B&W DM 602 Series 3 Surround Speaker System Page 2
I started listening in my smaller room. The first thing that struck me was the B&Ws' open, airy, well-balanced sound. The bass from the ASW 675 subwoofer was also punchy and solid, without boom. The imaging was reasonably precise, though the depth was a little foreshortened; both imaging and depth were likely more constrained by the presence of a large rear-projection television between the front speakers than by any inherent limitation of the B&Ws themselves.
The overall sound from the system was a bit laid-back, which made the treble a little prominent, but the speakers' top end was so clean, detailed, and sparklingly open that I couldn't work myself up into even a tepid reviewer's snit about it. And the B&Ws left no question that they could raise the roof on hyperactive soundtracks, even with moderate power in a medium-size room. Yes, there was a little congestion from the system at high levels on some complex material, but it was minor; otherwise, the 65Wpc Outlaw receiver drove the speakers without complaint.
The soundtrack from U-571 risked legal action (or at least a visit from the local SWAT team), and even at the highest levels I could stand, neither the main speakers nor the subwoofer complained—even during those hair-raising depth-charge attacks. Provided I did't drive the speakers to silly, head-banger levels—every speaker has its limit—they never sounded offensive or grating. The only reservation I had was a slightly woofy quality from the LCR 600 S3 center-channel on male voices, particularly off-axis. It wasn't difficult to adjust to—after a week or so I had to remind myself to listen for it—but it still kept the timbre of the front three speakers from being perfectly consistent.
The same open transparency I heard on soundtracks was also apparent on music. Driving only the left and right speakers plus the subwoofer in 2-channel stereo mode produced a natural yet robust and solid sound. Overall, the treble from the DM 602 S3 sounded a touch dry, and while high-frequency details were a little more obvious than I've heard from speakers that measure flat in the treble, the 602 never sounded edgy or bright. The subwoofer blended seamlessly, with no boom or other constant reminder that the system included a separate subwoofer. But when the music needed bass support, the ASW 675 punched through with a low end that was far tighter, more dynamic, and extended than any full-range speaker as small as the 602 can manage by itself.
The midrange on music also was consistently clear and uncolored, with perhaps just a touch of extra immediacy on vocals that wasn't unwelcome. This system—a pair of DM 602 S3s plus one ASW 675 sub—can easily compete on even terms with many comparably priced ($1600/pair), floorstanding 2-channel speakers. You might even find that you prefer it to some systems priced considerably higher.
Movin' On Up
The B&Ws were by no means at their best only in a small room; they were also at home in my main home-theater space: 26 feet long by 15.5 feet wide, with an 8-foot ceiling. In this system, the fronts and rears were again placed on stands. The center was mounted below my projection screen on a low stand made by B&W for their Nautilus series, and the subwoofer was placed in the right front corner.
With more power now on tap and more room for the speakers to unwind, I was even more impressed by what the B&Ws could do. Beginning with music playback—still 2-channel with subwoofer—Rickie Lee Jones' voice on "The Moon is Made of Gold," from Rob Wasserman's old audiophile standard, Duets (MCA MCAD-42131), sounded immediate and in the room, but not pushy. On other selections from this CD, the speakers excelled in soundstaging, detail, and transparency, with no congestion or obvious coloration. Only a bit too much sibilance on a few of the vocals suggested a little too much treble energy.
But soundstaging—both imaging and depth—was also clearly better in the larger space. (The projection screen was a couple of feet behind the plane of the speakers, making it less audibly obtrusive than the big-screen TV in the smaller room.) From the delicate fingering of acoustic guitar to the deepest bass, the only things I found to criticize about the 2-channel sound of the B&Ws were the tendency toward a crisp top end and a little lack of warmth and weight in the "power" region, the range in the audible spectrum centered around 300–400Hz. Symphonic music, while loaded with detail and a realistic sense of space, was a bit shy of the majestic quality that larger speakers—usually far more expensive ones—can produce.
Moving on to movies, the soundtrack from the newly remastered Patriot Games was a bit too bright in Dolby Digital, but noticeably better in DTS. Otherwise, the balance was first-rate, with a superb rendering of the light and airy panpipes and tight, explosive drums of composer James Horner's exciting score.
And Fools Rush In—not an overly challenging soundtrack, but one of the cleanest and sweetest in my DVD collection—sounded as good as it does through speakers costing several times as much as the B&Ws. This soundtrack is loaded with detail, but the top end is not exaggerated. Still, on some DVDs—and bright ones aren't hard to find—the B&Ws continued to sound just a little too crisp. The obvious solution was some sort of cinema equalization in the receiver or pre-pro. But I liked the sparkle the B&Ws provided on many soundtracks, and the selectable cinema EQ on the Outlaw pre-pro I used for much of my listening was a bit too aggressive, reducing the transparency too much for my taste. Changing over to the much more expensive Primare SP31.7 pre-pro and A30.5 power amp helped noticeably. The overall balance remained the same, but now the top end was more refined.
On the last night of my listening tests, I went on an animation binge. The Chubb-Chubbs sounded slightly laid-back, delicate in the high end and solid in the bass, without unnatural emphasis. Scrat's Missing Adventure, a short subject included on the Ice Age DVD, was well-balanced overall, with a bottom end strong enough to shake my large room nicely. And the opening sequence of Titan A.E. was as dynamic and explosive as you'd expect the violent destruction of the Earth to be, its bottom end almost alarming enough to set off an earthquake alert here in Southern California. But the good stuff was not limited to explosions and seismic disasters. The music on the superbly recorded Fantasia 2000 sounded spectacularly good, with a spread, depth, and envelopment that were astonishing for a surround speaker package that might well be considered B&W's entry-level, bread-and-butter line by serious enthusiasts.
Apart from the slightly prominent top end, the only other reservation I had about the sound of the DM 602 S3 system was a little heaviness in the lower midrange, obvious primarily on male dialogue and singing voices. It clearly originated from the LCR 600 S3 center-channel and was evident in both the smaller and larger systems. This probably won't be a factor in all installations, depending on the speaker placement, but in any case it wasn't entirely a negative in my situation on soundtracks. It did add a little welcome warmth to the overall sonic palette. I had a spare DM 602 S3 on hand (B&W sent along an extra pair), and when I substituted it as a center-channel speaker, that extra warmth disappeared. And while the sound from a center 602 was a little more consistent off-axis and slightly more balanced on vocals than the LCR 600 S3, the system overall was now just a little lean with full surround material.
If you decide to go that route and use DM 602 S3s all around, remember that, unlike the LCR 600 S3, the 602 is not magnetically shielded. Nor should it be placed on its side for center-channel use. And you might have a problem buying an odd number; the 602s are packaged as pairs. (The extra one could be used for a center surround in a 6.1 system!)
At $2700, this B&W system, built around the DM 602 Series 3 speakers, is not cheap, but compared to what you can pay these days for a complete home-theater speaker setup, it's still a bargain. It's a surround package that anyone can appreciate; even in 2-channel mode, it can compete with many stereo speakers that cost $2700/pair—except that here you get the bonus of a full 5.1-channel array. It will work well with modestly priced receivers or separates, but it won't embarrass far more expensive pre-pros and amps. These B&Ws are special, and highly recommended.