B&W 800 Diamond loudspeaker
As B&W's 800 Series has evolved, Stereophile has reported on its progress. Lewis Lipnick reviewed the Matrix 801 Series 2 in 1987, and Wes Phillips wrote about the Nautilus 801 in 1999. I reviewed the B&W 800 Signature in 2002 and the 802D in 2005. This is getting to be a habit.
In the years I've lived with the 802Ds, they've continued to provide wonderful musical experiences, and, like an old married couple, we've adapted to each other. I've adapted to their slight emphasis of the high frequencies and their upper-bass ripeness; they, in turn, have blended comfortably into my room's décor. But recently B&W sent me a pair of 800 Diamonds, the flagship model of their new range, to challenge my resident 802Ds and the audio world at large.
The 800 Diamond doesn't look radically different from its predecessors. Indeed, from the introduction, just before 2000, of B&W's Nautilus series, with its distinctive midrange and tweeter enclosures of tapered Marlan, to the new Diamond series, any changes in appearance have been fewer and subtler than those seen in automobiles each year. However, B&W has advanced the technology with each series, and there is always something new under the hood. With the 800 Diamond, though, some of the visible changes are themselves functionally significant.
First, the new grilles for the woofer and midrange cones are attached to the front panels by invisible magnets, as were only the tweeter grilles on the earlier series. While that provides for a clean appearance when the grilles aren't in place, it also eliminates the need for any fussy swapping of the phase plugs on the Kevlar FST midrange driver. Previous 800s had a solid phase plug of shiny brass, but before affixing the grille it was necessary to unscrew this and replace it with a hollow plastic plug with a hole in its tip, which served to accept the grille's mounting pin. Who wants to mess with that before receiving visitors, especially if they bring the kids?
Second, and more significant in terms of performance, the Rohacell woofers have smaller dustcaps, but their smaller size is a function of a B&W's new "mushroom" diaphragm construction, which bonds the cone, dustcap, and voice-coil bobbin into a single unit rigid as a girder. B&W's earlier Rohacell woofer cones had a huge central convexity that was part of the diaphragm's design. A more potent electromagnetic engine drives the new woofers, powered by a motor system with two neodymium magnets to provide a more symmetrical magnetic field over long excursions, thereby reducing distortion and increasing dynamic response.
Third, B&W's diamond tweeter has been reengineered. It has a new suspension, and four high-permeability magnets are used to reduce dynamic compression at high volumes.
Fourth and finally, the use of gold-silver-oil Mundorf capacitors in the HF crossover filterlike the diamond tweeter, once restricted to the earlier 800Dis now used throughout the 800 Diamond series, including the 805 bookshelf and the two Diamond center-channel models, the HTM2 and HTM4. This will contribute to more accurate timbral matching in multichannel arrays.
My review samples were finished in a superlative Gloss Piano Black accented with gold trim lines around each driver. The body of the 800 Diamond is supported above the substantial base by five sturdy pillars, three at the front and two at the rear. The space thus created and the matte silver finish of the base top and pillars create the illusion that the large main enclosure is floating in air. Thus, while the 800 Diamond is only an inch taller than the 802D, and while the 800 Diamond is larger and heavier than the black-based, rosewood-finished 802D, it doesn't look it when placed next to the earlier model.
The 800 Diamonds' shipping cartons are hugeI was grateful for the assistance of Park Avenue Audio in unpacking and positioning the speakers. (Actually, I watched, they worked.) Shortly after they had made the cartons disappear, B&W's Doug Henderson and Park Avenue's Dennis Yetikel showed up to advise on the finer points of speaker setup. Henderson had brought along a favorite recording with very full, tight bass, with which he tried to optimize the 800s' sound for maximum bass and without excessive bloom. He did that, but I think none of us was really satisfiedthere was a lot of bass power, but with a bit of flab.
Not until I had at last been left alone with the 800 Diamonds did I discover that my Classé CT-SSP surround-sound processor was still configured with bass room-equalization settings for my resident 802D speakers, and that these filters were still in circuit. When I bypassed that EQ, the bass immediately became more taut and defined. (Henderson e-mailed me a copy of his test track and with a little tweaking, I could confirm that the bass was well-defined.)
But I'm getting ahead of myself. My first impression of the 800 Diamond was that it played much louder than the 802D, even though the two speakers' claimed sensitivities are identical. It wasn't long before I realized that the cause was a distinctively more smooth and balanced midrange that projected voices and melodies into the room. As a result, for a typical comfortable listening level, my preferred volume settings for the CT-SSP were 45dB lower than for the 802D. That's significant in terms of amplifier power, and may go a long way toward mitigating the general observation that B&W's past 800 models demanded gobs of power.