In some ways, the 804 D3 (and the rest of the new D3 Series) are the speakers I’ve long wished that Bowers & Wilkins would make. Previous 800 Series speakers have relied on midrange drivers made with woven Kevlar cones. Most other speaker makers that have flirted with Kevlar seem to have moved on to other (and, to my ears, better) cone materials, and I’ve long suspected that B&W was sticking with Kevlar because the yellow fabric had become such an iconic part of the company’s branding. The 804 D3 and the other models in the D3 Series now use a silver-colored synthetic fabric named Continuum, which according to B&W has better break-up (high-frequency distortion) behavior than Kevlar. I’ve reviewed at least one speaker from every 800 Series since the original, so I was curious to hear what Continuum sounds like.
Although the 804 D3 resembles past 804s in concept–it’s a tower speaker with two 6.5-inch woofers, a five-inch midrange, and a one-inch tweeter–it shares almost no parts with previous 804s. The woofer cone is also made of a new material; B&W swapped out its old Rohacell composite sandwich diaphragm for a new formulation called Aerofoil. The thickness of the Aerofoil material varies in order to reduce resonance and to concentrate stiffness where it’s most needed.
The deposited-diamond tweeter diaphragm material from the previous 800 Series speakers remains, but the tweeter is now housed in an enclosure machined from a solid piece of aluminum, which should make it denser and less resonant than the previous enclosure. The enclosure, by the way, is attached to the rest of the speaker using a compliant material that isolates the tweeter from woofer and midrange vibrations; you can actually twist the tweeter enclosure a bit.
The enclosure employs the ultra-heavily braced Matrix concept from previous models, with some major differences. The old MDF bracing has been replaced with high-quality plywood, which B&W says is stiffer, and the front baffle now has a slight curve to enhance its stiffness and eliminate flat-panel resonances. The drivers are mounted on “pods” that stick out slightly from the curved front baffle, which should do a bit to help reduce diffraction off the cabinet edges.
The changes in the enclosure design and the midrange driver material make this by far the nicest-looking 804 ever. I borrowed my review samples for a photo shoot that a luxury-goods magazine asked me to produce for them. Usually art directors and photographers consider speakers little more than bland wooden boxes, but in this case everyone thought the 804s looked as sleek as the high-end designer furniture they’d brought in for the shoot.