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 filter—like the diamond tweeter, once restricted to the earlier 800D—is 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 huge—I 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 satisfied—there 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 4–5dB 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.

B&W Group Ltd.
US distributor: B&W Group North America
54 Concord Street
North Reading, MA 01864-2699
(978) 664-2870

AV-OCD's picture

While the driver motors have been changed in the new 800 series, based on the measurements of the 802D and 800 Diamond, it seems that the only significant difference, (relatively speaking) in the performance of these two speakers is in the FR balance.  Their sensitivity, impedance plots, cabinet resonances (or lack there of), are all VERY similar.  Even the general trends in the FR are remarkably similar.  In the range covered by the new and old diamond tweeter, they both have the same peak at 10K, followed by the dip at 5.5K and a smaller rise at 4K.  Raise the overall treble level 1dB on the 802D, and it would be virtually interchangable with the 800 Diamond.  Likewise, raise the midrange level 1-2dB in the 802D and lower the bass by 2-3dB, and you essentially get the graph for the 800 Diamond.  All of those things combined would certainly make the two speakers sound different, but is the new speaker actually "better"? I have to wonder if Kal would have used the EQ in the Classe prepro to adjust the bass/mid/treble levels of the 802D to mimic those of the 800 Diamond if he would have heard any meaningful difference?

Then again, in the purist world of 2CH audio, where the use of external EQ is often considered rape of the delicate audio signal, relying on the speaker maker to re-map the FR with passive crossover components is all you have.   All hail the new king in town!  Shhh... pay no attention to uncanny ressemblence to the old king, he's wearing completely different clothes, so it surely can't be him.....  ;-)

Here's a little photoshop magic to illustrate the very minor differences between these two speakers.  Red plot is 800 Diamond, with a trasparent layer of the 802D over top.  The bass / mid / treble have been shifted up or down to match the 800 Diamond plot.

JRT's picture

AV-OCD commented, "Then again, in the purist world of 2CH audio, where the use of external EQ is often considered rape of the delicate audio signal..."

While I agree that may be the attitude of some poorly informed "purists", that attitude is foolish nonsense. They cannot properly playback their vinyl LPs without suitable EQ, whether RIAA or otherwise. Their loudspeakers have crossover filters, and the drivers are loaded in alignments which impose specific forcing functions. The room has an alterable acoustic response, while also any changes in the positioning and alignment of the listener and loudspeakers will effect changes in the interaction of loudspeaker, room and listener. That too is a form of EQ.

There are very many forcing functions (combinations of acoustic, electronic, digital) in the recording and playback processes. At the front end of the process(es), consider the effects of choices in microphones, microphone preamplifiers, microphone cable, recording room acoustics, microphone placement, etc.

Improving playback response with suitable parametric EQ (using high quality gear) is something that should be embraced rather than eschewed.

amppeters's picture

@AV-OCD , posted a fine review here closly perfect  for pure audiophiles , but i am not have deep understanding such technical info thats why  my friend suggested audio solutions for help , I will appreciate your viewpoint on it.