B&W Nautilus 801 loudspeaker

If, as some would have it, Audiophilia nervosa is like the dark night of reason, then certain audio epiphanies must necessarily stand out from a distance, like a grove of trees 20 miles away thrown into stark relief by prairie lightning. And make no mistake that Audiophilia is a disease---I treasure the memory of the first time my wife and I heard Quad ESLs with tubes far more than the memory of my first kiss (although not more, I hasten to add in case Joan is reading this review, than the memory of our first kiss). I know men who stare into their flickering fireplaces on long winter nights and remember all the women they've known. Myself, I'm more likely to reminisce about my first tube preamp, or list the great-sounding systems I've owned.

Well, you can add another speaker to the list---the B&W Nautilus 801 has the stuff to keep me in fireplace fantasies throughout my dotage, and probably well into my (hyper) active middle age to boot.

Great necessities call out great virtues
The Nautilus 801 is the latest version of B&W's longest-running franchise, the 801 loudspeaker, totally updated with design lessons learned from making the costly, visually striking Nautilus loudspeaker (see the sidebar, "The Inside Story"). The new speaker represents a substantial price increase over the 801 Series III, which retailed for $5500/pair, but B&W is quick to point out that the Nautilus 801 has been so totally redesigned that it would be fairer to compare the 801 Series III to the $8000 Nautilus 802.

The Nautilus 801 is a three-way system, but there the resemblance to preceding generations ends. The new model features a teardrop-terminated, spherical-profile midrange "head" cast from a mineral-filled resin called Marlan, which is coupled to a round-backed wooden Matrix woofer enclosure. Nested into the top of the midrange head is the tweeter enclosure---a racy-looking, streamlined, teardrop-shaped nacelle scarcely larger in diameter than the tweeter itself. Viewed head-on, the Nautilus 801 resembles the unlikely union of a washing machine and a one-eyed alien---only good-looking.

It is a handsome speaker, the glossy black curves of the tweeter and midrange housings nicely set off by the black-fabric lid and rich wood finish of the woofer cabinet. My samples do show some orange-peel effect on the wooden finish and seam overpaint on the woofer cabinets, however, which seem out of place on a speaker costing $11k/pair.

B&W's attention to detail is apparent before the speaker is even unpacked. The boxes the speakers are shipped in are designed to be opened easily and lifted off the speakers. The Styrofoam packing is then used to support the speaker on its back while the bottom packaging is removed and the speaker is tilted back into position on the floor---a two-man operation. This is simple and clever, but the speakers weigh 229 lbs each, so "let" your dealer deliver and unpack them for you.

Once the speakers are back on their base-plates, they're relatively easy to move around because of the attached ball casters. Once you've determined the best position, however, you'll want to replace the casters with the cast spike assemblies that B&W supplies with the speakers. The difference in soundstage focus, transparency, and bottom-end tautness is not a bit subtle.

Mocha6ft3's picture

It's funny how you first see something from a distance and your couriosity takes over for you to move closer. It was the first time i had seen the 801's. I was aware of the 800 and the 802 but i was drooling at the 801. I love bass and seeing that large woofer in that magnificent cabinet made me forget, for a moment, about the 800 and the 802. Their large brother had me hypnotize. I was told about 2 years ago that B&W no longer produces the 801. I'm crying.................