I recently had the opportunity to build a system around the B&W 804S for a non-audiophile family setting up their first serious system.
They were brought around to audition a number of speakers, before they settled for the B&W.
For those unfamiliar with the B&W 804S, it is the smallest (its actually quite big physically) floorstanding speaker in B&W's 800 series line-up. At approximately double the price of the stand mount 805, the 804 has 4 drivers in a boat shaped cabinet with front firing port. Its a 3 way design with a Nautilus tweeter mounted on top of the cabinet.
On the rear, bi-wiring terminals are provided and jumper cables (not stupid brass links) with one end intelligently terminated with spades and the other with banana plugs, thereby ensuring compatability with cables terminated with either spade or banana plugs. Why can't all manufacturers do this ?
The B&W was heard twice in two different dealers. Pairing equipment included an all Arcam setup, Classe amplification and CD players and an all Cyrus setup. The B&W sounded very different through each of the three systems set up for demonstration purposes, suggesting that it is quite sensitive to matching with partnering equipment. Tonal balance wise, it managed to sound bright and fast with one setup and rich and somewhat slow on another.
Eventually, the 804 was paired with a Bel Canto S-300i. The combination is quite nice with very good grip and control over the lower registers and a neutral midrange tonal balance. The high frequencies manages to be extended with a fair bit of sparkle coupled with slightly rich bass. So who says your speaker can't sound clear and clean, while being weighty too ?
The B&W is versatile enough to handle varied music types with aplomb. Classical works, female vocals, jazz, rock and pop doesn't faze the 804 one bit. What I like about the 804 is that the presentation is not overly analytical. It doesn't stress out the owner by limiting him to a diet of audiophile recordings. Neither is it so non transparent that good ancillaries are wasted on it. A speaker of all seasons, it has enough qualities to please the hard core audiophile while being easy going enough to suit the casual listener.
One issue though is the local pricing in Singapore. This speaker retails for more than USD 5,000 (at today's exchange rates of about SGD 1.46 to USD 1.00) which puts it in serious speaker territory. There is a lot of quality competition at that price range, some of which are to my ears preferable to me compared to the 804. But I do digress. The 804 still warrants serious consideration, so do check it out if its in your budget range.