B&W 685

B&W 685 loudspeaker review

Hi-Fi World - January 2009 issue






The B&W 685s are one of the larger loudspeakers in our group, measuring 340mm high, 198mm wide and 335mm deep; they barely fit a standard 12in shelf and are best seen as stand mounters. Box volume connotes to deeper bass, so what is a drawback physically isn't sonically. At 7kgs they are not too heavy.

The 685 is a two-way design with shiny aluminium dome tweeter and eye catching yellow woven Kevlar 165mm woofer. B&W talk of "first order crossover slopes" and special components for sonic zest.  Supporting this, the 685s are very efficient; they are louder than all rivals at any particular volume setting except the new KEF iQ30s.  So in a showroom demo, the 685s will usually be loudest and seemingly have most impact. It isn't artifice though; these loudspeakers are truly efficient, and efficient loudspeakers do have a get up and go demeanour. All the same, B&W enhance their liveliness by raising tweeter output to ensure treble cuts through. Well built and finished, the 685s feel good and look good. Bi-wire terminals are fitted and foam bungs for the ports supplied to damp down bass, useful when wall or shelf mounting.


The 685 scores immediately with a lovely open sound seemingly unconstrained by the boxes. The sound stage was projected well forward of the loudspeakers, placing vocalists close, and it extended well beyond the loudspeakers, a product I suspect of good drive units and slow crossover slopes, as there was a curious almost phasey quality that cut earthly anchors to make for an ethereal sound. Bass was nicely balanced, reasonably tuneful and convincing, if with a soft air to it. Synthesised hand claps in Goldfrapp's Lovely To See You were sharply defined in the time domain and hovered in space. Alison Goldfrapp's voice was clear and uncoloured, but there was a lightness of timbre. Unfortunately, the tweeter was always obvious and could make mediocre recordings like Within Temptation Live sound messy and a little harsh; others did better here. All in all though, the 685s sound generously open and clear, image outside usual limits and thoroughly impress with their expansive and a projective sound. Their treble lift didn't suit our Sugden A21a and they really need a warm amplifier like a Naim Nait or NAD C315BEE to rein back treble and knit it back into the musical whole.

verdict four globes

Expansive sound, lively and clear, if lacking image focus and some bass grip.

B&W 685  £380

+44 (01903) 221 500


- expansive sound stage

- good Rock and Classical

- open and uncoloured


- weak image focus

- temporally vague bass

- bright treble


Frequency response of the 685 undulates, but third-octave analysis shows it is wide and even along the 0dB datum, so tonal balance is accurate, except at high frequencies where the tweeter is +2.5dB up. Crossover phase relationships are peculiar due to the slow roll offs used, causing a dip at crossover - at 6kHz in our graph - that varies with listening position. The big cabinet gives deep bass, with strong output to 50Hz, but output falls quickly below the 48Hz port frequency.

Spectral decay plot shows the 685 to be the clean, but bass distortion  was high. It is massively sensitive at 88dB from one nominal watt (2.8V) even with a high measured impedance of 7.1 Ohms. It is very reactive, our impedance analysis shows, making amplifier choice critical. The 685 will have a zing from its tweeter, but otherwise it is accurate and well engineered in all areas, if not as a load. NK


bw 685 step sine fr2

Green - driver output; Red - port output


bw 685 z1


Add your comment

Your name:
  The word for verification. Lowercase letters only with no spaces.
Word verification:


Hi-Fi World, Powered by Joomla!; Hosted by Joomla Wired.