Bowers & Wilkins 800 Signature Speaker Series Overview

It’s been 22 years since the last time Bowers & Wilkins introduced new models to the 800 Series Signature. Audio Advice was lucky enough to get our hands on the first pairs to come into the United States recently - the 801 D4 Signature Floorstanding speaker and 805 D4 Signature bookshelf speakers.

Right from the get-go, the 801D4 Signature speaker is far and away the best 800 series model we have ever heard from Bowers & Wilkins. We’ve been carrying their products since 1981, so that is high praise indeed.  

The new 800 Series Signature speaker models are based on the current 801 D4 and 805 D4. These were introduced in 2021. Even if you have never owned Bowers & Wilkins speakers, you have more than likely enjoyed a movie or listened to music produced using their 800 series. You’ll find these at well-known recording and post-production studios, such as Abbey Road and Skywalker Ranch. Engineers love the 800 Series for their extremely accurate sound reproduction and the low distortion and colorations. 

This respect for the 800 models drives the engineers at Bowers & Wilkins’s facility in Worthing, England to strive for continuous improvement. When you are proud of what you have accomplished so far, it’s a great motivation to become even better. Bowers & Wilkins have pioneered many new techniques for measuring how a speaker performs. The staying power of this series is certainly evident as the first 801 model was introduced in 1979 and there have been eight iterations of the 800 series since then.

Their team took more than six years to design the 800 Series Diamond D4 introduced in 2021 which included many engineering firsts. Check out our review in the link above!

Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Tech

Let’s go over the great tech inside the 800 D4 models to give you a bit of background. 

Bowers & Wilkins introduced the Diamond Tweeter in 2005. A tweeter made from diamond dust, it’s very expensive to produce, but its responsiveness is extremely linear - way beyond the range of human hearing. 

All of the models in the 800 series have a very distinctive aluminum turbine head that houses the tweeter. The 801D4, 802D4, and 803D4 have a second turbine head for the midrange driver.  

D3 saw the introduction of their patented Continuum midrange cone based on years of R&D which virtually eliminated the midrange surround. They even decouple it from the housing with a unique internal rod.  

For the 800 Series Diamond D4 models, they invested in million-dollar machines to produce amazing reverse-wrapped cabinets using several layers glued together with a special technique. Their famous matrix design of internal bracing was also improved with braces made from aluminum.  

The 800 Series Diamond D4 also saw all models move to external crossovers. These almost look like a heat sink on the rear of the reverse wrap cabinet. These house the crossovers and serve three primary purposes:  

  • Reduces the chance of air pressure disturbing the sensitive electronic parts on the crossover
  • Gives the engineers more internal cabinet space for the woofers
  • Acts as a heat sink for the crossover components

The truly special part about the 800 Series Diamond D4 is the Biomimetic Suspension system.  Back in 2007, the B&W engineers made an interesting discovery - if you look at a midrange speaker driver, they all have what is called a spider. The voice coil of the driver is attached to the inside of the spider and the outer perimeter of the spider is attached to the speaker basket.  It serves the critical function of keeping the voice coil centered in the magnetic gap. As far back as we can remember, the spider has been made of a flexible material with ridges in it, typically some type of paper or fabric.  

When they were doing measurements in their continuous search for improvement, they discovered the spider acts like a speaker as it moves back and forth. The air it moves hits the back of the midrange and adds a small level of distortion. Most midrange drivers are also somewhat porous, meaning the sound also passes through.  

It took them 15 years to come up with a design to get around this problem - the Biomimetic Suspension. When you see it, you wonder why no one thought of it before, but it was truly a breakthrough in improving midrange clarity.  

There were also hundreds of other improvements in the most recent 800 Series Diamond D4. But, the latest 800 Series Signature speakers were made to go a step beyond. 

Within five minutes of hearing the new 801 D4 Signature floorstanding speaker for the first time, we could tell these were truly unique. Sometimes, we see manufacturers create a special or signature product that is really not much different from the model it was based on. At first glance, except for the two dramatic finishes available on the 800 Series Signature, you might think the same thing. However, these two new models feature many upgrades, including brand-new drivers, unique to the 800 Series Signature.

Let’s explore what the engineers in the UK came up with to improve two already amazing speakers.

  1. Bowers & Wilkins 801 D4 Signature Floorstanding Speaker Bowers & Wilkins 801 D4 Signature Floorstanding Speaker
    Final Price $25,000.00

  1. Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature Bookshelf Speaker Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature Bookshelf Speaker
    Final Price $6,000.00

Uniquely Finished to Perfection

First, when you see these, you will be struck by their incredible fit and finish. They are offered in two unique finishes only available with this series.  

The models we received for testing are in the Midnight Blue Metallic finish. Bowers & Wilkens has had an iconic speaker called Nautilus in their lineup for several years. These require 4 power amps and are striking in their sound and appearance. 

The one year we had a pair on display at a show in our Raleigh location, the line to hear them went around the building! They are that amazing.  Just a warning - if you want a pair of these ultra high-end speakers, the wait time is almost a year as they are made to order. The Midnight Blue Metallic finish on the Signature 800 series goes through the exact same painting process as their Nautilus, which is very impressive.

All of the metal components on these models are finished in a dark anthracite or gloss black.  The Connolly leather trim you will find on the top is color matched to the body of the speaker with a unique blue leather finish.

The other available finish option is California Burl wood. If you appreciate a beautiful wood finish with lots of movement, you will love these. The veneer is a sustainably-sourced engineered wood from the Italian brand Alpi. To get the look that gives them so much depth in appearance requires many sanding passes by skilled craftsmen followed up by machine polishing. These have a black Connolly leather trim.

There is no question that these are incredibly beautiful speakers. Let’s now look at the audio improvements their team made to bring these to a higher level. 

We should let you know upfront that none of these upgrades will be available to retrofit 800 Series Diamond D4 models. They will only be available in the 800 Series Signature.

Top Plate Upgrades

In the 801 D4 Signature model, the midrange is in its own aluminum turbine housing. This is attached to the cabinet with an aluminum top plate. In their quest for perfection using extreme measurement analysis, their engineers discovered they could reduce the already very low resonances of this top plate even more. When you see the cutaway of this piece, you’ll notice a series of specially designed machined-out holes in the bottom of the plate. 

Interestingly, with the size difference of the tweeter housing used on the 805 D4 Signature, the same technology did not apply. They found a different way to couple it to the cabinet to reduce resonances.

New Damping Collar on 801 Signature Floorstanding Speaker

Bowers & Wilkins takes the new aluminum top plate and pairs it up with a redesigned leather-trimmed plastic collar. When the 800 Series Signature models were in development, Bowers & Wilkins started using a damping material called Techsound. This new collar has wedges of Techsound damping added to it at strategic locations.

The effect of this new collar and top plate on the 801 D4 Signature speaker takes the cabinet even more out of the audio picture. 

New Tweeter Grill Mesh

With a very expensive Diamond tweeter on board, Bowers & Wilkins has always had a protective mesh in front of it to keep prying fingers from damaging the tweeter. In 2015, they came up with a new design that has been in use ever since.  

This mesh grill needs to be both open for sound and stiff for protection, so it's a balancing act to cover both aspects. They actually tried and measured 25 different versions of new designs before settling on the one you will get in the new 800 Series Signature models.  

It is far more open than the one currently used and, to our ears, sounded more spacious with even more top-end resolution.

New Drivers

For the 801 D4 Signature speakers, the two 10” bass drivers have been redesigned and upgraded to further reduce distortion. The same improvements were done to the midrange/bass driver in the 805 D4 Signature bookshelf speakers. They found that, if they changed the makeup of the steel used in the top plate and mid-plate, they could lower inductance which led to less distortion.

New Port for the 801 D4 Signature

Bowers & Wilkins have used their proven Flowport technology to achieve highly accurate bass for quite a while. They have been bracing the area around where the port attaches to the cabinet with aluminum to improve the stiffness of the plastic Flowport. The 801 D4 Signature has a new cast aluminum Flowport flare designed to make the bass even tighter and offer improvements to the sound of the initial attack you hear on deep bass notes.

New Crossovers

The speaker crossovers used in the 800 Series Diamond D4 models were already fantastic. The crossover is the part that directs the signal flow, sending the various frequencies to the right speaker drivers and keeping the frequencies you do not want in those drivers out of the path. It is a critical component you never see that has a huge impact on the ultimate sound quality.  

With their drive for perfection and less price point limitations on them, the engineers used much more expensive bypass capacitors and added more of them. Both the 801 D4 Signature floorstanding speakers and 805 D4 Signature bookshelf speakers get the same improvements, which creates a reduction in distortion and results in cleaner sound across the midrange and treble.   

A common thread starts to form as you look at all of the improvements in the 800 Series Signature models. The Bowers & Wilkins engineers used the latest technology to reduce distortion so we can hear our favorite recordings at a deeper level. Our listening tests certainly proved this.  These speakers are so good that we suspect the 801 D4 Signature will be very popular with many famous recording studios and post production houses around the globe.

Performance Testing

We first connected up the 801 D4 Signatures to a Classe Delta stack. By the way, these new pieces from Classe sound great! We used their Delta preamp and Delta Mono power amps. The sound was so good after we dialed them in that we sat there for almost two hours playing all of our favorite demo tracks and were just amazed.

Our first cut was “Blue Rondo a la Turk” from the Dave Brubeck “Time Out” album.  This starts out with Dave Brubeck on piano followed by Eugene Wright on the double bass and Joe Morello on drums. It showed off many aspects of what we loved about these speakers. First, the piano sounded just like there was a piano in the room. The midrange was just so pure and clear with the harmonics of a piano shining through with zero coloration. When the double bass line hits, you can both hear and feel the pluck of the string. The notes were super fast and filled the room with tuneful bass. The brushing of the cymbal was the icing on the cake to show how effortless and open the tweeter is. The new crossovers, mounting, and new grill have certainly made the classic Diamond tweeter able to reveal even more detail and delicacy.  

Next up was “Tecumseh Valley” by Nanci Griffith accompanied by Arlo Guthrie. This track starts out with delicate guitar work with the 801 Signatures shining here, as it felt like the overdubbed guitars were in the room. When Nanci Griffith’s voice came in, she floated out in front of us.  This song has a lot of very subtle emotions in her voice and they came through so well with us being able to hear her every breath and inflection. When Arlo Guthrie followed with his vocals, his gravelly voice was extremely well separated and distinct. 

We then checked out the 1960 Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fritz Reiner playing “Scheherazade.” In our humble opinion, this is one of the best classical recordings ever. It begins with a blast of the full orchestra, then moves into a wistful violin and harp solo before moving into a section where more instruments join in as the sound finally swells to a huge crescendo. The first several minutes of this recording are a true test for a loudspeaker, as it needs to be able to produce the full weight of the orchestra and also reveal all of the emotions of the single violin as it floats in front of you. We were completely taken aback by how well the 801 Signatures captivated us with this track.  

Moving in a totally different direction, we wanted to hear how they did with high-energy electronic music. We went with Yello’s seminal, “Oh Yeah.” This has vocals flying all around with super impactful deep bass. Again, the 801 D4 Signature floorstanding speakers blew us away here.  The sound was way outside of the speakers and they handled the deep bass lines with ease.  

As you can tell, we really enjoyed our time with the 801 D4 Signatures and gave our ears a rest before testing out the 805 D4 Signature bookshelf speakers.

The 805 D4 Signatures do not have the deep bass or dynamic capabilities of the 801 D4 Signature.  What they do incredibly well is present an open, spacious sound that rivals any small monitor speaker in its class and price point. While they do not have the same Continuum midrange driver as the 801 D4 Signatures, they still have an open and effortless presentation across the midrange. These will typically be used in a smaller space and will present good bass under those conditions. But, like all bookshelf speakers, their deep bass reach is limited. That said, you just cannot beat that delicate top-end presentation we heard on these. 

Overall Summary

The 800 Series Signature from Bowers & Wilkins certainly represents a new level of audio quality for these two models of speakers. If you own 801’s or 802’s of any vintage, you will want to check out the 800 Series Signature. Trust us - you’ll fall in love instantly, even after a brief listening session.   

It appears the Bowers & Wilkins engineers in the UK have created another classic series of speakers that push the boundaries of state-of-the-art sound.

We hope this overview of the new 800 Series Signature models from Bowers & Wilkins has been helpful to give you a glimpse into how great these sound. Both our Raleigh and Charlotte locations will have demos on display for your listening pleasure. We invite you to come to check them out. If you have any questions about these or anything related to audio or home theater, please be sure and contact us via chat or email, give us a call, or drop by one of our stores.

  1. Bowers & Wilkins 801 D4 Signature Floorstanding Speaker Bowers & Wilkins 801 D4 Signature Floorstanding Speaker
    Final Price $25,000.00

  1. Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature Bookshelf Speaker Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 Signature Bookshelf Speaker
    Final Price $6,000.00