Floorstanding loudspeakers

The all-new flagship of Bowers & Wilkins is a contemporary piece of art. Although the company published mouthwatering images of the speaker, I must admit it looks even better in reality. The leather, the anthracite aluminum trimming, and gently curved edges – all these design elements lend the speakers a look of superiority, a kind of Audi’s technology-meets-design  flair. Yet, the sound is what counts, and I was very curious about it. No matter whether traditional fans of the B&W will find the new sound philosophy of the brand likeable or not, sonically I have found the 801 D4 the best speaker ever made by the Bowers & Wilkins.

100% reference

Function and form

Ease of use

Bowers & Wilkins set the foundations of the current D4 range in 80’s, that is forty years ago. Travelling along the timeline of their flagship models, from the revolutionary 801 to the most recent D, Diamond (D2) and D3 series, one can easily document how the technologies of high-end loudspeakers have been developing. Very few companies can afford the R&D complexity of B&W, and its manufacturing equipment. Still, with the previous model, the 800 D3, I felt the company had hasted a bit the introduction to improve margins instead giving the completely facelifted model one more thought and finalizing it to a full effect. Thus, the D3 flagship was merely a redesign of the Diamond series with some radical yet not finished improvements. All of this clicks together with the new D4 range and the new leader of the pack, the brand-new Bowers & Wilkins 801 D4.

Like the predecessor the main cabinet is a teardrop-curved enclosure; instead of a curved enclosure with a flat front baffle the 801 D4s have a U-curved front battle that is held together by a slightly convex aluminum panel at the back. The aluminum panel also hosts bi-wirable speaker terminals. The “Matrix” assembly (that is internal bracing) combines plywood and aluminum to further stiffen the enclosure. None of the plains are flat, none are parallel. The curvature is made more complex by all the driver assemblies that are either protruding from the cabinet (the bass drivers) or sitting atop of it (the midrange turbine head and the tweeter head).

Irrespective of the fact that the 801 D4 internals have been essentially reworked from scratch, from outside not much has changed. Although the heads of the midrange driver and the tweeter, that sit atop the main enclosure, have become aluminized since the D3 range, for the D4 their shapes have been reworked into more tapered looks to better dissipate energy inside. Like in previous the versions the heads are decoupled from each other and from the main enclosure by gel segments. The silvery mesh of what B&W calls “Continuum material” is similar in technology to the previously used yellow Kevlar cones that were a kind of signature of the Bowers & Wilkins’ midrange before. The dual bass drivers keep using “Aerofoil” which is a sandwich of variable thickness made of synthetic foam and carbon fiber skin. The 25mm tweeter employs plasma-vaporized diamond on a former. The speaker’s oversized anti-turbulence bass port fires into the plinth gap.

Each speaker rests on rollers that facilitate ease of moving them around until the listener finds the final placement. Then it is recommended to spike-mount the speakers. From my previous experience I would discourage from using spikes for the speakers are heavy (100kg each) and will probably pierce though any floor structure. The other reason is that the spikes kill the sound; you’d be better off with good decoupling devices like those from Stillpoints, Authentic Audio Image, or Finite Elemente.

Bass management


I am sitting in the sweet spot of the room, listening to the new Bowers & Wilkins 801 D4, and Malia (Convergence, Universal) hangs in the air just in front of me, instruments and the voice woven from the silky cloth of sounds. The focus is amazing, the articulation exact and tangible. The swirling synths and throbbing bass in Smouldering Ashes are contoured and textured yet smooth, and added reverb generates a huge soundscape in the room. Like all B&Ws the 801 D4s are very sensitive to correct positioning. If you are lucky then you’ll be able to find the sweet spot soon, although the final positions of the speakers and yourself will probably require you to work over several weeks, rather than days or hours. Patience is a double virtue in this case.  

To wake the 801 D4s up you need to dial up the volume; the music gets more alive, and the sound opens up. The acoustic guitar of Nils Lofgren (Acoustic Live, Analogue Productions) sounds like a real live-played instrument through the Bowers & Wilkins speakers. The soundstage is wide and deep, and although it is not wider or deeper than with other good speakers, the 801 D4s can successfully portray the relative positions of instruments to each other as well as to microphones. Finally I am hearing a B&W speaker that is transparent top-down and that can pick up subtle ambient clues. The listening to the 801 D4 is like sitting in the venue with Nils and his guitar not more than 15 feet from where I am seated. And when the audience applaud, I applaud too.

Clarity & delicacy


The sampler compiled and engineered by STS Digital label for 40 Years Anniversary of Siltech/Crystal Cable features (among others) one beautiful track. It is the track #8 All by my Lord, a recording of a children choir accompanied by a cathedral organ. Through the Bowers & Wilkins 801 D4 the choir is spread in the room without walls, each single voice clearly distinguishable, and it is possible to start counting the children while being enveloped by the organ. At low registers the sound shatters the room and pressurizes it with ease, although it has circa 150m3. The 801 D4 are specified from 15Hz (+/-3dB) and I have no reason to challenge it.

At the time of this review, I was lucky to have the D4’s predecessor - the Bowers & Wilkins 800 D3 - on hand, so I could place both in exactly same positions in the room and compare the two flagships against each other, under completely identical conditions. The D3 and D4 share same proportions and the same system of drivers, so any differences in e.g. height of drivers above the floor were put out of equation. The differences I heard were on account of the new and improved technologies, therefore.

Tonal accuracy

Temporal resolution

Rosa King and her Come On, Sit Down is a vocal piece from the aforementioned STS Digital sampler. The song’s instrumentation features a piano; its sound was resonant and rich through the 801 D4s, and it had wonderful colors and percussive drive in the solo after 2’40’’ mark.

The very same track sounded different through the 800 D3. Not a bit different but remarkably different. In short, one of the things I noticed was a more pronounced bass that was looser at the same time. The bass was softer and smeared a bit, it was less controlled, the rapid start-stop driver control of the 801 D4 was missing. The Rosa King’s vocal was flatter and was audibly colored, as if it was coming out from a wardrobe case. Not unlike I am used to hear with Harbeth speakers. This is interesting because unlike Harbeth’s, the Bowers & Wilkin’s cabinets are rigid and free from resonances. Still, the certain hollowness of the midrange was there with the D3s and disappeared with the D4s. This is not to say that the D3s sounded colored in midrange – it didn’t, until I heard the D4s next to them. Then there was no way going back.

Spatial resolution

Soundstage width
Soundstage depth

Another remarkable improvement was heard in treble. The D3s were representing the original philosophy, they had more spark, and more rustle as well. The D4s’ highs were cleaner, better resolved, but at the same time less noticeable.

What I also found was that there were fewer differences heard with the children choir/organ than with the Rosa King’s jazz number. It says to me that the main transformation happened in how the new 801 D4s handle the transients, attacks and dynamics. The improved drivers have no overhang and so the sounds do not mask each other, the mix sounds cleaner and more resolved. This is very apparent with rhythmic music and transient tones, less so with sustained sounds like the choir and the organ. For example, when I listened to Nils Lofgren’s album again though the 800 D3s, the band was less ‘there’ and the subtlest details as well as the ambience were slightly obscured. The tonal palette of the 800 D3s was less accomplished, the colors less vivid, and the sound was less fun.

Do you need a resume? Well, in Bowers & Wilkins they have made near perfect speakers this time.

Price as reviewed:900 000,- Kč

Recommended resellers

Eurostar Ostrava, Dobřejovice u Prahy, tel. + 420 323 606 877

Jasyko, Brno, 541 210 108

Associated components

  • Sources: McIntosh MCD600 SACD, XDuoo X10T II PDP
  • Amplifiers: McIntosh C2700 preamplifiers, McIntosh 1.25kW quad balanced monoblocks
  • Loudspeakers: Bowers & Wilkins 801 D4 and 800 D3
  • Interconnects and speaker cables: In-Akustik XLR Referenz 2404, Authentic Audio Image Maestoso XLR, Classe Delta, In-Akustik Reference LS-2404 AIR
  • Power conditioning: In-Akustik Referenz AC-3500, Authentic Audio Image power distributor, In-Akustik Referenz AC-1502, Authentic Audio Image Maestoso C19/C15



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