B&W 801 D4 Signature Loudspeaker

hfnoutstandingDetailed mechanical and component upgrades to B&W's flagship 801 D4 unmask the speaker's full potential

We've been here before: just over a year and a half ago [HFN Nov '21] we pitched the newly arrived 801 D4 loudspeaker from Bowers & Wilkins against the 800 D3, its previous flagship, and played 'spot the differences' between two designs half a dozen years apart. At the time, we also commented on the changes at the company since the D3 models were launched in 2015, not least the acquisition of the Worthing-based manufacturer by Silicon Valley start-up Eva Automation, then by Sound United, the parent brand of Denon, Marantz and others.

Well, it's been all change again, with Sound United bought in 2022 by Masimo, described as 'a global medical technology company that develops and produces a wide array of industry-leading monitoring technologies'. Despite these shifting sands, Bowers & Wilkins remains resolute as it celebrates the launch of two new loudspeakers bearing the 'Signature' name.

Midnight Special
Chosen for the upgrade are the bookshelf 805 D4 Signature and the range-topping 801 D4 Signature floorstander we have here. They're pitched at £10,000 and £45,000 per pair, respectively, and come in either Midnight Blue or California Burl Gloss wood, the latter an engineered material from Italian company ALPI. These Signature designs will sell alongside the existing 805 D4 and 801 D4 models.

Since the brand's founding in 1966, only seven of its loudspeaker series have carried the distinguished Signature mark. So, with £3000 and £12,500 premiums over the standard 805 D4 and 801 D4, respectively, expectations go beyond the striking new finishes. On which subject, I must admit a preference for the Midnight Blue, the result of 11 coats of paint and lacquer and 18 hours work, even if the main cabinet looks almost black under less than brilliant lighting. By contrast, the wood finish, complete with 14 coats of lacquer and 24 hours of work, is somewhat more obvious, reminding me of 1930s art deco furniture. It's not my favourite look, but I'm sure it'll prove popular in some markets.

Finishes aside, the 801 D4 Signature looks very like the 801 D4 it doesn't replace, but the good news is that much has changed inside, from the drivers to the crossover to the structure of the speaker. The changes are, to a great extent, detail-driven, but after all that's where the devil is...


The Signature 801 D4 has a new mesh for its diamond dome tweeter, an improved metal cabinet top brace, revamped Aerofoil bass units and cast alloy down-firing reflex port. The Midnight Blue is new, too...

Fresh Air
From the top, the speaker uses the same 25mm Diamond Dome tweeter found across the 801 D4 range, but now with a new, more open mesh protector over the dome, formed by altering the geometry for less metal and more fresh air. No fewer than 25 iterations were tested before the final mesh pattern was chosen and fitted to the front of the 'Tweeter on Top' alloy housing, this employing the company's now-familiar Nautilus Tube design that progressively attenuates the tweeter's rearward output.

This housing is finished in black and is double-decoupled from the Turbine Head atop which it sits. The latter houses the 150mm Continuum Cone FST midrange driver, and is finished to match the Midnight Blue speaker, or in black on the wood-veneered version. Within the head now are fitted pieces of Techsound visco-elastic damping, to reduce resonances, and while the driver itself retains the company's proprietary weave cone, it now features an upgraded magnet polepiece with a larger vent for reduced distortion at higher currents.

Completely new here is the design of the 'shoulders' on which the Turbine Head sits. Under the Connolly leather trim – again a dark blue on the blue speaker, black on the Burl Gloss – is a revised version of the aluminium top-plate for the main cabinet. The structure now has machined-out holes to better control any resonances while the horseshoe-shaped plastic 'collar' that supports the stretched leather finish is also treated with strategically placed pieces of that Techsound damping. The result, the company says, is 'even lower mechanical noise and as a result, a less audible cabinet contribution effect'.

Ready To Fly
This theme carries right through the 801 D4 Signature. The twin 250mm bass units may look unchanged, with their Aerofoil, wing-like cross-section cones, but the drivers' top-plates and mid-plates are now made of upgraded steel, lowering inductance for, again, less current distortion. The plastic, downward-venting Flowport used in the 801 D4 is upgraded in the Signature with a flare that's now fashioned from aluminium.

Because this flare section is fitted into a very large opening in the base of the speaker, the alloy also significantly contributes to the stiffening of the port and the lower cabinet woodwork. Meanwhile the massive plinth onto which the port vents is also damped with more Techsound material.

Finally, the crossover has been upgraded with superior bypass capacitors, and these are also doubled up, from four to eight, for 'a cleaner sound'. As in previous 800 D4 series speakers, the crossover is mounted onto a finned aluminium spine, which closes the loop of the wraparound enclosure, bracing it while also acting as a heatsink.

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