Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamond Loudspeaker Reviewed

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On the track "Bring On the Wonder," the delicate opening appeared from a stark black background giving each note a haunting, ethereal quality that while low in volume showcased the 800 Diamond's dynamic prowess. Dynamics aren't simply defined by a loudspeaker's ability to play loud at the drop of the hat, sometimes it can take the form of rich, textured subtlety - like in the individual strikes of a note or chord, as demonstrated in the opening moments of "Bring On the Wonder." The high frequencies again were pristine with zero signs of glare, grain or breakup even when pushed hard by my Mark Levinson No 533H. Even though "Bring On the Wonder" is largely comprised of McLachlin's own vocals layered upon one another for a sort of Imogen Heap-ish performance, through the 800 Diamonds it managed to feel intimate yet aurally enveloping, possessing a soundstage that extended well beyond the side boundaries of the speakers themselves and in some instances beyond the side walls of my listening room. The 800 Diamond's did a wonderful job revealing each vocal layer, some of which were heavily processed for effect, and then seemingly putting them all back together again for one cohesive and involving performance. Again, the 800 Diamond's midrange and high frequency prowess is simply sublime.

Next, I wanted to test the 800 Diamond's bass prowess, so I cued up the soundtrack to James Cameron's Avatar composed by James Horner (Atlantic). The track "Becoming One of 'The People,' Becoming One With Neytiri" has a little something for everyone; driving tympanis, bombastic horns and various delicate percussion instruments set against the haunting vocals of a child. It's a great torture test for any loudspeaker or system, a torture test the 800 Diamonds passed with aplomb. I focused a lot of my attention on the 800 Diamond's bass performance during this track since I was already fairly convinced, based on earlier tests, that its midrange and high frequency abilities were quickly becoming the stuff of legend. Well, the 800 Diamonds are no one-trick or vocal-only pony for their bass prowess was epic, plunging deeper and with a greater sense of speed and urgency than my reference Revel Studio2s. The vigorous tympani strikes were lifelike in their size and impact and possessed tremendous detail and attack, not to mention decay following every strike. Bowers & Wilkins has been wanting to send me their new reference subwoofer (the DB1) to use in concert with the 800 Diamonds for some time, though I question the need, for the bass that the 800 Diamonds are capable of churning out is plenty deep, extremely articulate and above all musical. If one needs more bass than this, you better make sure your sub is up to the task, for mating the wrong sub with the 800 Diamonds could do more harm than good.

Aside from the bass performance the entire track played back through the 800 Diamonds was larger than life as they managed to pack an entire orchestra in my living room without it feeling at all confined or restrained by the speakers themselves or my room.

For something a little more Top 40, I went with Jason Mraz's We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things (Atlantic). Beginning with the track "The Dynamo of Volition" the 800 Diamonds exhibited tremendous pace and rhythm that was lively, upbeat and free - three things I don't normally associate with Bowers & Wilkins loudspeakers, especially the old 800Ds. Because the 800 Diamonds are just a bit faster, more transparent and airy than previous incarnations, songs like "Volition" aren't robbed in the slightest of their somewhat frenetic pace and mosquito like reflexes.

As I was skipping through the various tracks contained within the new Mraz album, I stopped on the bonus track "If It Kills Me." What caused me to pause was the sheer presence and uncanny "live" quality of the entire track. I've heard many loudspeakers capable to transporting oneself to a place reminiscent of the actual recording space or venue but none that have done it as convincingly as the 800 Diamonds. The performance was so vividly real that I felt it could've stood up to a blind listening test with the real thing. The presence, articulation, weight and sheer sense of space presented by the 800 Diamonds was awe-inspiring.

Switching from music to movies I went ahead and cued up Terminator Salvation on Blu-ray (Warner Brothers). Since I only had a pair of 800 Diamonds on hand for review, I let my Sony Blu-ray player output a stereo down-mix from the disc's DTS-HD track for the purposes of this demo. What I didn't expect was how utterly involving the presentation would be given the lack of a center channel and surrounds. Dialog was crisp, intelligible and in many ways far more convincing and natural when played back through a stereo pair of 800 Diamonds versus a dedicated center speaker, for every line seemed to possess more air, weight and dimension because they weren't being confined to a smaller box. While I wasn't able to achieve a full surround sound experience the 800 Diamond's wide soundstage came darn close to making me believe there were actually rear channels installed in my system. Now, with movies I could see the need for a subwoofer or two if you were planning on using the 800 Diamonds as part of a home theater for there are notes, beats and sound effects in movies that are tailored specifically to be played back through a subwoofer - which was evident to a small degree in my stereo listening tests with Terminator Salvation through the 800 Diamonds. However, I wouldn't classify my lack of a subwoofer during this test as a distraction, for the bass that was present was extremely involving.

I ended my evaluation of the 800 Diamonds with the action comedy Date Night (20th Century Fox), starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey on Blu-ray disc. Again, I viewed the film in stereo via my Sony Blu-ray player and as with Terminator Salvation, I didn't necessarily care. The 800 Diamonds on their own were more than enough to get me to suspend reality for 90 minutes and become immersed in the film. Again, dialog was clear and focused yet never sounded boxy or restrained. Scenes involving a lot of atmospheric surround effects, such as in the overly hyped and crowded restaurant Claw, were presented with lifelike dimension and space. During some of the film's more action-oriented scenes, like the car chase involving a host of police cars and an Audi R8 driven by Steve Carell, the sound was larger than life, completely captivating and above all visceral, displaying the appropriate amount of "edge" for the scene, something previous 800 Series designs were never quite able to do.

As a part of a home theater, the 800 Diamonds are a tough act to fault let alone follow, even if I only had a pair on hand for my demo, for the same passion they have for music is easily felt when watching your favorite films.

Competition and Comparison
The 800 Diamond loudspeakers no doubt are the stuff of legend, but unlike in the Highlander films, there isn't merely one. You cannot discuss the 800 Diamond without also mentioning Wilson Audio's wonderful Sasha W/P loudspeaker for both appeal to the same type of aficionado, both sound terrific and both are iconic statements that have stood the test of time. Not to mention they both cost roughly the same. Another cost-no-object loudspeaker that can be mentioned in the same breath as the 800 Diamond has to be the Revel Salon2 for it too fills the same niche as the Sasha W/P and the 800 Diamond. Aside from the obvious high-end associations, the 800 Diamond has competition from the likes of Paradigm's Signature Series S8 for the S8's achieve a large portion of the 800 Diamond's performance at a fraction of the cost.

Whatever your budget, taste or needs - only you can decide what floorstanding loudspeaker is ultimately going to be right for you, but if you'd like to learn more about some of the speakers I've just mentioned or floorstanding speakers in general, check out Home Theater Review's floorstanding speaker page for more information.

The Downside
As with any large floorstanding speaker, there are some practical considerations one must contemplate before making any final purchase decisions. For starters the 800 Diamonds are large speakers. While not as tall as some, they are quite wide and very deep, meaning you're going to have to make sure you have an appropriately sized room that can accommodate them. One nice thing about the 800 Diamond loudspeakers (and most Bowers & Wilkins speakers for that matter) is the fact that they don't need to be placed as far out into your room as some high-end speakers do, thus making them a bit easier to integrate into a wider variety of spaces. If the 800 Diamonds are too large for your space but you still want the 800 Diamond's magic, the 802 Diamond or one of its smaller siblings await you.

The 800 Diamonds are fairly efficient at 90dB; however don't think that means you can skimp on power. While they can be frugal, the quality of your power amplifier will be quickly revealed thanks to their remarkable speed, accuracy and detail. You can power the 800 Diamonds with as little as 50 Watts per channel but it better be the best damn 50 Watts you can get your hands on.

Lastly, while I believe the 800 Diamond's bass performance is both phenomenal and ample for two channel music playback, those of you looking to build a home theater or multichannel system around them are going to want to pair them with a quality subwoofer or two. Choose wisely, though for mating the wrong sub to the 800 Diamonds will be more disastrous then not having a sub. I would recommend auditioning the new Bowers & Wilkins DB1 subwoofer, for it was designed to complement the 800 Series of loudspeakers.

At $24,000 a pair, the new Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series 800 Diamond loudspeakers are not going to be for everyone due to their financial commitment and sheer size. But I promise you the new 800 Diamonds will be or at least should be on every audiophile's bucket list. They are a true reference grade product that compete with and in many ways outperform everything in their class as well as embarrass loudspeakers costing twice as much. While there may be little that visually distinguishes them from their predecessor, the 800D, I assure you the little changes that have been made internally, together add up for some big sonic changes.

The new 800 Diamonds are just a little faster, a little more open and more detailed. They're more transparent, seem to plunge deeper and possess greater dynamics, not to mention they image better, cast a wider, more detailed soundstage and seem more refined visually. On paper there is little to no difference between the old 800Ds and the new 800 Diamonds, but where it matters most, the listener's emotional connection to their favorite source material, be it music or movies, the 800 Diamonds are the better speaker.

While I may be able to cross the 800 Diamonds off my bucket list, I won't be letting them go anytime soon. Would I highly recommend the 800 Diamonds? No. I recommend, if you have the means, that you simply buy them.

Additional Resources:

• Read the List of the 10 Best Audiophile Speakers including B&W 802D loudspeakers.

• Learn more about the brand Bowers and Wilkins.

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HTR Product Rating for Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamond Loudspeaker

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