B&W 800 Diamond

10/1/2012 4:48:08 PM

With these flagship speakers, diamonds are an audiophile’s best friend


Ratings: 5/5

Price: $27,750

What makes it special? A diamond dome tweeter, innovative midrange driver, clever cabinet design – and that’s just to start with

Tempted? A flagship speaker with the full might of B&W’s engineering expertise behind it sounds tempting enough to us

Description: B&W 800 Diamond

B&W 800 Diamond

The 800 Diamond is currently the best speaker Bowers & Wilkins makes. A bold statement, indeed. But here’s why: the 800 represent not just the ultimate expression of all the company’s trademark technologies, but also ties the lot together in a performance that’s as complete as we have ever heard. Innovative technology and great sound don’t always go hand in hand. In the 800s’ case they do.

Let’s start with the drive units. It’s the diamond tweeter that rightly grabs the headlines here. Not only does the use of such bling make for great ad copy, it also makes good engineering sense.

Diamond’s innate rigidity helps to push any break-up modes to far beyond normal hearing levels. It also self-damps well, which makes for a better all-round performance.

At best, human hearing extends to about 20kHz. B&W’s aluminium dome tweeters reach all the way up to 30kHz before their first break-up mode occurs. This diamond tweeter goes to 70kHz.

Decoupling runneth over

However, there’s more to this tweeter than just the extravagant dome material. The drive unit sits in a decoupled external pod, as does the midrange driver. Why? Decoupling the unit means that any vibration caused by those massive bass drivers has less chance of distorting the higher frequencies.

The tweeter is mounted at the mouth of a tapered tube, the sleek Nautilus. The tube also has internal damping; the idea is that any rearward output from the drive unit travels down this tube and is absorbed, so none of it reflects back (through the driver) to corrupt the forward output. The result is a cleaner, more detailed treble performance.

Take a closer look at the midrange set-up and you’ll find more clever stuff. The drive unit uses a Kevlar cone, as is B&W’s way. The company likes the woven fabric’s behaviour when stressed and has spent years developing it.

In this case, using the Kevlar cone in a dedicated midrange unit allows B&W to replace the standard rubber surround with a high-density foam that damps the cone more effectively. The low level of movement required for midrange frequencies helps make this possible.

Description: The innovative diamond tweeter (top) and simple crossover design give the 800 D a style and tech savvy that’s almost unbeatable

The innovative diamond tweeter (top) and simple crossover design give the 800 D a style and tech savvy that’s almost unbeatable

The result is lower distortion levels and better cone behaviour than more traditional designs.

As with the tweeter, the midrange driver is housed in a decoupled unit that’s designed to reduce the distortion from rearward radiation. Its curved external shape avoids the unwanted acoustic effects caused by flat baffles and sharp cabinet edges.

Simplicity, the best

Twin Rohacell cones work in parallel to deliver the low frequencies. They are housed in a beautifully built curved enclosure, which is heavily braced to reduce resonance. And we do mean heavily – each speaker weighs 102kg. They come fitted with castors, but you’ll still need four people (or a couple of Geoff Capeses) to get them into place.

All four driver units are combined in a 3-way configuration with a high-quality but relatively simple crossover design. Not only does this simplicity promise much better sound, but the reduced component count means there’s more budget to spend on the remaining parts. And the components used in the 800s’ crossover are distinctly top class.

In a small space, the 800s’ beautifully taut bass stays controlled – go bigger and you’ll have a depth and definition that’s hard to better. And it’s all delivered with breathtaking speed and punch – provided your system is up to scratch, that is.

These B&Ws crave power, lots of it: they’re nominally rated at 8 ohms impedance but can dip down to 3 ohms at certain frequencies. So an amp with very good current delivery is a must.

It sounds enjoyable enough with the Pathos Ethos integrated amp, but pair it with Bryston’s effortlessly capable 300W 4B SST and things get a lot better, with the low frequencies gaining grip and authority.

Step things up with the Inception OST, and the 800s will deliver the huge dynamic sweeps befitting composer Hans Zimmer’s staggering soundtrack.

But it doesn’t stop here. Connecting the on-test $34,500 Krell Phantom II/402e pre/power combo (400W per side) shows there’s more to come in temrs of volume, dynamic reach and bass grip.

While this is all impressive, it’s also expected of a near 20 grand Floorstander from one of high-end’s major players.

Not anticipated, however, are the speakers’ agility and rhythmic drive when asked to replay, say, Major Lazer’s Pon de Floor. This banging tune is hammered out with an immense enthusiasm and terrifically precise timing. In short, we’re just not used to such authoritative speakers sounding so incredibly responsive.

Offer up Kate Bush’s more delicate vocals on 50 Words For Snow and the 800s show their sensitive side. Bush’s vocals are intimately portrayed and rendered with all the finesse required, while the album’s subtle dynamic shifts are handled with the utmost care.

And even more impressive is the B&Es’ ability to disappear within the soundstage better than any we’ve heard.

Yes, $27,750 is a lot. Yet compare the 800’s performance with that of its rivals and you might even think that B&W has underpriced them.

We started by saying that these are the company’s best speakers. But we’d go further than that. For us, there isn’t another with such clarity, dynamic reach and volume levels anywhere.

In detail


Description: Tweeter


The diamond dome diaphragm understandably gets all the attention. It’s a great material from which to make a dome, and the result is a terrifically detailed and refined sound. But it couldn’t be achieved without the specially engineered decoupled tweeter pod or quad magnet motor system.


Description: Midrange


The 15cm woven-Kevlar cone is surrounded by a special foam that damps any internal resonances. Working at just midrange frequencies means that the cone doesn’t have to travel far, so the lack of surround flexibility is not an issue.

Bass drivers

Description: Bass driver

Bass driver

These twin 25cm drivers use a Rohacell cone. Rohacell is a composite of carbon-fibre and foam, which is relatively light and rigid – ideal for a cone material. The cones are driven by a large 75mm voice coil and a powerful dual magnet motor system.

Cabinet bracing

Description: Cabinet bracing

Cabinet bracing

This is internal bracing taken to the extreme. This lattice network of bracing adds much to the cabinet rigidity, and to the overall 102kg weight. Feel the side of the enclosure when the 800 Ds are playing at high volume levels and you’ll feel very little vibration coming through.

Downward firing port

Description: Downward firing port

Downward firing port

Those twin bass drivers are tuned using one of B&W’s trademark dimpled reflex ports. The dimples are claimed to reduce air noise when the port is working hard. It works, too. We didn’t notice any extra noise, even when the speaker was properly put to the test.

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