If you haven’t noticed, I write two types of equipment reviews. The first type involves some piece of gear from a manufacturer I know well. I have history. I can spin a yarn about this brand and why I’m revisiting it. The second type falls under the category of “I get to fill in some of the gaps in my high-end audio knowledge!” At first the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 loudspeakers seem to fall into the latter category—this is the first time I’m reviewing a Bowers & Wilkins product.
I do, however, have some seat time with Bowers & Wilkins. I have a close relative who has stayed loyal to their loudspeakers since we were young, so I’ve heard this venerable British brand on several occasions throughout my life. I’ve certainly heard Bowers & Wilkins at several high-end audio shows, dealers, and even in the listening rooms of audiophiles. The company is big, one of the biggest loudspeaker manufacturers out there. It’s not hard to listen to a pair of Bowers & Wilkins if you’re so inclined.
That leads me to my reason for reviewing the new Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 loudspeakers. Over the last few years, I’ve slowly (and somewhat unwittingly) destroyed some of preconceptions I’ve had about certain high-end audio manufacturers, especially the so-called “big guys.” Since joining PTA I’ve reviewed gear from brands such as McIntosh, Bryston, Sonus faber, Parasound and a few more, and I think at least one person warned me beforehand each time that I “wasn’t gonna like it.” Maybe we’re too cool and we’re searching out the too-cool-for-audiophiles gear and we want to have something no one else has. My reference two-way monitors, after all, are the only existing pair in the United States. Plus, I’m known to like strange things in high-end audio.
When I finally had seat time with each brand, however, I found plenty to like and even love. I had biases against big audio corporations, sometimes embarrassingly so. I was wrong, at least some of the time. When I was asked to review the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4, I said yes, perhaps because it’s one of those stragglers, something I needed to sort out in the laboratory so I could move on with my life. Besides, the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 sound like my kind of speaker for several reasons. First, it’s a premium two-way stand-mount bookshelf monitor and that means pushing the performance and exceeding expectations in a way that makes me realize why I love this hobby.
Second? Well, there’s that whole “D” thing. The D, of course, means this Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 has a diamond tweeter. That means this is the first time I’ve reviewed a Bowers & Wilkins speaker, and the first time I’ve reviewed a loudspeaker with diamond tweeters. I’m excited.
Inside the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Loudspeakers
If you know your Bowers & Wilkins history, you’ll know that the 805 loudspeakers, in their various iterations, are the flagship two-way monitor from this British marque. I remember when it first appeared on the scene with its protruding tweeter housing and its strange yellowish Kevlar cone. Bowers & Wilkins stopped using Kevlar for its cone material back in 2015, and the new woven composite material is far more opulent in appearance. (Someone asked me that question, whether the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 still had those funky colored drivers. Nope.)
The 6.5” driver on the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 is their patented Continuum mid-bass cone that’s used up and down the 800 line. That diamond tweeter assembly, however, has received even more attention from the design team. It’s still the same diamond dome tweeter that was introduced in 2005—the company isn’t shy about admitting they think it’s perfect as is.
But that swoopy and gleaming sculpture known as the Solid Body Tweeter assembly, which was first implemented in the D3 generation of the 800 Series Diamond in 2015, has been elongated. The new shape lengthens the tube loading and offers more extension in the highest treble. It’s also milled from solid aluminum billet, so of course it’s gorgeous and tactile.
The enclosure of the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 is also new, focusing on a “reverse wrap” construction that’s incredibly easy on the eyes. This is a two-way monitor speaker that will never be described as boxy or plain. At $8,500/pair, plus $1,250 for the dedicated stands, you’d expect the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 to be at least a little bit suave, but this a classy and dynamite presentation. My pair came in gloss black, but you can also get the D4 in gloss white, satin rosenut or satin walnut.
By the numbers, the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 has a sensitivity of 88 dB with a nominal impedance of 8 ohms. They excelled with both my Pureaudio Duo2 power amplifier (in pure Class A mode with 25 wpc) and the Lab12 Integre4 integrated amplifier, which gets 50wpc from its KT150s. The frequency response is 42Hz to 28kHz, which seems fairly conservative—the D4s instantly locked into my magic two-way listening room vibe and relayed the perfect blend of low frequencies without too much tweaking.
By the way, there are two pairs of binding posts on the 805 D4s for bi-wiring. Bowers & Wilkins has already supplied jumpers. So many speaker manufacturers are just saying no to those obnoxious metal bars, which is a good thing.
When I arranged for the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 to be sent to my home, I assumed I’d be placing them on the Acora Acoustics SRS-G stands. I’ve said, over and over, that the SRS-G makes every monitor sound just a little bigger, a little more dynamic. The 805 D4 comes with its own dedicated stand, however, and it’s quite nice. The base plates are heavy—almost HRS heavy. Usually when a pair of mini monitors arrive at my place, it’s no big deal getting everything up and down the stairs, but the 805 D4s were sent on a pallet, three boxes, and I had a good workout that day.
Once assembled on their stands, the 805 D4s are certainly not big or unwieldy—again, this is a sleek, curvy design that slides into a room with grace. (The D4s are 33 pounds each, so they’re hefty and solid without being actual punishment.) Since they’re front-ported, they don’t need a lot of space from the rear wall before they can perform their disappearing trick—yes, these speakers do that and they do it really, really well. You’ll know when you get the positioning right—the soundstage deepens considerably and gives that lovely effect of breaking down the rear wall and filling up the new space with the same energy. It flows, like a liquid.
I’ve already discussed the incredibly synergy the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 had with the Lab12 Integre4 and the CEC DAC and transport I just reviewed, all with AudioQuest cabling. That was my preferred set-up for most of the review period.
I’m trying not to mention break-in as much as I used to, because I agree that it’s ultimately of no use to the reader. Some break-in on a brand-new component is expected, and I never want to write another dull sentence like “For the first 100 hours, I felt the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 sounded a bit compressed in the [insert random section of the frequency response here] but that slowly disappeared.” Meh.
The break-in period of the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 was instrumental, however. Even though this was a review sample that had come straight from another reviewer, I still heard a distinct lack of warmth in the sonic signature during the first couple of listening sessions. Everything else about the 805 D4 was excellent—I loved how it basically sounded like a very big speaker, save for the lowest octaves. The 805s disappeared completely, they melted the walls of my listening room, they did a lot of things that made me very happy.
My first thought: “Maybe this is why some people were warning me that I wouldn’t like Bowers & Wilkins—they’re very neutral.” Some people out there, like me, really need that warmth. Or at least we think we do. The last two-way monitors I’ve had in the system were the Harbeth C7-ES3 XDs, and they’re warm to the point of being downright huggable because you feel so good inside when you listen to them. The Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 had everything going for them at first, just oodles of pure performance in every respect, but I didn’t quite want to hug them. I feared they’d tell me to take a step back and watch those darned fingerprints.
I probably don’t have to tell you the ending. Over time that neutrality, that meticulous sense of pure reproduction, transformed into something far more to my liking. By the time I had paired the Bowers & Wilkins 805D Mk. 4s with the Lab12 Integre4 integrated and the CEC DA5 DAC/TL-5 Transport, my system had once more drifted into The Zone, where everything is firing on all cylinders, and I found myself making even more time to listen throughout the day than normal.
Listening to the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Loudspeakers
First thing I’ll mention is that the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 loudspeakers like to play surprisingly big and loud. I’ve finally moved on from playing “Hijack” from the Blade Runner 2049 OST on a loop but I still haven’t kicked Hans Zimmer—the new Dune OST, which just won an Oscar, is less innovative but more musical than BR49, with a denser structure that borrows from world music to create music for a completely new world.
All of Zimmer’s dynamic conceits still loom large, with huge menacing blasts that are both ground-shaking at yet still contained at a considerable distance. The 805 D4s trimmed off none of the sheer impact of this music under the guise of a reduced scale—I simply couldn’t believe how big it all sounded, at least not while I was staring directly at these relatively small monitors and trying to make sense of what I was hearing.
Going back to my observation that the soundstage reached well back into the adjoining room behind the rear wall, I could feel real definition to the size and space of the musical presentation. It wasn’t so much the feeling of a wall knocked down, but simply an open window that revealed a big grassy meadow outdoors. I could even feel this sensation when I walked between the speakers, up close. I still felt like I was standing there, looking outside, listening to a world move and breathe and talk back to me.
When I listened to more intimate tracks, those diamond dome tweeters stepped up and introduced themselves. On Gustaf Ljunggren’s new album with Skuli Sverrisson, Floreana, you’ll hear a series of melodic counterpoints for all types of string instruments—baritone ukulele, pedal steel, and every type of acoustic guitar you can imagine. (Sverrisson, of course, plays a gentle bass guitar throughout.) That diamond tweeter on the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 was so superb at outlining the differences in the timbre of each instrument, and what it sounds like for a human to play each instrument, that I never had a question about who was playing what at any given moment.
So what do I think about the diamond tweeter, now that I have one in my system? I think I’d have to hear a few more to really grasp what a diamond tweeter can do that others cannot—especially when I’ve been enjoying such incredible high-frequency drivers as the Raal ribbon tweeter on the Brigadier Audio BA2s over the last few years. But that incredible sense of detail, of boundaries naturally drawn, has to be the dominion of the diamond dome. I think I’m ultimately talking about transparency here, but maybe it’s a bit more.
I felt I heard more of the natural detail that exists around us in our own lives, and when I hear it coming out of a pair of speakers…well, perhaps that’s what gives me the feeling that I’m standing at an open window, looking, and hearing real things.
Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Loudspeakers Conclusions
Since I don’t have that long and storied relationship with Bowers & Wilkins, I can’t tell you if this is the best 805 ever, or how it’s different than the first three versions. That’s probably best since I don’t like making endless guesses about comparisons made at different times and different places, not to mention different systems.
I can pretend, however, that the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 is the first product from a brand-new company, which is always the best way to evaluate high-end audio gear. I can discuss the 805 D4 as if I had never heard on Bowers & Wilkins or had any obnoxious and unfounded biases about the brand.
But here’s the conclusion, and it sounds like damning with faint praise and it’s anything but that. I was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed—and even loved—the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4. It easily joins the slowly expanding group of my current two-way faves with no qualifiers, no excuses, no minor reservations. In a listening room optimized for stellar two-way monitors, the 805 D4s distinguished themselves with a coherent top-to-bottom balance—and those high-frequencies made me sit up and walk around and try to figure out why it all sounded so realistic and natural. Highly recommended.