B&W 800 Diamond loudspeaker Page 2
There's another way to look at this phenomenon. Both the 802D and 800 Diamond could play at very high levels without distress, but I found I could play the 800 at much higher levels without evoking any listener stress. The 802D seemed to have a slight built-in "loudness compensation" that tipped up both the upper-bass and mid-treble; while that was warmly pleasant at normal listening levels, at much higher levels it sounded somewhat overwhelming. Strangely, the larger 800 Diamond had less artificial "authority" at all levels, while lacking nothing in terms of power, impact, bass extension, or weight.
Boccherini's La Musica Notturna delle strade di Madrid, from the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra's Die RohreThe Tube (SACD, Tacet S 074), which sounds so impressive through the 802Ds, was even better with the 800 Diamonds, with greater definition in the plucked and bowed strings. There was notably less resonance in the upper bass, which contributed to a more open soundstage as well as to specificity of instrument placement. The 800's bass capabilities were both ample and tight, as revealed by the fourth movement of Mendelssohn's Organ Sonata 1 in F, as performed by Thomas Murray (CD, Raven OAR-390): as the pedal notes descended, each shudder was not an ambiguous roar but had a clearly discernible pitch.
Bigger ensembles were magnificently portrayed by the 800 Diamonds. The last movement of Rachmaninoff's Symphony 1 can seem, in some hands, to go on forever, but André Previn and the London Symphony whip it up real good in their classic recording from 1975 (CD, EMI 64530-2)I really loved the snarling brasses, and oh, that bass drum had awesome weight. Even better was Prokofiev's Symphony 5, with Dmitri Kitayenko conducting the GÅrzenich-Orchester Kîln (CD, Phoenix Edition 135). The two-channel sound through the 800 Diamonds was as powerful and spacious as these forces' earlier set of Shostakovich's symphonies (SACD/CD, Capriccio 71 029) was in multichannel! The large orchestra was presented as deep and wide, with brass that sparkled and sizzled, sweet upper strings, and weight from the lower strings and percussion. Inner detail illuminated the wind instruments.
If there was any fault to be found in the 800 Diamond, it was the revealing treble of that diamond tweeter. When the recording was a good one, like those mentioned, the highs had a preternatural purity that was simultaneously illuminating and sweet. This made listening to even older recordings of chamber music a delightfor example, the delicacy and coherence of Schubert's Notturno, with members of the Beaux Arts Trio and pianist Menahem Pressler (CD, Philips 438 700), which is a bit brighter than the recent version from Christian Tetzlaff, Marie-Elisabeth Hecker, and pianist Martin Helmchen (SACD/CD, Pentatone PTC 5186 334). The older recording conveys a sense of time stopped, while the newer makes more of the passionate contrasts; the 800 Diamonds presented both with sweet, round string tone and no harshness or grain. However, with lesser source material, the 800 Diamond's tweeter could reveal blemishes with clinical honesty. Digital music files streamed at low bit rates demanded a high-frequency filter, as did some high-definition downloads of remastered classic classical recordings. And love them as I do, I found that some Mercury Living Presence SACDseg, conductor Paul Paray's collection of works by Chabrier (475 6183), and most of the Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra discs, including those of Hanson's symphonies (Mercury 475 6181)had more sizzle and snap than was comfortable for me.
But most important, the 800 Diamond sounded absolutely devastating with really good recordings, particularly in its revelation of voices, both solo and in groups. I've pretty much given up on "audiophile preferred" recordings, but demos at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show exposed me to many impressive examples. Thanks to Philip O'Hanlon of On a Higher Note, who gave me a CD-R copy of his "Demo Mix XIII," it was easy to try some of these tracks with the 800s. Wow! In the Agnus dei from Ariel Ramirez's Missa Criolla, conducted by José Luis Ocejo, tenor José Carreras's voice simply floated in space, but with great warmth and presence, as the supporting voices and instruments were arrayed across the soundstage (CD, Philips 420 955 or First Impression Music LIMK2HD040). The voices of Shirley Horn ("Beautiful Love," from You Won't Forget Me, Verve 847 482-2) and Renée Fleming (singing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," from her Dark Hope, Decca 80014186-2) were magically close and lush, and cushioned in a relaxed, spacious ambience. These recordings, of course, were selected for just these qualities, but if memory serves, none of the hotel-room demos I heard at CES could approach the delight of what two 800 Diamonds did in my living room. My taste in Ms. Fleming's repertoire, however, veers to Richard Strauss and his devastatingly luscious valedictory, Four Last Songs (Renée Fleming, MÅnchner Philhamoniker/Christian Thielemann, Decca 478 0647). Here Ms. Fleming's glorious soprano soared over the spacious carpet of Strauss' orchestra and thrilled me more than Cohen's wry "Hallelujah." For any audiophile worth his salt, what could be more satisfying?
How did the 800 Diamond compare with other speakers that have graced my room in recent months? Without hearing them side by side, I must rely only on my notes to supplement my memory, but here goes. From the midrange down, the Canton Reference 3.2 DC that I reviewed in June 2010 seemed most similar in performance to the B&W, but while the Canton was a bit reticent with voices and throughout the upper midrange, the B&W was more transparent and open. The trade-off was that the Canton was more than forgiving of steely violins and the hashy HF of Web radio streamed at low bit rates, where the B&W was fairly ruthless.
As for B&W's own 802D, see my comments above; in brief, the 800 Diamond was distinctly more even throughout the audioband. The 800 Diamond lacked the 802D's generous warmth in the range around 100Hz and, yet, it had a stronger low end with decidedly more dynamic punch. This performance makes me wonder if JA will find the same "awkward combination" of low impedance and phase angles in the bass as he did with the 802D. As for the Revel Ultima2 Studio (reviewed in March 2008), memory won't permit me to say much more than that I recall it sounding as open and balanced as the 800D, but with a bit less focus in the extreme HF. Hie thee to an audio salon and compare them for yourself.
Bowers & Wilkins' 800 Diamond was, overall, simply a pleasure to listen to. B&W continues to improve the underlying technology of its 800 series speakers and the result is apparent in the 800 Diamond's sound. Its overall honesty, attested to by the 800 series' heritage as studio monitors, lets the 800 Diamond get the most information out of all recordings without, as far as I could tell, any practical limitation in dynamic range. Better yet, the 800 offered the same balanced sound at all listening levels, and the pair of them threw a remarkably huge and detailed soundstage. And surprisingly for such large, elegant-looking speakers, they seem to disappear from your awareness to leave the listener alone with just the music.