Bowers & Wilkins 606 AE: If you pair it with a decent amplifier, the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S2 is one of the best all-round speakers in its price range. Now the British manufacturer is bringing an Anniversary Edition that has been adjusted on details. Are we going from ‘very good’ to ‘excellent’ with this?
Those who want to spend 600-800 euros for a pair of speakers will not have it easy. And not because there is little choice or a problem with quality at that price point. On the contrary, for that amount you can now even choose from a number of high-quality products. A name that should definitely not be on the list of ‘speakers to investigate’ during your quest is the 606 S2 from Bowers & Wilkins.. It is a slightly larger bookshelf speaker that combines a no-nonsense look with trickle-down technology from the British brand’s high-end 800 Series units. It guarantees a beautiful, exciting reproduction. But now Bowers & Wilkins is launching a new version of this crowd favorite, the 606 S2 Anniversary Edition. Not a completely new loudspeaker, that is immediately clear, but a further refinement of the concept. Is this version still as good as its predecessor? Will it remain a good choice for people who want to place a nice music system in their living room without emptying their bank account? We examine that in this review of the 749-euro per pair 606 S2 Anniversary Edition.
A quarter of a century old
The addition of the ‘Anniversary Edition’ label to celebrate the 25 th anniversary of this popular entry-level series at Bowers & Wilkins suggests that we see a limited edition here. But the new S2 Anniversary Editions – we’ll usually write ‘AE’ from here, because we’re lazy – are full-fledged, permanent successors to the 606 S2 family introduced in 2018.
A quick glance at the ‘old’ 606 S2 we have in front of tests and the new AE edition sent by Bowers & Wilkins is enough to see that this is not a major overhaul. It is rather a ‘refresh’ as car brands now apply three years after the introduction of a new model. Tweaking, tuning, freshening up, that’s how you can often summarize it with them, and that is actually the case here. Is that a complaint? Not if the starting point for such a ‘refresh’ is a great speaker. Making something better is never bad.
A term like ‘refresh’ does not mean that Bowers & Wilkins has only changed cosmetic matters. The technology has also been tinkered with, in particular the crossovers, the manufacturer says. We spontaneously think of the beautiful Signature editions of the 700 Series that Bowers & Wilkins presented earlier in the year and which we also tested. Improving the crossovers was also one of the significant interventions for those speakers. Bowers & Wilkins then replaced the capacitors with better Mundorf versions. And that is exactly what happened with the 606 S2 Anniversary Edition.
Trendy color version
So there has been some technical adjustments with the new speakers. At the same time, one of the eye-catchers with the 600 S2 Anniversary Edition speakers is something aesthetically pleasing. Bowers & Wilkins delivers the speakers in a new trendy finish that combines sides in a light oak with a white front. It really looks good and gives the speakers a high Scandi design content, so that they will not look out of place in more modern interiors. The familiar matte black or white versions will of course also remain. It is even the black edition that we received a visit. When we read ‘black’ on the packaging label, we first thought: “Sorry”. But the matte character of the housing is actually very chic and modern, so that we quickly concealed that disappointment.
By the way, there is a fourth color option, a reddish cherrywood. However, the British speaker builder expects little demand for that version in Europe. Cherry will be for sale elsewhere in the world, but those who really want it will have to order this version from us in the store.
In this review we look at the 606 S2 Anniversary Edition, a slightly larger bookshelf speaker that also fits well on a stand and is available in stores for 699 euros a pair. Those looking for something smaller can go to the compact 607 AE with a more modest woofer, those who swear by floorstanders will find what they are looking for with the 603 S2 Anniversary Edition (a review of which will be published here soon). The HTM6 SE Anniversary Edition is the latest addition to the new AE family, a center speaker for the surround enthusiast. The three ASW 600 subwoofers have not been renewed and, according to the manufacturer, remain the preferred choice if you are building a home theater based on 600 S2 Anniversary Edition speakers.
Three modern colors
In terms of shape and dimensions, not much has changed with the 606 S2 AE. It is a rectangular speaker that would seem very classic, were it not for the fact that Bowers & Wilkins made a few smart choices. To start with, there is the woofer with the silver cone made of the mysterious Continuum material that the brand is so proud of. The big advantage of the stiff but light Continuum is that it reacts very predictably, which fits perfectly with the approach of the technique-driven Bowers & Wilkins.
The woofer also stands out visually very well with the matte black of our test speakers. The effect is slightly less strong with the white and the new white-with-oak versions, but these versions also look very chic due to the combination. The tweeter grille with aluminum outer ring also gives the 606 S2 AE extra class. Overall, the build quality is excellent, especially if you take that price into account. Of course you will not find a gloss lacquer that has been applied in many layers, as with the more expensive 700 Series, but this 606 S2 AE still exudes the necessary luxury. It’s in the finish level, so you can’t see any seams despite the sharp edges on the case. There are also no visible bolts or screws on the front. The supplied speaker grille clicks on magnetically. Details all,
The Bowers & Wilkins speakers are also just finished at the back, which is nice if you want to place the speakers freely in a larger room. At the back we discover very solid speaker terminals, times two. You can therefore bi-wire or bi-amp these speakers.
All-rounders with a fine nose for detail
In our test room we first listened to the 606 S2 Anniversary Edition with the NAD C 658-DAC / preamplifier and the C 298 power amplifier with Purifi amplification. A somewhat expensive combination for speakers of this price range, but the purity of the C 298 allows us to concentrate on what the speakers can and do themselves. But to keep things more realistic, we then connect the speakers to a Sonos Amp in the living room. It may seem like a curious choice to some readers, but when we tested this little amplifier from Sonos at the time, we found the match with the previous generation 606 S2 really right.
That was initially surprising, because the Bowers & Wilkins speakers do have some demands on speakers and it would not have been feasible for the old Sonos Connect: Amp. The Sonos Amp is clearly a better device, although we estimate its direct competitor, the Bluesound PowerNode 2i, higher. Both devices come with an HDMI input, so you can build a nice stereo music system on your TV that also sounds good when you watch a movie or binge watch TV series. For that scenario, the Denon DRA-800 also seems like a good option.
One of the strengths of Bowers & Wilkins is their Decoupled Double-dome tweeter, also present with this 606 S2 AE. It is thanks to that tweeter that the recently released ‘The Sophware Slump… On a wooden piano’ by Granddaddy (Roon and Qobuz) reveals its full intimate character. You could call the tuning of this Bowers & Wilkins all-round; Noiserock by Magik Markers or the Eigthiessynt by Das Kabinette roll compellingly from the 606 S2 AE, for example. Nevertheless, the slightly clear detail reproduction – slightly more pronounced than with the previous 606 S2 – gives us a more audiophile impression with the Granddaddy album.
Also with ‘Bach: The Cello Suites – Recomposed by Peter Gregson’ (which seems to be a kind of attempt to follow up Max Richter’s Recomposed Vivaldi album), the 606 Anniversary is positive. The Continuum woofer lets the rich, warm sounds of the cello resonate nicely in the listening room, and the integration between the woofer and tweeter is also really good here. The 606 S2 AE sets – slightly turned in – a beautiful soundstage that hangs wide between the speakers.
At the last minute, Nick Cave’s ‘Idiot Prayer’ arrived on the bus – what a musical gift in these times! This catchy ‘Best of’ was literally played solo on a piano by Cave in the middle of an empty Alexandra Palace in London, originally exclusive and one-off for a live stream. Fortunately, these songs are now available to listen to at home again. We can only be happy about it. Again, we note that the 606 S2 AEs both transmit Cave’s voice perfectly and do a very good job of reproducing that piano with its lightly reverberating harmonic tones. ‘Higgs Bosons Blues’ is to die for.
Also good with movies and games
In our listening room, the Bowers & Wilkins speakers were more than a meter from the wall (on which acoustic panels were present, to limit reflections from a TV screen), in the living room we place the two speakers a lot closer to a wall, left and right of a 55-inch television. This move teaches us that the distance to the wall with the 606 S2 AE is very decisive for the layer display. Always with speakers with a bass port at the rear, of course, but with these speakers just a little more. It does give you some freedom to tune to your own taste. In the listening room, for example, we played ‘The Legend of the Eagle Bearer’, the mighty title track of the spectacularly beautiful game ‘Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey’. Beautiful, detailed, with an openness that shows the ancient Greek instruments in this song. But in the living room, that’s where the percussion got its full impact and slam. Not very detailed or anything, you have to be in a more expensive price range for that, but the fun factor is definitely more present. This is a lot more exciting to listen to, if you want to play games or watch a movie. Electronic genres also immediately sound much more fun.
The Bowers & Willkins 606 S2 Anniversary Edition builds on its acclaimed predecessor and improves on details. It remains a loudspeaker that, despite a fairly compact size, can still play robustly. The 606 S2 AE remains an all-rounder that puts listening pleasure before everything perfectly reproduced. That is often the case at this price point: the fun factor prevails – and there is nothing wrong with that. But where the Bowers & Wilkins has an edge is in the detail reproduction in the middle and high. Marry the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S2 AE with a decent amplifier and you’re going to be a happy music lover.
PLUS POINTS of Bowers & Wilkins 606 AE
- Builds on the 606 S2
- Good integration
- Modern and timeless design
- Heavy bass for a small speaker
- Very nice detail reproduction without being extremely clear
MINUSES of Bowers & Wilkins 606 AE
- Requires a better amplifier
- Placement sensitive