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Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 Bookshelf Speakers Review: Classic and Clinical

I started my listening by streaming compressed tracks over Spotify. The speakers were quick to show off their vivid definition across registers, with a clear and well-defined center image, plenty of instrumental separation, and broad stereo imaging. That’s especially true with acoustic and jazz-leaning tracks. The flute in Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” sounds airy and glimmering, while Elton John’s “Your Song” is layered in lush orchestration with a lovely tone in his subdued piano.

The S3’s sound profile exposes a cool tonal color and plenty of zip in the instruments and effects of sharper recordings. Bright horns tend to sound particularly uptight, while hot percussion can sometimes snap like a bear trap, especially notable in Notorious B.I.G’s “Hypnotize.” The articulation was so good I suddenly realized after years of listening that there are two cymbal hits, the second of which reveals the hi-hats closing. But that comes with a helping of aggression, like a tech bro at a wine tasting.

The brash, forward attack also comes through in dialog of certain TV content, namely sitcoms like The Office and Parks and Rec. The “s” consonant really gets the spotlight there, popping with extra sizzle. I noticed less hiss as time went on, either because the speakers warmed or my ears warmed to them, or possibly some combination of both.

As I listened over several days, the 606 S3 really stepped up with high-quality recordings. Well-made films, from Sam Mendes’ Skyfall to Ridley Scott’s Alien, revealed textural effects and articulate dialog without those standout pops. Listening to hi-res files over Amazon Music in HD also sounded sweeter, not only adding more dimension and breadth but also a smoother tone. These speakers really shine with your best content, and while that might sound obvious, it seems particularly important here.

For me, one of the most important components of the 606 S3’s sound signature is the bass response. It holds down the foundation with firm and smooth musicality that is a pleasure, from explosions in action films to the 808 kick in Too Short’s “Just Another Day.” It sounded a little loose at first, but moving the speakers a few more inches from the wall zeroed things in brilliantly. If that’s not enough, the speakers also come with foam bungs for the bass ports.

I still find myself somewhat torn on the 606 S3. Just as I’m about to fully fall for them, they pop in with too much spritely punch in a cymbal hit or a TV monologue, leaving me wondering if they’d fit as my primary speaker setup. Personally, I’d invest in something smoother and more laid-back like the fabulous Focal Vestia No1, which provide similar sonic riches without the extra bite. (They’ll also cost you a bit more.)

If you’ve come this far, though, you probably know where you stand. I’ve had moments of pure sonic joy with these speakers, more than I expected as we first got to know each other. If you’re the type who likes some extra pep up top, you’ll be rewarded with detail, definition, stereo imaging, and musicality that stands out at this price and above.

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