Although most of what Bowers & Wilkins manufactures now comes out of China, the prestigious 800 Series and Nautilus loudspeakers are still made by hand in a factory in Worthing, on the south coast of England. We had a unique opportunity to look around the factory and follow the process from beginning to end.
The company makes many of its drive units in house (unfortunately, the production line for that section wasn’t active on the day of the visit) although it constructs its tweeters using custom diamond diaphragms sourced elsewhere in the UK. The 800 Series construction process is lengthy and painstaking, with testing at every stage and extensive documentation to determine who built what on each pair of loudspeakers. The cross-layered ply used in the cabinets is shaped in house, then cured, painted, polished, and finished to the highest standard before assembly. The shaping process places such tension on the cabinet that its manufacture requires a custom-built counter-tensioning jig for final assembly, and even using that itself slows the construction process down. A typical 800 loudspeaker takes several weeks from raw materials to end product.
Few companies in the high-end sector of the audio industry have this size of plant to call upon, and it shows in every aspect of the product. The consistency Bowers & Wilkins can realise from this south coast plant is difficult to achieve without this kind of dedicated factory.
Before forming, the cross-layered ply cabinet is held in place by resin.
The factory floor, and building a pair of classic custom-finish Nautilus.
Two sophisticated computer-controlled presses shape the curved-back cabinet.
Tweeters are made in house on a multi-step process performed at great speed!
Even parts you don’t see (like the crossover) are consistently visually aligned.
Manufacturing at the Worthing factory is a combination of careful hand-made tasks and sophisticated automation, like this micrometer-level sanding process.
Careful inspection at every stage of the build is vital for an 800 Series loudspeaker.
The teardrop heads for 800 Series speakers, before and after painting.
Documentation is filled in and followed from one end of the factory to the other.
Hours of careful fine polishing is needed, especially for the piano black finish.
The shaped cabinet is under such tension, it needs its own jig.
The end result is carefully loaded into packaging that has its own ramp!
B&W’s stockroom is large enough to do a Raiders of the Lost Ark ending joke. They have top men working here. Top… men.
Alongside regular testing (and the nearby Steyning research lab), the factory has its own special listening room… because Ferrari red Nautilus deserve to be heard!