bought the 803s having auditioned them in the shop for more than two hours, not knowing too much about b&w speakers before hand. i have a rega saturn cd player to which i had bought from the same shop 11 months before and the cd player was never magical to which it was in the shop and i'd auditioned plenty cd players before opting for the rega saturn and deciding within budget this was the cd player for me, after a while of listening at home i decided the probability my cd sounded good but not outstanding could be my tandy/radioshack memorex 505 twenty year old 1990 speakers, 3 way design with 15" woofers, i thought everythingelse is quite new but the technology of the cheapish older speakers could be out of date, so i made a trip back to the same shop! the same elderly chap served me again which was good as he knew his stuff, i explained to him about the cd player he sold me never shining quite like it did when i auditioned it in the shop and explained to him my concerns about my speakers, we went upstairs to the speaker and hifi auditioning rooms to which he started playing me music through various speakers, each time moving up a level, but none came close to the frequency response of my old memorex 505's with their collosal woofer and they were all the largely newer type of tall thin floorstanders which was a worry as i didn't think the bass might not be on offer and having been used to full bodied sound for 20 years i did not know if i could go back to something without muscle, anyway the guy kept offering me an improved speaker over the last until he wired up the 803 nautilus, immediately we were in the same ball park as my old speakers, i listened to them for about 2 hours and after realising they sounded beautiful decided i would take them. i have since bought the yamaha as2000 amplifier, and i have the sony std-777es dab/fm tuner and afore mentioned rega saturn cd player, i have all the system that i've got now for a year now and to cut to the chase the sound quality is absolutely outstanding, the detail retreival is breathtaking as is how natural the midrange of the speakers is, human voices are earilie real youd think the singer was in the room/speaker box and a saxaphone or piano or guitar especially accoustic sessions just as brilliantly projected and real, turn these speakers up to get the most out of them and watch them shine, stereo imaging is as good as i've heard the depth of these speakers and three dimentionality can be outstanding depending on what comes on the radio or what cd your listening to, as i said excellent detail retrival its often like band, group, singer or dance act is in your livingroom they offer such good sound staging and depth and the overall frequency response and sound the tweeters good too, is very high. my over all star score is definately 5 stars, my cd player sounds outstanding now as you can imagine my old speakers weren't up to scratch right enough.
I upgraded to a set of B&W 703’s about a year ago because I could not find any 803’s in my price range. An upgrade to 803’s was inevitable so in preparation I purchased a set of Rotel 1091 500watt monoblocks. Although I preferred Bryson’s their pre-owned price was prohibitive. Following Brystons, Rotel 1090 or 1091’s were rated by users as the best choice for B&W’s. The 703/Rotel 1091 combination proved that the reviews were right. The 703’s soundstage expanded and they produced notes that were much better defined. I started to rethink the 803 purchase.
The 803’s Arrive !!!
I set up my pre-owned 803’s in the same positions that the 703’s had occupied. Jazz stretches all sound boundaries so I played Chris Botti’s Live in Boston CD. This band has exceptional musicians backed by an orchestra featuring male and female vocalists and a solo by YoYo Ma. Although I had listened to this CD many times the 803’s produced sound that was so clear and accurate that I was completely blown away. It was as if a veil had been lifted. As good as the 703’s were they were no comparison to the 803’s. Notes that I had never heard before appeared, subtle nuances became were displayed. There were passages that sent chills down my spine. The clarity was well beyond my expectations. I selected Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon CD as it also would test the reproduction of everything from silence to heart beats. The opening of Money presents the sound of change rattling around. The 803’s presentation is so accurate that you could actually pick out the difference between the coins, gone was the overall clash as every other speaker system I’ve ever heard.
Do Amps Really Make A Difference ?
I found that by upgrading to Rotel amps my 703’s became less tolerant of poorly recorded music. This attribute is also demonstrated with the 803’s. I do not believe that this is a fault of the speakers or amplification. You improve your equipment to provide as accurate a rendition of recordings as possible. If a bad recording is played it will be delivered as such. This is more evident in analog to digital CD’s. Remastered CD’s do not exhibit the same characteristics.
A Denon 4308ci powers my HT speakers and acts as a pre amp for the Rotel’s, 2-Rotel 1091 monoblocks, Marantz CD 5003, B&W 803 main speakers, B&W DS6 surround speakers, B&W 805 Rear Speakers, B&W ASW1000 Subwoofer. Most interconnects are Monster Cable, Canare CS11 front and center Speaker cables, 14ga non-oxygen copper side and rear speaker cables. All interconnects are one meter long to negate any signal degradation.
My wife does not have the best ears for sound ,she did not hear the difference between CDM-9nt’s and 703’s, but was amazed at the difference between B&W 703’s and the 803’s. B&W 803’s are phenomenal speakers. They produce CLEAR and ACCURATE sound. Even on the used market they are not inexpensive but they are well worth the investment.
In order to make the 803’s sing you must provide adequate power. My Denon 4308ci with 140wpc x2 per speakers was not adequate. Although the speakers are rated at 250watts they sing with the Rotel 1091 500 watt monoblocks.
Thoroughly enjoyed using these speakers. As my equipment improved, my speakers kept up. They will eventually be replaced for better but I'm in no rush. They do have very deep bass, smooth mids and liquid like treble. Just a bit of harshness in the highs when using lesser quality wires was corrected. I did listen for hours to other pairs at the local shop and compared it with others. The N802 were a bit sweeter in the mids and deeper in the bass but a little over done IMO. The N804 seemed thinner, lighter in the bass or more compressed soundstage but more controlled in small rooms.
I had upgraded from a pair of Matrix 802s3 and improvements were many. The N803 were definitely more delicate, fuller textured reproduction, improved ambiance, transparency, resolution, a wider soundstage and focus was also better but lost a little in the deep bass. All improvements were fully appreciated after many hours of breakin.
These red stained speakers can still play bass heavy tracks surprisingly well. Try "Poems of Thunder" CD and stand back. The room will really shake. Bass can snap so tight, rumble low and deep and the treble will be smooth or piercing depending on the quality of source/electronic you wish to use or play. String instruments take on a slight wood sound illusion. The best part IMO is the MF FST driver. The HF driver would be the next with some tweaking to keep it smooth.
These beautiful hand crafted speakers fit nicely in our mid-sized room with our hardwood. I still enjoy the red cherry wood finish and they never seem to grow old.
My cohorts apprised me that the substantial jump to the B&W Nautilus 803's from what I had would be "magic." Having said this, I can't stress how significant the associated equipment--the best one can afford, proper setup, listening environment and, moreover, one's audiological expectations and actual recordings are.
Bryston 3BSST Power Amplifier;
Bryston BP26P Preamplifier;
Classe CDP-10 Compact Disc Player (HDCD 24 bit), with RCA/XLR Caps;
Oracle Delphi Mark IV Turntable (with all the Mark V non-machined upgrades, including Turbo Power Supply);
Rega RB700 Tonearm (not rewired);
Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood Pickup;
Cardas Golden Reference XLR Interconnects (2 pair)/Power Cords (4)/Speaker Cable--with Shakti On-Lines Performance Optimizers.
The speakers (using Cardas Jumper Cables) stand 1 inch off the floor on Puresonic C-40B Cone Stands/Pucks, reducing bass resonance. Because the tweeters are housed outside and on top of the enclosures dispersion was not an issue. They also open up with the grilles removed. My speakers are positioned inward at a 22 degree angle and 9 inches away from the rear wall; about 2-3 feet away from the side walls; 44 inches apart (from the outside of the speaker boxes); and 7 feet, from the centre of the speakers, to my optimum listening vantage point.
My Listening Environment:
The acoustical area is about 100 square feet, moderately furnished, with hardwood flooring and small rug--so damping might be a consideration.
My Audiological Expectations and Recordings:
I expected to be transported to acoustic nirvana, not always conceivable because any accurate transducer will be revealing regarding poor source material. So for instance, if a record sounds thin, bright and hard, a fine speaker should reproduce it as such. Therefore, for objective test purposes, I chose records which were beyond reproach.
For transparency or detail, I noticed the subtleties on "Marrakesh Express" from the recent Crosby Stills & Nash "Greatest Hits" CD (Rhino/Atlantic), which is HDCD. The vocals, guitars and keyboards are all liquid, crisp and delineated with that perfect amount of warmth and sweetness. I have a remastered in high definition 24 bit EP CD by the Byrds, entitled "Les Byrds" (CBS/Magic Records), where every nuance of the 1960's song, "I Knew I'd Want You," emanates with gorgeous realism from the 803's.
As for speed or dynamics, I savoured the live version of "So You Want To Be A Rock'n'Roll Star" by the Byrds, on their "Untitled" CD (Sony/CBS Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs Ultradisc II 24-karat gold version). It had a polite, exact, but exuberant zing. As well, Wagner's "Ride Of The Valkyries" performed by Erich Leinsdorf conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic, on vinyl (Sheffield Lab Classics), presented a very controlled fulmination of sound on the B&W (who, you might know, stock most of the classical [don't know about rock] music recording studios of the world).
For focus or soundstage and imaging, I listened to "SoMA" by Steve Roach & Robert Rich from the Absolute Sound's "Hearts of Space" compilation of various artists CD (Hearts of Space Records) where the 803's really float an object in space. On the "Escapes" compilation of various artists CD (WEA), B-Tribe's "You Won't See Me Cry," the superb, open airiness of all the vocals, guitar, winds and percussion are highlighted by these speakers, too.
Examining linearity or smoothness, I sampled "Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant" from the inimitable choral recording, "Cantate Domino," by Motettenchor der Oscarkirche, Stockholm, directed by Torsten Nilsson, on vinyl (Proprius Atr Mastercut Recording). The 803's had--in their entire range, an unctuous, round, rich character to them. I never believed these B&W's were harsh in the upper registers or midrange after hearing the title cut from the jazzy, Red Norvo Quintet's "The Forward Look" LP (Reference Recordings) where the reeds sound razor sharp, but never blaring; mixed in with vibes, guitar, bass and drums that are scrumptiously bereft of grain.
I wasn't incredulous concerning the 803's bass extension, becuase I noticed how they exemplified not only depth, but incredible texture and shape, that, heretofore, was often heard only in quality subwoofers. Check out "Tandoori" from James Newton Howard's "James Newton Howard & Friends" LP (Sheffield Lab) to verify my assertion. This rock instrumental with synthesizer record features solid, rock hard bangs, smacked out without boominess, on my 803's. Of course, if you want the woofers to whomp eruptions in the walls, there's always "Speak To Me" from Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" CD (Capitol).
The B&W Nautilus 803 speakers might outperform anything in its
respective market, including Martin Logan. Some, who espouse the latter, even say my next upgrade would be the B&W 803D's--with the diamond tweeters, at $11,000 (Canadian)/pair but...that's another review.
Excellent imaging and detail but unfortunately in my opinion there is a harshness that prevails. Exposing weaknesses in non perfect recordings is a weakness in my mind. That takes out over half the music available. Even with excellent recording the harsh is still there in my opinion. I believe a speaker that shows flaws as many reviewers seem to think is a good thing simply means they are not reference quality able to master the sonics I'm looking for.