Isn’t that just the same as the last one? That was our initial reaction when we saw the first images of the fourth-generation 800 series from Bowers & Wilkins. It’s fair to say that we were a little underwhelmed considering the company’s normally forward-thinking approach to designing its flagship range.
That negative first impression proved passing, and once we start digging into the detail it’s clear that the company’s engineers haven’t just posted the design in. There’s an obvious and concerted effort to push performance standards higher across the board – something that’s as obvious in the compact B&W 805 D4 as it is in the mighty range-topping 801 D4 (£32,500/$35,000/AU$52,900).
Despite being the baby of the range, the B&W 805 D4 are no poor relation to their pricier siblings and pack in all the applicable engineering advancements enjoyed elsewhere. The most notable is the improved cabinet construction. This is the first time that the 805 model enjoys a ‘reverse wrap’ cabinet where the front and side panels are formed by a single shaped piece of birch ply. This approach has advantages in stiffness and resonance control, both of which are also helped by the addition of a beautifully machined aluminium spine that also houses the high quality, low-order crossover network.
But that’s not all. Bowers has long reinforced 800-series cabinets with an internal lattice of interlocked bracing, and for this fourth-generation range it has gone even further. The previous MDF bracing is now replaced by plywood that also benefits from aluminium reinforcements in strategic places, including behind the front baffle, which ensures that the mid/bass driver has a really solid foundation to work from. It’s all topped off (and further strengthened) with an aluminium casting for the top panel that has a rather lovely Connolly leather inset. The result of all this work is a cabinet that feels immensely solid and well controlled, and is claimed to be significantly quieter than the design used in the previous generations. If true, that bodes well across the board when it comes to sound quality.
There are four finish options for the cabinet – black gloss, white, satin rosenut and satin walnut – so there should be something to suit most domestic environments.
Type 2-way standmounter
Tweeter 25mm diamond dome
Mid/Bass 165mm Continuum cone
Reflex port Front
Nominal impedance 8ohm (minimum 4.6ohm)
Dimensions (hwd) 44 x 24 x 37cm
Finishes Black gloss, white, satin rosenut, satin walnut
While the B&W 805 D4’s drive unit configuration is the familiar pairing of 25mm diamond dome tweeter and 165mm continuum mid/bass unit, as used in the previous generation, it has been further refined. That distinctive aluminium tweeter pod is now longer, making it even more effective in absorbing the sound coming off the back of that diamond dome, thus reducing distortion. The pod is supported by a revised mounting arrangement that’s claimed to improve isolation from the vibrations generated by the mid/bass unit, as well as give more consistency in alignment. Lastly, the tweeter’s motor system has been finessed with the aim of improving dynamics and the unit’s performance at the lower end of its operating bandwidth.
In comparison, the revisions to the Continuum-coned mid/bass unit are subtler and focus on a new voice coil and other detail tweaks to the motor system. As before, the mid/bass unit’s low-end performance is augmented by B&W’s usual dimpled reflex port, though here its shaping has been revised to improve performance.
We understand that not everyone will take to the 805 D4’s distinctive and determinedly high-tech appearance, but there’s no denying that these speakers are beautifully made. We can’t think of a rival that betters these when it comes to fit and finish. The quality of materials used from the lovely leather on the top panel to the wooden veneer that wraps the cabinet is truly excellent. Having visited the factory in which these speakers are made, we can testify to the care taken in making them.
The performance of any standmounter is strongly dependent on the quality of the support it sits on, so we’re pleased to report that B&W has taken things seriously and designed dedicated column stands to go with these speakers. The FS-805 D4 aren’t cheap at £1250 ($1250, AU$1799) per pair, but they do give the speakers a solid platform to work from and suit the aesthetics well. Given their high price, we have no doubt there are plenty of good options if you want an alternative, but these should certainly be seriously considered if you have the budget.
A speaker at this level positively demands a top-class system. Our sources are the Naim ND555/555 PS DR music streamer, Linn Klimax DS3 equivalent, and the SL-1000R turntable from Technics. These sources feed our usual Burmester 088/911 MkIII pre/power combo, as well as the Rotel Michi X3 integrated amplifier. Rotel and B&W work closely together and share distribution, so the Michi X3/805 D4 combination is one we’d expect to see regularly in dealer demo rooms.
On the surface, the on-paper specs of 88dB/W/m sensitivity and 8ohm nominal impedance suggest that these speakers won’t be too challenging to drive, but in our experience with previous generations, they respond well when driven by an amplifier with plenty of poke – and we see no reason to change that opinion here. The quoted minimum impedance figure of 4.6 ohms reinforces that view, too.
These B&Ws don’t prove particularly fussy in terms of positioning. We place them around a metre out from the rear wall and slightly angled in towards the main listening position. They work well here, sounding balanced and delivering a wide-open soundstage.
Their stereo imaging abilities grab our attention first. These standmounters have an impressively expansive presentation that’s projected in an unusually ‘out-of-the-box’ way. There’s a lovely sense of space and lack of clutter to the sound. All that work on controlling cabinet resonances really pays off, because with eyes closed it’s very hard to pinpoint the physical location of the speakers. As we listen to Orff’s Carmina Burana, we’re pleased to find that the imaging stays nicely layered and focussed even as the piece explodes into a mass of frantic voices and instrumentation.
It’s here that it becomes obvious that these are detail retrievers of the highest order. Rarely do we come across speakers at this level that uncover so much information and, just as impressively, deliver it in such a composed and organised manner. Outright clarity is class-leading, as is the 805 D4's ability to track the envelope of a note from its leading edge to its trailing harmonics. The speakers are as agile and articulate as they come and render music in an analytical yet still musically involving way. If your main priority is to hear deeply into the production of a recording there are few better options for the money.
Tonally, they’re nicely even. Provided the rest of your system is well balanced there’s no part of the frequency range that will stick out. Even the bass end is decently powerful given that the 805 D4 stand just 44cm high and have a modestly sized mid/bass unit. Having said that, we have to point out that similar money will buy the likes of the KEF Reference 1, ProAc K1 or Fyne Audio F1-8, all of which are larger and able to dig deeper with more authority – this is something to note if you value the more physical aspects of music replay.
Even so, there’s enough musical drive to satisfy when we’re listening to Major Lazer’s Pon De Floor. Here, these B&Ws charge along and have no issue with playing at higher volume levels. If anything, they only really come to life when pushed a little. Listen at low levels and they sound a touch lifeless, lacking the ability to hold our attention over longer listening sessions.
Fine integration between the drive units means that vocals come through with clarity and focus, while that diamond dome tweeter continues to impress with its combination of insight, bite and refinement. It really is one of the best tweeters around.
The Bower & Wilkins 805 D4 are easy speakers to recommend. They’re beautifully made and packed with technology. We get the impression that the engineering team behind their design really delved into the details to eke out every ounce of performance they could. The result is arguably the most insightful and detailed sounding pair of speakers at this level. Though we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t mention that there are a number of excellent alternatives that, while not as analytical, offer a more beguiling musical experience.
Regardless, if you’re lucky enough to buy at this level, make sure the 805 D4 are on your shortlist.
- Sound 5
- Build 5
- Compatibility 4
Read our ProAc K1 review
Also consider the KEF Reference 1
Read our Fyne Audio F1-8 review
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