B&W 805 D3

A Compact That Acts Like a Flagship

Equipment report
Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3
B&W 805 D3

The civilizing influence of the 805 D3’s superb diamond tweeter cannot be overstated. Its character was almost chameleon-like in the way it adopted the character of the source material. Terrifically expressive and liquid, it could sound brilliantly illuminated, even dry, or warm and richly shaded—it all depended on the recording. It imparted a finely graduated textural palette that extended from the high-gloss sheen of a piccolo trumpet or the delicacy of an orchestral triangle to the stinging grit and rosin from a country fiddler’s bow. Or, take the exquisitely detailed leading-edge attack of the trumpet solo during The Carpenters’ “Close To You,” and the tuning of the multiple tom-tom skins for each drum fill. In all, there’s a purity and transparency to the D3’s performance that are as startling as if the very air in the listening room had been scrubbed clean with HEPA filtration.

Images were rock-stable and focused from dead center stage to the widest points of the soundspace, and even mono recordings such as the recent MoFi 45rpm reissue of Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow came across with a stunning amount of reverberant depth and, yes, layering. For soundstage and scale, the 805 doesn’t have a big footprint on the order of floorstanders like the Vandersteen Treo CT or Wilson Sabrina but it is very impressive for such a modest size spec. While it cannot impersonate a big speaker, it still presented large-scale music such as Dvořák’s “New World” with a reasonable impression of orchestral weight, attitude, and symphonic dimension. Add a smallish subwoofer such as the REL T7i ($999) to flesh out the half-octave below 40 cycles, and much of the orchestral weight is restored; still, it’s no floorstander.

A decisive factor in the 805’s excellent performance was the integration between its port and its already-excellent inter-driver coherence. There’s nothing more disappointing in an otherwise promising loudspeaker than having a pair of transducers speeding along to the finish line like Triple Crown winners and the port bringing up the rear like a Budweiser Clydesdale. But as I listened to the sinuous opening vamp from Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” followed by the dance remix of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”—tracks that will give “slow” reflex designs fits—the venting was indistinguishable as a source. The speaker yielded near-sealed-box speed and control but with the oomph and extension of a ported enclosure. Commendation also goes to the 805’s rigid, non-resonant enclosure that never betrayed its boxy roots, neither softening transients nor dulling immediacy. All in all, port management is among the best I’ve heard in a two-way bass reflex.

I’ve gotten hooked listening to Tony Bennett’s “Small World” from the recent Impex twin-LP release Bennett/Brubeck, The White House Sessions, Live 1962. Beyond the minimalist processing, what makes this live recording so satisfying is that you can hear in Bennett’s singing the sweat that goes into the performance, the moment by moment concentration of the singer performing outside of the controlled atmosphere of the recording studio—no safety net, retakes, or edits. In that same vein are Intervention Records’ remasters of Joe Jackson’s I’m the Man and Night and Day albums that reflect the recording minimalism of their era—a pre-auto-tune simplicity, speed, and immediacy that lets you hear past the machinery and join the musicians inside the studio.

It doesn’t happen very often that I sit down to listen to a loudspeaker, notepad and pen at the ready, and suddenly find that the stylus has hit the run-out groove, and my notepad is resting in my lap completely forgotten. This has occurred with only a handful of loudspeakers. I can recall the TAD CR-1, the Wilson Sabrina, the Vandersteen Treo CT, Elac’s superb li’l cheapie Debut B5, the ATC SCM20SL (bought ’em, still have ’em)— different speakers in so many ways yet all had a musical charisma that seduced me into listening for hours at a stretch.

Returning to my original premise: the compact speaker as flagship. If sheer size or dizzying price is the only criterion, then it’s obviously game over for the 805. However, if the standard is premium quality, sonic eloquence, and untrammeled musicality, then the 805 D3 ascends to flagship-level importance. I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve ever thought of a small, two-way, stand-mounted speaker in this way. Compact or not, the 805 D3 is loudspeaker to be reckoned with, at any price, in any company. My highest recommendation.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Two-way vented compact
Driver complement: 1" diamond dome tweeter, 6.5" cone mid/bass
Frequency response: 42Hz–28kHz (±3dB from reference axis)
Nominal impedance: 8 ohms (4.6 ohms min.)
Sensitivity: 88dB
Dimensions: 9.4" x 16.7" x 13.6"
Weight: 28 lbs.
Price: $6000

54 Concord Street
North Reading, MA 01864
(978) 664-2870

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