Just after the turn of the year, we received the invitation from Sound United to listen to the beautiful new Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4 at home. We know the earlier generation and this fourth generation fine cut diamond is high on our wish list. A moment we eagerly await.
Despite the fact that the 803 D4 has been on the market for a while, it has not yet been widely reported in the media. Not so much because fellow authors prefer to review the 801 and 802 flagships, but rather because of the important design updates in the smallest floorstander and monitor loudspeakers in the 800 series, the 804 D4 and the 805 D4. The 803 D4, in our opinion one of the best sounding hi-fi speakers from the 800 series, has not yet been discussed here.
The 800 series is, according to Bowers & Wilkins, the best they can currently make in their quest for the ultimate music experience. When we consider that developments elsewhere are not standing still, but the demand for 800 D3 models remains high seven years after the introduction, we are really dealing with something special. As the owner of an 800 series model, you are still assured of high-end technology and a superior music experience many years after purchase.
Best in class
The Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4 can rank among the most beautifully designed and most over-engineered high-end loudspeakers of the moment. Like its 803 Diamond predecessors, the 803 D4 sits in the sweet spot of the high-end 800 series. This model has all the iconic 800 features and still has an acceptable size with which this speaker finds a nice place in most living rooms. The level of finish, with the Conolly leather-finished housing that is also used at Rolls-Royce, is ‘best in class’. Even though the design or signature of the 800 series may not appeal to you, you can see and feel the craftsmanship with which these speakers are made.
Thanks to the use of computer technology, measurement technology with laser precision, high-quality materials and the applied A-brand components with which the 800 series has been further developed from generation to generation, the current 800 D4 generation is at such a high level that it is a task for the manufacturer will be to surpass this with a fifth generation. We summarize the most important points for you:
The unique ‘reverse wrap’ housing has been further reinforced at crucial points. The top of the cabinet is made of rigid aluminum instead of wood. The same also applies to the base of the 803 D4. This was previously only reserved for the 800 D3 top model. The use of aluminum has also made the internal matrix structure stiffer and thanks to the thick aluminum plates on which the bass drivers are mounted, unwanted vibrations are effectively eliminated so that the music is reproduced with even less distortion. The woofers have been given an anti-resonance plug and the iconic decoupled tweeter on top is now mounted on the turbine-shaped head of the midrange driver with an extra mounting point.
The design of the completely renewed Continuum midrange driver including a filter adjustment makes perhaps the biggest difference compared to the D3 generation. The conventional spider has been replaced with a Biomimetic suspension in this driver. Although this minimalist-looking component does not make a high-quality impression, it is a patented technology and this is the D4 generation’s biggest gain. The beautiful, newly developed tweeter housing is equipped with a longer Nautilus tube that cancels out the backward sound waves even more effectively. The terminals on the rear have also been modified to increase the level of connectivity and the grilles fit the design better than before. The new generation is therefore not just an optical refresher.
Now you will think: “Wasn’t this also a bit the tenor of the previous 800-D3 series?”. Yes. The previous D3 series was groundbreaking at the time and much of this then new technology has been further improved over the span of seven years. The previous D3 generation is therefore still a very nice piece of engineering and still delivers incredibly good sound quality. This new D4 generation is just a little more refined in handling.
Listening on ‘holy ground’
Because we don’t have our own listening room in order for the time being after a recent private move, we make an appointment to listen to the loudspeakers in the listening room at Sound United. This room was specially constructed and prepared on the instructions of none other than Ken Ishiwata. A legendary space in which hundreds of Marantz hi-fi components have been brought to life over the past decades. Because we are not at home, we give Sound United a free hand in putting together the set and surprisingly opt for two amplifier combinations. We initially listen to the 803 D4 via an integrated Rotel Michi X5 and then to the recently introduced Classé Delta pre- and power amplifier combination. AudioQuest cabling is used and the music is streamed using ROON.
Differences third and fourth generation 803
When we listen to the first sounds through the Rotel Michi amplification, we immediately notice that these 803 D4 loudspeakers have undergone audible improvements compared to their D3 predecessor. Where the D3 generation could sometimes come out a bit directly with some types of music, the D4 generation delivers a more coherent reproduction. We note that in the previous generation(s) a slight boost was audible with certain tones in the midrange and this has almost disappeared with the new D4 generation. We listen to the set at high, but also at very low sound levels. The sound remains very nicely balanced at all volumes listened to.
We were already very pleased with the low reproduction of the ‘old’ 803 D3. With this D4, after the application of the anti-resonance plugs instead of conventional dust caps and an improved ‘motor’, the parts that set the driver in motion are still unremarkable. These still deliver a fast and well-defined layer. Probably better, but we can’t compare this AB. The D3 generation tweeter is one of the highest quality tweeters on the market and works seamlessly with the midrange driver. Not only has the tweeter from the D4 generation been given a larger housing, the Diamond dome motor has also been further improved.
The D3 generation ContinuumTM midrange driver was a significant leap forward from previous Kevlar drivers, but after much research, Bowers & Wilkins engineers discovered that the spider behind the ContinuumTM semi-transmissive cone also emits a tone at 4 kHz that is superimposed on the actual sound. According to the manufacturer, this is virtually inaudible, but measurable. For this reason, the fabric spider has been replaced by the Biomimetic suspension made of composite material, which removes the ‘transmitting behavior’ of the first generation ContinuumTM drivers, and the motor has also been completely revised here. In fact, we can speak of a completely new driver. With all updates from the third to the fourth generation, we experience more coherence,
Importance of good management
With control by the Rotel Michi X5, we experience an uncolored and somewhat more analytical music reproduction. However, when a dynamic passage passes by, we feel this with heavy blows in the chair. Despite the fact that the 803 D4 is equipped with a double 7-inch bass driver and the cabinet is royally proportioned, this loudspeaker does not leave a popular or heavy impression. The bass continues at 16 Hz (19 Hz at -3 dB) into the deepest layer, but does not tire quickly, partly due to the flow port on the bottom of the speaker. We especially experience a direct and extremely open midrange that merges perfectly with the highs from the acclaimed Diamond tweeter.
The sound image that the Bowers & Wilkins and Rotel combination creates is neat. The music is placed over the entire width, a bit in height and a bit upfront towards the listener. The music has a nice sound depth and a good transparency where pieces of music can be accurately unraveled. Then we switch to the all-new Classé Delta pre and power amplification. Developed from scratch under the Sound United banner, these amplifiers deliver music reproduction with a significant increase in speed and definition, ushering in a new era for the amplifier manufacturer.
The 803 D4 with the Classé Delta combination immediately impresses us. The entire presentation is placed a little more at a distance, but at the same time the sound depth increases, which increases the sense of spaciousness in a direct proportion. The grandeur, the warmth, the musicality… Boy, what a convincing music reproduction this combination produces. When we move the speakers a little further apart after about ten minutes and sit in the imaginary listening triangle, we are covered in a cloak of music. The definition, the openness and the involvement we experience is blissful. There really isn’t a detail or nuance that passes us by.
When we listen to Michael McDonald’s song Hallelujah, it is presented in a grand way. The vocals are placed realistically and with sufficient weight in the center of the soundstage, while the instruments fill the listening room with music from all sides. Drums have a dry, realistic tone. Vocals are a bit bigger and fuller compared to the Michi amplification, but this is compensated with a wonderful spatial music reproduction.
Time for some musical action. We tap the track Spitfire from Porter Robinson’s EP of the same name. This electronic number further emphasizes the spatial ability of the 803 D4 and Classé combination. We are passed left and right by spatial details and wonderful phase shifts. The speed and layering with which this combination plays this track regularly causes big eyes and goosebumps.
When we put on Nick Johnston’s album ‘Wide eyes in the dark’ we are rewarded with warm, room-filling guitar sounds. Percussion is placed at an appropriate distance from the listening position, whereby the space echoes create a wonderful atmosphere. The piano is in a nice place in the background, but is not overshadowed by the electric guitar violence. Despite the fact that we were not there during the recording sessions, this impression is completely correct.
Then we put on Listen before I go by Billy Eilish. How wonderfully transparent this set plays! We are emotionally sucked into the soundstage. The subtle background details of children playing, traffic sounds and the onset of the ‘t’ in the vocals are so realistic that you are automatically drawn deeper and deeper into the track. However, the sobering distorted synth bass immediately brings us back to the lesson. With this music album we also experience that grandeur, the openness and in particular the heavy, depressive atmosphere that is so characteristic of this album.
One of the most difficult instruments to reproduce correctly is piano. For this we select the track Questa notte by Ludovico Einaudi. An enchanting piano playing in which piano with sufficient body and weight is reproduced down to the lowest regions, accompanied by very subtle ambient sounds from the recording room. This takes the daily stress off our shoulders for a while. What music is supposed to do for us, regardless of the set on which it is played.
Finally, we play the track Keep a secret from the album ‘Rules’ by The whitest boy alive. This album sounds bone dry and completely separates from the set. The band just seems to play behind the panels of the listening room. This track sounds so direct and realistic as if almost no post-processing has taken place. With this song, like the rest of this album, it really comes to life with the Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4 and the Classé amplification.
We have experienced the new 803 D4 as a fine or perhaps rather ‘refined’ loudspeaker that performs a notch better in all areas than the already very good 803 D3 predecessor. We recognize the signature of the earlier 800 models and praise the distinctive design and high-quality finish. We see that technology previously reserved for the top models of the 800 series has now also made an entrance in the 803 D4. These loudspeakers from the top 800 series will not get bored quickly. They can handle a broad taste in music, grow with the innovations in the set and are made for life. Perhaps this is also why the 800 models are so popular with music lovers and professionals alike.
The 803 D4 loudspeakers are not very critical in terms of amplification, provided that a high-quality and stable amplifier is used from the price segment that matches this 803 D4. If a class is chosen higher, the 803 D4 will treat you to music with a higher level of experience. We experienced this with the step from the Rotel Michi to the (three times more expensive) Classé Delta amplifier combination. With the Rotel Michi we experience a very good quality music reproduction. The musicality and involvement are taken to a new level with the more expensive Classé amplification and let us experience the music with our hearts.
The price difference of the 803 D4 compared to the previous generation is, just like the price increases in the rest of the market, considerable, but justifiable. If we take into account the higher prices of raw materials such as wood, aluminum and semiconductor components, factor inflation over seven years into the price and also do not begrudge the manufacturer’s employees the increasingly expensive sandwich, then we think that the sales price of 22,500 euros per couple is not so crazy after all.