B&W 801 D4 Signature Loudspeaker Page 2

One of the smartest features of the speaker, even though you may only use it once, is its mobility. Despite weighing over 100kg apiece, the 801 D4 Signature is easy to unpack and place thanks to castors built into the plinth – a clever packaging design even includes a ramp down which the speaker can be rolled onto your floor and then positioned. Then, once you're happy, spikes can be wound down to jack the speakers off their undercarriage, and additional rubber-tipped stabilisers deployed for further peace of mind. If only more speakers of this size and weight were as easy to shift around.

sqnote Taking It Up A Notch
Okay, so now time for the $64,000 – or at least £12,500 – question: how does the 'Midnight Special' stack up against the standard 801 D4, of which it is described as 'an optimised version'? First, we'll side-step the philosophical question of where the design team will go a few years hence, given that this speaker is also 'optimised for perfection'. Instead, and for now, the 801 D4 Signature wholly justifies all that extra obsession over fine engineering detail, for its sound is clearly from the same ultra-revealing stable as the original, but with every aspect of its performance cranked up a notch or two.

No, it doesn't instantly make the standard D4 model sound outdated – instead, there's just a little more of everything in the sound of the Signature. There's a crisper, clearer treble married to a more fluid and explicit midrange, all underpinned by a bass that's no less weighty than it's always been, but now revolutionised with tighter, faster attack and drive, making each note clearer and easier to enjoy. Put simply, there's more of everything here, but just as smoothly integrated as before, creating a big, bold, informative sound that's still capable of incredible subtlety, and massive insight into what's being played.

As ever, this flagship floorstander demands to be used with powerful amplification that's also blessed with finesse. Bowers & Wilkins recommends a wide-open range of 50W-1000W, but listening with amps ranging from the Michi M8 monoblocks [HFN Oct '20] to the Constellation Centaur II Stereo power amp [HFN Feb '23], resident in PM's listening room, suggests that these are speakers that thrive on plenty of clean current, all the better to grip and control them.

The greater clarity here means the listener needs to work less to appreciate the detail in a mix, and not just with lovingly burnished audiophile recordings. Listening to the new remaster of Alice Cooper's School's Out album [Warner/Rhino R2 681029], and with the slightly shocking realisation that I bought the original half a century ago, the density of 'Luney Tune' is still beyond the speaker's ability to open things up, but the 'Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets'/'Street Fight' sequence, taking its cue from Bernstein's West Side Story, has real drive and vitality. Yes, the speakers make even more of the seemingly Vincent Price-influenced lead vocals, and the effect is still schlocky and sleazy, but this presentation has bags of life and impact.


The substantial metal spine of the 801 D4 completes B&W's innovative 'reverse wrap' cabinet design and also hosts the bi-wire/bi-amp crossover – now with upgraded bypass capacitors in this Signature version

 Making Space
Give the 801 D4 Signatures a cleaner recording and that detail really shines through, for example on the recent re-release of the Paratore Brothers' 1993 rendition of Camille Saint-Saëns' 'Carnival Of The Animals' [EuroArts download]. There's something slightly old-fashioned but at the same time entirely natural about the recording here, in which the performers are distant with no 'spotlighting' in the mix. In other words, it's more like listening to a concert platform performance than a studio confection, and that's just what the 801 D4 Signature speakers deliver, with both space and wonderful presence to the sound.

If you need any evidence of the reasons why these 800 series speakers are still widely used in studio monitoring, it's all there in their ability to get deep down into a mix and let the listener hear every detail; the musical equivalent of 'non-destructive testing'. But for all this insight the music remains intact, as with the remix of 'Cold Heart' on Elton John's The Lockdown Sessions [EMI EMICD 2051], complete with Dua Lipa's 'Rocket Man' vocal the crowds at Glastonbury were denied.

Both voices are richly characterised, and there's tight, rich and weighty bass, as indeed there is on the cover of The Pet Shop Boys' 'It's A Sin'. Here I'll admit to preferring the version on the PSB's recent Smash compilation [Parlophone 5054197296215], and the replacement of Elton John's mannered vocals with Neil Tennant's. The voice is just as affected, but much less of a drag on the rhythmic drive of the track, which still sings through the oddly 'brickwalled' production.

There's no such problem with the mystical, deeply moving sound of Paul Simon's Seven Psalms [Sony/Owl Records 19658779112]. Via these speakers it's going to grab and hold you throughout its more than 30-minute running time, the seamless music punctuated with temple bells and bowls seemingly hanging in three dimensions in the soundstage. The imaging is wonderful, and the effect hypnotic.

Real Drama
That sense of definition and detail, all deployed to the good of the music, is also much in evidence in the National Brass Ensemble/Eun Sun Kim readings of Wagner on the Deified album [Pentatone PTC 5187049]. Here the individual instruments are as thrilling as the triumphant sound they make together, combining fabulous scale and impact, and very real drama. The inescapable conclusion is that the long-lived Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series has taken another major step forward.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Are the 801 D4 Signatures almost 40% better than the 'standard' version? Only listening to these loudspeakers yourself, with a healthy appreciation for the law of diminishing returns, can answer that one. However, with the extra bass control, openness and presence on offer here, going back to the 'anything but basic' originals quickly reveals just what the B&W team has achieved with its Signature upgrades.

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