The Iconic Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus Speaker is Back at $100k/pair!
Bowers & Wilkins is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the launch of its iconic Nautilus loudspeaker, which officially debuted back in 1993. To commemorate this milestone, the company has created a stunning new Abalone Pearl finish for the speaker. Not only is the pearl traditionally associated with 30th anniversaries, it’s also the color of the internal shell of the ocean-dwelling cephalopod that inspired the name of this distinctive, spiral-shaped speaker. Bowers & Wilkins describes the Nautilus, which is still being produced and sold 30 years after its introduction, as a “unique combination of unbridled ambition and revolutionary design.” And you really have to give credit where it’s due — how many designs still look fresh after three decades? How many speakers continue to sell 30+ years after their introduction?
The visually striking Nautilus loudspeaker is the result of a research and development project started by company founder John Bowers shortly before he passed away in 1987. Lead engineer Laurence Dickie (now of Vivid Audio), who had invented the famous “Matrix” enclosure to reduce cabinet-born sound colorations earlier in the ‘80s, led the effort to deliver on Bowers’s vision. The team was given no time constraints, and “few limitations related to practicality or cost,” according to the company. The brief was simple: build a loudspeaker that doesn’t sound like a loudspeaker. Dickie and his team would spend five years studying the negative effects that loudspeaker enclosures can have on sound, and exploring possible ways to eliminate these effects via design innovation. Like a cross between a radical concept car and a ruthlessly-engineered Formula 1 race car, the Nautilus was born out of these efforts.
First appearing in prototype form in 1991, the Nautilus design wasn’t just groundbreaking for its wild aesthetics. It also introduced important new loudspeaker engineering principals, including the concept of the exponentially tapered tube. The speaker’s drivers are loaded by reverse-tapered horns, also known as exponentially tapered or exponentially diminishing tubes, to absorb the rear radiation coming off the back of the drivers. One of many breakthroughs that would influence future Bowers & Wilkins designs for decades, the Nautilus tube earned a Queen’s Award for Innovation, a prestigious award recognizing UK businesses that demonstrate strong, commercially successful and innovative products or services. The Nautilus cabinet design is equally significant. The speaker’s seamless body is molded into its unmistakable shape from glass-fiber-reinforced ABS plastic, 10mm thick. The result is an enclosure with near-zero cabinet coloration and a speaker with a near perfect response, according to Bowers & Wilkins. Like the classic 801 before it, the Nautilus represented a major achievement for the company, and a key moment in its trajectory.
Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus in Midnight Blue Metallic @ Audio Advice Live 2023
At its core, the Nautilus is a 4-way tube-loaded loudspeaker system with a 12-inch aluminum cone woofer, a 4-inch aluminum/polymer sandwich cone lower-midrange driver, a 2-inch aluminum dome upper-midrange driver, and a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter. Thanks to its unique active crossover, the Nautilus requires four channels of amplification per speaker, each with identical gain and phase. Bowers & Wilkins tells us that “crucial drive unit components are made using a mix of hand-assembly techniques and semi-automatic production. For example, voice coils are wet-wound with high-temperature resin, then baked in a special oven to ensure enhanced performance and durability.” The Nautilus has remained in production continuously as a flagship product for the brand, using the same painstaking hand-made process, even while the company’s more recent designs take advantage of newer industry standards of automated precision, some pioneered by Bowers & Wilkins. The Nautilus enclosure alone takes a week to build, then multiple more weeks to finish via an elaborate sanding, painting, and polishing process. The pearlescent finish is achieved from the careful application of 12 lacquer coats containing aluminum and mica particles, combined with a unique baking and curing system. Because of the labor-intensive techniques involved, there is a two-year waiting list for the Nautilus, despite its lofty price of $100,000 per pair. Standard colors include Midnight Blue Metallic, Silver, and Black. Bowers & Wilkins also offers a custom-finish service that will match the product’s color to any reference the customer chooses, at an extra cost. Presumably, that includes the new Abalone Pearl finish developed for the speaker’s 30th anniversary.
While Bowers & Wilkins is committed to advancing the future of high-performance audio across all of our product portfolio, Nautilus remains of the highest importance to all of us. It readily communicates everything that is exceptional about Bowers & Wilkins and our no-holds-barred approach to creating the world’s best-sounding, most beautifully designed audio products.
— Dave Sheen, Brand President of Bowers & Wilkins
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