Amp Options for B&W 803 D3 Speakers?

Greetings Audiophiliacs,

My first post, which I will be cross-posting to a few other forums.

I have the immense pleasure of designing/building my first true audiophile system. I will spare you the backstory. Point is, it is happening.

Aside from the million other questions I am researching related to moving coils, Roon, room correction,…I investing most of my time and money on the foundation: Preamp > Power Amp(s) > Speakers. The decision I am spending most of my time on relates to amplification.

Unfortunately, I do not live in a city where I can easily test hifi systems, so I have to rely on a lot of written research and reviews.

However, today, while traveling on business in Hong Kong, I stumbled on a B&W showroom. I was able to listen to a pair of 803 D3 speakers, which have been on my consideration list for a while (along with Focal Sopra No 2’s). We listened to several CDs. The sound was the best I’ve ever experienced. A piano/cello piece was so incredibly quiet. Velvet blackness. Dark Side of the Moon’s opening transition from “Speak to Me” to “Breathe” blew me away. The clarity and openness between the instruments was remarkable. Frankly, it was a near-spiritual experience.

Here is where it got interesting…

Afterwards, during lunch at a restaurant in the same building, the waiter saw my B&W catalog and said I should go to the “other” hifi showroom in the building. Why not? I headed back up the elevator to find a KEF showroom. I was able to listen to a pair of Reference 5 speakers, and then the $224k Muon. The source was a digital file through Roon. I know the R5s were powered by a Class D amp, not sure about the Muon.

Neither KEF setup approached the 803 D3’s. Not even close. I know sound is subjective, but I played that same sequence from Dark Side of the Moon (which I’ve been listening to for 30 years) and I am telling you there was no comparison.

WTF? Why?

I think it must have been the amp. When I asked the B&W rep about the massive, black stereo power amp running the 803’s, he laughed and said, “oh, it is only about 100 watts,…but it is pure class A.” It was a Gryphon. I think it must have been an Antileon EVO Stereo.

Anyway, the moral to the story (for me, anyway) is that the advice I’ve often heard, “Amplifiers are far, far more important than speakers” was made very real for me this afternoon. It has scrambled my head. Whereas I had been looking for a high-quality, high-power, solid-state, stereo power amp, I have now fallen back down the rabbit hole and am reconsidering tubes, mono-blocks, and, God forbid, pure Class A amps.

What do I do?

(Caveat: all due respect to the seekers out there, I really do not want to be an audiophile who is constantly tearing my system apart and trading components up, out, and sideways. I know digital hardware will change, but with my Preamp>power amp(s)>speakers, I want to be extremely intentional about what I buy, and then not mess with it for a decade. The idea of “try something and if you don’t like it, trade it out” does not appeal to me.)

I love the B&W 803 D3. While I haven’t bought them yet, let’s pretend that the loudspeaker variable is held constant.

I am tied in a pretzel over the amp question. I am prepared to invest in a high-end analog pre-amp, mono-blocks, separate DAC, power conditioning, etc… I’ve looked at PS Audio, McIntosh (tube and solid-state), Anthem, etc. I tried to look at Classe, but it appears their status as a company is too uncertain.

I am open to any, all advice or thoughts. Does my listening room experience today trigger a thought with anyone? What was it about that Gryphon Class A > B&W 803 sound? And how do I get it without spending $32k on an amp? How would the BHK amps sound in comparison?

Thanks in advance

If there was ever a place to demo stuff, Hong Kong is the place.Those guys are just totally crazy about the HiFi biz. I bet RADAR in Hong Kong is one of the best movers of PS Audio gear in the whole International market, no? If you’re out on the streets of Hong Kong wear a flak jacket and tin hat.

Krell have a new K-300i integrated amp, might be worth a look.

My first thought would be to spend the few thousand dollars extra and move from the 803 to the 802. As to electronics choices that would depend on where you live.

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My speakers are B&W 800 D2s.
The Plinius Audio SA 103, which has received a Stereophile class A review, can be used in class AB or class A.
In my system, it is a perfect match for the speakers.
I started with one, and bought a second one recently, running them as bridged monoblocs.
My preamp is the Plinius Audio Tautoro.
A perfect match in my system, highly recommended.


Like you, I was blown away by the B&W offering. Some years ago now, I bought the original Nautilus 801 model and have since upgraded to the the 800 Diamond. As you probably know, there’s been a few model upgrades to the 800 series since then but I’m extraordinarily happy with what I’ve got and can’t afford to upgrade again anyway. I digress, back to amps, when I bought the 801s, the advice was to go with the Electrocompaniet Nemo monoblocks. Supposedy, B&W collaborated with the EC guys to build an amp capable of driving the Nautilus 801s and they came up with the Nemo - get it? Nemo, Nautilus? At any rate, the Nemo is a bridged, Class A offering and I think still available. I’ve never regretted the purchase. I still get goosebumps when I listen to the combo.

One thing inwhich you might also be interested is that I matched the 800Ds with a pair of the B&W DB1s (active subbies). That combo is just perfect! Despite what the B&W salesperson might tell you, the 800Ds hugely benefit from the extra assistance in the low end. And, bonus, the Nemo has a balanced (XLR) ‘link’ output perfectly suited to plug in the DB1s.

Classe has always been an ideal match for the top line B&Ws, though they are solid state. They will be coming out with a new line of amps shortly. Their most recent monoblocks (MA-600s) are great with them.

The BHK 300s are also excellent performers, though the big B&Ws can be demanding in terms of impedance dips. I have the BHKs driving 802 diamonds and they sound awesome. Only on one particular song (Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack) does one amp go into protection given the swing – when played at a relatively high volume.

The BHK preamp (and DSD DAC of course) will also get you closer to greatness.

I think you need to get that other amp checked. I used to own B&W 802D2´s among other models,i even had 801 latest and last model for some time and never could make my amps shutdown,ears bleed first. I had EC Nemo´s at home auditioning too but didn´t buy them. They are really good ,powerful and never aggressive,smooth sounding beasts.
Given that BHK300 are not the strongest contenders at difficult loads,but they sure should be capable of driving 802d´s with ease to insane levels.

Many good options for amps mentioned already,and whatever OP will choose i suggest that B&W benefit biwiring enermously,don´t use jumpers. And i would go 802 instead of 803 if money is not issue ( it always is ) :grin:

If budget permits, I agreed with other posters that moving to 802D3 make a big difference. I auditioned both 803 and 802 and I am glad I went with the 802. I pair them with McIntosh MC611 and they are great match to my ears.

Thanks everyone. Great advice. I’ve decided to focus on 802’s instead of 803’s, which means i need a bigger room, so we’ve decided to move to a bigger house. It is all becoming clear to me.

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Ha Ha Ha!! Very funny. Get a bigger speaker, move to a bigger space. That means if you decide to get something like the IRS V, you will move into an Auditorium. I wish it was as simple as that.

I used a kind of special version of the Antileon for years. If this is what you initially heard and liked, it’s not so easy to go back from double mono high biased Class A. While Class A says nothing about other qualities like pace, soundstaging, openness, liveliness etc. (which can be better or worse with different concepts), high biased Class A means very clean, silky, high resolution, distortion free treble and especially deep, powerful, controlled, harmonically structured bass extremely rich of tonal colors. The impact and smoothness, resolution and lack of distortion of those Class A amps is exceptional. Some Class AB Amps with sophisticated designs (I guess like the PSA) can be better (or worse) in other aspects, so it depends what’s more important for you at the end. You will have to listen for that. Don’t ask me about tubes (as especially as preamplification I prefer them clearly even to solid state Class A for many reasons). I personally ended up with a double mono high biased Class A tube (pre), but this combination of specs is rare.

My amp after the Antileon and another of such amps (Vitus) before switching to active speakers were the Lamm M1.1 hybrid Class A monos. If you’re in for that game, you can add those or the current model of them to the list…a great mix of Class A Output and tube input stage.

All those amps are better than what the B&W speakers do imo (but that’s another story, as those are the speakers you like). Their imo not so good tonal color handling and top end could benefit from Class A, but their imo not so good immediacy and liveliness could also benefit from virtues of other concepts. Just see this as my personal subjective opinion.

Anyway if you heard and liked Class A of that price level you at least need a very good other design alternative like the BHK to be at one rough quality level…forget (imo) about power house solid state amps like Krell ec. without further virtues or the oh so well B&W recommended Classe, they will sound flat and boring in comparison. So you wanted an opinion, here it is and unfortunately still quite nebulous :wink: