Continuum membrane, tweeter-on-top housing, matrix reinforcement – and of course many other keywords come to mind very easily. But which it doesn’t need at all, so that most people already know: It’s about sound transducers from the southern English coastal town of Worthing, where John Bowers began manufacturing loudspeaker systems as early as 1966, and where Bowers & Wilkins ( https://www. bowerswilkins.com/de-de ) which still does today. The complete, legendary B&W 800 series is manufactured at the company’s headquarters. As a result, the current compact model from the top series, the B&W 805 D4 (8,000 euros) to be tested, is also adorned with a “Made in England” label.
And, of course, the small 800 is adorned with carbon: “Diamonds are a listener’s best friend” has apparently been the motto of the English for 15 years and four series generations, although all models of the B&W 800 Series have only had a diamond tweeter since 2010. The noble cap of the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 is not one of the innovations compared to the previous model B&W 805 D3 , which the colleague Jochen Reinecke had on the reel four years ago.
B&W 805 D4 – technical highlights and innovations
English speaker tradition with almost 60 years of “long” roots, even old BBC monitor warhorses like Spendor (founded in 1969) or Harbeth (1977) can’t quite keep up. If you think of a warm sound bath with a bit of high-frequency patina, you are quite wrong when looking at the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4. Sure, why would you need a diamond tweeter for that…?
Especially since the hyper-airy (the B&W 705 Signature also ends early in the super treble) and extremely subtle treble was tuned by the B&W engineers on the level side in such a way that it unmistakably shows what it’s capable of – shyness is different – but because of its superb quality does not introduce any artificial harshness, sharpness or hissing into the sound. Even Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” (Album: So), which at least in the digital version I have available always tastes a bit like plastic and contains poisonous percussion and distinctive sibilants, is easy to digest on the high-frequency side.
A new femininity
Of course, the exquisite treble quality of the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 doesn’t just benefit drums and the digestibility of bad recordings. Rather, the 805 gets you pretty excited, not least with Cynic ‘s spherical “Amidst the Coals” (Album: Carbon-Based Anatomy) and the room-flooding, throaty-ethereal vocals of guest singer Amy Correia. The purity of the almost bell-like singing over long stretches, the apparent limitlessness of the “wall of voice” that builds up in front of you, isolated tongue noises and inhalers, the final change from the angelic to the subtly diabolical in the vocal color – that’s great cinema and very clear a domain of the 805 D4.
High-quality recorded female vocals are a real treat per se: the American singer-songwriter Laura Veirs sounds a bit less ethereal than Amy Correia on “July Flame” (album of the same name), but the mountain lake-clear purity and subtle airiness of the B&W still leave her singing seem more absorbing than I’m used to. In a direct comparison, my Spendor D9 (approx. 9,000 euros) sounds more diffuse, the Sehring 903 in particular less airy and transparent.
It is only logical that my Sehring 903 and Wilson SabrinaX, as more expensive three-way floor-standing speakers, are audibly more capable, not least because of their dedicated drivers for the bass and midrange, when it comes to low-frequency pressure, low-frequency differentiation and a rich mid-range reproduction that is crystal clear even at higher levels. At this point at the latest, however, we are comparing apples with pears. It is not for nothing that B&W also attributes advantages in terms of bandwidth, voice and detail reproduction to its next-largest model in the series, the 804 D4 three-way floor-standing loudspeaker.
Either way, the 805 D4 follows a clear sound philosophy in the mids. For example, I attested a certain restraint in the upper mids of the B&W 705 Signature, which was also designed as a compact two-way speaker, but the 805 approaches things differently here. There is no trace of restraint at this point, I would even say that not least voices are illuminated a little more than strictly neutral at the top. Good to hear, for example, in “Wrapped in Blue” by The Coral (Album: Curse of Love). On the one hand, the extremely good transparency of the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 is noticeable here, which probably did credit to every studio monitor. On the other hand, that singer James Skelly is shown a little more directly. The clean e-guitar licks on the left channel, the plucked chords of the western guitar opposite and the central snare also seem a bit more present than usual: For example, the typical buzzing of the snare comes to the fore a little more compared to the impact impulse.
A neutrally tuned compact speaker like the Sehring 901 reproduces the mids correspondingly more sonorous than the B&W 805 D4. On the other hand, the Berliner is at a disadvantage when it comes to airiness and transparency. Well, the lighter tonality of the 805 D4 naturally also promotes the fascinating richness of facets, the brilliance and the subtlety of what is on offer. Depending on listening taste and room acoustics, the recommends the use of warm to neutral-sounding – and not brightly tuned – amplifiers. And yes: A tube amp can also be a very good idea.
Pull the right strings
If you really want to help the B&W 805 D4 to achieve a more earthy sound, you can try bi-wiring. The above listening impressions relate to single wiring with my extremely permeable Kimber Carbon 16 and the 805 cable bridges included. The bananas of the Carbon 16 were stuck in the mid-low terminals of the loudspeakers.
Switching to my much cheaper, but nevertheless harmoniously balanced bi-wiring cable Real Cable BW OFC 400 then offers something to be expected – as well as something surprising. In terms of precision, transparency, imaging size and openness, the sound quality is noticeably on the decline. Anything else would have surprised me too, but the 805 D4s are obviously among those loudspeakers that show such differences very clearly. At the same time, the bass noticeably gains in blackness, clarity and substance – down below the Real Cable is actually a real gain! Which in my opinion can only be due to the bi-wiring itself. Ergo: If you are looking for a more expressive bass and want to make the lucid tonality of the B&W 805 D4 more down-to-earth, you should definitely experiment here.
On the foot…
Whether single or bi-wiring: the bass reproduction of our Bowers & Wilkins loudspeakers is very contoured and dynamically jagged in both cases. Whether it’s massive bass runs like in The Grassy Knoll’s “Down in the Happy Zone” (Album: III) or rock-hard, dry impulses like they can be heard in abundance on Download’s Helicopter electrofiddle disc : the B&W doesn’t give in to such challenges and follows the music template on the foot. The same applies to the bass: anyone who expects a clichéd “warm and soft” from English monitors is at the wrong address with the B&W 805 D4.
Finally, let’s take a quick look at the topics of “broadband” and “power”: Of course, commercially available high-quality floor-standing loudspeakers with even higher level stability regularly reach down deeper on the bass side. And three-way compact speakers like the Sehring 901 can also be used to their full potential here.
Nonetheless, the 805 audibly takes chase at the beginning of the track “Madame Guillotine” by the indestructible Legendary Pink Dots (Album: 9 Lives to Wonder), when the grumpy synth pad repeatedly starts to crash abruptly towards the deep bass. For a speaker of this size, that’s an honor. The B&W 805 D4 offers enough foundation to let it rock as well as with old drum and bass discs from Photek or Klutedon’t let it down entirely. In terms of volume, it easily delivers levels that also unequivocally inform the surrounding neighbors about their own taste in music. Nevertheless, I always find the 805 D4 most fascinating when it makes music between “very quiet” and “around room volume”: Even then, it retains its initial gait and also comes across as even more accurate, even more homogeneous to me – the 805 D4 is a special one Tip for dedicated quiet listeners.
In terms of airiness, transparency and spatiality, the B&W 805 D4 is among the best you can get for money and good words, and is absolutely on the ball in terms of coarse and fine dynamics. The compact speakers from Bowers & Wilkins’ top line would also be an asset to any recording studio. In the private listening room, thanks to their extremely accurate treble, they ensure a concentrated, gripping and yet permanently stress-free listening experience – provided that high-quality players are used.
Despite all the long-term suitability that the diamond dome radiates, “cozy” or “warm” is of course different: If you are looking for a classic, full-bodied Brit sound, you should rather ask around the usual suspects. The B&W 805 D4, for example, draws voices more directly, garnished with an extremely complex, fascinating overtone aura. Tonally it’s a bit lighter than emphatically sonorous. If you prefer a richer, earthier sound with a more powerful and blacker bass, we recommend experimenting with bi-wiring (or bi-amping, of course). The highly sensitive 805 D4 clearly shows differences in the cabling used – and amplification – in general.
Given their size, the English women can do pretty well when it comes to level stability, which is almost suitable for a party. Nevertheless, they play particularly fine and pure to my ears, especially up to levels that roughly cover a lively conversation. Especially for “quiet listeners” the 805 D4 could be exactly the optimal B&W speakers, if not the optimal speakers par excellence, which do not even allow the desire for more expensive and larger speakers to arise.
The B&W 805 D4 are characterized by …
- a world-class treble: highly transparent, finely dynamic, shimmering, ethereal and airy and absolutely suitable for long-term use, provided the recording quality itself or the players are not inadequate.
- an absolutely fascinating three-dimensionality that perhaps only the very best compact monitors are capable of: the stage separates wonderfully from the speakers, is beautifully spacious and rises vertically as high as with large floor-standing loudspeakers. Individual instruments seem extremely precise and three-dimensional.
- a transparent, crisp mid-tone that tends to be slightly drawn towards the upper register. The 805 D4 were not trained for emphasized sonority.
- the possibility of achieving an earthier sound image by means of bi-wiring. The bass range, which is crisp and precise in one way or another, then becomes even more powerful and blacker. In view of the compact dimensions, the 805 D4 also offers an impeccable draft.
- good level stability, yet a special accuracy at low listening volumes.
- very valuable, luxurious workmanship. Listeners using speaker wire with spades might want knurled, grippier terminals.
- Model: B&W 805 D4
- Concept: passive 2-way bass reflex compact speaker with diamond tweeter
- Price: 8,000 euros
- Dimensions & weight each: 44 x 24 x 37.3 mm (H x W x D), 15.5 kg
- Efficiency: 88 dB (2.83 V RMS, 1 m)
- Nominal Impedance: 8 ohms (minimum 3 ohms)
- Colours: glossy black, white satin, rose nut, satin walnut
- Other: bass reflex plug with removable inner part, bi-wiring terminal with bridges
- Guarantee: 10 years