The $3,000 Speaker Derby B&W

The B&W 600 Series is well known to fans of the mid-level speaker races; from what we heard here, the relatively new 600 Series 3 models will do nothing to taint that image. Our system was based around the LCR600 S3 ($500), which, as the name implies, we used across the front. This model is a 2.5-way, vented enclosure that uses a 1-inch metal dome tweeter and two 6.5-inch, woven-Kevlar drivers, with one operating as a midbass unit and the other for bass only (it rolled off above 300 hertz). It's magnetically shielded. The surrounds were the DS6 S3s ($349), which use one woven-Kevlar midbass driver, two 3-inch polypropylene mid/high drivers, and one 1-inch alloy dome tweeter; you can set it for a monopole or dipole radiation pattern. Deep bass came from the ASW 650 sub ($700), a sealed box with a 12-inch paper/Kevlar woofer and a rated 200-watt (RMS) internal amplifier. Phase and gain controls are aboard, as is a crossover bypass. All cabinets are MDF with black ash or Sorrento (light oak) vinyl finishes available.

With B&W stamped on the front, there's a natural expectation of musical pedigree, and it didn't take long for the pens to start scratching when I fired up "Katy Hill"—that's always a good sign that people like what they're hearing. Maureen immediately liked the accuracy and sense of engagement that the LCR 600 S3s delivered, and Amy commented on how clean and vibrant the fiddles, in particular, were. The first thing to strike me on this track was the obvious sense of separation and differentiation of the various instruments, and Geoffrey noticed the same thing. The system created a solid, deep soundstage, which this track took full advantage of. Imaging was also excellent, which both Maureen and I noted throughout the two-channel demos.

Everyone liked the bass that the B&W system delivered with music: It was punchy but tight, and it blended nicely between the LCR 600 S3s and the ASW 650. The Holly Cole track consists of little more than her voice and a bass, and it allowed everyone to focus on vocal and low-frequency presentation, with quite a favorable result. I liked the fact that the bass was powerful but not overpowering. After all, it's her voice that people have paid to listen to. Most everyone commented in one form or another about how good that voice sounded and, consequently, how much they liked this critical aspect of midrange performance. John felt the B&Ws sacrificed some degree of openness in the upper frequencies in favor of midrange and bottom-end reproduction. Amy probably summed up low-frequency performance the best, though, when she simply said, "Love that bass!"

With the SACD version of "Brown Sugar," the first thing to jump out at Maureen was the more-aggressive sound that the B&Ws offered, which she clearly meant in a positive way. She liked how the vocals were more upfront and engaging. Amy agreed; she was immediately taken in by this track. There seemed to be little doubt that the B&Ws were as comfortable with rock-'n'-roll as they were with anything else, and they enjoyed the opportunity to cut loose a little without becoming overly aggressive or abrasive.

As the B&W ensemble was the only system in the Face Off to have dipolar surrounds, I wondered if they would have a significant advantage in terms of rear-soundfield immersion and lack of localization. Surprisingly, the results were mixed. Both Amy and I felt that the B&W surrounds were more enveloping than most others in this grouping, particularly with Gods and Generals, where the pans stood out more above the din. Geoffrey liked the system's front-to-back and side-to-side movement but felt the surrounds were easier to localize, which does break down the sense of realism slightly. He liked how the B&Ws handled Private Ryan, commenting that the MG42 (the machine gun that's mowing people down as they exit the landing craft) was more realistic here than on any of the other systems. John noted the strong low frequencies here and rated the ASW 650 as excellent on more than one occasion. Maureen continued to comment on the system's accuracy, but she didn't feel it was quite as robust with Gods and Generals as some of the other systems.

The final impression that I took from everyone in regards to the B&W setup was that they loved it with music and, despite a few minor issues, felt it was very strong with movies, as well.

• Strong music and movie performance
• Switchable dipole/monopole surrounds

At A Glance: B&W LCR600 S3 Speaker System

Subwoofer: ASW 650
Connections: Line- and speaker-level ins and outs
Enclosure Type: Sealed
Woofer (size in inches, type): 12, Kevlar Power Rating (watts): 200
Crossover Bypass: Yes
Available Finishes: Black Ash, Light Oak
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 16.4 x 16.3 x 19.5
Weight (pounds): 56
Price: $700
These listings are based on the manufacturer's stated specs; the HT Labs box below indicates the gear's performance on our test bench.

Speaker: LCR600 S3
Type: 2.5-way, L/C/R
Tweeter (size in inches, type): 1, metal dome
Midrange (size in inches, type): 6.5, Kevlar
Woofer (size in inches, type): 6.5, Kevlar
Nominal Impedance (ohms): 8
Recommended Amp Power (watts): 25–150
Available Finishes: Black Ash, Light Oak
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 8 x 21.8 x 12.2
Weight (pounds): 27.5
Price: $500

Speaker: DS6 S3
Type: two-way, dipole/monopole
Tweeter (size in inches, type): 1, alloy dome
Midrange (size in inches, type): 3, polypropylene (2)
Woofer (size in inches, type): 5, Kevlar
Nominal Impedance (ohms): 8
Recommended Amp Power (watts): 25–100
Available Finishes: Black Ash, Light Oak
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 9.8 x 15 x 6
Weight (pounds): 11.5
Price: $349

Ratings: B&W LCR600 S3 Speaker System

Build Quality: 93
Value: 94
Features: 93
Performance: 94
Ergonomics: 92
Overall Rating: 94

General Information
LCR600 S3 L/C/R Speaker, $500
DS6 S3 Surround Speaker, $349
ASW 650 Subwoofer, $700
B&W Loudspeakers
(978) 664-2870
Dealer Locator Code B&W

HT Labs Measures: B&W LCR600 S3 Speaker System

• LCR600 S3 L/C/R Sensitivity: 87.5 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz

• DS6 S3 Surround Sensitivity: 82 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz

This graph shows the quasi-anechoic (employing close-miking of all woofers) frequency response of the LCR600 S3 L/C/R (purple trace), ASW 650 subwoofer (blue trace), and DS6 S3 surround (red trace). All passive loudspeakers were measured at a distance of 1 meter with a 2.83-volt input and scaled for display purposes.

The LCR600 S3's listening-window response (a five-point average of axial and +/–15-degree horizontal and vertical responses) measures +1.09/–4.29 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. Turned on its side (as most center-channel speakers are), an average of axial and +/–15-degree horizontal responses measures +0.81/–5.69 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The –3dB point is at 69 Hz, and the –6dB point is at 56 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 3.81 ohms at 13.9 kHz and a phase angle of –55.85 degrees at 4.2 kHz.

The DS6 S3's three-face averaged response measures +3.12/–4.76 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The –3dB point is at 77 Hz, and the –6dB point is at 66 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 3.88 ohms at 118 Hz and a phase angle of –47.05 degrees at 84 Hz.

The ASW 650's close-miked response with the EQ switch set to A, normalized to the level at 80 Hz, indicates that the lower –3dB point is at 43 Hz and the –6dB point is at 36 Hz. The upper –3dB point is at 104 Hz with the low-pass-filter switch set to out.—MJP