Bowers & Wilkins 685 Bookshelf Stereo Speakers Review

The B&W 685 Provides a Great Value for Stereo or Surround Speakers

The Bowers & Wilkins 685 stereo bookshelf speaker on a stand

 Bowers & Wilkins

Bowers & Wilkins, or B&W as they are commonly known, is a widely respected British speaker manufacturer that has been making reference quality loudspeakers since the 1960s. B&W speakers, appreciated for their sound quality as much as their unique ultra-modern designs, are found in recording studios as well as homes. Some high-end B&W speakers are priced out of range for many folks, which is why the 685 bookshelf speaker is quite popular. B&W's more-affordable 600 Series speakers borrow some of the technology found in their higher-end models.

Features & Design

The B&W 685 is a bookshelf stereo speaker that can be placed on shelves or speaker stands. It also comes with a bracket attached to the cabinet that's used for wall hanging.

The 685 speakers are two-way vented enclosures with a 6.5" woven Kevlar bass/mid driver and 1" metal dome tweeter. If you're unfamiliar with kevlar as a material used in speakers, it's popular with B&W and other speaker manufacturers because of its lightweight and superior strength, which resists cone flexing and distortion. B&W uses Kevlar drivers in many of their top speaker models.

The bass/mid driver of the 685 speaker has a phase plug – a bullet-shaped form in the center of the cone to align the phase of the audio signal and to smooth the midrange frequency response. The 685s feature dual speaker terminals for bi-amping or bi-wiring, which is not as common even with more expensive speakers. There are substantial benefits to bi-amping or bi-wiring a speaker system for enhanced performance.

The 685s come with port plugs that can be used to reduce the amount of bass that comes out of the port, in the event that the speakers produce an excessive amount of bass. However, correct speaker placement should prevent the need to use them in most cases.

B&W offers the D61, 24"-tall steel speaker stands, which were used while testing the 685 bookshelf speakers. The stands are sturdy and place the speakers at the right height for listening while seated. The hollow pillars of the stands can be filled with sand to acoustically couple them to the floor and reduce any potential resonance.

Stereo and Home Theater Performance

When used as stereo speakers, the 685 produce more than adequate bass from its 6.5" woofer. Since the quality of bass suited our personal tastes, it wasn't necessary to use the port plugs. A separate subwoofer may not be required for two-channel listening. If these speakers are meant to be used as the main part of a home theater system, it's strongly recommended to pair them with a powered subwoofer. Let the subwoofer reproduce the LFE or .1 channel track, which helps reduce the power requirements of the main speakers.

Overall, the 685 bookshelf speakers have a flat, accurate sound quality, which is a notable characteristic of B&W speakers. They express plenty of high-frequency detail without any sizzle or peaks in the upper ranges. We were impressed with vocal details, particularly in Ana Caram's Anos Duorados (Chesky Records). Every aspect of her delicate voice sounds very distinct, and the speakers also present a clear center image with excellent sound staging.

With instrumental recordings, the system sounds well balanced. The guitars in Acoustic Alchemy's Mr. Chow and One for the Road (GRP Records) are crisp, clean, and remain in balance with the bass and percussion. The B&W 685 speakers are easy to listen to across a broad range of music and favorite test tracks.

The 685s are also adept as surround channel speakers and can easily handle the barrage of gunfire and surface-to-air missiles in the Blu-ray disc release of Behind Enemy Lines, a very dynamic DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.


The B&W 685 bookshelf speakers make a great choice for a moderately-priced home theater system, a bedroom or apartment stereo system, or as surround sound speakers. They're easy on the ears and have a very balanced sound quality.

The speakers have a relatively low sensitivity specification of 88 dB. As a result, it's recommended to use an amplifier capable of at least 50 watts per channel (somewhat higher than the manufacturer's nominal power recommendation of 25 watts per channel). We tested the 685s with two components: an Anthem 225 stereo integrated amplifier rated at 225 watts per channel, and a Yamaha RX-V3300 home theater receiver rated at 30 watts per channel. Although neither component had difficulty driving the speakers, it was evident that the higher power output produced better reproduction of the dynamic peaks heard in music and movie soundtracks.

While fans of B&W speakers will appreciate the level, balanced sound quality of the 685 bookshelf speakers, B&W is sure to grow their base of enthusiasts.