B&W 802 d4 vs 803 d4 (vs Sonus Faber Serafino G2?)

After years of headphone listening I’m finally “coming up for air” and looking to invest in a high-end speaker system. Thanks to a kindly dealer I have been auditioning a set of Bowers & Wilkins 803 d4 speakers at home - and I wondered if anyone had first-hand experience of their bigger brother, the 802 d4 - for use with Classical music?

The 803d4 are great speakers, but I’m looking for a bit more low-down “warmth”. Not woolliness or mud, but a more-palpable sense of ambience. Would stepping up from the 803 to the 802 give me this? (Remember that many “Classical” recordings can come across as rather “thin” sounding - particularly those that used multi-miking.)

I had a very-quick demo of the 802 d4’s at another dealer, but it wasn’t very satisfactory (sub-par listening room and equipment).

Slightly off-topic, but I am comparing the Bowers & Wilkins speakers to the new Sonus Faber Serafino G2 - which are rather magical. I’d buy these in a heartbeat but for one significant downside: the treble seems a bit too heavily damped (certainly in contrast to the B&W which have oodles of high end - perhaps too much, as my review pair has ear-ache-inducing distortion in one tweeter).

Anyway, I find that voices “soar” better with the 803d4, but that orchestral details are far better resolved with the Serafinos which, despite their smaller drivers, seem to provide much better clarity (and punch) at the low end. I’m wondering if the larger B&W 802d4 speakers might improve here - more “warmth”? less “mud” in the bass?

My system is all digital and comprises:-

Synology NAS → Naim ND5 XS → Chord M Scaler → Chord DAVE → Chord Ultima 5 (350 W/ch) → Naim NAC A5 → speakers…

Many thanks for any feedback/suggestions!

I have the older 802d3 which has plenty of low down warmth and texture. I principally bought them for classical listening and with big symphonies like Vaughan Williams’ 5th the scale and weight of the orchestral sound is great. Everything I have read is that the 802d4 is a significant improvement over the d3 but of course you need to hear them yourself.

Many thanks - good to hear about the warmth, as so many speakers these days sound a bit “dry” to my ears!

How would you rate the clarity in the bass please?

  • I thought that the 803d4 sounded a bit muddled in loud passages, but perhaps that’s because the drivers are having to work too hard?

Well I think it is quite good. When Jason Kennedy reviewed the Naim Nap 300 (my amp) with the 802d3 he said more powerful amps would have more bass slam but with the 300 the bass on the 802d3 had a lovely shape and texture but as ever a bigger amp would be more solid in the bass but nevertheless he found the pair a match made in heaven. As your amp is much more powerful than mine the bass will be more solid so if you like the 803d4 the 802d4 should bring more of everything.

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I can’t answer the direct question, but 8 years ago I auditioned the 802D2 (anything lower was of no interest), and compared directly with PMC MB2SE which was at the same pricepoint, both new and ex-dem as auditioned. Also compared with my then speakers, ancient IMF RSPMs. (Amplification was Brystom 4Bsst.) The B&W was quite pleasant, and I could probably live with it, but the MB2 was just better, more involving and better bass. I don’t recall the treble being excessive or harsh - but that can often be down to the room. The MB2 does all genres well, but does require good amplification to get the best out of them,

The point is, if you are in the market for speakers at this sort of price - actually at any sort of price - it is worth casting your net widely and hearing as many as you can.

Totally agree. Problem is, there are just so many loudspeakers on the market - and at this level, a home audition is absolutely essential. And therein lies the problem: very few dealers prepared to offer home demos.

By way of background, my audio odyssey has lasted many years and in the past few I’ve auditioned the following:-

  • ATC SCM 40
  • Fyne F702
  • Fyne F1-8
  • Martin Logan ESL-X
  • Sonus Faber Serafino G2
  • Sonus Faber Amati G4 (old generation, eclipsed by Serafino G2)
  • KEF Blade 2 Meta
  • B&W 803 d4
  • B&W 802 d4

That’s quite a mix! I’d originally intended to choose electrostatic speakers but having heard the new Sonus Faber Serafino G2 I’ve changed tack and am looking at comparable speakers. Best of the bunch overall was possibly the KEF Blade 2 Meta, but this was vetoed by my wife (!). I’d always lusted after B&W 800 series, but actually getting to hear them proved quite a challenge: declining numbers of dealers and no way of getting a home demo of the 802 (at least, before the stonking 20% price rise, which came on Friday).

Hence, I’ve been attempting to extrapolate the sound of the one speaker I do have on home loan - the 803 d4 - up to the 802 d4. As I mentioned in my original post, I did get to listen to the 802 at a dealer - and kudos to them for setting things up for me and ensuring the speaker was well run in. However, it was in a very different setting and with very different equipment, so hard to really compare with my home setup.

Having spent considerable time this weekend going back and forth between the 803 d4 and the all-new Sonus Faber Serafino G2, I’m leaning towards the latter. For “Classical” music (where we have real instruments as our reference point) there’s just no comparison between the two speakers. The Serafino G2 has such an astounding richness of mid-range detail(*) and a breathtaking “out of speaker” holographic sound stage, it’s stunning. Yes, the 803 is powerfully punchy with a bright top end, but - to my ears - seems to lack the mid-range detail and amazing imaging of the Serafino G2. Simply put, the Serafino G2 is magic.

I know I’m not alone as another forum user, @WhiskyGuy expressed a similar preference last year: Serafino G2

(*) For example, the sound of stringed instruments. So many speakers miss the “stiction” as the bow moves over a string and instead of a rich texture one hears a thinner, wiry sound.

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I have had a pair of 802 D4s since mid December last year. They replaced in p/e a pair of 802 D3s.
When B & W introduced them over two years ago I wanted them, but the price to change at that time was too much for me. I had a milestone birthday early in 2024 so it was now or never.
The 803s were a cost consideration but my dealer pointed out I would loose the scale of its larger brother. A relevant point. On the other end the 801 would be too big for the room and my wallet.
The advice of “source first” came to mind as the latest iteration is a significant step up. More bass of a better quality, an opening up and just more realism. There is also a greater sense of speed. I have a medium size room, 18 x 13 ft approx and have no problems with driving the room. I have had this in the past with older 802s but the 500DR does the job as it did with the D3.
So, what to do? Well its worked for me very well indeed and more than I thought it would.
Expect a D5 in about three years time if you follow the B & W pattern of marketing.
Nealy all of my listening is classical. Mahler 2! No problem.

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Thanks, Douglas. Definitely need a very-well-resolving system and enough “oomph” to drive them.In my case the Ultima 5 is extremely powerful and the DAVE/M-Scaler combo provides oodles of low-end…

…No, what I’m trying to figure out is how different the 802 would sound compared to the 803 on my system. Various dealers have commented on a similar “house sound”, but that the 802 has more low-end power. That’s good - we all love immersive and authoritative bass - but I’m wondering about tonal quality as well: mid range detail. I think that the 803 slips up here (U-shaped frequency response makes it appear engaging and lively initially, but becomes rather fatiguing and unsatisfying after a while).

Did you have a chance to compare the two models (802 and 803) back-to-back?

I also listen to classical and opera. I was always a big fan of B&Ws (my first “serious” speakers were the lovely PM1s). When I significantly upgraded my system, I demo’d, among others, the 804D3 and SF Guarneris. There was no competition, and since then have been a happy SF owner. I agree they sound magical with classical. If I ever upgrade, space permitting, I will stick with SF.

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All my life I’ve had the idea that I’d end up with a big set of B&W speakers - I went to school in Brighton and like to “support the local team” so to speak. I absolutely love the build quality of the new d4 series and even my wife doesn’t object to their looks (we’d go for black) - but there’s a magic about those new SF Serafinos.

@jejese1: the one downside I’m finding to the Serafino G2 speakers is that the treble seems a tiny bit over-damped (no doubt engineered to reduce fatigue). Have you found this to be an issue?

(I found is slightly easier to follow a vocal line in some operas with the extended treble of the B&W. On the other hand, the superior imaging and 3D effect of the Serafino G2 meant I could “see” the characters as well.)

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Quick question to B&W 800-series owners: do you point the tweeters directly towards your listening position or slightly in front (or slightly behind)?

  • I’m getting a more balanced sound with the tweeter axes converging a few feet behind my head. Works nicely for piano music where one gets the initial attack but with less “glare”.
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Highly desirable, certainly, however you can narrow to a very small shortlist at a dealer - in my experience is that sound characters are vary so much that it is likely that half or even three quarters of the list will be instant rejects, and finally only end up with two or three possibilities. That said, I have never auditioned speakers at home, yet never been disappointed with my choices. I do take my existing speakers with me to the dealer, and amp if they don’t have the same, which allows me to hear the room differences and set a baseline in the different room, and also allow direct comparison.

I’m impressed!

One dealer to whom I had taken my 60 kg IMFs, that they carried in and upstairs to the demo room when I went to audition something else, remembered me when I turned up 25 years later with the same speakers on occasion of auditioning PMC MB2 and B&W 802. They didn’t bat an eyelid and they carried my speakers in again, dismissing my assistance. Similarly another dealer with those same speakers and an upstairs demo room. Their collective willingness including the manhandling is what was impressive: lugging speakers long distances in the car is nothing!

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Looks like you have an amp which will not be an issue d.c. with any B & W.
The 803 was never in my shopping list as I have always had the bigger model. A longwinded way way of saying I have never heard them.
My latest speakers are both firing straight at me as before with the previous generation. No issues there
I had rosewood finish before, now black. This finish is a bit more obvious then wood. Yiu cannot fault the finish. One small point: there is no “new” smell like with a car.
Its all down to the individual, speakers being the most personal item in the hi-fi chain.

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My 802d3’s are set up firing behind my head. That’s what the dealer recommended and it suits me.

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The Serafino are exquisite. We heard them with 350s, what a pairing.

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Indeed - but they sound slightly muffled compared to the bright B&W. I don’t know if this is just the brain adjusting to the different sounds or if the Serafinos are “slower” sounding.

It’s the leading edge of notes that concern me: piano music works brilliantly on the 803 but is more muted on the Serafinos. On the other hand there’s more sense of the tone with the Serafinos; perhaps the 802 improves on this?

(My concern is that, having built up a highly resolving source chain I don’t want to throw away the finer details.)

It could all be just down to Dismond Tweeter vs Damped Apex (Silk) Tweeter - the latter being rolled off at higher frequencies and with a slight dip in the “presence” region.

I really enjoyed the Serafinos when I had them for an extended home demo, but after running them
up against speakers with much larger bass cones the bass capability just felt a little lacking in comparison.

For me the result was an unexpected step up to the larger Amati G5s which provide everything the Serafinos do, but with better low end all round. The result is stunning, but again in my room with my equipment!

The question of the high frequencies being rolled off is interesting. I’ve just tried a full loom of Chord Sarum T with the Amatis and found that combination quite fatiguing. I returned to the Linn K200 and the balance of detail/insight to naturalness/long term “listenability” is just spot on to my tastes.

Ultimately you just need to decide which combination you like the most. There is no right, or wrong answer here. Most purists would laugh at the system I’ve put together, but it achieves the sound I set out to find at the outset and it’s perfect for me!

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Many thanks for your helpful and insightful thoughts, @WhiskyGuy - much appreciated!

I was rather hoping it wasn’t coming to that… but I did also have the thought in my mind - would probably have to wait a bit longer before pulling the trigger.

  • Do you mind me asking what sort of music you typically listen to please?

  • I’m finding that for “Classical” music, the bass on the Serafinos is “adequate” (as Rolls Royce would say), but as I doubt my wife would sanction any further speaker upgrades for many years, it’s important to “get it right first time”.

Very helpful, thanks! My local dealer had suggested the Chord Sarum and/or Signature - but given that I need a pair of 10m cables, the cost would be extortionate. Good to know I can rule this out! Not sure how the Linn K200 compares with my existing Naim NAC A5 (I think it’s a pretty decent cable - except when you need to go round corners…)

P.S., Which finish did you opt for in the end? Violin Red, Wenge or Graphite?