B&W Signature 800 loudspeaker

I once got a fortune cookie that read, "Ask and ye shall receive. This includes trouble." A few years back, shopping for speakers, I inquired about reviewing the B&W Nautilus 802, but it was too soon after Wes Phillips had reviewed the Nautilus 801 for Stereophile. So, other auditioning and reviewing (and buying) other speakers, I asked again, and again was met with deferral. Recently, out of the blue, B&W offered the Nautilus 802—then, in the next breath, asked if I'd rather have the Signature 800s.

Boy, would I! Aside from the obvious attraction of auditioning B&W's top-of-the-line S800, I could avoid the possibility of buyer's remorse if I preferred it to the Revel Ultima Studios—reviewed in the December 2000 issue—which I'd already paid for: The S800 is simply more expensive than I can afford, and couldn't be moved out of the room (at least, not by me alone) when I needed to review other speakers. Nonetheless, the S800's dimensions, as well its elevation above its cast base, make for the most graceful proportions of the Nautilus family of speakers. Unlike the Falstaffian Nautilus 801 with its single 15" woofer—reviewed in January 1999—the S800 employs a stacked pair of 10" woofers and is significantly less squat. The Nautilus midrange and tweeter modules, familiar to audiophiles everywhere, emphasize the N801's rotundity and make the N802 seem top-heavy, but have found their aesthetic home in the slim S800—a pair of them did not look out of place in my 15' by 26' living room.

The Signature 800 is part of B&W's Prestige line, which represents the best that B&W can do with present loudspeaker technology. Building on experience in the design and market success of the "regular" Nautilus line, the S800 is subtly but significantly more advanced. While the bass performance of the 801's 15" woofer is measurably superior, in lab and studio, to the 802's paired 8" woofers, many users have found that in smaller, domestic listening rooms, the 802 can be equally powerful and extended, yet smoother. One reason offered is that the two drivers might be subject to different room influences simply due to their physical displacement, and thus be less likely to couple to the same room modes and resonances. Considering the long wavelengths involved, it's hard to accept this reason. Nonetheless, the S800 uses a pair of 10" woofers based closely on the N801's 15" woofer. This gives an equivalent driver area, in a configuration modeled on the N802's.

Another advance is the redesign of the crossover network, made possible by moving it into the S800's large cast aluminum base. While the other Nautilus speakers use film as well as film-bypassed electrolytic capacitors, and air-cored as well as iron-dust-cored inductors, the S800 uses film capacitors and air-core coils exclusively, even for the low-frequency bass filter. As someone who has spent time designing and tweaking crossovers, I can vouch for this seeming extravagance as a major contributor to excellent performance. In addition, S800's heavy base electrically isolates the crossover from the drivers, acts as a heatsink for the crossover, and, in concert with the downward-firing bass port, serves to precisely load the low-frequency enclosure.

Connections are made via four palladium-plated WBT 0702 terminals, which accept banana plugs, spades, or bare wires. Each terminal has two screw-caps: The larger, inner cap grips bare wires or spade lugs, while the smaller, outer cap tightens a collet to firmly grip 4mm plugs. The terminals are arranged with LF+ and LF- most outboard, and the MF/HF+ and MF/HF- terminals inboard. So if you're biwiring, as I was with AudioQuest's Gibraltar speaker cable, your LF wires need quite a span. (Palladium-plated jumpers are provided for single-wiring.) Under the skin, the Signature 800 and its plain vanilla (!) Nautilus version ($16,000/pair) are identical, so the foregoing description—and, indeed, all the following comments about performance—should apply equally to the less expensive, non-Signature version.

The big ones arrive...
Delivery and initial setup of the Signature 800s were accomplished in about 30 minutes by a four-man team under the supervision of Tim Wyatt, B&W's technical support supervisor. The team tipped each box on its side, removed the bottom packing materials, upended the box, and lifted it off the speaker. After Wyatt had removed the single transit screw securing each speaker's midrange driver, the Signature 800s were pushed into place and wired up to my Bel Canto eVo 200.2 monoblocks.

54 Concord Street
North Reading, MA 01864-2699
(978) 664-2870