The exceptional Bowers And Wilkins 805 D3 Speakers is the only stand mount loudspeaker in the world to feature studio-grade technology in the form of a Diamond dome tweeter. It’s capable of delivering pristine sound from a relatively slight dimensions, allowing even those people with smaller listening rooms to experience True Sound.
The Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 is one of the best standmount speakers you can buy. The speaker combines immaculate build quality and sumptuous good looks. Sound quality is amongst the best of the best with a wide and deep soundstage and excellent articulation and dynamic heft. The diamond tweeter’s detailed treble never resorts to the harshness seen in cheaper speakers.
The 805 D3 is priced like the ultra-high-end speaker it is. Its relative lack of low end won’t suit bass heads.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 are the supercharged sportscars of the high-end speaker world, combining whiplash-inducing looks, cutting edge technology and exquisite performance.
Bowers & Wilkins’ co-founder John Bower once said, “The best loudspeaker isn’t the one that produces the most, it’s the one that loses the least.” Those words rang true when I started listening to the company’s flagship 805 D3 monitors; they let the music speak for itself.
At $6,000 per pair the all new 805 D3 is the most “affordable” stereo model in Bowers & Wilkins’ 800 Series lineup. (They are £4,500 per pair in the UK, and AU$8,500 in Australia). I first heard the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 at a launch event for the new range at Sterling Sound NYC — a local mastering studio — and was immediately taken with their immaculate sonics.
I listened to a live recording of Ryan Adams singing “Winding Wheel,” and was immediately transported from a small control room in Chelsea to a lively venue in downtown Dublin. The speakers virtually mapped the large performance space in seemingly minute detail — I could even tell where the rowdiest audience members were standing. Yet at the same time, these speakers also created the illusion that I was alongside the singer as he crooned and whispered into the microphone. Very few speakers at any price can do this without compromise, but the 805 D3s manage to pull this off.
Now that I’ve had the speakers to myself, and have spent some quality time with them, I am no less impressed by their considerable talents. These are very special speakers indeed. For me, they have become the new “diamond standard” for loudspeakers — an especially apt description, because these speakers actually utilize diamond particles in their exquisite tweeters.
Few audiophile speakers “cross over” and find favor with music recording, broadcast, and film sound professionals, but that’s exactly what happened with Bowers & Wilkins very first 800 Series model, the 801, introduced in 1979. Other 800 Series speakers have been used in Abbey Road Studios, Skywalker Ranch, Capitol Records, Warner Music Group, Sterling Sound and many other pro studios.
The 800 D3 Series speakers are the culmination of seven years of development at the company’s research center in Steyning. It’s just a few miles from the factory in Worthing, England where all 800 Diamond Series speakers, including the 805 D3, are made.
The 805 D3 is a large, two-way monitor speaker. Though it doesn’t look radically different from the second generation 805 Diamond Series speakers, Bowers & Wilkins claims hundreds of design changes have been made from the model that was introduced in 2010.
My samples were finished in a lovely matte Rosenut veneer, but gloss black is also available. Build quality standards are commensurate with the 805 D3’s high asking price. Bowers & Wilkins also offers handsome floor stands for use with the 805 D3 which will cost $1,000/£450/AU$1,499 per pair.
Rather than build the cabinet from more common medium-density fiberboard the 805 D3’s cabinet is constructed from multiple layers of beech wood bonded to a laminate, which is curved under pressure at the Bowers & Wilkins factory. When combined with the cabinet’s internal Matrix bracing–which is made from medium-density fiberboard–the company claims the result is a stronger, more acoustically-inert design. Wrap your knuckles against the 805 D3’s cabinet, and all you’ll get are sore knuckles.
The most obvious change to Bowers and Wilkins 800 Diamond Series speakers is that they no longer feature woven Kevlar mid-bass drivers. The 805 D3 instead sports a grey 6.5-inch Continuum cone which was developed inhouse by Bowers & Wilkins. The brand new Continuum driver is a sandwich consisting of a metallized weave and a foam core that’s said to be lighter and stronger than the Kevlar cone, and which the company says results in much less distortion.
The 805 D3 comes with removable black cloth grilles, but I never used them. A flared and stippled “Flowport” bass port, which the company has long used to combat the chuffing effects of “port noise”, sits just below the woofer on the front baffle.
The one-inch (25mm) diamond tweeter that sits atop the 805 D3’s cabinet is now fitted to a solid aluminum housing, which is compliantly mounted to the cabinet to decouple the tweeter from cabinet vibrations. The tweeter’s diamond dome is formed by ” chemical vapour deposition“, a process Bower & Wilkins uses to “grow” diamond particles into a complex shape. The company claims the 805 D3’s diamond tweeter remains “pistonic” at higher frequencies than metal, plastic, or fabric dome tweeters, so the highest treble is “cleaner,” less distorted and stereo imaging is enhanced.
The beautifully-machined, solid-metal speaker connectors work with banana plugs, spades, pins, or stripped bare wires. Each speaker has a double set of connectors, so the 805 D3 can be biwired, or used with standard single wire cables.
The speaker’s “nominal” impedance is 8 ohms, but it drops down to 4 ohms at some frequencies. That said, the 805 D3 can be used with nearly any receiver or amplifier, but a speaker with the 805 D3’s capabilities should be paired with the best possible electronics.
For home theater applications you might team the 805 D3 with the matching Bowers & Wilkins HTM2 center channel speaker ($4,000, £3,000, AU$5,900 each), add a second set of 805 D3s as surround channel speakers, and the Bowers & Wilkins DB1 subwoofer ($4,500, £3,250, AU$6,500 each).
The 800 Diamond Series also includes three tower speakers culminating in the iconic 802 D3, which is itself an improvement on the speaker used in Abbey Road Studios. It will put you back a cool $22,000 (£16,500/AU$35,900) a pair. The slightly-less-crazy-fancy 803 D3 boasts a similar shape but will “only” set you back $17,000 (£12,500/AU$24,500) while the more orthodox 804 D3 floorstander costs $9,000 (£6,750, AU$13,500) per pair.
I listened to the 805 D3s in the CNET listening room with a Rotel RA-1592 stereo integrated amplifier and an Oppo BDP-105 Blu-ray player; and a different pair of 805 D3s at home with my high-end system with a Pass Labs XP-20 preamplifier, XA100.5 power monoblock amps, and a dCS Puccini SACD/CD player.
Listening to a David Crosby demo of “Deja Vu,” singing alone with an acoustic guitar there was an undeniable organic “wholeness” to the sound of his instrument, so even by high-end speaker standards it sounded more like a real guitar. It’s a simple recording, with no added production tricks, and maybe that’s why it was, over the 805 D3s, having such a strong effect on me.
The 805 D3s tell the truth about the sound of music. They reveal more, like the way Holly Cole’s drummer slides his brushes ever so gently over his drum heads on “I Want You,” from her “Temptation” album. I’ve played this tune on literally hundreds of speakers since this record was released in 1995, but the drums never sounded this real before. Ms. Cole’s steamy vocals were also more completely realized, the 805 D3s were letting more of her music through.
It’s a great late night listening speaker, even at hushed volume, there’s no loss of detail or resolution. Turn it up and the sound gets louder of course, but the quality of the sound remains constant. Still, this isn’t the sort of speaker you buy to play head banger music cranked way up loud. If your room is huge, or high impact sound is what you crave, go for one of the 805 D3’s larger tower siblings.
Stereo imaging was unusually clear and focused with audiophile recordings like Puente Celeste’s “Nama” CD. This folk music from Argentina with vocals, guitar, accordion, bass, and percussion sounded remarkably natural and present. The stereo imaging wasn’t just deep and broad, the sound of each instrument occupied its own “space” between the two 805 D3s. The diamond tweeter’s delicate and airy high frequencies were extraordinarily clear.
The sound of solo piano is a tough test for any speaker, but here with the 805 D3s Patrick Cohen’s lovely “Satie Piano Work” CD made me sit up and take notice of Cohen’s touch, each note was clear, his subtle dynamic shadings were precisely rendered.
To test the 805 D3’s stamina with blitzed out rock I popped on the Flaming Lips completely insane remake of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album. The guitars and God knows what else’s blistering distortion and massively processed sounds lit up the 805 D3s. There’s a ravishingly dense texture to the sound of this recording, that’s for sure!
Bowers And Wilkins speakers may be comparatively small, but they loomed large with James Brown’s astonishing “Love Peace Power,” Live at the Olympia Theater, in Paris, 1971 album. Even by JB standards this concert is over the top, the band is on fire, and Brown’s lungpower is super-human. The 805 D3 didn’t hold anything back, the fierce grooves never let up. I next pummeled the speakers with Battles frantic prog rock from their “Mirrored” album, and the 805 D3s took the abuse in stride. The Battles’ John Stanier’s drumming dazzled, and the 805 D3s unraveled the band’s jam-packed mixes with ease. That ability is cruise through even the most complex mixes is one of the things that separates the 805 D3 from other merely excellent speakers.
The 805 D3’s tonal balance is cooler and leaner than strictly neutral, it’s not a warm and sweet sounding speaker. Then again, no speaker is ever really 100 percent neutral, they all impart some character to the sound. The 805 D3’s mid-bass definition is very good, but not up to the standards set by this speaker’s midrange and treble clarity. Deep bass under 50 hertz is in short supply, just as it is with any similarly sized speaker. Even so, few 805 D3 owners add subwoofers to their stereo systems, but if you want to feel your room shake consider purchasing Bowers & Wilkins’ DB1, PV1D, or another brand’s subs.
Top-end audio for a top-end price
The Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 is a tour de force of high-end speaker design. Not just in sound quality, every aspect of the speaker — the tech and materials used in the cabinet, drivers, and crossover network — are all exemplary. While it’s a very expensive speaker, when compared with high-end speakers from Magico, Sonus Faber, Wilson Audio, or YG Acoustics the 805 D3 is relatively affordable. However, while other components of a system such as digital playback devices, streamers, and processors will, in the coming years go out of date, the 805 D3 might provide literally decades of enjoyment. In that light it’s a sensible investment for buyers who can afford the very best. The Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 will be one of my reference speakers for years to come.