Hmm, it's interesting that you found my posts confusing... I thought I was very clear on what I have and have not in fact heard. And in the case of the speakers I haven't heard, I either said I have no experience with them so cannot comment on them at all (e.g., the Focals and Titans) or I am familiar with older or similar models, so my assumptions should be valid. For example, I'm very familiar with B&W DM602 S2s and S3s. I know from experience that each version of these speakers has been noticeably better than the last. The 685 is the newest iteration of these speakers so I believe it's very reasonable to assume they're at least as good as the 602s, probably somewhat better, unless B&W has very recently gone down the tubes.
As for the BICs, you're right, I'm well aware of the 3 versions you described. I have the same packet of material from Ed that you just quoted from. Yes, it's definitely possible the fully modded versions are better than the crossover-only versions. Are they likely to be completely different to the point of being world-class speakers? I'm going to say it's unlikely, since they do in fact use the exact same drivers and cabinet, and a very similar, though more personally tuned, crossover. They'll definitely be more consistent from one example to the next, but completely different? Doubt it.
And I did explain that the ones I've owned were the DV62CLR-S, not the 62si -- but I would love to see even one example of someone who's owned both and thought the 62si was better than the CLR-S. I've read the same reviews you have, and found universally that folks thought the bigger CLR-S was the better speaker. Therefore, if the OLDER version of the B&Ws in question is clearly better than the BETTER version of the speakers you're asking about, I don't think my conclusions and assumptions are too big a stretch.
My engineering partner agreed with me, that the BICs (with crossover-only mods) were surprisingly nice for what I paid, which was something like $200 for the pair plus the cost of the crossover mods, if I recall. A very good value.
And the general point that "more money does not always mean a better speaker" is definitely valid. However, in this low price range, even a few hundred dollars more usually does equate to much better speakers. It's when you get into the higher priced products that the rule of diminishing returns starts to kick in. For example, how much better will an $8000 pair of speakers be than a $6000 pair? $2000 better? Maybe, maybe not. The cheaper speaker might be preferred by many; at that price range, it's usually all pretty good, and you're just choosing flavors of excellent. However there's usually a VERY big difference between a pair of say $169/pair bookshelf speakers and a $600 pair. And when you get into the high value ID brands, there's usually an even bigger difference in quality.
Please, do not use Bose as an example of anything other than pure evil. They are FAR from typical!! Everyone with any experience at all knows you're only paying for a world-class marketing campaign; otherwise they're pretty much junk.
I'd also caution against putting too much faith in anything you read on AudioReview.com. I've almost never found a bad review on there! Keep in mind, the vast majority of people posting reviews there just bought their new speakers and they're loving them, so whatever they paid for them they usually rave about how great they are. Of course there are exceptions, and there are some really experienced and knowledgeable people on there. But in general, you'll find the same adjectives used on that site for $200 speakers as $2000 ones. You're much better off finding a few users on forums like this one who obviously have years of experience comparing different brands and learning what you can from them (while of course, in the end, only trusting your own ears to decide what to buy and keep).
As for the burn-in issue, that's a debate that's been raging since the beginning of audiophilia, and will probably keep raging for many years to come. In my experience, I've owned speakers, and headphones too for that matter, that did definitely benefit from burn-in, and I've also owned some that did not. My Swan 5.2s sound a bit more open than they originally did, but no major changes. My engineering partner's Dali Helicon 800s definitely improved with a few dozen hours of use.
And by the way, while we're discussing engineers and speaker designers that do or do not believe in burn-in, Jon Lane of TheAudioInsider.com definitely recommends burn-in for his Swans. And it was Ed Frias himself, while we're on the subject, who explained to me on the phone a couple years ago that in his experience, tweeters generally don't change with burn in, but woofers do. He said the suspensions will loosen up slightly on SOME drivers, causing the mids and lows to warm up and open up, which can give the impression that the highs have become less prominent or harsh in comparison. Please feel free to call and ask him yourself; I'm sure he'll confirm this.
When I first started reading about the modded BICs I became very curious about them too, which is why I bought them. After owning the crossover modded ones, my curiosity was satisfied -- to my ears, they were quite good FOR THE LOW PRICE I PAID but not up to my standards so I sold them. YMMV.