B&W Redefines Its State of the Art

In 1991, British loudspeaker manufacturer B&W celebrated its 25th birthday with the introduction of the John Bowers Silver Signature loudspeaker (see review). Not the largest or most expensive speaker on the company chart, the John Bowers Silver Signature, named after the company's late founder, still prompted John Atkinson to write that its performance was the best he'd heard for its modest size in his listening room.

Ten years later and B&W is now approaching the 35th anniversary of its 1966 birth. To commemorate the occasion, the company has announced several design advancements, culminating in a new "kingpin speaker" for the Signature Series, the Signature 800. In addition to the 800, B&W has also announced the Signature HTM center and Signature SCM surround models; all three are scheduled for release in July.

B&W's Chris Browder, clearly proud of his company's work, says that "somewhere up there, company founder John Bowers is smiling. The Signature 800 is far from just a change in form-factor, or a cosmetic upgrade, or the most lavishly formed and finished speaker ever. It incorporates everything we've learned over more than a third of a century about superior acoustic design."

Browder adds that "the Signature 800 is also a wonderful illustration of a classic B&W scenario: Once a development project begins, its ultimate form and outcome is a bit unpredictable. Mike Gough, our Senior Product Manager at the Steyning Research Center in the UK, probably said it best when he observed that even though he had originally expected only incremental improvements from the Signature 800, the end result was far different, that he was struck by the Signature's improvements in dynamism and detail-retrieval."

B&W says that the new 800, HTM, and SCM speakers incorporate both improved components and all-new elements. Design changes include using two 10" woofers in place of the original Nautilus 801's single 15" bass driver in the 800 and an improved version of its 6" FST Kevlar driver for the midrange with a more powerful neodymium-iron-boron magnet structure for all three models. For the top-end, B&W says that its Nautilus high-frequency driver also came in for incremental development, raising its useful top-end limit to 50kHz. "This achievement is very much in step with the new generation of ultra-wideband SACD and DVD-Audio recordings, for which the original Nautilus 800 has already been widely accepted as the production-monitoring reference standard," says the company.

B&W says that, in the tradition of earlier B&W Signature Series, the Signature 800, HTM, and SCM cabinets will be luxuriously finished with hand-selected Tiger's Eye veneers and piano-gloss lacquers while the 800's top and front surfaces will be upholstered with black Connolly leathers. According to B&W, the Signature 800 will retail for $20,000/pair, with the HTM center at $3000 each and the SCM surrounds at $3000/pair.