Bowers & Wilkins 802 D3 Diamond loudspeaker Page 2

After connecting the 802 D3s to my Theta Digital Dreadnaught D power amplifier with AudioQuest Oak biwire cables, I fine-tuned the B&Ws' final positions by ear with familiar recordings.

Although my usual protocol is to do no critical listening for a few weeks, I was able to get down to it very quickly: my sample had been shipped not from B&W's factory but from their design, research, and listening facility in Steyning, West Sussex. For all I know, they're the pair I auditioned when I visited last August).

At Steyning, the first thing I'd noticed about the 802 D3s was that their soundstage was more open and detailed than that of the 802 Diamonds. But here in my Manhattan system, what first struck me was the greater definition I heard with familiar bass lines. I briefly entertained the thought that both perceptions might be due to a shift in balance caused by tighter, lighter reproduction of the bass—but no, the low frequencies were just as potent and extended as before. Something else was afoot.

The 802 D3's Diamond tweeter has the same diaphragm as before—but, as mentioned earlier, it has a new housing and fixed protective cover. Whatever the reason, the new speaker's treble range sounded distinctly more delicate than that of its predecessor. I first heard this with the classic Oscar Peterson Meets Roy Hargrove and Ralph Moore (CD, Telarc CD-83399). In the past, my attention had been drawn to Lewis Nash's cymbal accents, often at the expense of the melody in Peterson's piano. In fact, I liked it. With the D3, the cymbal was still as spicy, but in better balance with the piano. The same improvement occurred with higher-resolution recordings, such as Tarik O'Regan's Threshold of Night, with Craig Hella Johnson conducting Conspirare and the Company of Voices, recorded in the famous Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (SACD/CD, Harmonia Mundi HMU 807490). Individual voices had what seemed a perfectly natural degree of sibilance, defined but not outlined.

The midrange, too, was highly refined. Clearly, B&W's designs of the slightly smaller (150 vs 160mm) Continuum diaphragm and concomitantly smaller (but more rigid) Turbine enclosure represent not a philosophical but an evolutionary shift. It might account for what I heard as an extension of the Diamond tweeter's delicacy in delineating the sounds of consonants in vocal music. I easily appreciated this throughout the O'Regan disc—voices floated free in the hall's acoustic—but it became my focal point when listening to my go-to vocal track, Finzi's "Come Away, Death," sung by mezzo-soprano Marianne Beate Kielland, accompanied by pianist Sergei Osadchuk (free stereo 24-bit/192kHz PCM download or SACD/CD, 2L 2L-064-SACD). This may not be the best recording ever made of solo female voice and piano, but my familiarity with it makes it a critical tool. Through the 802 D3s, Kielland's voice was as lovely as ever, but the D3s conveyed more of its physical presence.

Probably the most satisfying thing about the 802 D3 was its agility in the bass, which I think accounted for my initial responses at Steyning and at home. This is not one of those large speakers for which "authority" is a euphemism for an overripe midbass that obscures bottom-end nuances. The 802 D3's authority was more tight, powerful, and extended than I expected. Firm bass-drum thwacks cleanly revealed the initial stroke as well as the ensuing resonance. I could pick any of my favorite orchestral recordings from Telarc or Reference and rediscover how good they are. Even more impressive were good recordings of pipe organ, such as Mendelssohn's Organ Sonatas, played by Thomas Murray on the wonderful E. & G.G. Hook instrument in Jamaica Plain, Boston (CD, Raven OAR-390). In the fourth movement of the Sonata in f, I could follow the pedal notes, low as they are, as clearly as if they were played on a piano. (This CD derives from the original Sheffield Records S-13, a remarkable LP produced in 1973 by Lincoln Mayorga.)

But much more important than the speaker's reproduction of any part of the audioband was a degree of driver-output integration that let the 802 D3 perform as a single sound source, to a degree not before achieved by B&W or, indeed, by many speaker makers. At my normal listening distance, mono sounds played by a single 802 D3 seemed to emanate from the Continuum midrange driver; listening in stereo to both speakers, the deep, wide soundstage spanned my room, the sound quite independent of the two cabinets—and often tricking me into thinking that my 800 Diamond center-channel speaker was hooked up. (It wasn't.)

"Nobody," from Ry Cooder's delightful Jazz (CD, Reprise 27355-2), demonstrated most of the features that made the 802 D3 so satisfying. This recording doesn't possess extreme dynamics or really deep bass, but I thoroughly appreciated the clarity of Cooder's solo voice and guitar, the air and balance of the band, driven by tuba and bass drum, and, most of all, the presence and weight of the male backing singers, especially in the final chorus. The 802 D3s made it all sound fresh and new.

Live recordings were transporting. Eric Clapton's Unplugged (CD, Reprise 45024-2) took on a new electricity due to the immediacy of his voice and guitar, the natural impact of the bass, the environmental noises, and the sheer hugeness of the recording space. Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra's recent live recording of the Sibelius Symphony 2 (BSO Classics 1401, 24/96 FLAC download) put me only a few rows back from the stage of Boston's Symphony Hall, from which vantage I could pick out individual instruments and hear pizzicato notes from the violins amid the orchestral swell. More important, I felt part of the performing space in a way surpassed by only the multichannel download.

Was the 802 D3 faultless? Yes and no. I heard no problems with it in my room and system. Its tonal balance was somewhat lighter than many, including the 802 D3's 800-series predecessors, because the bass was entirely devoid of bloat or emphasis or resonance. Despite this, there was no lack of authority when that was called for, and the speaker's reproduction of deep bass was formidable. However, some listeners may find fault with that new balance because it might not suit the sound of their system and room, or their taste. Further, the 802 D3 easily revealed differences among other components. Of the amps I had on hand, I liked Theta's Dreadnaught D—it seemed most consistent with the D3's balance of clarity and power. Parasound's Halo A31 three-channel amp leaned a bit toward the clarity, McIntosh's MC-303 leaned toward the power.

With the 802 D3, I think Bowers & Wilkins have brought their 800 series into the 21st century. Their commitment to completely reimagine, reengineer, and redesign the 800 series has resulted in a loudspeaker that carries on the family resemblance while being entirely new. This an impressively better loudspeaker in every way. Those who loved the earlier 800s, as I did, will want to hear it. Those who didn't are advised to.

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

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


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.

Oddio's picture

My sentiments exactly. Proportions are all wrong on this speaker. From the first time I laid eyes on them I thought "ugly".

BlackH20's picture

Been into audio for 46 years, learned when you shop in this price range you can find speakers like B&W that have been well cared for and at the used price, can't be beaten. B&W is so heavily used in recording studios over the last 50 years, grabbed a pair of these to replace some 1998 Klipshorns, love their brighter British sound. Don't settle for the lower line of B&W made in China, make sure you get their lines made in the U.K.

smileday's picture

Fig. 11 in the above web page is used illegally here:

In addition to being illegal, it is technically wrong. The B&W speaker above Fig. 11 in the video is not one of those speakers having the nice step response like Fig. 11.

Jim Austin's picture

I'll try to contact the author of that presentation to see if he will add a citation. Technically, he should not reuse it at all without permission (which he did not seek), but there are far worse abuses every month.

Best Wishes,


materapex's picture

I decided to upgrade my N801 after auditioned 802D3 vs Salon2 vs Focal Sopra3 vs Dynaudio C4.

I have been monitoring D1 and D2 but did not feel the need to upgrade until I listened to 802D3.
The anechoic measurement is one thing, in-room performance is another.
The 802D3 tweeter has the BEST dynamic and life-like sound.
The overall speaker sounds good and detailed even on low volume level.
For "reproduction" of life SACD recording on Classical music, 802D3 beats the comparison and I decided to buy a good second hand which makes it even better deal.