the main listening position, averaged them, and looked at the results. While my in-room measurements are no substitute for the results we get in the anechoic chamber of Canada’s National Research Council, the Room EQ Wizard plot I got suggested that the tweeter response hadn’t changed: I saw the same 3-4dB rise (relative to 2kHz) from 5 to 10kHz that the 705 S2s had exhibited in my room when set up in the same positions—more to the point, this corresponded with what I’d heard from both models.
I made level-matched comparisons between the 705 Signatures and a pair of Revel M126Be minimonitors, which cost $4000/pair, or only a penny more than the B&Ws—couldn’t ask for a closer match of MSRP. The two speakers also have similar driver complements: the M126Be has a 6.5″ midrange-woofer and a 1″ dome tweeter, though the latter is made of beryllium. Using pink noise and an SPL meter, I found that the two speakers had the same sensitivity, which made comparing quicker and easier.
I found it easiest to hear and feel the differences in sound by beginning with some hip-hop: “I Feel It Coming,” from The Weeknd’s Starboy (24/44.1 FLAC, Republic/Qobuz). The two speakers were on a par in terms of bass speed and articulation and microdynamic detail, but the B&Ws put out more bass, and that bass went strikingly deeper. While I can’t be sure that the 705 Signatures outclassed the 705 S2s in the bass without performing direct A/B comparisons, I don’t remember my 705 S2s producing as much bass in this room. The 705 Signatures filled it with the deep, pounding, low-frequency synth notes in “I Feel It Coming,” without giving up any speed and punch. They sounded bigger and more extended than the Revels, and by no small margin. I could feel this track’s bass in my seat more with the 705 Signatures. When I then measured both speakers, I found the B&Ws’ -3dB point to be 29Hz, the Revels’ 33Hz—my measuring mike, too, “heard” the difference.
These two speakers’ reproductions of The Tragically Hip’s “Wheat Kings” was a very close call. In terms of soundstage width, height, and depth, it was a draw. Their precision of aural images, too, was extremely close—perhaps the B&Ws chiseled out images in smaller spaces a bit more precisely, but it was so close that I almost didn’t mention it. In terms of tonal balance, the 705 Signatures offered slightly more vocal presence than the Revels, which I liked—Gord Downie’s voice had a tad more corporeality through the 705 Signatures. The plucked guitars to left and right of center at the beginning sounded equally transparent through the two speaker pairs, with no hint of cabinet resonances to mar the crystalline sparkle of the leading edges or slow decays.
Downie’s s sounds were accentuated by the B&Ws but not by the Revels. The 705 Signatures’ extra treble energy occasionally caused some distraction, so for this part of the audioband I pick the M126Be’s. It’s also important to note that I listen at fairly high volumes (90-95dB SPL, C-weighted). Turning down the volume by 10dB does tame excessive sibilance in speakers, such as the 705 Signature, that lean toward a bright sound—then again, the 705 Signatures brought out top-end details that a more neutral speaker might obscure a bit more. So consider your own listening preferences when narrowing down your speaker choices.
But when I played Vanessa Fernandez’s recording of “Here But I’m Gone,” which does not suffer from excessive treble and/or sibilance, I found myself choosing the B&Ws. In the opening kick-drum thumps, the B&Ws produced more output and extension while retaining all their solidity and punch, without bloat or overhang. Through the B&Ws Fernandez’s voice sounded light, surrounded by more air; through the Revels it was a bit more meaty and rich. When the recording played didn’t possess extra treble energy and/or sibilance, I preferred the extra bit of presence and delicacy I heard in the B&Ws’ midrange.
But I wanted to examine both speakers’ treble performance even more minutely. Yes, I knew that the 705 Signature’s treble reproduction could be too hot relative to the rest of the audioband—but when listened to in isolation, which tweeter sounded better to me? For that, I focused on the individual cymbal crashes at hard left and right in “Black Velvet,” from Alannah Myles’s Alannah Myles (16/44.1 FLAC, Atlantic/Qobuz). It’s hard to declare a winner—both tweeters reproduced these cymbals with exquisite clarity, wide extension in space, and long decays—but I give the nod to the beryllium dome in the Revel M126Be. The cymbals were clearly louder through the B&Ws, no surprise—this model’s top end is tipped up—and they sounded just a little tizzy compared to the lighter-, airier-sounding Revels. The sound of the cymbals through both speakers was like fine sand sifting through my fingers—but with the Revels, the figurative grains were even finer.
With Blue Rodeo’s “Bad Timing,” another track I wouldn’t describe as having too bright a sound, I again chose the B&Ws. The same differences described above emerged here as well, but with a surprise. Despite the B&Ws’ extra vocal presence really drawing me in, they also sounded smoother than the Revels in passages of harder singing. When Jim Cuddy leans into the vocal mike at 1:21 and sings do, the hardness of the consonant was accentuated by the Revels’ aluminum-coned midrange-woofer; the 705 Signatures reproduced it more smoothly, with less edge.
By now it’s obvious that which speaker I preferred depended entirely on which track I played. There was no clear winner. When my musical selections leaned toward the bright and/or sibilant side, I found it easy to favor the Revels; if the track had a sound that was more neutral or a little dark, the 705 Signatures got my vote. However, in one region the result was unequivocal: in the bass, the B&W 705 Signatures won every time for their deeper extension and greater impact.
Bowers & Wilkins’ latest Signature edition, the little 705, is a beauty in its exquisite, ebony-like Datuk Gloss veneer, and the cabinet is finished to a standard beyond reproach. In terms of outward appearance, these B&Ws live up to the Signature moniker.
In terms of sound, the 705 Signatures brought back fond memories of my departed 705 S2s with bass that was tight, quick, and, most important, copious for so small a speaker. The midrange has that tangible B&W presence: it exudes finesse while extracting with laser-like imaging every detail a recording contains—voices and guitars just pop out. But also like the 705 S2’s, the 705 Signature’s treble is a bit hot for my taste. Whether or not you agree with my assessment will depend on your taste, listening habits, and musical selections.
Aesthetically and sonically, the B&W 705 Signature ticks every box on the audiophile checklist for standmount speakers at any price. If you’re in the market for a statement-grade product, give Bowers & Wilkins’s 705 Signature a listen.
. . . Diego Estan
- Speakers: Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2, Focal Sopra No1, Revel Performa M126Be
- Subwoofer: SVS SB-4000 (2)
- Preamplifier-DAC: McIntosh Laboratory C47
- Power amplifier: McIntosh Laboratory MC302
- Crossover: Marchand Electronics XM446XLR-A
- Room-correction EQ: miniDSP DDRC-22D with Dirac Live 2.0
- Digital sources: Rotel RCD-991 CD player, Bluesound Node 2i streamer, Microsoft Surface Pro 6 laptop computer running Windows 10, Qobuz, Roon
- Analog source: Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit turntable, Ortofon 2M Red cartridge
- Speaker cables: homemade, with 12AWG oxygen-free copper conductors terminated with locking banana plugs
- Analog interconnects: AmazonBasics unbalanced (RCA), Monoprice Premier balanced (XLR)
- Digital links: AmazonBasics optical (TosLink)
Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature Loudspeakers
Price: $3999.99 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Bowers & Wilkins
B&W Group, Ltd.
Dale Road, Worthing
West Sussex BN11 2BH
Phone: +44 (0)1903-221-800
B&W Group North America
54 Concord Street
North Reading, MA 01864
Phone: (978) 664-2870
Fax: (978) 664-4109