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Bowers & Wilkins 604 Loudspeakers Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 April 1997
ImageWith a slim footprint, sleek design and a dynamically powerful sound the B&W 604 tower loudspeakers fit right into any number of modern systems and do equally as well in just about any home decor. Standing 40 inches tall with a 3-way compliment including a B&W metal dome tweeter, one bright yellow colored B&W Kevlar 7 inch mid-range and two 7 inch Cobex drivers, these B&Ws have the ability to put out some serious musical energy while maintaining a razor sharp image. The 604s are capable of an imaging you would expect from a high end loudspeaker costing many thousands of dollars.

B&Ws have not historically been known for their high efficiency ratings, however these 90 dB 604s can rock and roll on a 50 watt-per-channel Rotel integrated amp. Additionally, the 604s are not very placement critical. In setup we were forced to place them closer to a corner than we would have liked but with the front firing, tuned ports, the 604s never got too boomy or mushy in the bass. While careful angling was necessary to achieve convincing imaging, overall the 604s were a snap to get to sound great. Anyone could do it.

The Sound.
Bass is plentiful on the 604s. On After 7's cover of Hall & Oates "Sarah's Smile" (Virgin) the bass response was deep and sustained. On Prince's "7" (Warner Bros.) the bass continued to be deep, sounding almost as if there was a sub in the system, yet there never was. Bass response on the 604s is reported by B&W to go as low as 34 Hz @ -6 dB.

As an accessory to the 604s, B&W provides curious, little foam port tuning devices which help to control the 604s' low end output. We chose the more porous of the two `plugs' in our listening room in that it helped combat the fact that we had the speakers closer to a back wall then we would have liked.

On Sarah McLachlan's "Mary" from The Freedom Sessions EP (Arista) the mids were clear and resolute. The guitar, positioned to Sarah's right on stage, was always detailed and well mixed with the piano and her vocals. The listening experience on this cut was what you would expect from a high dollar, high end system, however we were working with under $3000 in a B&W, Rotel and Straight Wire setup.

Where less expensive systems usually fall apart are on more complex musical arrangements so we decided to play a little big band. On "New York, New York," from Sinatra's 80th birthday record, the soundstage featured Frank focused up front while spreading the wide, dynamic band arrangement in a well-balanced musical equation.

With the success we had with Sinatra, we figured we would try our luck with these 604s and test their ability to resolve the most complicated composition we had; Stravinsky's "L'Oiseau de feu" conducted by Pierre Boulez of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Deutsche Gramophone. Normally, we reserve this cut to test the resolution of a system of the highest caliber i.e. The Cello Reference System or Wilson Grand SLAMMs, however as we said, we were intrigued and wanted to push the envelope . . . all right, so bigger speakers with more drivers and thousands of watts of class A power can resolve more detail and provide significantly more dynamics for his kind of orchestral music, but the 604s definitely can hold their own with Stravinsky. You could hear the end of the 604s' bass response during the timpani crashes however, the imaging mostly held together. In the cacophony of horns, strings and percussion the 604s survived nicely and provided a musically engaging experience that didn't smear or distort as other $1600 speakers do under this kind of musical abuse.
The major concern I had for the 604s was in the high end. I have often found B&W speakers to be a bright speaker in the higher frequencies which we knew this coming into the review. But, with that said, there were moments when the 604s were a bit strident in the highs where a competing speaker (like an NHT or a Sonus Faber) is not. Though, to the 604s credit, our listening room was not heavily treated and had hardwood floors which undoubtedly made the sound brighter.

This last critique should not exclude the 604s from you audition schedule, just know ahead of time that if anything they err on the bright side. You must also consider that while other $1600 loudspeakers may image better or are more smooth in the high end, very few of them can produce any real low frequencies. This is a trade off we're not normally willing to make, thus we recommend the B&W 604 loudspeaker system. If you listen exclusively to music or have film playback capabilities in your system you need to audition the 604s if they fit your budget. They work nicely into a small room, they can be tuned to elicit the best bass performance, they are quite dynamic and can image on complicated tracks. Overall, B&W's 604s are a winner!

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