Bowers & Wilkins 802 D3 Diamond loudspeaker

"This is getting to be a habit."

That's how I ended the first paragraph of my review of Bowers & Wilkins' 800 Diamond speaker, in the May 2011 issue; apparently, Stereophile's habit of reviewing models from B&W's 800 series remains unbroken.

Later in that review, I said that "The 800 Diamond doesn't look radically different from its predecessors." That doesn't apply to the 802 D3 Diamond ($22,000/pair). It's still a three-way system with tapered-tube high-frequency and midrange enclosures, stacked and nestled into a generous bass enclosure that's vented on the bottom into the space between it and its plinth. But other than that, the 802 D3 radically differs from the previous generation: only eight components are retained. Four of those are the binding posts, another is the diamond-dome tweeter, and the remaining three are trivial. According to Martial Rousseau, B&W's head of research, "This is not a product update. This is a completely reimagined entity."

Description
When I set-up the 802 D3s, the first thing that struck me was that they were taller than the 800 Diamonds. That, coupled with the change from a boxy support plinth (which also housed the crossover) to a flat, 1"-thick aluminum plinth, suggests that the bass enclosure is of significantly greater volume. Indeed, the 802 D3 weighs only 17 lbs less than its older and broader brother. Another striking change in appearance is the 802 D3's silvery Continuum midrange cone, which replaces the iconic yellow Kevlar of the 800 Diamond's cone. Continuum is a coated, woven material that B&W developed over the last 8 years, intended to perform like Kevlar in reducing the magnitude and duration of cone breakup—but to much higher degrees.

The diaphragms of the 802 D3's woofers are also of new design and material. Although similar in appearance to the older Rohacel laminate cones, albeit with smaller dustcaps, the new diaphragm has a foam core of varying thickness: thinner at the central voice-coil, thickening with increasing radius, then thinning again as it nears the surround. B&W calls this shape Aerofoil, and claims that it combines maximal stiffness with minimal mass. When I tapped and scratched it, the 8" Aerofoil cones sounded considerably more dead, and felt more compliantly mounted, than the 800 Diamond's two 10" Rohacel cones.

The 802 D3's woofers protrude from their enclosure because the front of the latter is curved—a reverse of the design of earlier 800s, which had flat fronts and curved rears. The change was made to enhance cabinet stiffness where it counts, and to minimize edge diffraction, though I wonder if the latter is significant at the frequencies involved. Nonetheless, one consequence of the curved front is that the woofers can't be mounted directly to it; instead, they're attached to metal cylinders that emerge from the front. These cylinders are rigidly secured to an enclosure made with the latest version of B&W's Matrix, now made from plywood and aluminum and pressure-fitted to the main body for enhanced structural rigidity. A concomitant consequence of the new shape is that the rear of the 802 D3 is a single, massive aluminum heatsink that runs, like a keel, the cabinet's entire height. The crossover network is mounted on the inside of this heatsink, the four binding posts on the outside, at the bottom, and the top is milled out to accommodate the rear of the loudspeaker's Turbine Head: the vaguely oil-drop-shaped structure that houses the midrange driver and supports the tweeter.

The tweeter and midrange enclosures are completely re-engineered and, while the midrange enclosure was previously made from Marlan composite, both are now machined from solid aluminum. An ancillary benefit of the tweeter-housing redesign is that it can be more easily removed and replaced if the Diamond tweeter is damaged. Of course, it's also less likely to be damaged in the first place: the 802 D3's protective tweeter cover is now fixed, to prevent any untoward contact with the dome.

Also reengineered are the metal frames of the midrange and bass drivers, to increase stiffness and reduce resonances. At public demonstrations, B&W illustrates the effectiveness of their new design by suspending from cables "empty" samples of the new and old tweeter housings and midrange baskets and inviting attendees to strike them. The old ones sound brightly musical, like bells or triangles; the new ones respond with a dull clunk. Here in my listening room, my 800 Diamonds sat right next to the 802 D3s, and I wondered if the striking (!) difference would still be audible when the housings were fitted with drivers and securely mounted in finished speakers. As expected, the differences were small, but responses from the D3's driver rims were higher in pitch, and definitely less lively. (For additional technical and philosophical issues, see the separate article on my visit to Bowers & Wilkins.)

The overall appearance of the 802 D3 is more streamlined and less plush than earlier 800 models. The review samples, finished in Gloss Black (Rosenut is also available), came with black grilles for the midrange and woofers, but I preferred using only the midrange grille, perhaps only until I adapt to the change in diaphragm color from yellow to silver. On the other hand, the vertical array of exposed woofers and the midrange and tweeter modules formed a visual motif reminiscent of the original Nautilus, while the racetrack-shaped woofer grille looked ungainly. The 800 Diamond's Turbine Head was embedded in the bass enclosure and embraced by a ruff of Connolly leather; the 802 D3's Head is nestled into a shallower saddle on the bass enclosure, isolated from it by hidden compliances. By fanciful analogy, 800-series styling has moved from the Elizabethan to the Edwardian age.

Installation and setup
I placed the 802 D3s where most speakers have sounded best in my room: about 11' from my main listening seat, which is just a bit more than the 9' 10" that B&W says is typically required for proper integration of the drivers' outputs (footnote 1). I adjusted the toe-in by ear—it seemed ideal when the tweeter axes crossed about 18" behind my head.

Because the 47" height of the 802 D3's tweeter is so much greater than the 36" distance between my ears and the floor when I'm seated, I tilted the loudspeakers forward: When first unpacked, the 802 D3 sits on four generously sized rollers, but adjustable spikes are already in place on the underside of the plinth. An ingenious mechanism allows the user to simply reach underneath, flip a lever, and rotate the spike until it hits the floor (or one of the substantial, floor-protecting footers, also provided). Repeat for the other three spikes, then adjust each to horizontally level the speaker and achieve the necessary degree of tilt. I already loved the smoothly rounded shape of the 802 D3's plinth—I had painful memories of stubbing my bare toes on the sharp edges of the 800 Diamond's boxy base—but the new plinth also made balancing and tilting the enclosure much easier than with any earlier 800 model.



Footnote 1: The info from B&W states: "Ideally you should be seated with your ear level at the tweeter height plane (broadly speaking). Distance to the speaker: roughly 2.5 times the tweeter height (measured from the floor) to the ear as a minimum distance. So on an 802 D3 the tweeter height is roughly 120cm to the centre of the diaphragm to the floor. Multiply by 2.5 and you get 300cm or 3m (9ft 10in)."
COMPANY INFO
B&W Group Ltd.
US: B&W Group North America
54 Concord Street
North Reading, MA 01864
(978) 664-2870
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
DaveinSM's picture

Wow, those anechoic measurements sure would imply that these speakers are bass shy. I know that in-room measurements can be significantly different and that designers tailor the frequency response with room gain in mind, but I also notice a conspicuous absence of an in-room frequency response curve.

John Atkinson's picture
DaveinSM wrote:
I also notice a conspicuous absence of an in-room frequency response curve.

It wasn't possible for this review, due to the need to have the review sample shipped to our cover photographer immediately after I had finished the quasi-anechoic measurements.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Kal Rubinson's picture

It won't be consistent with JA's past measurements but I can do some measurements in my room. My ears tell me that the bass is extended but not underdamped.

clsdwn's picture

I know sound takes precedence over looks but these are some butt ugly looking pricey speakers. They look like some super high end trashcans. Bowers + Wilkins needs to find some new industrial designers.

funambulistic's picture

I am afraid I have to concur on this. I am sure they sound outstanding but what a ugly mug!

Kal Rubinson's picture

I was surprised when my wife said that she liked their looks. :-)

cgh's picture

Until you review the Vivid Giyas. If she likes those you may have the highest wife acceptance factor of anyone I know.

Russell Dawkins's picture

(in reference to the 802s, not the Vivid Giyas) I agree. To my eyes they are some of the ugliest speakers I can remember—and not just from a manufacturer who has always, as far as I can see, traded on appearances as opposed to genuine content—but from any manufacturer. Truly appalling. Most B&W speakers I have heard sound fairly bad, too—yes, even the fabled 801s. They just looked the business. These don't.

Dushyant's picture

Revel F208 has almost the same sized set of drivers and a little smaller cabinet (depth wise). How would you compare and contrast 802 D3 to F208? When I compare the measurements from two reviews, F208 seems to have better measurements almost across the board. Thanks for an insightful review on the D3 update. I suppose 800 D3 and 803 D3 would not be much different.

eriks's picture

My biggest issue with the revels is the sound of horns. I could hear an exaggerated, plastic sounding reeds. The dealer tried to tell me that they reproduced horns incredibly realistlycally, but I've been listening to horns live since then and I've never heard that sound again, like a plastic Tupperware top buzzing. Having said this, many really like them for having a musical and broad sound stage.

Axiom05's picture

The 803D3 has a smaller diameter midrange cone and a smaller "head unit" than the 802D3 and 800D3. This would likely make any extrapolation about performance from the 802D3 to the 803D3 unreliable. I would love to see the measurements of the 803D3.

ashimzaman's picture

I actually listened to a demo and found them very revealing and highly resolved (the treble being more delicate than my new Sopra 3s) but also way too much forward, as if the sound was slapping my face. It may have been the room or the Devialet 200 that may have had such an effect and so, while some people may like that, I have to say that I did not have much difficulty in not choosing them.

der's picture

These are patently butt ugly. I wouldn't have them in my home regardless of what they cost. But, this seems to be the trend in speakers these days. Horrible, ugly looking abominations. Maybe if you threw a bag over them - I don't know.

thermally's picture

They are not attractive, but perhaps you could tone down your negative comments. I suggest you take at look at Sonus Faber, the Venere series is quite affordable.

der's picture

Sorry, but I can't get past their looks.

togethia-audio's picture

Speakers look fantastic, I am amazed by people who comment saying they are ugly. After all you listen to them not critique them like a painting on the wall and the shape is a function of the audio design.

I have had mine about three weeks now, and loving every second of them.

I have listened to a few speakers costing far less and far more, and nothing comes close to the presence, realism and delivery of these speakers. I am also taking delivery of a pair of Quad ESL 2812 speakers soon, so that will be an interesting comparison too.

grktrelego's picture

Why is no one mentioning that the price on these increased from $15,000 to $22,000.
The 803s are $17,000 - double or more than double the 803 D2.
I guess if we want a pair we are going to have to pay for all that R&D!

Kal Rubinson's picture

"I guess if we want a pair we are going to have to pay for all that R&D!"

Don't we always?

darcman's picture

Awesome review for the 802D3 I would love to see you review the B&W 804D3 and the PSB Imagine T3

DaveinSM's picture

I second that for both speakers, especially the T3

John Atkinson's picture
darcman wrote:
I would love to see you review the B&W 804D3 and the PSB Imagine T3

Our review of PSB's Imagine T3 will be published in the August issue.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

darcman's picture

Hi That's super cool, I cant wait to read it. cheers

gmrvos's picture

As a previous owner of B&W speakers I was looking forward to the release of the D3's and hopeful that I would like them better than the previous generation which I always found a tad on the bright side and not as deep reaching as some others had found. When I got a chance to listen to them the dealer still had a set of the D2's we could compare them to and for whatever reason I found the D2's far better. Not even close. Much richer sound to my ear. The D3's sounded thin and less involving than the D2's did and even less bass output than the D2's with the setup we were using which were MC601's and the C2500 preamp. Maybe the speakers weren't broken in yet but was surprised to read the review after what I heard ... The dealer kind of agreed too. I'll go have another listen after the speakers have had more time to break in. Enjoy all the perspectives! Thanks!

2channel's picture

Received my 800 D3s end of August. It's the last word in loudspeakers period. I have listened to all sorts of speakers all the way up into 6 figures. Never heard anything like 'em. The soundstage is breathtakingly spectacular and they are nowhere near broken in yet.

Steak taco's picture

Hello,

Can you comment on your experience with listener fatigue. Thanks!

2channel's picture

So far, having listened to the 800s for about 75 hours, I have not experienced ANY fatigue whatsoever. In fact, every minute I listen to them, it reaffirms my decision to invest in these.

When you invest 30K on a pair of speakers, you want THE BEST SOUND money can buy. This was not a money no object decision. I listened to everything and I mean EVERYTHING. The only other speaker I would consider in the same conversation as the 800s would be the Joseph Audio Pearls.

To those on here commenting on the appearance of these speakers, you don't spend this kind of money on a speaker because of how they look.

Steak taco's picture

Thanks for your feedback. I really appreciate you sharing your experience with your 800s. I placed an order today and am looking forward to receiving them. Thanks again!

Puresound's picture

When you pay 30.000 dollar for such an ugly speaker you have the right to get a much better looking speaker than this. If I would run B&W, I would never have accepted this design. I would fire the designers directly and look for better people.

Steak taco's picture

Hello Mr. Rubinson,

I have owned 802 diamonds in the past and felt that they may have caused listening fatigue but to be fair it could also be the volume level that I kept cranking them up too. I was wondering what your thoughts are on the new D3 as it pertains to listener fatigue.

I have auditioned the 800 D3 and am very impressed but am concerned about fatigue.

I appreciate your thoughts.

Puresound's picture

I owned the 800S in the past. We auditioned also the 800D3. I stopped with B&W in 2007. I wanted to buy the 800D1. I had the hope that they were able to create better crossovers. The stage depth was still 1 metre. With the 800D3 they are still at the same level of stage depth compared to the 800D1. Since there is no one telling that 1 metre of stage depth is in fact 'hifi' stereo. You can say anything and give it the word 'highend'. There are many other brands and products who also use the word 'highend' and they are all 2-dimensional products. Audio needs better parameters where they tell people the truth about the 'real' quality instead of 'paid' articles. At the end this will not create a growing market. Only a higher quality for consumers can change it.

Puresound's picture

I would like to see that audio needs to adapt. Because the word 'highend' is based on nothing. Everyone is using the word and falsh in my perspective. I owned the best B&W loudspeakers in the past. Based on facts they are 'hifi' loudspeakers and not 'highend' loudspeakers. This is based on the fact that the stage even with the best 3-dimensional amps is still about 1 metre. This you can see as a 'hifi' stereo parameter. When I read the articles about the B&W loudspeakers it is very easy to read that many artricles are based on lies. Audio needs to change to a more open and honest world for consumers. Instead of paid articles by manufacturers. Because audio is a decreasing market. When you want to do something about it, you need to create a higher level of sound quality and emotion. And yess B&W needs new designers. And they need people who are able to create superior crossovers. When you are not able to create loudspeakers who can create a 3-dimensional stage you sell 'hifi' stereo loudspeakers. These are the facts. Stop the bullshit and give consumers honest and 'real' information based on facts and better parameters.

Puresound's picture

There is something wrong about the 800 series. The people who created them thought we will use other materials so we will have less distortion. But....they forgot the most important thing. And that is emotion. The most important part for creating emotion is diversity in sound. You miss the layers you need for the emotion in the music with these speakers. For example; a cello or violin only creates the emotion in sound by the distortion/colouration of the cabinet of the cello/violin. Listen to acoustic music with the 800 series and sometimes the energy is stuck in the cabinet inside of the loudspeaker. The other thing is; the individual focus of instruments and voices has become less sharp/intimate. Many of the demos we auditoned they used a lot of tow-in. This is done for a reason.

Art Vandelay's picture

Is something I request when my car breaks down.

OTOH, I "toe-in" my loudspeakers.

Seriously though, I've heard the 802D3 and 800D3 Diamonds and find it difficult to fault either.

As an owner of 800 D2's I'm of the view that the new models are cleaner in the low mids and bass, with improved transparency, and imaging is definitely 3 dimensional within a vast but not exaggerated soundstage.

Fwiw, I prefer the 800D3's to Vivid G2's and Revel Salon 2's, which says lots because they are are two of my favourite speakers. Of course YMMV.

tagheuer's picture

To anyone who has listen to this speaker, could you share your thought and experience if this new generation 802D3 has improved and as good as or better sounding than some of speakers that more expensive, according to your ears ofcourse?

mwhealton's picture

Hi - Is a review of the 800 D3s planned? There seems to be a dearth of reviews for the 800, at least so far. Seems a bit curious, though perhaps review pieces are rare beasts...

docrpad's picture

When I bought the 802 d2 in glossy black four years ago, it was my wife who turned the balance towards the B&W against competitors as KEF Blade, Dali Epicon or Dynaudio. She loved the extraordinary design of the 802 from first sight. They are not just loudspeakers, they are sculptures or design objects. And I myself loved every minute listening to them the last four years. When I decided to upgrade to the new 802 d3 after a casual listening session in a studio more than a few miles away, I did not even ask my wife again before I made the deal, because I was sure, she would love the new 802 d3 too! Although some 20 kg heavier they look really slim and much more elegant (now in white and grey). I don´t know any loedspeaker more beautiful than the new 802 (maybe except the 800 d3). It´s very easy: pepole who did not like the look of the old 802 d2 will not like the 802 d3 too. And vice versa.

Oh and the sound of the new 802 d3? After only one hour of listening to the new 802 d3 I did not even have to think about buying them. The decision was as clear as daylight. "This an impressively better loudspeaker in every way" was the conclusion of Kalman Rubinson. There is nothing to add to. And since my new 802 d3 arrived about 10 days ago, I´m listening to them every day and every CD with much more fun than ever. And I really liked the old ones .... Any questions left?

tagheuer's picture

from few feedback here, it looks like 802d3 will beat other speakers on its class.

what sort amp you guys using to drive this speakers?

Moriie's picture

Agree that they don't look quite as stately as previous 802's.
I have an old pair of Nautilus 802's in dark cherry, and they still please me.
I'd love to audition these new 802d3's, but it would be like having two fire hydrants standing in the living room.
If they were to sound that much better, then I could learn to live with them.