Introduction - what is the Bowers & Wilkins 702 Signature?
The Bowers & Wilkins 702 Signature is a revised version of the existing 702 S2 floorstander. It doesn’t replace the 702 S2 and neither is it categorised as a member of the 700 Series. Together with the standmount 705 Signature, it sits in its own category on the website. Explaining what has been done to them is relatively straightforward. Explaining the significance of ‘Signature’ is less easy because, in the world of Bowers & Wilkins, it isn’t uniformly applied.
What do I mean by this? Well, unlike Marantz, the other keen user of the word ‘Signature,’ there’s rather less of a pattern to what and how a Bowers product gets the Signature treatment. These two speakers are recognisably derived from existing models (which does make them rather more like the much missed ‘KI Signature’ devices that Marantz turned out over the years). Where it gets more complicated is that Bowers & Wilkins also uses the word on products that have been created from the ground up as Signature products. In years gone by, this has included both the Signature 30 (which I have to be honest, I didn’t like very much) and the Diamond Signature (which, conversely, looked a bit odd but is one of my very favourite speakers ever made).
The common theme is that if it has the word ‘Signature’ in the title, Bowers & Wilkins who are fastidious at the best of times has gone the extra mile. Does this care and attention to detail translate into a speaker that is worth the extra money over its more conventional ancestor? Let’s have a listen.
Specification and Design
The fundamental layout of the 702 Signature is the same as the ‘non Sig’ version. It is a three way, five driver floorstander that is the largest member of the 700 Series range. The basic makeup of these drivers is also unchanged. This should not be too surprising because the drivers in the 700 Series are not exactly low tech. Topping the enclosure is a carbon dome tweeter placed in its own housing at the top of the cabinet. Bowers & Wilkins feels that this offers the best means of ensuring that the output is optimised and unaffected by the activities of the cabinet itself. This housing is created from a single piece of aluminium and weighs over a kilo in its own right.
The midrange driver occupies the top of the cabinet itself and is an example of the ‘Continuum’ woven material that replaced the Kevlar in the role some years ago. First seen in the 800 Series, it is now seen at all points of the range. The design brief to the Continuum cone is simple enough. Bowers & Wilkins wanted a material that kept all the benefits of Kevlar; light weight and exceptional rigidity chief among them, but reducing the perceivable colouration that came with it. The driver here is a 150mm unit (which is listed as a ‘6-inch driver’ but is 5.9-inches across) and is finished with a mass damper on the front of the chassis which is also made of aluminium. Bowers & Wilkins doesn’t specify the crossover points at work in the 702 Signature so it isn’t clear exactly what frequencies this driver handles.
Bass comes courtesy of a trio of 165mm Aerofoil bass drivers. As denoted by the three way crossover, all three drivers perform exactly the same role. The ‘Aerofoil’ term used here is a reflection of a cross sectional thickness that varies so that the driver is strong and rigid where it needs to be and thin (and thus lighter and more responsive) where it isn’t. With this hefty radiating area, the claimed low frequency roll off is 46Hz at +/- 3dB which is generally on the conservative side of possible figures. The drivers themselves are augmented by a rear firing bass port supplied with two piece foam bung.
All this is as supplied on the 702 S2. Where the Signature tweaks come in is the manner of how signal gets to these drivers. The crossovers have been uprated with capacitors from German company Mundorf (and, if you have ever idly wondered just how much attention it is possible to lavish on a capacitor, the answer as far as Mundorf is concerned is ‘ALL THE ATTENTION’) and, in the specific case of the 702 Signature, there is an upgraded capacitor for the low frequency section too. This is pretty standard stuff in terms of things you might do to upgrade the performance of a speaker. What is less common is that these changes have been combined with a larger heatsink on the crossover. The reasoning is logical enough; keeping components operating at their optimal temperature is obviously a desirable thing but I don’t recall encountering this on any other speaker.
Then, there’s the outside. The Signatures come finished in what Bowers & Wilkins calls ‘Datuk Gloss ebony coloured veneer.’ This being 2020, the first thing that Bowers & Wilkins is at pains to stress is that this is both ethically and sustainably sourced via Italian company Alpi. The manner in which the veneered sections are selected means that each pair of speakers is booked matched but no two pairs will exactly the same. There are some other detail changes too including silver tweeter grilles and changes to the trim rings.
Let’s ignore the fine details and concentrate on the whole for a moment though. The 702 Signature is like the type standard for what a semi layperson would imagine a ‘high end’ (more of which in a moment) speaker to look like. It combines a balance and symmetry to the overall lines with a wood finish that is, taken on its own merits, glorious. Bowers & Wilkins has a talent that goes underappreciated in enthusiast circles for avoiding the nagging sense of buyer’s remorse that haunts high end anything. That feeling of awful clarity you get when you are standing with an object you have just paid a lot of money for which can be easily ramped up when you realise that it really isn’t as exquisite as you had built it up in your head to be is something we have all experienced at one point or another. The 702 Signature is a masterclass in avoiding that. Every facet of its design congratulates you on your excellent decision.
This is further aided by the level of fit and finish that has been achieved too. If we exclude the deliberately wobbly tweeter housings (they’re decoupled by design so they aren’t rigid), everything about the Signatures feels more expensive than they actually are. This is quite an achievement because the £1,100 hike in price over the basic model might otherwise seem relatively steep but, in the wood, the Signature feels worth the money because it exudes a high end, and there’s really no better word for this, aura. There’s an essence of the 800 Series to the Signatures that help them feel a rung above the competition at this price point. Case in point, the Focal Kanta No1 is the same price as the Bowers (and it is as well made) but the 702 Signature feels more special at the same time.
It’s not perfect though. It doesn’t appear in the stock pics but the 702 Signature is like the normal 702 S2 in that it is supplied with a simply enormous plinth. It affects the lines and means that the footprint of the speaker is very large indeed. I suppose it also goes without saying that, if you don’t like the wood finish of the Signature, tough. If you want the uprated crossover, you’ll need them to look like this.
The 702 Signature is like the type standard for what a semi layperson would imagine a ‘high end’ speaker to look like
How was the 702 Signature tested?
The Bowers and Wilkins were fitted with their rubber dome feet (spikes are available but I’m both protective of my floors and I suspect that most will be so fitted) and connected to a Chord Electronics Hugo TT2 and Hugo Mscaler taking a feed from an SOtM SMS-200 Neo being used as a Roon Endpoint and an LG 55B7 OLED, running into a Chord Electronics CPM2800 MkII integrated amp. All equipment was connected to an IsoTek Evo 3 Sigmas mains conditioner. Some additional testing was undertaken via Michell Gyrodec with Vertere SG-1 arm and Van den Hul DDTII cartridge running into a Cyrus Phono Signature phono stage. Material used has been FLAC, AIFF, DSD, Tidal and Qobuz, on demand TV services and some vinyl.
More: Audio Formats
In the dim and distant past, my personal views toward Bowers & Wilkins speakers (or ‘B&W’ as they were at that point) was pretty straightforward. The fewer the drivers, the better the sound, which meant that I loved their two way standmounts (and still regard the 805D3 as a masterpiece) but the enthusiasm began to wane as the floorstanders became larger. Under the ‘old rules’, the five driver 702 Signature would be cause for concern.
These are not the old rules though, the basic 702 S2 has a togetherness that is a world away from what went before. Furthermore, the 702 Signature’s updated crossover is not a gimmick. The exceptional shifting percussion work at the start of Cosmic Dust by The Comet is Coming is absolutely on point. Compared to the Focal Kanta sat next to them throughout, the smaller Focal is still fractionally lighter on its feet but it’s closer than I might have expected.
When the heavy synth line kicks in though, those dedicated bass drivers and larger cabinets really come to the fore. The 702 Signature is not a bass monster but in the context of what it does, that really doesn’t matter. It has an effortless low end shove that has been achieved without losing the overall perception of speed and coherence. This is a speaker that flows through any time signature I throw at it at and it never fails to sound wholly together.
In the absence of a ‘cooking’ 702 to compare it against, it’s hard to make an outright claim of what the Signature does better but the fact that ‘coherent’ crops up repeatedly in my notes is the biggest clue to what stands out. The manner in which it makes the five drivers work together is deeply impressive. There’s no clue as to the point where one ends and the other begins and this makes for a presentation that you tend to sit and enjoy rather than study intently. The 702 Signature takes its cleverness and uses it to deliver emotional content rather than laboratory brownie points (although, to be perfectly clear, I’ve no reason to suspect that the measured performance is anything other than very good).
This has some pros and cons that are heavily weighted to the former but do give a few entries to the latter. Side by side tests against the Focal has me in no doubt that the 702 Signature is more forgiving both of content and partnering equipment. Provided that it is given enough power to work (and this is not enormous, although the 3.1 ohm minimum impedance does suggest that at a reasonable current delivery will be helpful), the 702 Signature is a happy partner for most commensurately priced amps. The larger cabinet and slightly wider dispersion means that it is easier to get a compelling soundstage from the Bowers & Wilkins too. The bombastic but hard edged Imploding the Mirage by The Killers is a better listen on the 702 Signature.
Against this, the forensic detail retrieval of the Focal leaves the 702 Signature feeling a little more of a big picture device. Judged on its own merits, there’s nothing amiss but the Focal finds nuances that the 702 Signature doesn’t. When you really lean on the Bowers & Wilkins with heavyweight electronica, it also doesn’t have the same urgency that the Kanta does… but then few speakers do. These are fine detail calculations and depending on what you are listening to on what equipment they blur to nothing but they are there. Should you be looking to run TV material through them though, the Bowers & Wilkins puts in a strong performance. It anchors the images on screen with a tonally believable and usefully detailed presentation that has enough heft to ensure that even large scale material sounds convincing.
The 702 Signature takes its cleverness and uses it to deliver emotional content rather than laboratory brownie points
- Refined, tonally real and consistently engaging sound
- Beautifully made
- Easy to partner
- Fractional lack of fine detail
- Gigantic plinth
- Need a little space
Bowers & Wilkins 702 Signature Floorstanding Speaker Review
The 702 Signature is an extremely capable loudspeaker. This is sufficiently close to being a statement of the obvious that I imagine most readers would have suspected this was the case before they started reading. In some ways, the performance is the easy bit. The 702 S2 is a capable speaker and the custom crossovers in use here build on that momentum. Even judged at the higher price, the Signature is a compelling offering for the money.
There’s more to this speaker than performance though. Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last year (although, given the last year, I wouldn’t blame you), you will have noticed that Bowers & Wilkins has been in our news category for reasons other than speakers and it has released products that haven’t always delivered on the promise. The 702 Signature is a gloriously veneered reminder that when Bowers & Wilkins returns to doing what they do best, they do it with an aplomb that few rivals can get near. As an ‘ownership experience’ (a terrible phrase but the best for the job here), the 702 Signature is a cut above. It makes you feel like you’ve purchased wisely every time you interact with them and this is a huge part of what they are. For this reason above all the others, the 702 Signature comes Highly Recommended.
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