New B&W

First, I have always LOVED the B&W sound. Slightly forward and not truly neutral, they somehow have always sounded very natural and often "magical" to my ears especially in the midrange and tweeter.

Short story: I think that neither the S NOR the D version sound better than the previous plain Nautilus line. In fact I think they sound worse.

Due to financial hardship I was forced to sell my 804 Nautilus speakers. Now with a steady job I am back in the market to replenish my audio system.

I have been auditioning speakers and have somewhat narrowed my choices but I emotionally want to stay with B&W so I audition them often.

Today I auditioned the 803S, the 804S and the 803D. As previous posters said the 803s sound a little bit fuller than the 804s which is tighter. At FIRST blush the 803Ds do sound better but it is because the tweeter is smoother. All demos were down with Ayre MX-R monoblocks which is very important to this demo later.

However all the new models suffer from a lack of imaging, clarity and consistentcy through the range. The feel disjointed and unnatural. I have no idea how they measure but it seems, especially on the D versions that they enhanced the specific inaccuracies that has always caused the B&W sound to the point where it breaks down. It is a disjointed and muddy speaker, but the individual drivers are so good that it still manages to sound quite nice.

I was disappointed. Turns out they had a trade-in set of 804 Nautilus speakers there. They confidently demo'ed those for me as well anxious to show how much better the new models were.

Well the 804s kicked the butt of ALL the new models. I first hought that maybe it was break-in of the newer models but was told all of them have at least 500 hours on them.

The 804s are just more homogenous and harminous. The drivers are just much better integrated together than in the new S or D version. As a result, they image better, they were clearer, they were faster, there was no "gaps" in the sound. Although not having the bass of the 803S or D they were both fuller and punchier. I do believe that the individual drivers by themselves are or may be better in the new versions, but the speaker DESIGN is just better in the old model.

The old version in my view is MUCH more musical, and involving. It has that B&W sound but it is not amped on steroids like the new versions. I know that a lot of people will say I am nuts, and most will assume I am because many believe:

1. A new model speaker MUST be an improvement over the last generation
2. Hi-fi quality is DIRECTLY proportional to the cost so if the new versions are more expensive then they are better made and must sound better.

Neither in my recent experience is true. Actually no B&W is on my final auditioning list. That honor goes to Vandersteen 3A sig, Vandersteen Quatro and Quad 22L2(which is an absolutely amazing speaker-maybe not in the end run better than the Vandy's but better than any of the B&Ws and 1/3 less)

IMPORTANT NOTE: The amplifier used in this test is incredibly important. the old Nautilus line was STUPID difficult to drive properly. Really at a minimum you need 400W into 4 OHMS for them to come alive with a very high damping factor. When the old Nautilus series does not have this level of power, they get muddled and congested sounding in difficult or complicated passages, or big excursions. It is a strange type of clipping they have becuase the impedance curve is so difficult on the old Nautilus. Give them enough power (the Ayre worked great, but Spectron Class D marries with these the best) and they sing. The newer versions had this muddiness and congestion but it never went away even with the high power amp.

Recommendation: Buy a set of 804 or 803 Nautilus used, but a 500W per channel amp, and you will still have money left over and a much better version of the B&W sound.

Flame away :)
Funny, it's the first time I read somebody stating absolute superiority of the old Nautilus line over the recent models. For me and others it's clear the opposite is true, my 804S are definitely better performers than my previous nautilus 804, period, and not because they are newer or slightly more expensive!

By the way, the 804S connected me to the music more easily than the Vandies 3A sig with symphonic music, which is what I listen most of the time.

To each their own.

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B&W make speakers with a style/flare for everyone - each model sounds slightly different - although I'd agree they all tend slightly toward having a polite scooped mid and a forward tweeter (off-axis of course as, like most speakers, they are fairly flat on axis). They also tend towards a heavy bottom end and that too is generally what people prefer (this is not unlike many manufacturers - so it is not all that distinctive).

Apart from the top of the line Nautilus, which has four drivers (midrange shared between a 4 inch and 2 inch driver), they all employ a 6 inch midrange which tends to beam in the upper frequencies and leads to the "scoop" seen in the 802D plot and this, to me, is what gives the classic B&W distinctive sound. Lets face it: B&W are extremely succesful, so they are probably designing for what they know a great many listeners will prefer. (please don't take this as a flame against B&W)

However given the variety of B&W options/models, it seems hardly suprising that one particular model is a favorite for one individual whilst it is not the preferred model for someone else.
having owned less $$$ b@w's over the years this is interesting. the idea that one needs a 500 wpc amp to drive a speaker in a home stereo is hard to fathom. that's a heck of a spkr design if this is true. i guess i should have gone into oil futures and farmland in Napa. in my narrow view, a spkr design should not demand industrial power supply to sound sweet. ntl, if you got the dough it is no big deal. to each his own
I have owner B+w matrix 801 series 3 , nautilus 802 , nautilus 805S , 804S and now 803D . The 803D is easily the best of the bunch.
I have no experience with the older B&W, but have to say that I disagree with your assessment of the 803D. I have owned these for two years, driving with 200W amps, and am very happy with them. Prior to purchase, I listened to a wide variety of speakers from all price points, and bought these. To echo another, to each his own, I guess.
I didn't expect many people to believe or agree with me, but I also do not expect many have auditioned old versus new side by side with the same electronics at the same time. Even if they did, the new series are much easier to drive so with lesser powerful equipment the new versions will win by default.
I have N803. I auditioned 803S and 803D side by side. I also heard 802D several times. To me, the 803D is the better balanced speaker of them all. I really can not see how N803 would possibly sound better than b803D. Also, I can not picture how N804 can sound better than any of the B&Ws you mentioned. That is just plain weird. But most of us do hear things differently, so I will leave it at that.
consider that even doing an a/b comparison in same room with all things equal, the room itself will perform differently with each speaker. no 2 spaces are exactly the same acoustically. not to mention the complete subjectivity involved in the listeners bias. ;) btw, MY spkrs sound the BEST, not the b@w's!
I drove my 802D's with 200/200 Ayre amp...never had a power problem. I bought them after my wife died and needed a present, and loved the way they looked. I quickly tired of the fuzzy, and flat presentation, and went elsewhere.
Stick with what you like. It's all subjective anyway. Encountering the opposite opinion of how well one’s components perform has a tendency to @#%! with an audiophile’s head. Best not to post anything too controversial!!!