The B&W 706 S2 Speaker Review vs KEF LS50 and Falcon LS3/5a
By Steve Huff
Since I just did a huge review on the B&W 705 S2, and a mini review of the 707 S2 within that 705 review, this one will be shorter than normal for me ; ) That’s good for me and for you both, so if you missed the 705 S2 review see it here as the sound descriptions in that review will be pretty close to what they are with this speaker. This 706 S2 shares almost everything with the 705 S2 besides the tweeter housing and placement. Essentially, the sound is 95% the same. I will tell you what that 5% difference is below but being $1000 less than the 705, and $500 more than the much smaller 707, this 706 S2 offers the best bang for your buck, without question, in the bookshelf B&W 700 series lineup.
A familiar sound…
Seeing that I just talked about the 707 and 705, these 706’s sounded very familiar to me when I hooked them up. In fact, for me they are so close to the 705 S2 it seems silly to pay more for those unless you want a touch more smoothness in your treble and a slightly warmer, and I mean SLIGHTLY warmer plumper midrange. Yep, that decoupling of the tweeter on the 705 does make a small difference as there is less bite on the 705’s than I hear on the 706 and it has a slightly fuller midrange. Even so, I kind of liked the bite of the small fry 707’s as it offered an extended high end without being bright or analytical. The 705’s were much smoother sounding over the 707’s in the high end of the sound spectrum. Some will enjoy the smoothness, as it’s such a refined sound. Others may like a tad more sparkle up top, and that is the only difference I can hear between the 706 and the 705 S2 speakers. The 707 S2 are also nice but borderline too small for my room unless I am doing super near field listening.
The 706S2 looks just about exactly like the 705, and uses the same drivers and cabinet. It’s just that tweeter placement and the iconic B&W look that will cost you an extra grand, or if you go for the new bad ass looking signature versions of the 705 S2 and extra $2000. Yes, $1000 is a lot of cash. That could be used for other things in your life or even an audio improvement to your system. You could buy another set of speakers for $499 (I highly recommend these for the money) that would bring you a different sound presentation, and you could have both, for when the mood hits and $500 left over to boot.
No matter which bookshelf model in the 700 series you are looking at, do know that they all share the same sound signature but as you move up the line there is more refinement and smoothness. It’s big between the 707s2 and 706s2 and very small from the 706s2 to the 705s2. As for me, I loved the 707 and 705’s but the 706 may be just the ticket. They offer more sparkle than the 705’s and yet they keep the bass performance of the 705 as well as the midrange, which is so silky smooth and present at the same time. In fact, this whole line has a beautiful transparent midrange that also has some depth behind it.
Running these with my Vinnie Rossie L2i SE along with a Roon Nucleus as my streamer using Tidal and Qobuz the sound is just as I had it with the 705’s but a tad more crisp, with a more pronounced treble. Again, not harsh but very detailed and lively. I have only been listening for a few days and I keep going back and forth as to wether I prefer the 705 or 706! Both are speakers I could live with but the 706 saves $1000 to those who make the jump. Does the 705 offer $1000 worth of improvement in sound? No, not for my ears.
With all of the 700 series, the midrange is a tad bit recessed compared to most other speakers of this caliber. Some will like this sound, others may not.
VS the now LEGENDARY KEF LS50
These B&W speakers cost $1999.99. The ever popular and well loved KEF LS50 can be found for $1100-$1299 and is regarded as one of the best selling and loved mini monitor style speakers. I owned them years ago and was not a huge fan as my amp at the time could not power them well. I then tried out the powered versions and like them better. But now that I have the L2i SE that can seemingly power any speaker to it’s full performance potential I borrowed a set of LS50’s to compare to these B&W 700 series speakers.
Compared to this 706S2 the KEF sounds more forward with more dryness to the midrange. The LS50, they are overall warmer from top to bottom but also have a metallic edge I remembered from long ago at the top end. For the money they sound very good but for me, they do not get close to the 706 S2 for subtlety. For soundstage width. For details. For overall bass performance. In fact when listening side by side I choose the 706 S2 every time over the LS50. I prefer the more transparent and airy sound because it also has weight and bass depth behind it where the LS50 sounds more “one note” in the bass dept when compared side by side. The B&W’s are $700 more, so they should offer up a more pleasing sound, and for me, they do. The LS50’s are wonderful for the price though and can (and does) make many happy long term. For the $1200 or so that the LS50 costs these days, it’s a no brainer if that is your budget and you have a smaller room (and a good amp with some current).
Playing some Lighting Hopkins blues on vinyl with the 706 brings a huge vocal that leans warm yet it is rich and detailed. The bass is solid, the highs are airy and the presentation is large and sweet. With the LS50 the sound shrinks some and the soundstage is not as wide but it is deeper. The bass is warmer near the lower midrange and not as realistic IMO. The treble is nice but not in the same way as the B&W. With the LS50 there is detail but it sounds more grating than the B&W treble which is smoother. I can see the LS50 bringing fatigue over time.
For these ears the B&W 706 S2 easily bests the LS50 with my gear, in my room. No contest at all. In another room, with different gear? The LS50 could win. So again, it all comes back to your room and upstream gear.
VALUE for the $$$
These 706 S2 speakers recently went up in price by a few hundred dollars and they do sound like a nice $2000 speaker and have bested many other speakers I have had through here that were this size and even bigger. As I mentioned in my 705 S2 review, I used to dislike the B&W sound. But it has changed, and matured and been refined. Gone is the grating highs, the stiff bass and overall hard sound that I experienced many years ago. These sound deliciously good with that smooth high end, a decently wide soundstage, precise imaging (that is not so precise that it kills the musicality), and very nice bass performance. There is no bass boost in the mid but the bass is natural, and doesn’t boom, ever. These are some very transparent, natural and musical sounding speakers and I would have no qualms about paying full retail for these beautiful boxes as they make beautiful music.
Listening to Nils Lofgren BASS AND DRUM INTRO awakens my senses with the volume turned up to 45 on my L2i SE. I feel like my 12X13 room has been changed into a small music club and Nils is playing right for me in the room. So clear, so powerful and these B&W speakers are absolutely beasts with drums.
Lana Del Rey’s “Cola” is rich, fat, detailed and with a silky 3 dimensional voice that sits nicely in the center between the speakers. The music never gets congested or sounds strained. Not the most refined sound I have heard but these are not $5k or $10k speakers where we start to get that next level type of sound. These are $2000 and I feel you might have a hard time finding a $2000 and under speaker that offers up such a complete sound as these do, from top to bottom and all in between.
With that said, they are a smidge brighter than the 705’s and a smidge warmer than the 707’s. Some will prefer the 706 to the 705 and vice versa. Do not think that just because the 705’s cost $1000 more that they are much better. They are, but it’s a small improvement in smoothness of the high end. It’s just as detailed but smoother sounding. The 706 is not hard or rough sounding by any means but they offer up a tad more excitement at the top. The good news is that the speaker is really warm in the mids and bass, so it balances out everything nice. We get meat on the bones and some treble air and detail. ; ) Most speakers offer one or the other, but B&W managed to find a way to offer both in one box.
Compared to the now $3500 Dynaudio Special 40, the 706 S2 doesn’t sound as mature or refined. The S40’s are smooth, big sounding and almost full range in the sound with the right setup and power behind them. This is interesting as I think the 705’s beat the S40’s ever so slightly. Also, with the B&W speakers there is a sort of sound that “feels good” coming from them…almost as if a small smiley EQ was placed inside. Some will enjoy this punchy sound, some will not like it at all.
VS the Falcon LS3/5a
These $3000+ (depends on wood finish) retail speakers are TINY (smaller than the 706), offer up less bass, and are considered in many circles as the best LS3/5a ever made but at the same time, not everyone will like or love this kind of speaker. These tiny speakers are gorgeous in build, and have a unique sound that takes you back a ways but at the same time they do things I have not heard many modern day speakers do. They also lack in bass, so they are really only good for a small room and near field listening. In this kind of environment these are magic as once you start listening you do not even realize you are missing out on anything, as the speaker is just so natural and sweet and expansive in sound with a sweet fullness that makes you think what you are hearing is complete.
I tested these a couple years ago but the amp I had could not do them full justice (these are a hard load to drive) so I did not even write about them, as I could not review them if I could not power them sufficiently. Now that I have the L2i SE, I guessed it would power them very well so I called up Arizona HiFi (Auth dealer) to see if they had a pair laying around and low and behold they did, in the lovely Walnut. These are real wood folks, and the finish is gorgeous.
I went and picked them up from Glen over at the shop, returned home and hooked them up where the 706’s were placed. I knew I had to reposition these Falcons as they are smaller, and a sealed design. After hours of placement tests, I settled on the speakers about 6 feet from me, and 6 1/2 feet apart. Slight toe in to about 10 degrees.
With this setup and powered by my Vinnie Rossi L2i SE what I heard is this:
Compared to the B&W 706 S2, these have a more natural sound and the vocal reproduction is hauntingly real, large…and well, magical. The highs are detailed and crisp, but less pronounced than the B&W speakers. They seem just as detailed but without making you take notice of the treble. Everything is just…beautiful…with the right music. They really bring some recordings to life in a way I have never heard before. These made me realize what a true holographic soundstage should sound like. This is one of their specialties and they excel at it.
In the realm of vocals…. these are unmatched for this cost or even way above. Set up in my small room, for near field, I am literally taken to the performance and the voice, wether male or female, are so human…real..alive. Yes, many speakers can do this and do this well but these Falcons have a purity to the midrange that you may not find so easily in other speaker designs, and this takes them up to a new level IMO.
But remember, these are ALL ABOUT the mids and the highs and while there is a nice warm bass present (my shelf behind me rattled at one point) they are not going to rock your head off. These are about subtlety, gentleness and excel with jazz, vocals, small scale music. Of course you can play all types but you will miss out on the big fat mid bass and heavy bottom end for the music that requires it. Even so, when listening I never feel I am missing a thing but I do not jam out to Megadeth with the LS3/5a’s. ; ) Correction Update… I now have and at low volume late night listening they sound pretty damn good even with harder music. Still full and complete but just not very dynamic. Smooth and full and PLEASING.
I will repeat…vocals on these are magic. One of the best midrange performances I have heard, regardless of cost. BTW, these are not the newer Gold badge version with the new crossover (that is said to sound more detailed) as I do not feel these need more detail for my needs. The sound they have as is, offers up such a nice perfectly balanced presentation.
While these are $1000 more than the B&W 706 S2, they are much more refined and have an air of quality about them that is not often found in speaker like this. They are truly the better speaker, and made in the UK to boot. But these are really only for those in a pretty small room, and those who listen to small scale music or vocals, and those who have a high current amp to power them. If you do, you will be hard pressed to find better for what I described (Holographic as it gets, pure as it gets, non fatiguing). These will never rock your house down, that’s not what they are about.
If you want to rock out or just have an easier to drive speaker that will sound bigger and meatier the B&W slaughter these Falcons. No question. The B&W speakers are amazing with rock, metal, jazz, vocal, etc. Everything. The Falcons excel in that one area of the midrange and they do that like nothing else I have heard, when set up right. When set up wrong the Falcon speakers will sound small, thin, and you will wonder what the fuss is about. Get them dialed in and you will have that WOW moment. But I warn you, they are addicting.
I feel this review may confuse some as it’s not clear on what I liked here. Well, I liked them all but each speaker has a different purpose. The 707, 706 and 705. Each has a similar sound character and the 707’s are for small rooms, and nearfield listening where they excel much like a Harbeth P3ESR or Falcon LS3/5a. The 706S2 are much like the 705S2, but have a more pronounced high end where the 705’s are smoother in this area, more refined. The Falcon Ls3/5a is it’s own special thing, a speaker you would own in addition to something like a B&W 705 s2.
The best speaker, overall, is the 705 S2 when comparing them all but the 706 S2 is not far behind it and hey, that $1000 savings is nothing to scoff at! These B&W 700 series speakers are really killer speakers and give you that true high end sound you may be looking for. I loved them all, and could be happy with any of them long term. The only negatives I have on these 700 series are that they are made in China, and for $1500-$3000 speakers, I don’t know…seems a little high on the price. While they are quality through and through, we usually interpret “Made in China” with cheaper gear, even if it is not (and in this case it is not). Also, for some of you the slightly recessed mids and prevalent highs may be a turn off if you enjoy liquid smooth sound.
I love them, and with the right amp and setup in your room I do not see many being unhappy here.
The 706S2’s are a great option in the $2000 price range and I highly recommend a listen if you get a chance!