Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Series 804 D4 loudspeaker Page 2

The music source was my Roon Nucleus+ feeding audio data over my network to an MBL N31 CD player/DAC, which was connected to a pair of Parasound Halo JC 1+ monoblocks. The speakers were single-wired with AudioQuest Robin Hood cable.

Listening
Listening to the dual-mono pink noise track on the Editor's Choice CD (Stereophile STPH016-2), I noticed too much treble energy. I followed the advice in the manual to toe-in the speakers so that they point at a location just in front of the listening position. This reduced the treble excess sufficiently that I could now hear that the pink noise was reproduced with an uncolored midrange, though there was still some emphasis in a narrow band in the presence region. The image of the pink noise was stable but not quite as narrow as it was with the GoldenEar BRX or KEF LS50 minimonitors.

The 804 D4s reproduced the 1/3-octave warble tones on Editor's Choice down to the 40Hz band, with the 160Hz warble a little too high in level and the 80Hz and 63Hz warbles slightly lower in level than those at either side—all room effects. The 32Hz tone was reinforced by the lowest room mode, and I could still hear the 25Hz warble at my usual listening level, but the 20Hz tone was inaudible. The warble tones sounded clean, which implies low distortion.

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The half-step–spaced tonebursts on Editor's Choice spoke cleanly down to 32Hz, the frequency of the lowest one, though those between Middle C (252.63Hz) and the E two steps higher (329.6Hz) were slightly accentuated. Listening to the enclosure's sidewalls and rear panel with a stethoscope while these tonebursts played, I couldn't hear any resonances.

Whether the level of the 804 D4's treble or its upper midrange sounded close to correct depended on the music being played. With recordings that did not have a lot of high-frequency energy, solo piano recordings such as Robert Silverman playing Liszt's Liebestraum on Editor's Choice, for example, my ears settled on the midrange as their reference level. The Steinway D played by Silverman was reproduced without any notes thrust out at me and was clearly set within the acoustic of the Albuquerque church where we had made the recording. And when Silverman hit the low E-flat with the left hand under the high E-flat 7-9 chord in the right hand at measure 58, which leads to the restatement of the melody, the clarity of every note was stunning.

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Roon Radio followed the Silverman track with the second Zenph "reperformance" of Sergei Rachmaninoff's arrangement of Fritz Kreisler's Liebesleid, from one of my 2010 Records 2 Die 4, Rachmaninoff Plays Rachmaninoff (16/44.1k MQA FLAC, decoded by Roon to 24/88.2k, Tidal/RCA Red Seal 748971). The subtle ambience around and behind the Steinway D reproducing piano—controlled by MIDI data derived from the original piano roll—was clearly resolved by the B&W 804 D4s, and as with my Silverman recording, the sound of the piano was reproduced without midrange coloration. Some of the highest notes, however, did sound a tad accentuated.

Staying with Rachmaninoff and the piano but adding an orchestra, I cued up the composer's second Piano Concerto, with Vladimir Ashkenazy accompanied by Bernard Haitink conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra (16/44.1 ALAC file ripped from CD, Decca 4757550). Again the 804 D4's clarity in the midrange and bass was impressive, allowing the tolling tonics and fifths in the piano's left-hand register to underpin the big tune in the low strings at the start of the work's first movement.

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I share Jason Victor Serinus's love for the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's live recital Lorraine Hunt Lieberson: Mahler, Handel & Lieberson (16/44.1 ALAC, ripped from CD, Wigmore Hall Live 0013). Her creamy-toned performance of "E Viva Ancora," from Handel's opera Ariodante, sounded superbly natural. Pianist Roger Vignoles's piano was appropriately set back in the acoustic of London's Wigmore Hall, a venue I used to attend regularly before I moved to the US. It did sound a touch more reverberant than I am used to, however.

The more high-frequency energy there is in a recording, the more likely that the ear will latch on to that as its reference, in which case the 804 D4's upper midrange will start to sound undernourished. This was the case with Giuliano Carmignola playing J.S. Bach's Violin Concerto in E with Concerto Köln (16/44.1 ALAC file, from Archiv 0289 479 2695 5). I love this energetic performance, but the recording is already a little on the thin side.

On the 804 D4s, there wasn't quite enough upper-midrange energy to fully support the solo violin. The sense of space surrounding the ensemble was palpable, however.

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While the 804 D4 offers extended low frequencies—the orchestral bass drum in Malcolm Arnold's overture Beckus the Dandipratt, with the composer conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra (24/176.4 ALAC file transcoded from WAV, Reference HR-48), was reproduced with wall-shaking weight—the speaker's woofer alignment seems optimized for clarity. Jerome Harris's soft-toned Taylor acoustic bass guitar on "The Mooche," from Editor's Choice, was reproduced with excellent leading-edge articulation. Again, the sense of the surrounding ambience on both the Arnold and Harris tracks was excellent.

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Art Baron's trombone on "The Mooche" had a touch more edge to its sound than I am used to, however. I turned to an album I had in heavy rotation in the late 1970s but hadn't listened to in decades: Jackson Browne's Running on Empty (Rhino-Elektra). I love how "The Load Out" segues into that old classic "Stay." I was streaming the 24/192 FLAC files for those tracks from Qobuz. As with the trombone, I was aware of some presence-region emphasis on Browne's vocals, which had me lowering the volume to a more comfortable level. Once I had done that, I was again impressed by the 804 D4's transparent view into the mix.

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Summing up
Having visited Bowers & Wilkins's research facility and factory in England, I believe their engineers can design a loudspeaker to sound and measure any way they wish. From my experience, not just with the 804 D4 but with the 705 Signature—where I wrote, "I was surprised how much I enjoyed having the Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature in my system ... because the speaker's measured performance implies a somewhat 'tailored' sonic character"—both the 804 D4's measurements and its sonic signature indicate that achieving a classically flat and neutral tonal balance à la Floyd Toole's writings was not the design team's primary goal. Instead, clarity, transparency, low-frequency articulation, and the absence of midrange coloration seemed to have had a higher priority.

Even after I had measured this loudspeaker, the issues I found seemed to step out of the way of the music much of the time. Those port resonances seemed to have very little effect on midrange clarity, and while I was occasionally aware that the resonance just below 4kHz was adding some presence-region emphasis, it did not seem to be excited with most recordings. The extreme toe-in recommended in the manual reduced the audibility of the excessive treble, though the speaker's high-frequency balance will make system matching more difficult than usual. And combined with the speaker's high impedance in the mid-treble, it will make tube amplifiers sound overbright.

Overall, however, I found the 804 D4's sound seductive. This is a loudspeaker you need to audition.

COMPANY INFO
B&W Group Ltd.
US distributor: Bowers & Wilkins
5541 Fermi Ct.
Carlsbad, CA 92008
(800) 370-3740
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
brenro's picture

Fussy with positioning. Fussy with system matching. Mediocre measurements. After all that still overly bright and fatiguing. This has been Bowers and Wilkins for a decade or more.

georgehifi's picture

I always study the measurements first before reading any subjective reviews.

Cheers George

John Atkinson's picture
The measurements are posted: https://www.stereophile.com/content/bowers-wilkins-diamond-series-804-d4-loudspeaker-measurements

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Jack L's picture

Hi

If I were to buy any audio, I would not read anything, specs & reviews irrespective. I always audition first with my own ears.

You may trust the measurement date & whoever critics' ears. Sorry, I trust my ear ONLY. period. Cause I pay with my hard-earned money.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Long-time listener's picture

Measurements can tell you important things, provided you understand how measurements match up with your personal taste and usage.

Measurements can also alert you to things that might become apparent later on but that you might not notice in a short audition, or when auditioning in a shop rather than your own home.

Learn to make measurements work for you. It will lead to better decisions in the end than listening alone. I bought my last two DACs (NAD M51; Topping D90SE) virtually on measurements alone, though I also read multiple reviews of the NAD. I loved it. When I saw that the Topping measured even better, I bought it. I love it too, and it's what I use now. I didn't have to listen or even read any reviews. Just saw the measurements.

The NAD M32 amplifier measurements looked good in some ways, but very strange in other ways. It sounded like crap. Those weird measurements should have raised questions in my mind, but unfortunately I trusted the reviewer. Again, measurements could have tipped me off ... if I'd paid attention.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Well, first off I never heard the sound of NAD M32 which tagged for $3,999. I do not know how good or bad it would sound.

Yet J.A. "highly recommended" it. Stereophine also recommended it as 2021 recommended D/A integrated amp.

You are comparing yr $899.99 Topping D90SE D/A with preamp out vs NAD D/A with built in integrated amp,

So apple vs orange ! It is a fair comparison ????

You blamed the crapy sound of NAD-M32 was due to its "very strange" measurement data.

You really think your ears were so powerful to hear the crappie sound of yr NAD M32 due to its "very strange" measurement data ??

So either there was a problem with the ears of yours or of J.A. who "highly recommended" it.

Jack

Long-time listener's picture

"You are comparing yr $899.99 Topping D90SE D/A with preamp out vs NAD D/A with built in integrated amp,"

I did not make any such comparison. Maybe you need to learn to read English as well as learning to read measurements.

Gavinspen's picture

My god in these times I have
Never come across such anal retention and obsessive compulsive
Material,billion dollar babies!
More money than sense,if this is musical enjoyment well I guess I've been blissfully unaware of a community obsessed by materialism and price.... shocking and the marketing equally ridiculous.Never feel guilty taking money from mugs
Chasing the unattainable.
Shameful capitalism and the same old
Reviews with all your reference recordings.

MatthewT's picture

Try harder.

Anton's picture

Can you expound further?

partain's picture

First time reader ?

remlab's picture

If Paradigm can get back to their roots of making speakers that measure good, surely B&W can. The large diameter mids drive me batty, and the tweeter? If Vivid can do a tapered tube with a flat response, I don't see why B&W can't.

Jack L's picture

Hi

What does "making speakers that measure good" to do with the same sounding good to our ears ??

Listening is believing

Jack L

PeterG's picture

I've enjoyed my 805 D3s--siblings not too far removed--for several years. But both the strengths and the challenges described above ring true to me. Thanks

Anton's picture

Very useful review, thank you.

Nirodha352's picture

“ … you need to audition”. No, I don’t. Nor any other model from this high-end pretender. I heard many models over the years and it is mid-fi at best. Still… spending a lot of advertisement money, will get you a “reasonably favourable review”. That I will give them.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Really ?????

So from yr having "heard many mdoels over the years", please enlight us on what brands/models YOU'd consider Hi-Fi.

Alas, I am still a PROUD owner & LOYAL lover of "mid-fi" loudspeakers. made in England. Too bad.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Nirodha352's picture

Hi Jack,
I also own an English speaker, the Kef 207/2. I have little desire to upgrade. Kef is what B&W would like to be but just doesn’t manage to become. If I were to upgrade I would like to get an Acapella speaker like the Atlas model. This seriously beats my kef. But Jack, I kind of regret my remark because it was never my intention to lessen someone’s choice of gear. Take care, enjoy our mutual hobby. I will too especially since we entered another lockdown here in the Netherlands as from today. Have a nice Christmas.
Cheers Wim

Jack L's picture

Hi

Sorry, I think we are not on the same page.

Now you've told us yr ideal loudspeakers are $117,500 Altas hybrid horn loudspeakers made in Germany vs $12,500 B&W cone loudspeakers made in England. 10 times price difference !!!!!

Like you were comparing a $121,000 Porsche 911 Carrea 4 with a Toyota Corolla !!! Major League ballgame with junior league !!!

For horn loudspeakrs ??? Thanks but no thanks for me, my friend.
I won't take any horn compressor driver speakers even for a penny !

Why? Compressor-driven horns get some distinct hornlike colouration. Any music will sound horny even a soprano! IMO. My skeptical ears get zero tolerance against tonal coloration.

Likewise, I prefer MM phono cartridges vs MC cartridges due to the distinct tonal colouration of MC cartridges.

Be my guest if you like horn loudspeakers. My skeptical ears just can't handle them.

Listening is believing'

Jack L

Jack L's picture

Hi

Right on, my friend.

Thanks but no thanks to the new extremely contageous variant
virus: Omnicron !

My entire city has entered again in lockdown this morning: indoor asssemby not over 10 people. Outdoor not over 25 !

What a shame !

Jack

tonykaz's picture

Are there any Audio Products that we don't need to audition ? ( I've liked every Magnapan design, so I'd guess that I probably wouldn't need to audition em if the price was right )

Paul at PS Audio is say'n their NEW loudspeakers are better than his IRS V5 that I think you once had some exposure to, I'm hoping you get to evaluate them and then recommend that we all go out to audition them.

You still own a pair of 801s after all these decades?, wow! Do you have the matching hoods that are kinda ugly ? I imported and sold those things, the 802s were farrrrrrrr more popular.

Tony in Florida

PeterG's picture

Hi Tony--

"You need to audition" is spot on--in two directions. You need to audition these because they are top tier speakers from one of the great names in hifi--your search would not be complete if you ignored them. But also--you need to audition because these speakers have characteristics that may be a problem for you--do not just accept them on reputation, caveat emptor.

mememe2's picture

A good stating point. A couple of questions though. First - which ear is it that you trust most , your left or right ear? Second. is your choice of ear predetermined by something as mundane as a hearing test- so that you know which ear to listen with?

Jonti's picture

I recently went for one. I have 1.7% hearing loss in my left ear and 0.9% loss in my right ear. This was something of a relief as it confirmed my instinctive bias to turn my head slightly to the left (thereby accentuating the quality of my reception) when listening in the sweet spot.

tonykaz's picture

We need to understand that a transducer system doesn't demand/require a blockBuster Powerhouse Amplifier fully capable of delivering considerable Current to loads down in the low impedance levels like the Thiel CS3s I used to sell. We had to demo those things with 200 horsepower Mono Amps that would double down in capability as they dropped below 4 ohms. Egads they sounded good with powerhouse Electrocompaniet Amplification but didn't do well with the Big Conrad-Johnson Premier Tube Amplifiers.

Measurements are critically important for people that can interpret the concept behind the design.

Mr.JA has consistently earned the "Audiophile of the Year" designation for these last 4 Decades. He might be a kind of Vanilla in the things he does and writes about but he's the best Vanilla we ever got.

Mr.HR, the Audiophiliac, Stereophile's Canadian writer and Mr.KM might be our up & Coming revealers of wonderful insights but we still need the technical matters properly described and contextually revealed.

Stereophile grew Into a great institution but without Mr.JA it probably would've just been another promotional Glossy
with glitzy snaps of Car Priced Record Players on the Covers.

Tony in Florida

Robin Landseadel's picture

Isn't it already?

John Atkinson's picture
tonykaz wrote:
Mr.JA has consistently earned the "Audiophile of the Year" designation for these last 4 Decades. He might be a kind of Vanilla in the things he does and writes about but he's the best Vanilla we ever got.

Thank you, Tony.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Anton's picture

I love to look at the last sentence of each measurement section JA1 writes and I read it as though Juan Antonio Samaranch is saying it. That sentence is JA's way of telling us what's really up.

Samaranch used to end each Olympics with a summary sentence that represented his view of how well the games went off. His schtick was...when giving the president's address at the close of each Summer Olympics, to praise the organisers at each Olympiad for putting on "the best ever" Games. But, he was fond of working in variations on that to give his true opinion, especially for 1996!

So, anyway, keep up the great work, JA1, will will continue to ruminate on each review's last sentence.

tyreman's picture

Methinks the pronounced treble or high frequencies still present, looks like fussy placement

reynolds853's picture

Opinions are like belly buttons, they say.

Specs and a reviewer's take are but two helpful inputs to consider. In this case, JA's perception was very close to mine (of the 804 d3 I own). I have disagreed with him on other reviews, but I have a ton of respect for him and his contributions.

I recently listened to the 804 d4 in a showroom and was less impressed in some ways vs the d3 but that should be expected because of the variables at play. The room setup at the store was not ideal.

I passed on several "flat" speakers and ended up with the "tailored" 804's. In my room, on my system, with my ears, at my listening levels and my recordings the 804's are simply amazing.

I look forward to the day we can look at specs and determine how something will sound (in our room?). In the mean time, I remain convinced there are qualities we simply have not figured out how to measure and enjoy the writings of guys like JA. I'm VERY glad all speakers don't sound the same. In the end, they are all pretty far from the real thing.

Happy Holidays, all.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Too true. But what better choice we music lovers will get instead of going to attend live concerts personally - time & money.

Considering the crazy pandemic going on worse & worse ! Public gathering is banned nearly everywhere.

Alternative is always something else from the real thing. Take it or leave it.

Jack L

BlackH20's picture

Finally, scientific measurements by Audio Science Review (ASR). Yes, all speaker wire is the same. Humans can't tell the difference between coat hanger wires and $1000 cables. Stereophile has endorsed snake oil for decades now. But Roger Russel of McIntosh said that 30 years ago, the audio rags couldn't turn down the ad money. So glad Amir puts these old subjective (financially endorsed) ears to rest. High prices and advertisements no longer rule the hobby, the JUDGE has finally arrived, and as we know, most of these reviews are crap.

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