Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Standmounted Monitor Speaker Review
The 800 Series has long occupied a unique place in high-end audio. Such is the market share that Bowers & Wilkins has of the total sales of speakers in this price category that the models that result enjoy both a ubiquity and economy of scale nothing else can really match. Insofar as a 'normal' member of the public can envisage a high end speaker, it's generally the 800 Series that springs to mind.
For those more familiar with the high-end category, the 800 Series still holds considerable interest as a demonstration of design features Bowers & Wilkins will no doubt trickle down its range in due course and are likely to influence other manufacturers, too. The £6250 per pair ($8000 USD) 805 D4 is the smallest member of the range, the only standmount model and, on paper at least, the simplest design of the lot, yet there's still considerable new engineering at work here.
In terms of its drivers, outwardly at least, it is business as usual. The 805 D4 makes use of a 165mm 'Continuum' mid bass driver, partnered with a 25mm diamond tweeter. This is the same configuration as the proceeding D3 model's – and in the 805, where the 165mm unit functions as a mid/bass unit, it makes use of a conventional mounting spider, whereas all the other models in the range have a newer vestigial one designed to reduce pressure build-up behind the driver. However, a new phase plug and revised mass damper are fitted here.
The 'Tweeter on Top' principle, with the treble driver mounted atop the main cabient has been retained, but the aluminium housing this employs is now longer, and attached to the 'box' with a pair of decoupled mounts, now sitting in a deeper recess. The result is both visually more appealing than was previously the case and alos feels a great deal more reassuring in terms of its solidity.
The revisions to the cabinet are most extensive in the 805 (and the floorstanding 804). They are now constructed in the same way as the other 800 Series models, in a process Bowers & Wilkins calls 'Reverse wrap': this forms multiple layers of birch ply into an oxbow shape using heat and pressure, integrating the front and sides of the cabinet in a single piece. The rear of the cabinet is sealed inboard of the point where the ends of this assembly, creating a space for the crossover which is attached to a metal 'spine' section at the rear – this was used on the larger models in the old 'D3' range, but is now employed across the entire 'D4' line-up.
Internally, the 'matrix' bracing system, long a feature of Bowers & Wilkins cabinets, is now also made of birch ply, with additional metal stiffening sections, while the top of the cabinet is formed from an aluminium casting, sealing the enclosure and acting as the mounting point for the decoupled tweeter. Bowers & Wilkins has elected to coat this in 'Leather by Connolly' (real rather than 'vegan'), giving a far greater aesthetic consistency across the range than was the case in the previous generation.
In fact those links are only a tiny facet of how well the Bowers & Wilkins is put together. The review samples were absolutely immaculate in build and finish – some rivals are every bit as stoutly constructed as the 805 D4 but lack the quality of cosmetic finish at which Bowers & Wilkins excels – and even the process of unboxing and placement serves to congratulate you on your choice.
For all this though, I'd hesitate to describe the 805 D4 as beautiful: true, form follows function with the 800 Series but the result is somewhat fussy, even though there are some neat touches like the smaller circular grilles rather than full-face ones and the contrasting metal panel at the rear. Compared to something like the Franco Serblin Accordo (similarly priced once the 805's dedicated stand is costed in) the Bowers & Wilkins feels rather less elegant and more functional, although some of this is down to finish choice. The gloss black is simple, beautifully applied and unobtrusive, but the best available option is also the newest: satin walnut takes the same unpainted tweeter housing as is used with the white finish option, and the result is a more elegant and contemporary-looking device.
It's In The Sound
None of the sheer ability the 805 has shown across its many iterations has gone astray in achieving this. With material like the deceptively simple Consequence of Sound by Regina Spektor; a track which is never more than Spektor singing and striking single notes on a piano, the Bowers & Wilkins is simply outstanding. The simple premise of the music belies the issue that there's absolutely nowhere for errors to hide, and Spektor's unique tone and annunciation is perfectly recreated and the single piano notes combine immediacy and weight in a manner simple in theory but rather harder to do.
No less important is that, as you ratchet up the scale and complexity of the music the effort expended on the cabinets pays dividends. So long as a modicum of care is taken with placement, and even when used on a stand other than the official Bowers & Wilkins one, the 805 D4 consistently disappears from the soundstage it creates. This leaves the listener with a beautifully cohesive arc of sound, without being diffuse or vague, a behaviour much more reminiscent of the larger 800 Series speakers, suggesting that the benefits of the reverse wrap cabinet are tangible.
There's effortless cohesion and integration between the drivers: this was far from poor with the preceding generation but the further detail improvements ensure you spend less time listening to the general cleverness of the drivers and enjoy the overall performance.
The caveat is that one behavioural trait has been carried over to the D4: this is never a speaker at its happiest at lower levels. In comparison to the Focal Kanta No1 and Kudos Titan 505 that straddle it in pricing, the 805 D4 can sound some somewhat constrained at some levels. You don't have to crank levels too far to resolve this but, for if you only listen at low levels, it's something to bear in mind.
Once you do have a bit of level behind the speakers, the party piece of this latest version makes itself felt. With music that often felt 'beneath' its predecessors, like R.L Burnside's Come On In, the 805D4 is enormously entertaining in a way that doesn't compromise on its prodigious technical ability. Instead you're treated to the unlikely but magnificent combination of the aged delta bluesman and a medley of electronic trickery combining in a way that somehow benefits both. The crunching beat of 'Let My Baby Ride' is immaculately handled and plain good fun, delivered with the sort of head-nodding rhythmic engagement that has volume levels inexorably creeping up over the course of a listening session.
In this regard, the 805D4 is very similar to the 705 Signature, itself mechanically identical to the existing 705 S2 save for revisions made to the crossover. It's almost certainly an oversimplification to say that some tweak or component revision in the way Bowers & Wilkins makes crossovers is imparting this greater sense of joy – but nevertheless, something is.
This speaker is more than another helping of 'worthiness from Worthing': it's still supremely accomplished, and if I were to be remunerated for the number of times 'unflappable' made it into my listening notes, this would have been a very lucrative listening session indeed. You can buy the 805 D4 secure in the knowledge that every aspect of its engineering is 'just so' and that the measured performance is likely to be exceptional: there's not a single regressive aspect of the design from their predecessors and – in pure engineering terms at least – not a great deal of competition at the price.
More than this, though, it delivers levels of emotional engagement and enjoyment that have never featured in my past experiences of the 800 Series. It's forgiving, both of less than pristine recordings and the equipment with which it's partnered, and commendably unfussy about placement, too. The latest 800 Series seems to set to do all the things we expect better than ever before, but do them with a level of unbridled fun, too – and that makes this the most appealing iteration yet.
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Drivers: 25mm (1") diamond dome high-frequency
Frequency Response: 42Hz to 28kHz (+/-3dB)
Sensitivity: 88dB (on axis at 2.83Vrms at one meter)
Harmonic Distortion:<1% 90Hz to 20kHz
Nominal impedance: 8 Ohms (minimum 4.6 Ohms)
Dimensions: 440mm x 240mm x 373mm (HxWxD)
Weight: 15.55 kgs.
Cabinet Finishes: Gloss Black, White, Satin Rosenut, and Satin Walnut.
Price: $8000 per pair