For many people, the Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series is the high end speaker; the one they envisage when you mention such a thing to them. The 800 Series is where new technology that will eventually find its way into every Bowers & Wilkins speaker is first unveiled. The 805D4 is the only standmount member of the latest range and the most affordable of the series but it is still packed with the same technology that features in the rest of the range, up the range topping 801.
The important change for this generation of 805D4 is that it is now built in the same way as the larger members of the range, with a cabinet made from sheets of birch ply formed into an oxbow, with the drivers mounted in the curved section where the assembly is strongest. The cabinet is then sealed internally with a ply bulkhead, creating a space behind where the crossover is mounted. This cabinet still features the company’s ‘Matrix’ bracing to stiffen it but the braces are now also made from birch ply, stiffened with metal at key points. The result is a speaker that feels incredibly rigid and inert.
The drivers used are an evolution of the previous generation and comprise a 25mm diamond tweeter, now mounted in a longer and stiffer metal housing on the top of the cabinet. This mounts via two decoupled connectors rather than the previous single one and feels more solid and reassuring as a result. It partners with a 165mm ‘Continuum’ woven driver that has a new anti resonance plug and mass damper. The crossover that unites the two drivers has been updated, taking into account lessons that Bowers & Wilkins has learned in the years since the preceding D3 range was released.
The speaker that results is not the prettiest option at (or indeed anywhere near) the price but it is unmistakably a Bowers & Wilkins product and reflects the company’s customary attention to detail. The level of finish that has been achieved is spectacular, even when judged at the hefty asking price and everything feels considered and just so.
The 800 Series hasn’t achieved the standing it has by accident. Every version going back to the beginning has been a watchword for tonal realism, effortless scale and three dimensionality and it should be no surprise to anyone that the 805D4 delivers a similarly authoritative performance. The party piece these speakers possess is how little of themselves they put into a performance. Placed with any care, they simply vanish into the soundstage they create.
Their tonality is exceptional too. Voices and instruments have an immediacy and sheer presence that makes all listening an occasion. The two drivers are made from different materials but the handover between them is imperceptible and they are tonally even from top to bottom. There’s plenty of bottom to them too despite their relatively compact size, they go deep enough to convince with clarity and control in a way that very few speakers at a similar price can compete with. About the only unwanted trait retained from older 800 Series models is that the 805D4 still sounds its best with a little volume behind it. At lower levels they sound fractionally shut in.
In return, though, the 805D4 has a skill that was sometimes harder to find in older models. This speaker is an absolute riot to listen to. Without ever compromising on the accuracy and realism that the 800 Series is known for, this speaker sounds faster, sweeter and more engaging than what came before. It’s a very neat balancing act that also serves to make it a speaker that can handle a wide selection of different music and varying levels of recording quality and do justice to them all.
The Bowers & Wilkins is available in a selection of finishes, including a new walnut veneer which is the nicest of the available options. An optional floorstand is available that bolts to the underside for a secure and rigid fitting. Something that also works to its benefit is that this is an easier speaker to drive than some older versions of the 805 and that front mounted bass port makes it an easier speaker to position than many rear ported rivals.
The 800 Series was always a speaker you bought with your head but in this latest version, it appeals to the heart too. This is the most complete and compelling version of the 800 Series yet and it represents one of the finest speakers you can buy anywhere near the price.
Hayden Thorpe Impossible Object
A minimalist but utterly sublime work that depends on the piano and Thorpe himself being perfectly recreated. The tonality and scale of the 805D4 sees that it is done correctly.
Christine & The Queens Goya Soda
To make this track sound as it should, you need a speaker with effortless detail retrieval, high transient speed and exceptional bass response. The Bowers & Wilkins delivers all three with effortless finesse.
The Chameleons Soul in Isolation
Once upon a time, older versions of the 805 might have struggled with the slightly edgy eighties presentation of this mighty record. The 805D4 keeps all of the savage intensity but keeps everything sounding impressively refined too.
Solidity – both of build and sound – is what first attracted the What Hi-Fi? reviewers to the 805 D4: they praised the innovative reverse-wrap design, and loved the sparkling performance and highly accurate sound staging, while the HiFiCritic reviewer admitted that the word ‘unflappable’ appeared many times in his notes, and liked that they were unfussy about partnering equipment and their placement in the room, while saying they did everything better than the last generation of this speaker, but with unbridled fun, too.
The 805D4 is a perfect way to 'complete' a system of capable electronics that you are happy with. It adds very little of itself to the performance and will instead convey both any character of your equipment but, more importantly, an unvarnished take on the music itself.