The world’s best loudspeaker manufacturers and designers are held to be British. The highly respected KEF, Quad, Tannoy and of course B&W come to mind –but some just come right out and say it: B&W’s Nautilus 800 series the world’s most beautiful as well as the world’s best loudspeakers.
- As a very rough guide, they cost around about six thousand pounds a pair, but you can register them on B&W’s website, this ‘pedigreeing’ and trackability means they hold their value.
They can be turned up louder than you’d like without distorting, and still keep everything clean and clear, so they cannot easily be damaged audio-wise. And you need a seriously large living room just to deserve thinking about them, they are strange looking, excessively heavy and very expensive — the very Best of British! They may well be designed around their function, but the resulting form is so incongruous in a living room of any décor, that they become objects of note in their own right and form part of the interior design.
It is all down to John Bowers (1923-1987) who after specialising through the Second World War in electronics and radio-transmission, set up a retail Hi-Fi shop in Worthing with Roy Wilkin, and Bowers & Wilkins was born.
Ms.Knight, an elderly spinster, was so impressed with his knowledge of classical music and so pleased with the speakers he made for her that she left him 10 000.00 GBP in her will for him to develop the business and pursue his research.
Ten Grand is a lot of money — even by today’s standards. Thus, well financed, in 1966, a separate manufacturing company, B&W Electronics was founded, and 10 years later, a dedicated R&D department was opened. The company received the Queen’s Award for Export 1973, and built programme content monitors for the BBC.
In 1974 B&W developed and patented a method of using Kevlar (the bullet-proofing stuff) for loudspeaker cones to reduce unwanted standing waves.
The DM6 (more famous as the ‘Pregnant Penguin’ because of its stepped baffle enclosure) was launched in 1976 — the 1st linear phase loudspeaker to be made in the UK. This was followed up by the DM7 (and its free-standing tweeter), and the company’s second Queen’s Award for Export in 1978 in recognition for a tenfold increase in export sales since 1973.
B&W ‘s famous 801 was launched in 1979 and became the reference speaker in almost all of the world’s classical recording studios, particularly EMI Abbey Road, Decca, and Deutsche Grammophon and pushed B&W to the fore of all loudspeaker manufacturers.
B&W created a dedicated R&D facility for their team of engineers in the picturesque village of Steyning in West Sussex in 1982, and it became widely known as ‘The University of Sound’. The idea was to innovate… and so, in 1983 B&W launched the world’s first digital monitors to match the high dynamics of the compact disc, with the DM110 and DM220.
In 1990 B&W entered the custom in-wall speaker market with CWM6 and CWM8. And in 1993, came the THX® Home Theatre Audio System, and then… the Nautilus — which has been described as ‘possibly the best loudspeaker money can buy’
The consequences of which have been a redesign of the full B&W range to incorporate Nautilus technology.
The smoothly contoured teardrop shapes were chosen for a minimal diffraction of the radiated sound, resulting in better stereo images and higher neutrality, and the open-backed transmission line loading lead most of the backwards radiated sound away from its transducer, which is left with a near-ideal acoustic load.
In 1996, the company expanded its production facilities with a site in West Yorkshire, and 2 years later introduced casa — a unique multi-room system using active in-wall loudspeakers and a control unit to distribute sound from centralised source components along with the prestigious Nautilus 800 Series, and in 1999 the company began producing ‘Lifestyle Products’ — with the versatile LM1 and, for outdoor use, the weatherproof WP1.
The market was good, the company expanding, the business growing, and the management innovative and progressive.
By 2001, dedicated B&W showrooms have opened in Shanghai, Istanbul, Rome and Hong Kong, and the company launched the 600 Series 3.
In 2003 the company acquired a cabinet manufacturing plant in Agerbæk, Denmark… and this allowed B&W to launch the 700 Series merging the world-beating Nautilus 800 technologies with Danish hand-crafted cabinets.
Innovation and growth continue in 2004 with the launch of FPM Series (Flat Panel Monitors), streamlined contemporary cabinets designed to match Plasma and LCD TV size screens. The new compact PV1 Subwoofer (Pressure Vessel) is launched. A big sound from a small bubble. The PV1 receives international acclaim.
Mini Theatre Series is launched, providing a home theatre solution that offers performance levels commensurate with full-size designs from tiny pod enclosures.
Last year B&W received the Queen’s Award for Innovation 2004 and immediately unveiled the new 800 Series featuring, amongst many other innovations, diamond dome tweeters.
The company quickly received unprecedented global acclaim and the range surpasses the success of the Nautilus 800 Series, already the most successful premium loudspeaker range even launched.
To celebrate the new 800 Series, B&W produced a feature-length DVD using beautiful high-definition film, footage with celebrity B&W owners such as Peter Gabriel, Dave Stewart and Alfred Brendel, and over an hour of music. (see www.bw800.com)
This year, the XT Series is launched and, perhaps for the first time, offers uncompromised, audiophile performance from ‘ultra-cool’, aluminium cabinets.
The Nautilus midrange and tweeter modules are today very familiar to audiophiles everywhere. They emphasize the Nautilus 801’s rotundity and make the Nautilus
802 seem top-heavy.
The teardrop-terminated, spherical-profile midrange ‘head’ is cast from a mineral-filled resin called ‘Marlan’ (and is coupled to a round-backed wooden Matrix woofer enclosure). It is really a special cone speaker; it dispenses almost totally with the usual roll surround.
The rim of the cone itself is practically rigidly coupled to its basket, and hence the cone acts as if it were its own suspension. This could only be done in a system where no bass energy whatsoever is routed to the mid speaker. The woofer is a big cone (15inch/380mm diam) in a big matrix box. Inert and heavy.
Building on experience in the design and market success of the ‘regular’ Nautilus line, the Signature 800 is subtly but significantly more advanced. It uses a stacked pair of 10-inch/ 250mm diam woofers and a redesigned crossover network, made possible by moving it into the large cast aluminium 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 Signature 800 uses film capacitors and air-core coils exclusively, even for the low-frequency bass filter — this is a major contributor to excellent performance.
In addition, Signature 800’s heavy base electrically isolates the crossover from the drivers, acts as a heat sink for the crossover, and, in concert with the downward-firing bass port, serves to precisely load the low-frequency enclosure.
SSC technology offers great benefits in combination with loudspeakers. The excellent performance of the B&W Nautilus series is not essentially changed by SSC, but the influence of the listening room is reduced; the sound quality of every hi-fi system depends on the floor surface, room equipment and the positioning of the loudspeakers.
For example, under certain circumstances the interaction of the Nautilus with wooden flooring can give rise to an unwanted “bloom” or bass resonance. The SSC Nautilus platforms help alleviate this problem.