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Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 review: Exquisite diamond tweeter speakers worth their weight in gold

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The Good The Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 is one of the best standmount speakers you can buy. The speaker combines immaculate build quality and sumptuous good looks. Sound quality is amongst the best of the best with a wide and deep soundstage and excellent articulation and dynamic heft. The diamond tweeter's detailed treble never resorts to the harshness seen in cheaper speakers.

The Bad The 805 D3 is priced like the ultra-high-end speaker it is. Its relative lack of low end won't suit bass heads.

The Bottom Line The Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 are the supercharged sportscars of the high-end speaker world, combining whiplash-inducing looks, cutting edge technology and exquisite performance.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

9.0 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9

Review Sections

Bowers & Wilkins' co-founder John Bowers once said, "The best loudspeaker isn't the one that produces the most, it's the one that loses the least." Those words rang true when I started listening to the company's flagship 805 D3 monitors; they let the music speak for itself.

At $6,000 per pair the all-new 805 D3 is the most "affordable" stereo model in Bowers & Wilkins' 800 Series lineup. (They are £4,500 per pair in the UK, and AU$8,500 in Australia). I first heard the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 at a launch event for the new range at Sterling Sound NYC -- a local mastering studio -- and was immediately taken with their immaculate sonics.

I listened to a live recording of Ryan Adams singing "Winding Wheel," and was immediately transported from a small control room in Chelsea to a lively venue in downtown Dublin. The speakers virtually mapped the large performance space in seemingly minute detail -- I could even tell where the rowdiest audience members were standing. Yet at the same time, these speakers also created the illusion that I was alongside the singer as he crooned and whispered into the microphone. Very few speakers at any price can do this without compromise, but the 805 D3s manage to pull this off.

Now that I've had the speakers to myself, and have spent some quality time with them, I am no less impressed by their considerable talents. These are very special speakers indeed. For me, they have become the new "diamond standard" for loudspeakers -- an especially apt description, because these speakers actually utilize diamond particles in their exquisite tweeters.

Exemplary design

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Bowers and Wilkins has got your high-end audio needs covered with the beautiful 805 D3 speaker set.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Few audiophile speakers "cross over" and find favor with music recording, broadcast and film sound professionals, but that's exactly what happened with Bowers & Wilkins very first 800 Series model, the 801, introduced in 1979. Other 800 Series speakers have been used in Abbey Road Studios, Skywalker Ranch, Capitol Records, Warner Music Group, Sterling Sound and many other pro studios.

The 800 D3 Series speakers are the culmination of seven years of development at the company's research center in Steyning. It's just a few miles from the factory in Worthing, England, where all 800 Diamond Series speakers, including the 805 D3, are made.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The 805 D3 is a large, two-way monitor speaker. Though it doesn't look radically different from the second generation 805 Diamond Series speakers, Bowers & Wilkins claims hundreds of design changes have been made from the model that was introduced in 2010.

My samples were finished in a lovely matte rosenut veneer, but gloss black is also available. Build quality standards are commensurate with the 805 D3's high asking price. Bowers & Wilkins also offers handsome floor stands for use with the 805 D3, which will cost $1,000/£450/AU$1,499 per pair.

Rather than build the cabinet from more common medium-density fiberboard, the 805 D3's cabinet is constructed from multiple layers of beech wood bonded to a laminate, which is curved under pressure at the Bowers & Wilkins factory. When combined with the cabinet's internal Matrix bracing -- which is made from medium-density fiberboard -- the company claims the result is a stronger, more acoustically inert design. Rap your knuckles against the 805 D3's cabinet, and all you'll get are sore knuckles.

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The Contiuum driver

Sarah Tew/CNET

The most obvious change to Bowers and Wilkins 800 Diamond Series speakers is that they no longer feature woven Kevlar mid-bass drivers. The 805 D3 instead sports a gray 6.5-inch Continuum cone which was developed in-house by Bowers & Wilkins. The brand new Continuum driver is a sandwich consisting of a metallized weave and a foam core that's said to be lighter and stronger than the Kevlar cone, and which the company says results in much less distortion.

The 805 D3 comes with removable black cloth grilles, but I never used them. A flared and stippled "Flowport" bass port, which the company has long used to combat the chuffing effects of "port noise," sits just below the woofer on the front baffle.

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The diamond tweeter is decoupled from the speaker.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The one-inch (25mm) diamond tweeter that sits atop the 805 D3's cabinet is now fitted to a solid aluminum housing, which is compliantly mounted to the cabinet to decouple the tweeter from cabinet vibrations. The tweeter's diamond dome is formed by " chemical vapour deposition," a process Bowers & Wilkins uses to "grow" diamond particles into a complex shape. The company claims the 805 D3's diamond tweeter remains "pistonic" at higher frequencies than metal, plastic or fabric dome tweeters, so the highest treble is "cleaner," less distorted, and stereo imaging is enhanced.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The beautifully machined, solid-metal speaker connectors work with banana plugs, spades, pins or stripped bare wires. Each speaker has a double set of connectors, so the 805 D3 can be biwired, or used with standard single wire cables.

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