The Bowers & Wilkins' Sound System


Written by Oscar Henson
05 Friday 05th June 2015

Primavera Sound, Barcelona – a haven for musos, audiophiles and sound fanatics everywhere.

Over its 15 year life-span, the Spanish festival has become world-renowned for its diverse line ups and on-the-pulse approach to programming – so it was no surprise when we first caught wind of an exciting new project in the works alongside high-end audio specialists Bowers & Wilkins.

The premise was simple: build a one-of-a-kind, super high-fidelity sound system utilising the same top-end technologies that go into Bowers & Wilkins’ most expensive hi-fi systems. Add to this a line up featuring Daphni, Objekt, John Talabot and Roman Flugel, and you are left with one of the most exciting dates in this year’s festival calendar. 

Of course: we had to go and see it for ourselves.

The festival is located on an urban, industrial stretch of the Mediterranean coastline, right next door to Barcelona’s iconic Forum building. It’s a surprisingly beautiful setting: the point at which the city’s bold, brutalist edges are dissolved into the sea.

Once we touch down, we head straight to the Bowers & Wilkins stage for a private soundcheck. As we arrive, we are greeted by Caribou’s most recent single blasting at a whopping 120 dB. The sound is rich, warm and unbelievably clear – the result of four beautifully crafted analogue speaker stacks, crammed to the brim full of Bowers & Wilkins’ trademark hi-fi technologies.

Each stack comprises four rock solid, fully braced low frequency enclosures and four mid/high frequency enclosures, incorporating two mid/bass units, an FST Kevlar midrange driver and four Nautilus tube-loaded high frequency drivers. The speakers are contained in beautifully crafted cabinets, utilising an internal Matrix bracing system first developed for Bowers & Wilkins’ landmark production speakers.

Over the course of the next few days, the system plays host to live shows and DJ sessions from some of the world’s leading electronic musicians. 

The unparalleled highlight of the weekend comes courtesy of Berlin-based Techno wizard Objekt, who closes the B&W stage early on the Saturday morning. With a background in professional audio engineering (the man began his career as a sound designer for Native Instruments), Objekt has enjoyed a good few years now as ‘man of the minute’ on account of his ultra-HD, immaculately sculpted blend of techno, electro and UK bass music.

It was here that the full range of the system would be put to the test – and it was here that we really witnessed its full potential. Objekt’s steely drums clattered relentlessly out of the system’s drivers, underpinned by thick, moulded slabs of sub-bass and warm washes of analogue fuzz – all with an absolute clarity that is rarely-if-ever achieved on a system of this size.

It’s not just that the system sounds great. After performing, the artists all seem to agree that it’s an absolute joy to play on. “Last year Sound System was amazing”, John Talabot tells us, “so when they said this year there is another chance to play it I said 'yes yes yes'. The Sound System is straight - it is really warm and punchy.”

One thing is for sure: the B&W Sound System has significantly raised the bar when it comes to PA sound quality. All too often, live music events are let down by low quality, compromised sound systems. Bowers & Wilkins have demonstrated that, with a few years experience and a little ingenuity, this certainly need not be the case.

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