BOWERS & WILKINS 805 D3 standmount speakers
+ Small footprint speakers with a huge lively soundscape coupled with unbelievable bass performance. Will suit most reasonably-sized rooms and even large rooms with their easy placement. True state-of-the-art performance.
– May seem too little speaker for the price. Performs better with higher power amplifiers. May be overlooked by potential buyers due to diminutive size.
BOWERS & Wilkins, or B&W as it is often referred to, has been the quintessential British high-end speaker manufacturer for as long as I can remember. Its 800 series top model has long been the choice in recording studios around the world.
In 2015, the current 800 D3 series was launched to much acclaim, with the company claiming significant revolutionary design changes from the previous series. In fact, altogether, 868 changes were involved, with the most visible being the adoption of a new woven composite material, Continuum, being used in the midrange and bass drivers instead of Kevlar, which has been the B&W signature for almost 30 years.
The model under review is the 805 D3 , the baby in the 800 D3 series and the only one which is a standmount. Compared with the next model up, the 805D3 is certainly diminutive. But it does incorporate most of the significant technologies that differentiate the 800 D3 series, such as the Continuum mid/bass driver, diamond tweeter in solid aluminium body and optimised matrix cabinet.
Visually, the 805 D3 looks and feels like a top-of-the-line speaker. The review pair came in piano black finish, which made the speakers look even smaller! The matching stands provided made the entire setup quite elegant and will certainly fit in with most domestic arrangements.
The 805D3s were placed slightly toed-in about eight feet apart and 10 feet from the listening position, and well clear of wall perimeters. I found that the speakers were very easy to position as only slight changes were needed to achieve a reasonable soundstage, and image definition and density. A wide variety of genre of music was used in the review from jazz to pop to classical.
As is my norm, I started with vinyl, in particular jazz saxophone. First up was Ben Webster, King of the Tenors. This album is, in my view, always good to flesh out the tonal qualities of speakers and in this instance, I was immediately impressed. Webster’s sax can be a challenge for small speakers to reproduce the big-boned sound that only he can do. The 805D3 not only sounded big-boned but displayed all the detail and dynamic flow of the ensemble with great speed and attack!
The next surprise was how deep and fleshed-out the bass output was, in particular double bass. I certainly was not expecting this kind of sound from these diminutive speakers. I should point out that I was driving them with an amplifier of 400 watts per channel, and this may well have contributed to the bass performance.
Diana Krall’s rendition of Temptation has always been a good test of dynamic attack and vocals, and the 805D3 did not disappoint, sounding impactful and tuneful at the same time. Her voice was rendered beautifully within a spacious soundscape, and instruments were placed almost holographically.
Next up was the Jennifer Warnes’ track Way Down Deep, which has very low bass notes throughout the track. I was certainly not prepared for the 805D3 to do this track well but it did, with the low bass notes coming through most convincingly.
At this stage, I had yet to find a single criticism of the speakers. I decided it was time to give it the usual acid test of big orchestral music.
Lang Lang playing Chopin Concerto No.1 under Zubin Mehta with the Vienna Philharmonic was up next. While the dynamic and musical qualities flowed beautifully, the large ensemble playing was lacking somewhat in instrumental clarity and separation, and showed a slight hint of congestion in crescendos. This did not detract from the musical qualities of the 805D3 but rather ultimately, the limitations of the two-driver design and diminutive size. After all, one can hardly expect two small speakers to effectively reproduce the full scale of a 100-strong orchestra.
On the other hand, smaller pieces such as chamber and solo instruments fared very well and tonal qualities were very truthful and full bodied. Violins were always rendered in a neutral manner with the quality of recordings the main determination of the sound quality.
Further test tracks from the likes of James Taylor, Donald Fagen, Renee Olstead, Stacy Kent, Shelby Lynn, Eva Cassidy and Ella Fitzgerald clearly showed that the 805D3 is a real goodie with vocals. Tonal colours and intonation were rendered extremely truthfully and naturally, and it was a joy to hear these great singers being given such renditions. I would declare that just this capability in reproducing vocals would be good enough reason to buy these speakers!
I was also very impressed by the size and scale of the sonic images projected by these speakers. Instruments and voices were always placed in a palpable natural-sized soundscape, albeit slightly shorter than that I am used to with my six-foot tall Magneplanar speakers. The soundtrack from The Mission, which has a very huge stereo image, was presented by the 805D3 as if the orchestra was spread out well beyond the boundaries of the speakers’ placement and also had excellent depth layering.
The 805D3 is also capable of playing at very high volumes without any hint of any hardening of the sound, reflective perhaps of its studio monitor heritage. At the same time, it is also very transparent to the quality of upstream components. Every change of cartridge, turntable and phonostage was clearly apparent. The quality of recordings, be it LPs or digital files, also came through and being the accurate monitor that it is, poor pressings or recordings were presented quite clearly as such. In this sense, it clearly is not as forgiving as some other speakers I had the pleasure of reviewing.
In case any reader get the impression these speakers are only suited for smaller rooms, I would add that throughout the review, the speakers were energising my very large listening room of 20 by 35 feet with a high ceiling as well.
THE LAST WORD
The 805D3 is a revelation in design meeting function. It always sounded right, played music beautifully and rendered voices most naturally. With eyes closed, you can easily imagine the musicians being right in front of you, such was the realism.
While it may be the baby in the 800D3 range, it almost certainly sounded as if it is the flagship with a much bigger than expected sound than its size suggests. Perhaps it is better to envisage it as the flagship standmount speakers of the Bowers & Wilkins company. Highly recommended.
Sources: Lenco L75 modded with Sien’s Lenco Top Plate with Well Tempered Cloned golf ball tonearm, Ortofon Kontrapunkt a cartridge, Technics Sl1000 with Denon DL S1 cartridge and Nagaoka MP500 cartridge, Sony HAP Z1es HDD player / Amplification: Whest Audio Two.2 phonostage, Shindo Masseto preamp, Macintosh MC402 power amp / Speakers: Magneplanar 3.6QR / Cabling: Belden, Acoustic Zen, Canare and Nordost/ Power: Powerware regenerator
Price: US$$6,000, add US$600 for dedicated stands
Malaysian price (inc GST): RM28,000 (rosenut, varies with finish), optional stands – RM5,600
Malaysian distributor: The Experts Group (+603 2282 8881) / On Facebook. Find your distributor.