B&W 803 D4 Loudspeaker Page 2

In addition to using the 803 D4s in my own listening room I also spent some solo time in the late Ken Ishiwata's studio in Eindhoven. I've been here many times for listening sessions but this time around, and as a nod to Ishiwata-san, the system included a Marantz SC-7S2 preamp with MA-9S2 monoblocks. An SA-10 SACD-player [HFN Mar '17] was on hand, not only as disc spinner but also connected by USB to a NUC running Roon.

Loaded into the SA-10, 'Morning Bell' from Radiohead's Kid A [CDKIDA 1] was presented very intimately on the 803 D4s, with an immediacy giving me the impression that singer Thom Yorke stood a mere metre or two in front of me. The 803 D4s were no slouch when it came to low extension either. The sense of measured control when the speakers delivered the thick bass line underlaying 'The National Anthem' was nothing short of spectacular. I've heard this track on many loudspeakers, but rarely has the wall of sound when the saxophone and horns enter the fray been so distinct, massive but still detailed. Each instrument retained its own character, which considering the mad horn action is remarkable.

Piano Magic
Similarly, Portishead's 'The Rip' [Third; Island Records 1766401] showed this was not a one-off. Here again, the fat repeating synth line displayed great texture, while the minimalistic percussion was beautifully exposed. However, Beth Gibbons' vocals were slightly over-emphasised, convincing me to reduce the 803 D4's absolute toe-in and proving, again, that these are loudspeakers you can't just park randomly and expect them to sound 'spot on'.

The careful, nearly hesitant playing of Alice Sara Ott on Nightfall [DG 483 5187, 96kHz/24-bit] always makes for captivating listening. Her version of Eric Satie's 'Gnossienne No.1 Lent' made a big impression on the 803 D4s, with microdetail aplenty and piano notes softly sustained resulting in a very authentic performance. When the album moves on to Satie's played-to-death 'Gymnopédie No.1', that sense of intimacy convinced me not to press stop, as I would do normally at this point.


As debuted on the 800 D3, the metal 'spine' of the 803 D4 completes the 'reverse-wrap' cabinet, and hosts the crossover and (bi-wirable) terminals. The alloy/steel plinth includes wheels

Curtis Mayfield's Curtis [Rhino 8122-79932-2] remains a seminal recording of '70s soul. Social upheaval simmers in the background, with 'We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue' as a prime example. Above all, it's a great tune, with the percussion nimbly adding a splash of speed after a funky break halfway. Of course, Mayfield's compassionate call for equality remains centre stage, but it's the lush portrayal of the trumpets – on the precipice of harshness – and the groovy coherence of the whole that makes listening to this track on the 803 D4s even more engaging.

The detailed soundstaging that's in the 803 D4's DNA was keenly demonstrated when I dusted off John Williams In Vienna, recorded in the legendary Goldener Saal. The 'Devil's Dance' is a thrilling ride, and the 803 D4s were exemplary in highlighting the breathtaking violin playing of Anne-Sophie Mutter. When the orchestra joined in with force, counterpointing the violin, the blast of the horns and Pauken (tympani) were delivered with huge dynamic energy but also true sophistication.

Feel The Force
And what about the 'Imperial March', the most iconic of Williams' Star Wars themes? This is a great rendition – and not only because of the huge force behind the opening phrases. The percussion, especially, has a depth and character most lesser speakers would struggle to communicate. At the same time the low extension, while present and detailed, was neither overwhelming nor particularly dominant.

Combine this with how the 803 D4s lift out secondary instruments, such as the glockenspiel, and we are talking about a presentation that is insightful and detailed. What the 803 D4 really exposes are the more muted parts of the piece, building up to the crescendo – it's a wall of sound on an imperial scale.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Standing on the shoulders of previous generations, the 803 D4 incorporates a long list of tweaks that further refines the entry-point into Bowers & Wilkins' current elite range. It's a step up rather than outright leap from the D3 but more attainable and nearly as much fun as the 801 D4 flagship. But like a performance sports car, you can't expect to just jump in and drive off. System-matching and setup are crucial.

B&W Group Ltd
West Sussex
Supplied by: B&W Group Ltd
0800 232 1513