Bowers & Wilkins DM604S3 Loudspeakers 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Written by Brian Kahn   
Wednesday, 01 February 2006

Bowers & Wilkins is a company perhaps best known for their reference grade, ultra-high-end 800 Series and Nautilus speakers. The intense research and development (details of which can be read about in Bryan Southard’s review of the B&W 802Ds) that goes into these reference speakers eventually trickles its way down to more affordable speakers, such as the 600 Series 3 speakers, which range from $350 to $1,400 per pair. We had the opportunity to review the largest speaker of this more modest series, the DM604S3, a three-way floor-standing speaker that packs a boatload of energy.

For those not familiar with B&W’s top offering, the Reference Nautilus speaker looks somewhat like a giant alien snail with horns. The bass enclosure is basically a tube that is a tapered coil, with three more drivers on top. Each of the upper three drivers has a long tapered tube extending to the rear. The tapered tubular enclosures eliminate nearly all internal resonances. Every 600 Series 3 speaker features a tube-loaded tweeter assembly derived from the Nautilus, which absorbs and eliminates the rearward sound waves, reducing distortion. The tweeter assembly further benefits from a stiffened bond between the tweeter dome and voice coil bobbin, extending the frequency range up to 42kHz.

The 600 Series tweeter is not the only part of the speaker to benefit from the Nautilus. The bass and midrange drivers benefit from newly designed baskets, which feature a reduced profile and aerodynamic shaping to reduce echo and smooth airflow behind the cone. While B&W has been using woven Kevlar drivers for many years, the 600 Series 3 Kevlar drivers feature small refinements in the connection of the cone to the voice coil that is said to increase the driver’s performance in the upper portion of its frequency range. The DM604S3 reviewed here, along with the slightly smaller DM603S3. Both feature aluminum bass drivers. All of the drivers are housed in cabinets whose bracing is designed to both reduce resonances and maintain proper airflow within the cabinet, in order to increase low-end response and maintain proper airflow between the cabinet’s interior and exterior. B&W’s latest version of their Flowport is utilized throughout the series. The Flowport features golf ball-like dimples that smooth airflow and reduce the possibility of audible chuffing from the ports. Last but not least, the crossovers have been redesigned with new capacitors for the Series 3.

Looking specifically at the DM604S3, it is a three-way vented box floor-standing speaker that measures 39 inches high, nine-and-three-eighths inches wide and 15.75 inches deep, weighing in at a respectable yet manageable 64 pounds per side.

Visually, the DM604S3 speaker has a light gray curved baffle with an interlocking pattern throughout. The top of the baffle features a one-inch metal dome tweeter located directly above a seven-inch Kevlar bass/midrange driver, which sits above two seven-inch aluminum bass drivers. On the bottom is the patented B&W Flowport. Rounding off the face of the DM604S3 is a simple black grille with the B&W logo on the bottom.

The back of the cabinet has sturdy dual five-way binding posts to allow for biwiring and every other wire connection method. The bottom of the cabinet has four threaded inserts for the provided spikes or optional soft silicon padded feet to protect your flooring. The cabinet is finished in a very attractive Light Oak Sorrento Vinyl. B&W gives you a choice of Black Ash Vinyl as well. I found the Sorrento finish to be attractive, but it lacked the luster of the Maple-finished CM4s that the 603s have replaced. The rated frequency response is 39Hz – 22kHz with a sensitivity of 90 dB, making this a reasonably easy load for most amplifiers or modern receivers.

The B&W DM604S3s replaced my prior reference mid-sized floor-standing speakers in the B&W CM4s. I connected the 604S3s to my Krell 300iL integrated amplifier via Monster Cable’s Z2 biwire speaker cables. The primary source component was Rotel’s RDV-1060, although I also used an Escient E2 Fireball (with FLAC music files) and Polk Audio’s XRt12 XM tuner. I placed the speakers approximately six feet apart and two feet from the front wall with a slight toe-in.

The Music
I first listened to an old favorite, Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” off his Legend album (Island Records). I was immediately struck by the solid, full bass from drums. The notes were tight and well-delineated, with plenty of impact. Marley’s vocals were clear, well-defined and had a solid sonic image. The drums were positioned well behind vocals, with each of the instruments anchored in the soundstage. The speakers completely disappeared.

I then listened to one of our critics’ favorite albums, Shawn Mullin’s Soul’s Core (Sony). The song “Anchored in You” lives up to the album’s reputation of providing superb vocals and midrange. There was good, palpable detail in Mullins’ vocals without any signs of boxiness or chestiness, making it obvious that the reference technology had indeed found its way down to the DM604S3s. The highs were clear with smooth decay, a sign of the Nautilus tweeter design’s effectiveness. The midrange was detailed reproducing the open raspiness in Mullins voice. The B&W’s were quick, detailed and tight. The low end was extended enough to handle the bass without making me wish for a subwoofer. Like the rest of the frequency range, the bass notes were also taut and detailed.

Wondering how the DM604S3s would do on a more bass-intensive album, I played an old favorite, Crystal Method’s Vegas (Outpost Records), and went straight to the track “Busy Child.” The speakers could hint at the very deepest subsonic notes but reproduced rest of the extensive bass notes with quickness, good extension and solidity. The DM604S3s are far from different without a woofer, but I recommend all modern speaker systems to go with the old “point one” subwoofer so as to not miss out on the lowest of low notes. The 603s sounded very dynamic, did not bottom out and produced no port noise. When I listened at higher volumes, the disc was a bit harsh, but that was consistent with what I have heard on any number of speaker systems that I have tested with this electronic-sounding disc.

Moving on to female vocals, I listened to Norah Jones’ album Come Away With Me (Blue Note Records). Her hit track “Don’t Know Why” demonstrated that the B&Ws’ capabilities were not limited to reproducing instruments and male vocals. Norah’s voice was reproduced cleanly and smoothly without sacrificing detail, even at very high volumes. The piano’s high notes were clear and extended with no harshness. As with most of the other tracks I listened to, the soundstage was well developed and reasonably large, with the speakers disappearing, leaving only the music.

The Movies
As I was doing a stereo speaker review, I didn’t get into too much in the way of movie demos, but I did have a chance to watch “Guess Who” (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment), a remake of the classic “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” The DM604S3 had no problems cleanly reproducing vocals and the urban-influenced soundtrack. The voices were clear and distinct, even in scenes with numerous voices speaking over one another. The DM604S3s would do well in anchoring a home theater system with their combination of clarity, dynamics and extension.

I have no concerns whatsoever that the B&W DM603S3s can reproduce the most demanding soundtracks with the dynamics, power and finesse that I heard when testing them with music.

The Downside
I have no complaints with the performance of the speakers. Their bass capabilities are beyond what I expect from speakers of their size, but if you feel the need for earth-moving bass or reproducing the lowest pipe organ notes, you will want to add a subwoofer.

Some may feel (I certainly don’t) that the speakers sound a little too tight or dry for their tastes and may prefer more lush speakers, such as the recently reviewed JMR Evolution 3s, which represent the other side of the subjective world of loudspeakers. The DM604S3’s vinyl finish falls short of the B&W CM series Maple veneers, but the difference is understandable, given B&W’s desire to meet a certain price point without making sonic comprises.

The B&W DM604S3 has clearly benefited from B&W’s research and development efforts that went into their higher-end speakers. These full-range loudspeakers are tight, yet dynamic and quick. They perform well at both ends of the frequency range with extended detailed highs and tight lows, without neglecting the important midrange area. This speaker is worth a close audition for the role of either full-range stereo speaker or handling front channel duties in a home theater system. I seriously recommend this speaker.
Manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins
Model DM604S3 Loudspeakers
Reviewer Brian Kahn

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