Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4 speakers are close but not at the top of the food chain for this lauded, audiophile loudspeaker brand. While the 802s (slightly bigger) and 800s (much larger and nearly $37,000 per pair) are above the 803s, these slim, sexy speakers are the first to come to market since B&W was purchased by Sound United, the parent company of Denon, Marantz, and others.
For a generation, Joe Atkins’ Equity International owned B&W and ultimately Classé. Rotel, which was distributed but not owned by Equity, has been spun off to Sumiko, while B&W and Classé ended up under the Sound United umbrella. On top of that Sound United (Definitive Technology, Polk, Denon, Marantz and other brands especially in the automotive space) have recently been sold to a new publicly held owner, Masimo. If your head is spinning with finance and/or the banality of mergers and acquisitions, I can’t blame you. I am just trying to keep you up to speed on the news before we get to the review.
What Makes the Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4 Speakers Special?
- For $20,000 per pair, you get an awful lot of the performance of the Bowers & Wilkins 800 D4 speakers in a pretty and more slender form factor that fits more easily into more listening room.
- I got a chance to fly to Boston a few years ago to experience the launch of the D3 line of 800 Bowers & Wilkins speakers. As part of the event, I got a chance to play with the parts that go into this series of speakers, and my takeaway was that they remind me of the parts that go into a Boeing 787 Dreamliner more than a loudspeaker. The level of engineering excellence is just unreal. The parts quality and fit and finish are just amazing.
- For a lot less money you can get into the 7-series of Bowers & Wilkins speakers, but they are boxy by comparison. Mind you, not everyone who can afford 7-series Bowers & Wilkins speakers could buck up to the 8-series. If you can, though, it’s worth it just for aesthetics alone, never mind the increased performance
- The imaging on these speakers is just special. They sound razor sharp but have no brightness to my ears. I spent time listening to them on some Marantz electronics from a music server on AudioQuest cables. They imaged wide and accurately as you would (and should) expect of a speaker this far up the food chain.
- Gone are the yellow Kevlar midrange drivers of the past. The new, silvery midrange drivers are pretty slick too. I trust that they measure better as they sound pretty damn open and awesome.
- The Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4 isn’t the most efficient, dynamic speaker on the market, but they aren’t difficult to drive either. They are reportedly in the 90 dB range like a Revel or other comparable speakers in the price range. I listened to them on a pretty modest Marantz integrated amp (note the Sound United tie-in) for most of my time and they were happy when I pushed them to loud volumes. Don’t think that you need $20,000 amps to power these $20,000 speakers, because you simply don’t.
- The 803 D4s have good and tight bass, but I like subwoofers matched with nearly all audiophile speakers in a world where subs as well as a growing number of audiophile, stereo preamps come with room correction and-or EQ. Subs go lower than speakers. Let the speakers do what they do best for 95 percent of the sound and let the sub do the bottom five percent. That’s a good plan.
- There are a lot of pretty finishes for the Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4s. Black is classic but white looks best in my room. There are some colors and some wood finishes too. In 2022, without these options the 803s would be behind the curve versus the Focals, Wilsons, Magicos, and MartinLogans of the world. Thankfully, they’re every bit as gorgeous as the aforementioned brands at the $20,000/pair price point. 800 Series Bowers & Wilkins can also be custom painted/finished if you are willing to pay extra and wait a few months for your speakers.
- The design of the Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4 is a 3-way vented box concept. They have the lauded and upgraded Diamond Tweeter which is likely the reason why you like/buy such a speaker as it is at the core of why they sound the way that they do. They have a five-inch (non-Kevlar) midrange and (2) 7-inch Aerofoil bass drivers. Again, you won’t be able to reach the lowest of low bass but you will be able to get pretty close without a sub. Then again, if you’ve got $20,000 for these speakers, buck up for a sub (or two) and have the full Monty, right?
- The speakers are not crazy heavy at about 63 kg (137 lb.). A Wilson or Magico will weigh a lot more.
Why Should You Care About the Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4 Speakers?
- These speakers can make your life better. The can lower your blood pressure in 15 minutes of John Coltrane. They are show-stoppingly gorgeous and they sound simply fantastic.
- Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4s come from a long line of speakers like those used in studios like Abbey Road and Skywalker Ranch thus they also work great in a home theater system.
- These could very well be the last speakers you ever need, as it will be hard to find much better even for a lot more money. If you like the very accurate and controlled Bowers & Wilkins sound, these speakers are going to float your boat.
Some Things You Might Not Like About the Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4 Speakers…
- These speakers sound typically British and a bit buttoned down. They image like a sumbitch but they are also polite too. Not everybody loves speakers from the U.K., and you need to audition them first which is kinda obvious at these prices.
- The 803 D4s don’t “need” a subwoofer but I wouldn’t want to be without a sub when I get to this level of the hobby.
- These aren’t as fussy about placement as many speakers in their class, but they really do best in a room where you can get them far enough from the side walls but not too far away from the backwall. Add a sub and the back wall issue goes away as you can supplement the bass with the sub but I want to go full disclosure here.
Listening to the Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4 Speakers…
On “I Shot the Sheriff” from Bob Marley’s Legend CD (1440 AIFF – CD resolution) (buy at Amazon) you can’t believe the depth that you can hear. The Hammond organ has a bit of fire to it in the background. Marley’s Focals projector into the room as they should, and this is what the 803 D4s do best. The bass was tight, solid, and respectable. A sub makes it even better but either way, we were jammin’ (in the name of the lord) if you get my picture…
I caught myself in a moment with my jaw dangling open listening to the late George Michael live on MTV Unplugged covering the Bonnie Raitt jam “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” (buy on Amazon) This acoustic track (with piano included) is just a gorgeous arrangement that sounded stunningly open on the Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4s. The rich back-up singers and growing musical accompaniment makes for a warm, emotional sonic experience worth of the aspirational sum of $20,000 per pair for loudspeakers.
I finished with the richly layered 1981 Genesis track “No Reply at All” from ABACAB (buy on CD or vinyl at Amazon) (CD – 1440 resolution). Phil Collins’ voice again presents itself fantastically [DB9] on the 803 D4’s. He projects like a hologram in front of the speakers. At the same time, his snare has tremendous “pop”. The layering of the horn arrangement was what got this musical track into the review over so many others that sounded so good. These speakers sound really good for every genre of music which is part of their appeal and value. Not every $20,000 speaker can say that. These Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4s can…
- Read Bob Barrett’s review of the Bowers & Wilkins 702 S2 Signature Speakers for $7,499 per pair (buy at Crutchfield)
- Jerry Del Colliano looks into the Focal Sopra No. 2 at $22,000 per pair. Read the review.
Do the Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4 Speakers Hold Their Value?
You are damn right they hold their value. Bowers & Wilkins speakers are as blue chip as you can get. If you went broke tomorrow, you could sell these suckers on Audiogon.com or Ebay.com in mere minutes for a good portion of what you paid for them. Five years from now, you will feel like you are ripping somebody off considering how much money you likely can get for them. Like an old Porsche 911, you never are going to get less than X for them and X is pretty high. Invest with certainty here.
Let’s Talk About the Competition For the Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4 Speakers
Oh man, where do I start here as there are so many roads that I could go down in terms of competition.
- Let’s start with Paradigm’s Persona 5H speakers at $8,999 each, which puts them close enough to $20,000 per pair. I’ve heard these speakers in person many times, and they are a little more “liquid” sounding, if you will allow that descriptor . I owned Paradigm’s former top-of-the-line speakers, which cost a mere $8,400 per pair, and they beat out other speakers costing $25,000 a pair in my old screening room—speakers like the Revel Salon IIs (too hard to drive but sound great) and Wilson Audio WATT Puppy (dynamic and lust-worthy but not as good of a value).
- Wilson Audio’s SabrinaX speakers bring this lauded, Utah-based speaker company’s floorstanding speakers into the conversation at $18,900 per pair. Not as tricked out as other, more expensive Wilson speakers – their finish is superior of that of the Bowers & Wilkins and that is saying something. They are dynamic, easy to drive, with a very familiar and very resolute sound. You can’t go wrong with Wilson Audio speakers. Don’t drive them crazy as I did in the early 1990s with custom PPG paint colors like Audi “Pearlescent White” as they take weeks to paint. OK – you can do that… just don’t tell them that I told you that it was OK.
- Another Utah-based speaker company that I love is Tekton Designs. Their Ulfberht speaker comes with a name so stupid you’d think you could pick them up at IKEA. That aside, listen to these suckers. $13,400 per pair. You can get custom paint (good luck getting grills but that’s another story. These monster speakers are crazy efficient and can be driven by like a 9-volt battery. They play loud. They sound great. They give you that visceral experience. The Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4s are refined like an Aston Martin. The Tektons are more like a Corvette C8. Both good but two different ways to get somewhere very quickly. You pick the style that you like because you can’t lose.
- Focal’s Sopra No. 2 at $22,000 per pair is another good comp for the Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4s. The French speaker company packs easy-to-drive technology with dynamic sound and simply gorgeous looks to match their world-class sound.
Final Thoughts on the Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4 Speakers…
The Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4s are simply gorgeous speakers that can make anything from two-inch analog master tape to MP3 (or YouTube.com) sound fantastic. They are for big-boy audiophiles in terms of budget, but even if you are just getting started in the hobby it is important to have aspirational products to own. Speakers like 803 D4s are just that. When you head hits the pillow at night, these are the speakers that you dream of. When you are selling blood and eating free doughnuts to keep you from passing out, remember that you are doing it so you can someday own Bowers & Wilkins 803 D4s.