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Bowers & Wilkins 803S Loudspeakers Print E-mail
Wednesday, 25 February 2009
Article Index
Bowers & Wilkins 803S Loudspeakers
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I experienced this demonstration in a room about ten feet wide and 15 feet long, with three insulated walls and one sliding glass door with insulated curtains draped over the glass.  It’s not quite what I’d call a “sound-proof listening room” by any means, but I was able to get a good demonstration of the loudspeaker system nonetheless. The 803S speakers were placed about three feet away from the main audio components on either side, while I sat six feet away from the speakers as I listened to the demonstration. Kimber Kable speaker wire was used in this set-up and a McIntosh MC402 power amplifier was the main source of power driving the entire audio system. That power amp was connected to a McIntosh MCD500 SACD/CD player that was also combined with another McIntosh 275 power amplifier. The 275 series looks almost like a relic from the bygone era of the 1940’s when you first see the double rows of tubes staring at you from their black wire-framed casing.

But since McIntosh is so well-respected by me as well as almost every other audiophile on the planet, I relished the opportunity to hear the type of clean power that this combination of power amplifiers could deliver to the B&W 803S loudspeakers that I would soon be listening to. The McIntosh MCD500 player was the main audio component in my demonstration of the B&W 803S loudspeakers. This high-end SACD player features a twin laser pickup that are relayed through one lens assembly and includes a quad balanced digital to analog converter, which ensures that all sound levels of the music I would be listening to had little to no distortion and that I would be able to clearly hear the mid-range frequencies interact seamlessly with the low-end range of musical sounds. The weight of this audio component is roughly 28 pounds while the height is only 6 inches, thereby making this SACD player extremely easy to mount on any audio rack you can find at your local home theater store. The speakers had about 5 months of break-in time already, so I knew that these speakers would sound natural and ‘alive’ during the demonstration.


The first SACD I listened to was a re-mastered compilation SACD of Eric Clapton’s career that features most of his acoustic hits he made in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. “Clapton Chronicles: The Best of Eric Clapton” (Reprise Records, 1999) featured a very wide and varied musical experience in which I could actually detect Clapton’s finger-strumming with every stroke of his hand, and his vocals really cut through the room I was listening in, so much so that it sounded like the guitar master was standing directly in front of me. The warmth in Clapton’s guitar tone shone through on nearly every song, but primarily on the first track, “Blue Eyes Blue,” I noticed that the 803S loudspeakers brought out and delivered an incredible amount of texture and depth that I was not accustomed to hearing on such a simple kind of a tune that features just acoustic guitars, vocals and not much else.

The background vocals on “Blue Eyes Blue”, while not completely at the forefront of the song itself, soared to a new level of pristine quality when I turned up the volume to see if the loudspeakers could handle the highs associated with the background vocals. Needless to say, the impeccable tweeter situated on top of the loudspeakers handled the higher notes with great aplomb. The next song on the track listing was another very simple, yet effective acoustic number entitled “Change the World.” It was not a multi-layered song at all, but Clapton’s soft vocals sounded clear and concise, while the acoustic bass that was accompanying his vocals and guitar sounded agile and at the same time forceful with its laid-back impact.

Next up on the SACD list was from the Grammy Award nominated jazz group “Fourplay”. Their 2000 release on Warner Brothers entitled “Yes, Please” starts off with the song “Free Range”, and I was immediately enveloped into the jazz world completely as I heard the first passages of the subtle jazz piano intro turn into a nice and bouncy jazz-fusion of sorts when the solid guitar playing of  Larry Carlton kicked into gear. The subtle dynamics of this jazz trio that also features Harvey Mason on drums and Bob James on piano, creates a rich soundstage of circulating audio textures that really makes the B&W 803S series loudspeakers truly resonate with the naturalness of a live performance surrounding you, almost as if you were in a small concert hall listening to the group as they perform onstage. My listening room area, all ten feet by 14 feet of it, was filled with a deep and driving clash between piano, guitar and drums that were tonally perfect, and at the same time fluid with excellent coloration. The next song, “Double Trouble,” really excelled at showing the dynamic range that guitarist Larry Carlton is known for. The entire audio configuration, but especially the loudspeakers, revealed the guitar player’s exceptional jazz riffs and confluent solos like no other loudspeakers possibly could.

The last CD I listened to on the McIntosh MCD500 CD player was from the award-winning female vocalist Diana Krall. The Grammy Award winning 1999 jazz-vocal album entitled “When I Look into Your Eyes” was selected because of the vibrancy surrounding Diana’s main vocal abilities, and after listening to this CD for a minute or two, I could see why she won the Grammy at the 2000 award ceremony. The title track was the first song up for me to listen to, and I was overwhelmed by the sonic resonance that the 803S series loudspeakers were very efficiently delivering to my ears. Her voice is dripping with the sweet tones of honey, yet her vocals also made me believe that she was a woman of the world that had seen many ups and downs in her life, but was still up to the challenge of defeating any obstacle in her way. That type of emotional impact is hard to achieve, no matter how much money you spend on setting up a state-of-the-art audio system.

The nice and jaunty song called “Devil May Care” was up next, and this song was straight forward and to the point, as it just features Diana singing along at a fast pace with the piano player while her lyrics convey to the listener how much she wants to avoid future heartbreak with any guy who comes her way, no matter how pure his intentions are. Without exception, the B&W speakers handled Diana’s impassioned vocals with perfect results, and solidly drove the fast and colorful underlining piano parts to the forefront of the song without diminishing the graceful vocals that Krall so flawlessly demonstrates on this carefree song.


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