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Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 review

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Summary

Our Score:

9

Pros

  • Outstanding imaging precision
  • Not too picky about placement
  • Super-clean treble
  • Beautifully finished cabinets

Cons

  • Lean bass

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Key Features

  • Two-way standmount speakers
  • Stands optional
  • 25mm Diamond tweeter
  • 6.5-inch Contiuum mid-bass driver
  • 88dB sensitivity
  • h424 x w238 x d345mm
  • Manufacturer: Bowers & Wilkins
  • Review Price: £4,900.00

What are the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3?

B&W has a rich pedigree in speaker design, and its 800 series is the pinnacle of the British company’s impressive lineup. We’re talking dome tweeters formed from man-made diamond and housed in their own aluminium enclosures, mid-bass drivers made from woven space-age composites, and cabinet finishing that’s second to none.

The 805 D3 stand-mounters are the smallest and most modestly priced in the series – perfect for smaller rooms and anyone wanting to get a taste of B&W’s flagship sound without having to remortgage.

The near-£5k price includes B&W’s own stands, but you can save yourself £400 if you already have some suitable pillars on which to mount them.

Related: Best Turntables to Buy

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Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 – Design and Features

The 805 D3 are smaller than I expected. I think it was because I had, until recently, been using a pair of Focal Sopra No.1, which are pretty huge by stand-mounted speaker standards.

The most visually striking thing about the 805 D3 is that teardrop-shaped aluminium enclosure for the diamond tweeter. It’s a little alarming on first touch to find that it wobbles a little, because it’s decoupled from the main speaker cabinet. But it’s a thing of beauty, and fronted by a neat grille that protects the tweeter. You’ll be grateful for that grille when you discover the cost of a replacement tweeter, believe me.

B&W’s trademark woven drivers are, in this case, a glinting steel colour. These cones are built using Continuum composite, developed by B&W, which promises a more neutral mid-range than the company’s usual choice of Kevlar. The drivers are 6.5 inches in diameter, and look extremely classy sat above the dimpled bass ports.

The cabinets themselves are impeccably finished. My test units were Gloss Black, but there are also Satin White and Rosenut finishes available. The black paint on mine was polished to a mirror shine and perfectly smooth all over. Still, you’d expect as much at this price.

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Around the back are four rather luxurious speaker connections, like an array of small chrome lightbulbs. The 805 D3 are suitable for bi-wiring, but if you prefer using a single run of cable per speaker, B&W supplies a set of high-quality jumper cables to join the terminals. This makes a nice change from the usual gold-plated brass jumper bars.

Building the stands is a pretty standard affair – lots of Allen bolts hold a pair of columns between a top plate and a substantial base. The wing-shaped columns have a matte finish, while the rectangular base is coated in glossy black paint. There’s a choice of spiked feet or hard-floor-friendly rubber feet.

The stands have some built-in cable management. Holes in the top plate enable you to run your wires down through the columns and out of holes in the bottom of the bases. Sadly, my chunky Atlas Mavros cables were too thick to fit, but most will.

As with most speaker stands, you can also choose to fill these with sand or some other mass-additive to keep them rock-steady and tighten the sound.

They’re not as classily designed nor so immaculately finished as the stands that come with the Focal Sopra No.1, but we’re talking about a different price point here.

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Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 – Sound Quality

I mostly listened to the B&W 805 D3 hooked up to Leema Acoustics amplification via Atlas Mavros cables. The source was either vinyl on a Rega RP8 or Clearaudio Performance DC, or digital tracks through a Chord Hugo TT.

My first impressions from listening to the 805 D3 were that the sound was clean. Super-clean. There’s a crisp accuracy from those diamond domes, in particular. They aren’t as immediately sweet and enchanting as Focal’s beryllium tweeters; instead, they cut a path to the heart of the music, no messing. Where the Focal Sopra models deliver songs on honey-slicked rails, these B&Ws are all Teflon-coated efficiency.

That’s not to say that one method of treble delivery is necessarily better than the other. If clinical precision matters hugely to you, the 805 D3 will neatly slice tracks open like the sonic scalpel you’ve always craved. They also carve out a soundstage with pinpoint imaging.

The treble and mid-range really come into their own with richly textured electronica. Massive Attack’s glorious Mezzanine is a real treat through these, with every drumbeat and snarl fizzing through the air towards you. Similarly with Yeasayer's Amen & Goodbye – the agility and attack through the upper mid-range and high frequencies on "I Am Chemistry" are just incredible.

Personally, though, I’d sacrifice just a tiny bit of that diamond sparkle for a little warmth to help convey more emotional intimacy with gentler acoustic tracks.

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What you obviously won’t get from cabinets this small, and with a single driver handling mid-range and bass duties, is earth-shaking bottom end. The bass that's pumped out is tight and nicely controlled, and causes very little distortion, but it’s definitely on the lean side. While Mezzanine’s upper-frequency texturing sounded remarkable through the B&W 805 D3, there was very little down low to bolster it.

The front porting means you can try pushing the 805 D3 back pretty close to a wall for a little bass reinforcement, but I really didn’t hear much benefit from doing so. On the plus side, I didn’t find it harmed the mid-range performance to sit them close to a wall – they were affected far more by the amount of toe-in than by placement.

Should I buy the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3?

If you’re after a pair of stand-mounters that take clarity and agility to a whole new level, the 805 D3 should probably be top of your list for an audition. The treble from those diamond tweeters really is amazingly crisp and clean, and helps to weave such a precisely imaged soundstage.

However, even for their size they have a rather lean bass. If you listen to thumping electronica more than classical and acoustic recordings, you should look elsewhere. The Dali Epicon 2 are a worthy, slightly cheaper alternative, but finding the extra cash for the Focal Sopra No.1 will take you into another league.

Verdict

Beautiful speakers for a small room, with outstanding imaging precision and clarity. But not for bass-heads.

Overall Score

9

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LeeTronix

November 15, 2016, 7:47 am

They are not bad but you can get far better sound quality and note precision for less. The Focal range for example produce similar spec speakers and deliver superior sound. I could suggest a few other manufactures too. BW have used this tech for some years and it is a very reliable sound source but maybe 1500 over the odds on price and in some cases 3000 more for equivalents.

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