I've audited N801, N802, N804 and own the N805. I've never found the Nautilus series bright at all, in fact this is the first time I hear this comment. Try compare B&W with Thiel and you'll find Thiel much brighter.
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B&W speaker are definitely on the revealing side. The brightness is the electronics used, not the speakers. I actually see this comment alot in Audioreview.com When the person leaving the comments list their full system, usually it the clear that that the source is outclassed by the speakers. Two reviews that come to mind was someone who hated the Nautilus 804. It was so bright he had to turn the bass all the way up on his "Yamaha Receiver". Another one was going to trade-in their P5s fpr the same reason for some Cerwin Vega's which are "far superior". There is also a dealer I know (who will remain nameless) that demos the Nautilus in the store hooked up to the lower-end (not the best) Adcom Amps. So they sound thin.
I don't find them bright. More like flabby to my ears and in my system (N801). Speaker/Amp combination is a major determinant of the character of a system and most speakers can sound great once the right amp has been found to partner with it. For example the relatively bright Thiels sound wonderful with the Plinius SA250 Mk IV. I am sure it is possible to find an amp that will make the N801 sound bright, but that could be said of any speaker.
My first impression of the N801 and N802 was that they were a bit harsh at the top end. That dealer's system with all Krell front end, but even after listening to them a while there that day, I didn't notice it as much. When talking to other dealers, they all seemed to know the reputation of the bright/harsh sounding B&W setup at that particular dealer. They blamed it on the equipment and the Straight Wire speaker cables. When listening at two other dealers, one with Rotel equipment, and the other with Mark Levinson, I dind't find them harsh at all. Now that I have the N802's at home, I do find them to be revealing, but never harsh. I've heard them with Transparent Ultra, MIT, Kimber BiFocal, Kimber 8TC (which I have at home) and Nordost speaker cables, and the Nordost seemed to make them a bit brigher than I liked, and I guess the same for the Straight Wire, but other than that, I wouldn't say that its a problem for the B&W's.
I've auditioned the N805s with a Sony ES receiver (don't recall model) followed by Rotel amp (RMB985) preamp (RSP976)setup. The Sony made the 805s sound thin and somewhat on the bright side. The Rotel setup was completely different....big soundstage, decent imaging, solid bass, not bright at all.....overall warm sounding. I've also auditioned the 802s with an all McIntosh front end. The sound was not bright at all. In fact, the bass was too forward for my taste. I'd consider changes in your front end. Good luck.
I don't think you can generalize. There does seem to me to be something aggressive in the upper midrange of the 801N which I found to be completely missing in the 802N, for example. I heard both at different times paired with the Classe Omega and Levinson 332(?). If the 801Ns had had the 802Ns balances, or the 802Ns the 801Ns over-all presence, I would have bought one or the other. I thought they were quite different, however, and anyone who thinks the 801s are just big 802s, or the opposite, is going to be disagreeably surprised if they don't listen carefully to both.
I agree with Mgottlieb's post.. That issue was the case before the Nautilis series as well (for my ears). I have always preferred the 802s to the 801s and they sound amazingly different (to my ears) for being the same product line. I am a B&W fan and have owned several different pairs over the years (still have a pair in my basement on a rotel system), but the WAF has sent me looking to other vendors with look of the new Nautilis for the family room system (ended up with Avalon Eidolons). I agree with the above posts that the B&W speaker lines are highly revealing and are quite particular of the wiring, interconnects and hardware you put them on to make them sound to your liking. If you love vandersteen, chances are you won't like B&W....