These are deceptively heavy loudspeakers (thanks in part to the B&W trait of a healthy amount of internal bracing) and the plinths mean they top 18kg. And they are efficient and easy to drive too; 90dB sensitivity, with an eight ohm impedance (although the company also claims a three-ohm minimum impedance).
The 684 makes a typical Bowers and Wilkins sound, with a twist or two; very clean, extremely neutral and very, very competent. Exciting too, the combination of taut, surprisingly deep bass and bright treble makes for a speaker with a zing to them. Twist number one: perhaps a little too much zing for some. It’s not a rising treble, nor is it a treble with a definite peak or sting, but the 684 seems to make the top end of a piano sound more like a piano than a real piano.
For most, though, this will just make the speakers sound exciting and alive. Playing Lambchop’s Is A Woman album through the 684 showed just how minor this treble lift is; the sound is very open and Kurt Wagner’s speak-sing vocals come across brilliantly, thanks to a very open and clean midrange. The top remains untouched, except for a very slight increase in the guitar vibrato effect. This is a subtle effect on a relatively obscure background part of the mix.
Bass is exceptionally good, and not just ‘for the money’. Once the experiment process with bungs and placement is over, bass is both deep and taut, and that easy drive means it will be like that irrespective of the amplifier used. And this is one of the most important plus points for the 684 – it’s remarkably unfussy as to its business partners. It will deliver a remarkably similar performance whether it’s the most expensive part of the signal chain, or the cheapest. Differences are still apparent, but not as marked as many designs. And yet, this doesn’t come at the expense of the musical presentation. It’s a remarkable leveller of equipment,. I suspect that might disenfranchise those who want the sound of their expensive CD and amps to be immediately apparent, but for many others this is a handy bonus. Arcam, Cambridge Audio, Marantz, NAD and (obviously, given the company connections) Rotel would be logical choices for electronics happiness.
The 600 Series speakers have often had exciting treble and deeper than you might expect bass for any given cabinet size. The problem in the past has been a sound that had ‘all top, all bottom… nothing in between’. Worse, as you went up the 600 Series, so the gap between bass and treble widened. Fortunately, based on the evidence of the 684 at least, those days are gone and one of the best parts of this loudspeaker is its clean, open midrange. There are so many recordings that demand a good midrange, but All Is Yes by The Blessing really takes advantage of this. The percussive piano and drum kit, coupled with a Miles-esque muted trumpet can all so easily degrade into a midrange-free zone, but the 684 brings out the less accented bit in the middle.
Stereo is fine, although those looking for a pair of speakers that throw out a huge soundstage or a lot of image depth will be disappointed. Increasing toe-in improves stereo imaging considerably, but does so by trading precision in the bass. It’s a question of balance.
In fact, balance is the key to the Bowers & Wilkins 684. There are speakers that might do one or two things better (superior imaging, for example), but at the expense of other aspects (overall balance, detail, compatibility, fun). These will prove perhaps more attractive to people seeking the same. However, the 684 should be considered the default choice for £700 loudspeakers. It’s the benchmark at the price.
Bowers and Wilkins 684 floorstanding loudspeaker
Type: Two-and-a-half way reflex loaded floorstanding loudspeaker
Driver Complement: 1x 25mm aluminium dome tweeter, 1x 165mm woven Kevlar® cone bass/midrange, 1x 165mm woven Kevlar® cone bass
Bandwidth: 44Hz–22kHz ±3dB on reference axis, -6dB at 34Hz and 50kHz
Sensitivity: 90dB (2.83V, 1m)
Impedance: 8 ohms nominal (minimum 3 ohms)
Dimensions (WxHxD, not including plinth or feet): 198 x 910 x 300mm
Finishes: Black Ash Vinyl, Light Oak Vinyl (not available in US/Canada), Red Cherry Vinyl, Wengé Vinyl