The Audiophiliac Speaker of the Year: Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3

CNET's resident audiophile goes deep with these amazing speakers.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
4 min read

I reviewed the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 speakers earlier this year, and now that I've spent more time with them, my appreciation has only deepened. The sound is rich, complex and loaded with palpable texture. That extra texture supplies a sense of realism that I just don't get from lesser speakers. This speaker regularly delivers transcendent moments where you feel like you're breathing the same air as the musicians on the recording.

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Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 speaker

​Bowers & Wilkins

Priced at $6,000 per pair, the all-new 805 D3 is the most "affordable" stereo speaker in Bowers & Wilkins' 800 Series lineup. (The 805 D3 runs £4,500 per pair in the UK, and AU$8,500 in Australia.) The 800 D3 Series features seven models: four floor standers, and a pair of home-theater center-channel models, and the 805 D3 stand mount speaker. All are curvy, deliciously rounded designs, crafted in Bowers & Wilkins' factory in Worthing, England.

Sure, I've heard previous generations of Bowers & Wilkins flagship speakers at audio shows, stores and mastering studios, and I had a pair of early 801s on loan decades ago, but the 805 D3s really do feel like a whole new ball game. They're keeping me up late at night, pulling out old records into the wee small hours. They're that good, and coming from a guy who's heard more than my fair share of the world's best speakers, that's high praise indeed.

Going deeper

The 805 D3 and all of the other 800 D3 Series speakers have the all-new Continuum midrange driver that replaced the Kevlar drivers from the previous generations of 800 Series speakers. The 805 D3's 6.5-inch (165mm) Continuum midbass driver is partnered with a 1-inch (25mm) diamond dome tweeter that's housed in a solid aluminum, tear-drop-shaped pod perched atop the cabinet. So rather than fashion the tweeter from plastic, textile, ceramic or metal, Bowers & Wilkins' engineers designed a diamond dome that's superlight, yet rigid enough to resist the flexing and breakup "modes" common to the previously mentioned, more conventional tweeters. The 805 D3's diamond tweeter is the sole carryover from the previous generation 805 Diamond speaker that debuted in 2009 -- everything else about the 805 D3's design is new.

The speaker measures a fairly compact 16.9 by 9.4 by 13.6 inches (428 by 238 by 345 mm), and weighs 28 pounds (12.6 kg). The rear end has custom, all-metal, bi-wire connectors. Impedance is rated at 8 ohms. For more information about the 805 D3, read my CNET review.

With the best recordings, the 805 D3s projected a remarkably three-dimensional soundstage, and when music sounds that real you feel like you can almost touch it. When every note stands on its own, you're more aware of how the music is being played, the way the singer inhabits a tune, and the meaning of the words. If the keyboard player hits some notes harder than others for emphasis, you hear that more clearly, and when the rhythm section locks together you feel the rhythms more. Which is the way I hear live music, and the 805 D3 takes me closer to that sound than most speakers its size or price.

Phil Sills/​Bowers & Wilkins

The 805 D3's diamond tweeter may be this speaker's star attraction, but over the long run it was the natural sounding midrange that aced the deal for me. Vocals were more believably real than any speaker I've had at home, with the possible exception of the twice-as-expensive and much larger Harbeth 40.2 monitors I tested in late 2015. I wish I still had them on hand to directly compare, but as memory serves the 805 D3's more immediate midrange would be my preference.

Some high-resolution speakers reveal too much about how nasty a ragged recording sounds, so I was especially happy about the way the 805 D3 sounded when I played a $2 "Ventures Golden Greats" LP I bought at a record fair a few years ago. Man, the jangly electric guitars, bathed in massive reverberation played with a kicking rhythm section, sounded awesome. Talk about a wall of sound! The energy was palpable -- 50-year-old music still sounded fresh!

I sat slackjawed listening to Elliot Smith's "Heaven Adores You" soundtrack album. There's a rare quality to the sound of his acoustic tunes. Smith just about materialized in my listening room, right there between the two 805 D3s. They're like a portal that lets me hear back through time to recording sessions of the past.

Does anyone "need" a speaker as good as a Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3? Of course not, and no one needs to take a Hawaiian vacation, order hand-crafted boots, drink fine wines or buy a Leica camera. But if you're lucky enough to afford these things and really love music, the 805 D3 is well worth the cost. These speakers will provide many years of pleasure -- decades, even.