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Review: Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature Passive Stand-mount Loudspeaker

Review: Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature Passive Stand-mount Loudspeaker - "Experience audio perfection with the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature speakers, where craftsmanship meets sonic excellence."
4/5 - (7 votes)

Introduction

In the world of audio enthusiasts, especially those who have dedicated much of their lives to this pursuit, certain high-end brands often become household names. However, a potential pitfall in becoming too attached to these well-known brands is the risk of overlooking hidden gems. Today, we embark on a comprehensive exploration of a company that is no stranger to passionate audiophiles and their discerning ears. In the spotlight are the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature compact speakers.

Meticulous Build Quality and Elegant Design

Regarding high-end audio equipment, build quality and design are often as important as sound performance. In the case of the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature compact speakers, these aspects are nothing short of exceptional.

Craftsmanship Beyond Compare

When you look at the B&W 805 D4 Signature, you’re greeted with an undeniable sense of craftsmanship and attention to detail. Bowers & Wilkins, a company with a long history in the audio industry, has spared no expense in creating speakers that are not only acoustically exceptional but also visually striking.

Unique Cabinet Shape

One of the first things that sets these speakers apart is their unique cabinet shape. B&W introduced this distinctive design in the transition from the D2 to the D3 generation of the 800 series, and it continues to be a defining feature. While some might find the design unconventional, it serves a specific purpose. Unlike conventional speaker designs with flat front baffles for flush mounting of drivers, Bowers & Wilkins chose to place the drivers on the round housing part. This decision was driven by a desire for mechanical stability in the driver seat and improved resonance behavior of the housing. The bass-midrange driver of the 805 D4 Signature is strategically positioned within this curved housing, surrounded by a carefully shaped mounting ring.

Materials and Finishes

The attention to detail extends to the materials and finishes applied to these speakers. Bowers & Wilkins offers two distinctive finishes for the 805 D4 Signature models: “Midnight Blue Metallic” and “California Burl Gloss.” These finishes are far from mainstream and make a bold statement. Each cabinet undergoes a meticulous process, including multiple layers of varnish that result in a finish with a rich and deep appearance.

The Midnight Blue Metallic finish, in particular, is treated with the same finishing and painting process as the legendary Nautilus speakers from Bowers & Wilkins. This attention to detail not only adds a touch of exclusivity but also speaks to the brand’s commitment to craftsmanship.

Tweeter-on-Top Housing

The tweeter housing of the 805 D4 Signature features B&W’s iconic “tweeter-on-top” design. This design places the tweeter in a dedicated housing on top of the speaker cabinet. The housing is elongated, tapering towards the rear to minimize reflections from the back of the cabinet. This thoughtful design approach ensures that high-frequency sound radiates precision and clarity, enhancing the overall listening experience.

Luxurious Touches

What truly sets the B&W 805 D4 Signature apart is the attention to luxurious details. The tweeter-on-top housing is not simply painted or veneered; it is covered in full-grain Connolly leather, color-matched to the speaker’s finish. This premium touch not only adds to the visual appeal but also emphasizes the exclusivity of these speakers.

Crossover and Heat Management

The internal components of the 805 D4 Signature are no less impressive. The crossover network is mounted securely on the sturdy aluminum rear wall of the speaker. This design protects the sensitive crossover components from the vibrations generated by the bass-midrange driver and acts as an efficient heat sink. This ensures the crossover components maintain optimal performance, even during demanding, high-power applications.

Stands and Stability

Bowers & Wilkins offers the FS-805 D4 stands to complement these speakers, designed to match both the Signature and Standard versions of the 805 D4. These stands enhance the visual appeal and provide stability and support for the speakers. The stands include solid stainless steel spikes, round cap screws with plastic caps to protect delicate flooring, easy-grip nuts, and a proper wrench for secure attachment. These accessories further exemplify the brand’s commitment to quality and user experience.

Conclusion: Aesthetic Excellence and Uncompromising Build Quality

In conclusion, the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature speakers are a testament to uncompromising build quality and exceptional design. Every aspect of these speakers, from their unique cabinet shape to their premium finishes and luxurious touches, speaks to the brand’s dedication to craftsmanship. These speakers deliver outstanding sound performance and stand as works of art that will enhance any audio enthusiast’s living space. Bowers & Wilkins has truly raised the bar regarding both aesthetic excellence and build quality with the 805 D4 Signature.

The Prestigious Signature Badge

Bowers & Wilkins, hailing from the United Kingdom, bestows the coveted “Signature” badge upon loudspeakers that demonstrate “complex technical and resulting sound improvements,” according to the manufacturer. In the storied history of Bowers & Wilkins, a company founded in 1966 and steeped in audio legends, this honor has only been conferred upon seven select loudspeaker models.

A Familiar Face with Subtle Cosmetic Changes

Upon first glance, the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature may appear familiar, and you’re not mistaken. These speakers are rooted in the design and configuration of the “standard” 805 D4 model.

Proven Differences: The Unique Inverted Housing Shape

The distinctive shape of the 800 series might raise some eyebrows and spark discussions among audiophiles. But what is the rationale behind it? Most speaker designers opt for a flat front baffle to accommodate flush chassis mounting. However, Bowers & Wilkins embrace a different philosophy, citing advantages in mechanical stability for the driver seat and improved resonance behavior when the drivers are positioned on the rounded housing portion.

Venturing into Uncharted Aesthetic Territories

The striking high-gloss surface finishes distinguish the 805 D4 Signature models from their predecessors. These models are offered in “Midnight Blue Metallic” and “California Burl Gloss,” choices that defy the mainstream. The craftsmanship and aesthetics of the 805 D4 Signature leave an indelible impression of luxury and refinement.

Diving into the Driver Technology

In both versions of the B&W 805 D4 – Standard and Signature – a tweeter dome with a diameter of 25 millimeters, composed of the aforementioned (artificial) diamond material, plays a pivotal role in rendering music. It resides in B&W’s iconic “tweeter-on-top” housing, a design emblematic of its commitment to audio excellence.

Taking a Breath: The Bass Reflex Outlet

The bass reflex outlet, aptly named the “Flowport,” retains its original design to further reduce unwanted flow noise. The speaker includes foam plugs, allowing users to fine-tune the bass reflex opening to their preferences.

Elevated Aesthetics and Rigidity

The tweeter-on-top housing sits atop an aluminum cover plate, which, in the Signature model, is now connected to the main housing in an even more torsion-resistant manner through two additional fasteners. This structural enhancement contributes to reduced resonances and less distortion.

Meticulous Crossover Design

The crossover network within the 805 D4 Signature remains largely unchanged. It is securely mounted on the robust aluminum rear wall of the loudspeaker. This design protects the sensitive crossover components from the influence of the bass-midrange driver and serves as an efficient heat sink, ensuring optimal conditions for the components even under high-power demand. The crossover components continue to showcase the commitment to quality with features like an air coil, a Mundorf MCap Supreme SilverGold.Oil capacitor, and now four improved bypass capacitors.

Solid Foundation: The Stands

Bowers & Wilkins offers the same stands for both 805 D4 models, regardless of whether they are Signature or Standard. These stands provide added stability and include heavy-duty stainless steel spikes and caps to protect delicate flooring.

Sound Quality and Comparative Listening

Now, let’s circle back to my opening remarks. I must confess that I tend to have a soft spot for the underdogs in the high-fidelity world, often favoring them over the industry giants. However, the B&W 805 D4 Signature has managed to challenge my predispositions, proving once again that there are no absolutes in the world of audio and that being open to diverse experiences can lead to remarkable discoveries.

Elegance and Precision in the Bass

The B&W 805 D4 Signature defies expectations with its bass response. While compact, these speakers offer a linear, neutral bass that surprises listeners with its agility and precision. Unlike boomy bass reflex designs, the 805 Signature models lean towards the character of high-quality closed models. This translates to a bass range that is not overwhelming but agile and articulate, perfect for those who prioritize accuracy over sheer power.

Focused Clarity in the Midrange

Moving into the midrange, the 805 D4 Signature showcases an open, detailed performance that rivals more expensive speakers. Its midrange is characterized by linearity, offering a harmonious balance across the spectrum. What truly surprises is the transparency of these two-way speakers, even challenging dedicated dome midrange drivers found in premium setups. The 805 D4 Signature’s drivers seamlessly convey the nuances of instruments, rendering saxophones with clarity and dynamics that bridge the gap between smooth and radiant and smoky and rough. It’s an astonishing feat.

Raving About High Frequencies

The high-frequency performance of the B&W 805 D4 Signature is equally remarkable. The tweeter’s resolution is phenomenal, showcasing a level of naturalness that outshines even speakers with beryllium tweeters. With the new grille and enhanced capacitors in the crossover, the speakers offer a tonally balanced and character-free high-frequency reproduction that adapts effortlessly to different genres and musical styles.

The Need for Speed

As often observed, high resolution is often accompanied by exceptional speed in transient reproduction and fine dynamic capabilities. The B&W 805 D4 Signature continues this trend, effortlessly handling complex music with precision and grace. Whether it’s Yosi Horikawa’s intricate “Bubbles” or Chilly Gonzalez’s piano performance in “Room 29,” these speakers capture the balance of attack, resonance, and dynamic nuances.

Expansive Soundscapes

The soundstage created by the B&W 805 D4 Signature is captivating. These speakers transport listeners into expansive and immersive sonic landscapes with the right music. Their ability to convey the depth and breadth of recordings is exemplary. In the world of audio, it’s rare to find a speaker that so faithfully reproduces the spatial characteristics of the recording room. Whether it’s the intimate ambiance of a live jazz recording or the grandeur of a cathedral’s acoustics, the 805 D4 Signature is up to the task.

Sound Test of Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature: An Audiophile Journey

A thorough sound test of the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature reveals an audio experience that is nothing short of exceptional. These compact speakers, designed for audiophiles with discerning tastes, demonstrate their prowess in sound reproduction.

1. Low-Frequency Performance:

Despite their compact size, the 805 D4 Signature speakers impress with their low-frequency performance. The bass response is characterized by its linearity and precision. Unlike speakers that rely on exaggerated bass to make an impact, the 805 D4 Signature maintains a straight, balanced, and neutral bass response. This clarity in the low end ensures that you hear bass notes as intended by the recording artists, without muddiness or distortion.

2. Midrange Clarity:

Moving into the midrange, the 805 D4 Signature continues to shine. The midrange frequencies are rendered with openness and transparency. Vocals and instruments occupy their own space within the mix, and there is a remarkable absence of coloration or emphasis on any particular frequency range. This neutrality in the midrange allows for faithful music reproduction, revealing every nuance and detail in vocals and instruments.

3. High-Frequency Brilliance:

One of the standout features of the 805 D4 Signature is its diamond tweeter. This tweeter, with a diameter of 25 millimeters, delivers high-frequency performance that is nothing short of phenomenal. With its elongated housing, the tweeter-on-top design minimizes reflections and ensures that high-frequency sounds radiate with precision and clarity. The result is an extended, airy high-frequency response that brings out the finest details in music. From the delicate shimmer of cymbals to the subtle nuances of string instruments, the high-frequency performance is truly remarkable.

4. Spatial Imaging:

The B&W 805 D4 Signature’s ability to create a three-dimensional soundstage is a testament to its engineering excellence. These speakers excel in spatial imaging, providing a sense of depth and width that immerses the listener in the music. Whether you’re listening to a live recording in a small jazz club or a symphonic masterpiece in a grand concert hall, the speakers transport you to the recording venue. Individual sound events are precisely located within the soundstage, offering a level of captivating realism.

5. Speed and Dynamics:

The 805 D4 Signature showcases impressive speed and dynamics. Transient response is agile, and the speakers handle dynamic shifts effortlessly. Whether it’s the subtle attack of a piano key or the thunderous crescendo of an orchestra, these speakers maintain control and accuracy. This dynamic prowess adds to the excitement and emotional engagement of the listening experience.

6. Resolution and Detail:

One of the hallmarks of the 805 D4 Signature is its ability to resolve intricate details in music. The diamond tweeter’s exceptional resolution and the overall transparency of the speakers allow you to discover nuances in your favorite tracks that you might have missed with lesser speakers. Subtle background noises, micro-dynamics, and harmonic modulations come to life, revealing the depth of the recording.

7. Sensitivity to Electronics:

It’s worth noting that the 805 D4 Signature is highly revealing. It can expose shortcomings in the upstream electronics, particularly in the treble region. While this transparency is a testament to the speaker’s accuracy, it also underscores the importance of pairing them with high-quality, neutral amplification and source components.

8. Ideal Listening Environment:

The 805 D4 Signature speakers shine in small to medium-sized rooms, ideally suited for spaces ranging from just over 10 to around 35 square meters. Their sound balance may not cater to those seeking extreme deep bass extension or thunderous dynamics, making them better suited for listeners who value precision, clarity, and natural musicality over sheer power.

In conclusion, the sound test of the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature reveals a speaker that exemplifies the pursuit of audio perfection. These speakers offer a listening experience marked by accuracy, transparency, and an ability to reproduce music as the artists intended it. The combination of precision engineering, advanced materials, and meticulous craftsmanship makes the 805 D4 Signature a top choice for audiophiles who demand the best from their audio equipment.

Distinguishing Between Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature and 805 D4

We have previously published our review of Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4. Bowers & Wilkins has a reputation for producing exceptional high-end speakers, and the 805 D4 Signature and the 805 D4 are no exceptions. However, some key differences set these two models apart:

1. Signature Design and Finishes:

  • 805 D4 Signature: The Signature version of the 805 D4 features high-gloss surface finishes in “Midnight Blue Metallic” and “California Burl Gloss.” These finishes are exclusive to the Signature models and offer a distinctive and luxurious appearance.
  • 805 D4: In contrast, the standard 805 D4 model does not offer these unique high-gloss finishes. It typically comes in more traditional finishes like black or white.

2. Tweeter Grille:

  • 805 D4 Signature: The Signature version boasts a new tweeter grille that has undergone over 25 iterations for refinement. This grille is stiffer and acoustically more permeable, enhancing resolution and spatial impression.
  • 805 D4: The standard 805 D4 model may not have this updated tweeter grille design.

3. Crossover and Components:

  • 805 D4 Signature: While both models feature high-quality components in their crossovers, the Signature version has four improved bypass capacitors in its crossover, enhancing performance. The exact nature of these improvements is not disclosed.
  • 805 D4: The standard 805 D4 may have a different configuration in its crossover network.

4. Luxury Details:

  • 805 D4 Signature: The Signature version takes luxury to the next level by adorning the tweeter housing with full-grain Connolly leather, color-matched to the speaker’s finish. This premium touch adds to the visual elegance of the speaker.
  • 805 D4: The standard model may not feature this leather finish.

5. Visual Impact:

  • 805 D4 Signature: The unique high-gloss finishes, leather accents, and meticulous craftsmanship make the Signature version visually striking and distinctive.
  • 805 D4: While still aesthetically appealing, the standard model may not have the same visual impact as the Signature version due to its more conventional finishes.

6. Price:

  • 805 D4 Signature: The Signature version typically commands a higher price due to its exclusive finishes and premium touches.
  • 805 D4: The standard 805 D4 model may be more budget-friendly.

7. Sound Characteristics:

  • Both models share the same fundamental driver technologies, such as the diamond tweeter and Continuum membrane in the woofer/midrange driver. However, the Signature version may offer subtle refinements in the tweeter grille and crossover components, potentially improving sound performance.

In essence, the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature stands out with its exclusive finishes, luxurious details, and potential refinements in sound performance. The standard 805 D4, while still a remarkable speaker, offers a more traditional appearance and may not have the same level of visual and sonic enhancements found in the Signature version. Your choice will depend on your preference for aesthetics, budget, and how much you value the potential refinements offered by the Signature model.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature is a strong contender for speakers priced under €15,000, particularly in small to medium-sized rooms. These speakers offer exceptional clarity, resolution, and neutrality that will delight audiophiles seeking a natural and detailed listening experience. However, it’s essential to note that these speakers can be revealing, exposing any shortcomings in the upstream components of your audio system. To unlock their full potential, they demand neutral and transparent amplification.

The cliché of a “musical and long-term use” loudspeaker often masks a euphemistic description of speakers that sacrifice clarity and resolution for warmth. The musicality of the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature is built upon intricate details, speed, sonic cleanliness, and precise timing rather than romanticized warmth that conceals deficiencies. While refreshingly honest, this sonic integrity may require caution with amplification choices.

In summary, if you seek the highest level of acoustic detail and natural musicality, the B&W 805 D4 Signature could very well become your “best friend” in the audio world. These signed diamonds shine brightly, showcasing the potential of precision engineering and dedication to sound quality.

Advantages of Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature:

  1. Exceptional Sound Quality: The 805 D4 Signature delivers audiophile-grade sound quality with clarity, precision, and neutrality. With a diamond tweeter, Continuum midrange driver, and innovative design, these speakers faithfully reproduce music with outstanding detail and accuracy.
  2. Luxurious Aesthetics: The Signature version stands out with its high-gloss finishes in “Midnight Blue Metallic” and “California Burl Gloss.” These unique finishes, along with the full-grain Connolly leather accents, add a touch of luxury to any room.
  3. Spatial Imaging: These speakers excel in creating a three-dimensional soundstage, immersing listeners in the music. Spatial imaging is precise, offering a sense of depth and width that enhances the listening experience.
  4. High-Quality Components: Bowers & Wilkins has incorporated high-quality components, including an advanced crossover network with improved capacitors. These components contribute to the speaker’s exceptional performance.
  5. Craftsmanship: The meticulous craftsmanship and attention to detail are evident in every aspect of the 805 D4 Signature. From the unique cabinet shape to the tweeter-on-top design and leather accents, these speakers are a testament to fine engineering.

Disadvantages of Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature:

  1. High Price: The Signature version of the 805 D4 has a premium price tag, making it less accessible to budget-conscious buyers. These speakers cater to a niche market of audiophiles willing to invest in top-tier audio equipment.
  2. Room Size Limitations: While suitable for small to medium-sized rooms, the 805 D4 Signature may not provide the same deep bass extension and dynamic impact as larger speakers. It may not be ideal for listeners seeking powerful, room-filling sound.
  3. Sensitivity to Electronics: These speakers are highly revealing and may expose shortcomings in less-than-optimal amplification and source components. Achieving the best performance requires pairing them with high-quality electronics.
  4. Bright Characteristic: Some users might find the 805 D4 Signature’s high-frequency performance bright or revealing, which could disadvantage those who prefer a warmer or more forgiving sound signature.
  5. Limited Finish Options: While the high-gloss finishes of the Signature version are visually stunning, they are exclusive to this model. Users seeking more traditional finishes may not have as many options in the Signature line.

In summary, the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature offers exceptional sound quality and luxurious aesthetics, making it a top choice for audiophiles who prioritize performance and visual appeal. However, its premium price, room size limitations, sensitivity to electronics, and potential brightness may be considerations for prospective buyers.

The Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature…

  • Play the bass agilely, fluidly, and tonally neutral, never excessively bulky; overall, it seems a little less prominent and vehement than some competitors.
  • Play in the deep bass unobtrusively and politely down to frequencies typical of the class without claiming the final say regarding contour or structure.
  • Prove that not only “bear noses” can create an enchantingly open, natural, and colorful mid-tone without any discoloration. Voices and natural instruments can sound touchingly beautiful with the 805 Signature.
  • Show a changeable character in the linear and airy treble, i.e. they can do everything from silky fine to cutting hard, depending on the recording. Premier League!
  • Fascinated by an effortless, almost microscopic ability to resolve the midrange and (especially) the high frequencies, which is unusual even for this class.
  • Play homogeneously and completely disappears as sources from the sound image.
  • Have an almost intuitive feeling for fine dynamics and harmonic nuances. The B&W 805 D4 Signature reproduces transients very lightly and quickly, one of the outstanding strengths of these speakers.
  • Can achieve coarse dynamics in the mid-high range with a large spread, while they can reproduce massive bass impulses adequately, but not with the emphasis and force of some larger compact and floorstanding loudspeakers.
  • Suggest a strikingly three-dimensional spatial realism on a spacious, wide, deep stage.
  • Are excellently crafted and a feast to the touch.
  • Should carry out their work mounted on the optional stands.
  • They don’t require any monster electronics, but they benefit from components that are as neutral and have as high resolution as possible. The 805 D4 Signature can demonstrate the qualities of electronic components that are well above their “natural price range.”
  • Can level but also play quietly, tonally, and dynamically completely.

Facts:

  • Model: Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature
  • Concept: 2-way compact speaker with bass reflex system
  • Price: 12,000 euros
  • Dimensions & weight per piece: 44 x 24 x 37.3 mm (H x W x D), 15.6 kg
  • Sensitivity: 88dB (2.83Vrms @ 1m)
  • Nominal impedance: 8 ohms (minimum 4.6 ohms)
  • Finishes: “Midnight Blue Metallic”, “California Burl Gloss”
  • Guarantee: 10 years