B&W 802 Diamond Speaker System Page 2

The system was driven primarily by a Parasound Halo A51 power amp and an Integra DHC-80.3 surround processor. The eclectic mix of cables—some of them vintage, some fairly new—were from Monster and Kimber. The speakers were all single-wired to the amp.

The 802 Diamond’s tight, crisp bass, without the DB1 subwoofer, immediately surprised me, as B&Ws have often been char- acterized as having a warm, full bottom end. But the woofers here have been extensively reworked from the previous-generation 802D. More significant, perhaps, was the location of the speakers in my room—as noted previously, well forward of the front wall. Percussive drums started and stopped on a dime. Organ dug as deep as I could want, without boom. And synthesizers growled with unexpected texture and detail.

But as good as that was, rolling off to the DB1 subwoofer was even better. It didn’t appear to extend lower on most music than the 802 Diamonds alone—they will easily extend to below 30 Hz in any reasonably sized room and can handle most musical challenges on their own. But what the DB1 did add was the ability to shake the floor and, more importantly, clear up the last trace of mud from the bottom of the bass range to the 80-Hz crossover to the 802 Diamonds.

But while the DB1 handled virtually any musical bass I could throw at it at any level I would care to listen to, there were a few selections with strong organ fundamentals below 20 Hz (and bass effects on movies as well—more later) that made it cry uncle. One of these was the climax of the Polka and Fugue from “Schwanda the Bagpiper” (Pomp & Pipes, Reference Recordings RR-58CD). On that, and on a (very) few other selections of loud and deep organ music, it added a fluttering, chuffing sound. Oddly, however, the sub sailed cleanly through the opening riff on “The Vikings” from the same disc at a level that (literally) caused the lights in my home theater room to dim.

Midrange has always been a strong suit of B&W speakers, and that remains true on the 802 Diamonds. Vocals and solo instruments had a slightly forward, reach-out-and-touch-them quality. Many designers consider it dicey to use a 6-inch driver up to 4 kHz, as is done here (midrange drivers of that size have poor dispersion once you get much above about 2 kHz). But this choice appeared to have no significant sonic consequences in my room.

The new diamond tweeter was magical, bringing out details in many favorite recordings that were submerged before. Was it audibly superior to the best tweeters I’ve heard in the past, including beryllium (Revel and Focal) and ribbon (Monitor Audio)? Without a side-by-side comparison, it would be unfair to say, but B&W’s newest diamond tweeters certainly belong in that august company. A rise of several decibels around 4 kHz did show up in my basic in-room measurements, but with the crossover at the same point, it’s not possible to say where this originated. Harsh, bright recordings were given no quarter by the 802 Diamonds, but they never sounded edgy or tizzy on good program material.

B&W kindly sent along a Classé SSP-800 surround processor to try with the system (Classé sits under the same corporate umbrella as B&W). The SSP-800 includes five man- ually adjustable parametric EQ bands per channel. I tried these out (don’t attempt this at home without appropriate test tools) and managed to produce a flatter, and appealing, overall in-room response. But one could argue that the result, which included adjustments to the midrange and low treble in addition to the bass, was no longer a B&W 802 Diamond. All of the observations above and below, therefore, were made through the Integra processor. Its Audyssey room compensation was not used. The only EQ employed was the room EQ in the DB1 sub.

With all of its channels fired up, the Diamond system really cooked. It won’t play loud enough to congeal the butter on your popcorn, but it’s more than loud enough to drive half the guests from the room. It also generates a huge soundstage. I can’t say it sounds bigger than the best of the less expensive speaker systems I’ve reviewed; my 15.5 x 25 x 8–foot room may well put an upper limit on expansiveness. But from the subtlest details in Baraka to the jaw-dropping dynamic range of 2009’s Star Trek (particularly the pre-title, battle sequence), the opening funeral procession in Evita, and all of Tron: Legacy, the 802 Diamond system was more than big-boned. It grabbed hold of everything and wouldn’t let go.

From the slightly off-axis listening position I use when watching movies (contrasted to the center position I take for two-channel music), the system was detailed and open sounding. The top end, as it was with music, remained unrestrained and pristine. There’s still evidence of the 4-kHz emphasis mentioned earlier, but it was never distracting. In fact, this could well have contributed to its awesome handling of heroic brass fanfares on soundtrack scores, including the first Hiccup/Toothless flight in How to Train Your Dragon and the powerful orchestral accompaniment to Thor’s closing credits. The system’s dynamic range can also roll down your socks. When the giant dragon first leaps out of his fog-shrouded lair in Dragon, I nearly jumped out of my skin—and I knew it was coming.

Dialogue was uniformly clean and intelligible. The HTM2 Diamond center was largely free of the excessive warmth that many center channels exhibit on the same low stand in my room. Judging by my rudimentary in-room measurements, the HTM2, like its 802 Diamond siblings, was not entirely flat. But even with a slight forwardness that prompted me to set its level about 2 dB lower than my sound level meter suggested for a match to the left and right channels, the audible result was hard to criticize. See HT Labs Measures for our more accurate, pseudo-anechoic measurements, freed of room effects.

The DB1 subwoofer also came into its own on soundtracks. It produced the cleanest, most detailed, best integrated, and most boom-free bass I’ve yet achieved in this room. It also dug as deep as any competitor I’ve auditioned in this space, with much of the credit due to its onboard room EQ that tamps down higher bass peaks that can mask lower bass information.

But as with the occasional very deep music cut noted earlier, I found more than one movie that overloaded the DB1 at high but not outrageous levels (Tron: Legacy, for one— admittedly a brutal challenge for any sub). This overload resulted in rude mechanical chuffing and occasional rattl- ing clearly coming from the sub, not from elsewhere in the room. It suggests either an out-of-spec problem with our sample (though it performed spectacularly well otherwise) or inadequate very-low-frequency overdrive protection.

No one should buy any speaker without a serious personal audition—particularly at a price that could put a small BMW in your driveway. But if you’re serious about acquiring one of the highest-end home theater speaker systems, you need to hear this 802 Diamond package. If a full system demo isn’t possible, at least hear the 802 Diamonds. If you love them, you’ll love the system. I do have reservations about the DB1 subwoofer—none whatsoever about its sound but some concern about its ability to produce bone-rattling bass without occasional, alarming overload. But I have no reservations at all about the 802 and HTM2 Diamonds. They are highly recommended.

If this package is a bit too rich for your wallet, there may be another option. I requested the floorstanding 804 Dia- monds as surrounds, which allowed me to also try them up front in place of the 802s. They’re half the price of the 802s, and apart from the extreme bass (which won’t matter much with a competent sub), they produced a remarkably similar balance. Yes, they did sound smaller and less majestic than the 802s (even with the subwoofer engaged) and certainly lacked the latter’s take-no-prisoners massiveness. But if teamed up with a less expensive subwoofer, perhaps the smaller HDM4 Diamond center (not tested here), and a set of satellite-sized surrounds, the 804 Diamonds might just give you a more wallet-friendly flash of the Diamond’s glitter.

Bowers & Wilkins
(800) 370-3740

michaelalanlittrell@yahoo.com's picture

Thanks for the article. I owned a pair of Matrix 805 speakers that were really lovely speakers. They opened my ears to high end sound. The low bass was lacking, which ultimately led to their sale as I wanted a speaker that excelled not only at classical and jazz, but to rock and home theater. I fondly remember those speakers.

I have heard the former iteration of these speakers before the diamond tweeter was put into production. This article reminds me of the many pages of Stereophile I read through in my 20's dreaming of equipment I might be lucky enough to own one day.

flash11's picture

This is really a nice and informative, containing all information and also has a great impact on the new technology. Thanks for sharing it,
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kent harrison's picture

I love your review,you can't get know better than this,just cannot afford them right now.