Bowers & Wilkins 804 Diamond loudspeaker
I don't think that the Bowers and Wilkins 804, in any of its incarnation, gets its due respect. As the smallest floorstander in B&W's elite 800 series, it has historically been overshadowed by its larger brethren and outmaneuvered by the smaller, stand-mounted 805. However, the 804 Diamond is unique, and deserves special attention for reasons I discovered when I chose the earlier 804S for the surround channels of my 5.1-channel surround system.
The first of these reasons: The three-way 804 Diamond takes up no more floor space than the two-way 805 while also having two 6.5" woofers, which greatly expand its power handling and bass extension. In fact, it was my wife who, when I consulted her about choice and placement, asked why one would even consider the smaller speaker when the bigger one took up no more floor space and looked better. Second, in the 804, the same 6" Kevlar-cone mid/woofer used in the 805 is relieved of all bass responsibilities and works purely in the midrange, as it does in the 800 Diamond.
The third reasonperhaps a corollary of the secondis that dedicating the Kevlar driver to the midrange means that it can be used with B&W's proprietary Fixed Suspension Transducer (FST) technology, which was designed to better control and define the breakup patterns of relatively nonrigid diaphragms. The use of Kevlar in the 805's mid/woofer demands a more traditional surround that imposes the uncontrolled radial breakup patterns that the use of a Kevlar diaphragm was intended to avoid. Note, also, that B&W uses diaphragms of Rohacell, which is stiffer than Kevlar, in the woofers (ie, not mid/woofers) of all its 800-series models, including the 804.
Finally, although the 804 Diamond is not endowed with B&W's iconic Marlan head, as in the 800 Diamond, the 804's midrange driver is still enclosed in an internally tapered enclosure, and scores over the larger but similarly configured 803 Diamond in having a narrower cabinet, which, potentially, would not have as great an impact on midrange dispersion. It might also be effective in minimizing the kink in the horizontal off-axis radiation pattern that John Atkinson has discovered in the transition from the woofers to the midrange drivers of the Marlan-topped 802 and 800 Diamonds.
Arrival The 804 Diamonds arrived in substantial packaging that lacked the forklift-accessible plinths needed for the 800 Diamonds. I was grateful for the unpacking instructions printed on the outside of the box; I was able to unpack and set them up with little effort and no assistance. Both spikes (for carpet) and plastic feet (for hardwood floors) are provided. I chose the latter. The slim, graceful cabinet is oval in cross section, except for the flat front panel; my review samples were finished in Rosenut veneer. (Cherry and Piano Gloss Black are also available.) A black front grille attaches magneticallywhen the grille is removed, no securing devices mar the speaker's appearance.
On top of the cabinet, lying in a shallow niche, is B&W's iconic enclosure for its diamond tweeter and its tapered tube. Below that is the yellow, woven-Kevlar diaphragm of the FST midrange driver, which is installed through the front panel and secured by a shaft to a compliant support in the rear, just as the FST midranges in the 802 and 800 Diamond models. (A plastic disc must be removed from the rear of the midrange enclosure, which opens to the speaker's rear, before listening.) Below that are the two Rohacell-cone woofers and a low-turbulence port, dimpled and flared, and similar to the one hidden on the underside of the bigger models. Protruding from near the top of the rear of the cabinet is the adjustable mount for the midrange; near the bottom are two pairs of speaker binding posts of a new design that accommodates easy tightening by hand. Biwiring and biamping are thus made possible; jumpers are also provided. To meet EU requirements, the center bore of each binding post is occupied by a plastic plug; I removed these in order to use cables terminated with banana plugs.
I was able to lift and lower each 60-lb 804 Diamond into position by using its bass port as a grip. At first, I set them up in the precise spots just vacated by my 800 Diamonds. In these positions, the 804Ds seemed to sound somewhat thin and bright, but some expectation bias is inevitable: I was consciously aware, from both sight and aching musclesI'd just moved the big 800Ds out of the waythat I had just replaced two very familiar, very large speakers with a pair of small towers fresh from the farm. Apparently, I adapted as I adjusted the setup. The 804Ds ended up about a foot closer to each other than where they started out, toed in by no more than 10°.
Comparisons can be odious
That doesn't mean that comparisons smell bad, but making direct comparisons can lead to various problems. In the case of speakers, it's all too easy to describe how one speaker sounds different from another, but 1) that doesn't tell us a lot about which speaker might be better or more accurate, and 2) a specific character of one speaker might constrain an accurate description of another. So, although I can't ignore comparing the 804 Diamond to its 804S forebear or to its big brother, the 800 Diamond, both of which I had on hand, I'll first describe the 804D's sound as I found it, independent of comparisons.
I listened casually to the 804 Diamonds for a couple of weeks before sitting down to do more careful listening. During that time they evinced good tonal balance and great stereo center fill. FM broadcasts sounded good, with no emphasis of hiss with weak signals, and Internet radio sounded fine without obvious dulling due to the limited bandwidth. As I sat down with my favorite discs and downloads, my expectations were rising.
The 804 Diamond was quite beyond criticism in the treble, with clarity and fine detail. Cymbals and triangles sizzled and tingled appropriately, but, more important, E-string fiddling was sweet and pure. Voices, too, were lifelike, whether solo or in chorus. One of my new favorite vocal recordings is a 24-bit/192kHz PCM download of Marianne Beate Kielland's recital disc Come Away, Death (SACD/CD, 2L 2L-064-SACD). Following a tonally convincing introduction by pianist Sergei Osadchuk, Kielland's silken mezzo-soprano appeared eerily between the 804 Diamonds with such presence that I got up to check that my (presumably) idle center speaker was, in fact, silent. The effect expanded with multiple voicesas on Dixit Dominus, a disc pairing Handel's and Vivaldi's settings of Psalm 109, with David Bates leading La Nuova Musica (SACD/CD, Harmonia Mundi HMU 807587): the choristers' voices were arrayed in space between and above the 804 Diamonds.