B&W 802D loudspeaker Page 2

I then hauled out the big stuff. I went happily from Verdi's Requiem, with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Vienna Philharmonic (SACD, RCA 61244-2), to Mahler's Symphony 5, with Yuri Temirkanov and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic (SACD, Water Lily Acoustic WLA-WS-76-SACD), to excerpts from Pink Floyd's The Wall, from Burmester's test CD Vorführungs CD II—nothing fazed the 802Ds. Given sufficient amplifier power—and I'm sure they could have handled more than I had on hand—the speakers played very loud without any change in character or balance. All I had to do was find the musically appropriate levels and these babies delivered. In that way, they recalled the original, unflappable B&W 801s.

However, the 802D was infinitely more winning and appealing as a presenter of music. Sure, the Verdi Requiem's Dies Irae is powerful—but at the same volume setting, there was delicacy and immediacy in the Ingemisco and Libera me. The St. Petersburg's Mahler 5, so detailed and coherent through my multichannel system, was tightly focused and weighty through the two 802Ds, as if I were looking down on a massive, intricate engine. And from the hair-raising helicopter to the careening voiceovers and spine-tingling children's voices, the Pink Floyd excerpts pounded the room as if the walls had come alive with throbbing pulses. Any limits here were due solely to my own and my neighbors' tolerance.

Tough Choices
The B&W 802D demanded the right amplifier to ensure that its upper bass wouldn't be excessive. Some may like such ripeness, but it can become increasingly distracting with extended listening. Any partnering amp must provide gobs of power and a slightly lean and tight upper-bass range of its own. The bridged Bel Canto eVo6s—especially when run from the APC S-15 and Environmental Potentials EP-2450 power conditioners—and the Classé Omicrons fit the bill. I was surprised to find that, despite the 802D's high sensitivity, it was still pretty power-hungry. It will make decent sounds with a small amp, but might sound as if it's being starved.

Another issue some will have with the 802D is with a feature that I found very attractive. Unlike many more timid speakers that are characterized by a slight midrange dip (such as the original Kharma Ceramique 2), the 802Ds projected the music and the soundstage out in front of them. This made listening to them sound like listening in the nearfield even when I sat, as I do, about 12' back. I found this exciting, involving, and addicting, and though I expected it to become fatiguing, over the span of months that has not happened. Nonetheless, the difference in image presentation between the 802Ds and my Revel Ultima Studios, whose frequency response John Atkinson measured as quite flat, was readily apparent.

Recordings of solo piano are superb for distinguishing different speakers' defining characteristics of presence and timbre. First, the piano is capable of wide ranges of frequency and dynamics. Second, it is a large instrument that produces different sounds from its different sections. Third, its sound includes both percussive and woodily resonant components. I chose for my A/B test a recording of Earl Wild performing four Ballades and four Scherzos of Chopin (CD, Chesky CD44).

Wild's Baldwin piano sounded excitingly big and up-front through the 802Ds. There was tons of detail, high and low, and I could easily discern the changing resonances of the piano's body as Wild held, then released the sustain pedal. It was as if the piano was situated directly between the 802Ds, with Wild at the keyboard to the left. However, I thought I could also discern treble and bass notes as sounding somewhat separate from each other in space, and from the resonances radiating from the cabinet.

When I switched back to the Revel Ultima Studios, I needed some time to adapt before I could again appreciate my reference speakers. Even after I'd compensated for the B&W's higher sensitivity, the piano was immediately more tightly defined in space and farther away, and its details and intricacies were much less apparent. The Revels' highs often stood out brightly on the ping of treble notes. Nonetheless, I felt that the Revels integrated all of the piano's various parts into one coherent instrument, as well as revealing more of the performance space. The 802Ds were much more revealing of the piano itself, and threw it in greater relief against the backdrop of the recorded ambience. I can easily appreciate how mastering and balance engineers might find the B&W 802D a magnificent tool for hearing into a mix.

Lest you've failed to notice, the 802D is large. You can get good, clean sound at reasonably high volumes from much smaller boxes, such as NHT's Xd system, which I reviewed in the November 2005 Stereophile. However, there's something about big boxes that helps them sound harmonically balanced at all dynamic levels. Small boxes, with or without subwoofers and/or sophisticated EQ, can do wonderful things and, not insignificantly, are aided by their visual unobtrusiveness. Speakers such as the B&W 802Ds and my Revel Ultima Studios—to say nothing of such monsters as the Wilson Audio MAXX2s—fill the room in unique and different ways, challenging you to ignore their bulk—to close your eyes, if necessary. Technology may have an impact on that distinction, but, so far, if you want the level of performance I've described, you have to make room for the B&W 802D.

The B&W 802D came to play. It brings the musical performance into the room, right in front of the listener, rather than opening a window on a performance happening in some other, more distant space. Such powerful immediacy without glare or stridency is thrilling and untiring.

Like B&W's Signature 800, the 802D represents the cutting edge of modern speaker technology in terms of driver design, cabinet construction, and laboratory analysis, in addition to its exquisite fit and finish. The result, due in no small part to the extraordinary smoothness of the new diamond tweeter and its integration with the other drive-units, is a speaker that is remarkably transparent and detailed throughout the audible range. Given a couple of hundred clean watts behind it, the 802D has no significant performance limits in terms of dynamics or resolution.

I try to restrict the speakers I review to those that interest me and that I can afford, and sometimes I question whether I should replace my current references. The 802D is pretty much at the outer limit of what I can afford, but it has forced just such a consideration.

B&W Loudspeakers
54 North Concord Street
North Reading, MA 01864-2699
(978) 664-2870