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Bowers & Wilkins 802D Loudpeakers Print E-mail
Friday, 01 July 2005
Article Index
Bowers & Wilkins 802D Loudpeakers
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The Music
The Black Eyed Peas were hidden in the relative obscurity of the hip-hop underground until their breakthrough release Elephunk (A&M Records), which sold nearly three million copies on their way to the mainstream. In the third cut, one of the Peas’ most popular numbers, “Let’s Get Retarded,” the song starts with a bass intro and kick drum, which were absolutely solid and rich with low-frequency detail. As this infectious beat kicked in, I found myself turning the tune up louder and louder – the bass and drums held strong. This was impressive to me and showed off the exceptional bass balance of the 802Ds. At the height of the song, I measured 110dB peaks and a sustained 106dB, yet there was absolutely no sign of fatigue, dynamic compression or any other symptom that these speakers were at the end of their ropes. In the middle of the song, there is a short double bass roll that is extremely difficult to reproduce and a segment that will instantly show compression if the drivers can’t keep up, yet these workhorses put it out as though it was being played at a live venue, displaying complete separation between the beats, never losing the precious decay that makes the tune sound live. The mid and high frequencies were equally impressive, from the synthetic hand clap, which has real-time snap, to the vocals that were nicely rounded yet profoundly immediate and detailed. This initial evaluation was very interesting to me. I expected the upper registers to be good, yet the bass control and impact were what grabbed me the most. Although the 802Ds are rated down to 34Hz (as a comparison, my Revel Salons were measured below 20Hz flat in my room), I didn’t feel I was missing much low-frequency support and was impressed by the overall quickness of the 802Ds’ bass. In track six, “Smells Like Funk,” the 802Ds’ bass control was again excellent. Perhaps the best test for bass is whether it gets into your soul and makes you move, and the 802Ds did just that for me. Although this sounds like a shallow evaluation factor, if the music is compressed or the bass lacks immediacy, you’ll be more inclined to turn the music down. With the 802Ds, I was out of my seat and jammin’. This was a great first demo for a speaker that was clearly born to rock.

From Santana’s Greatest Hits CD (Columbia), I spun up the song “Hope You’re Feeling Better.” The song starts out with the powerful organ intro. Although this recording is compressed and not of the highest resolution, it represents the recording quality for most of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The guitar in this cut was recorded out of phase and sounded like it was coming from everywhere in the stage, but the tone was nevertheless accurate and there were no outward signs of grain or coloration. The 802Ds portrayed this in startling detail. Compared to the Revel Salons, the 802Ds had a little more aggressive voicing in the mids and could tend to step a tad more forward. I don’t mean forward as a negative but rather as a description of flavor or, in this case, a sonic position. The Revels are a bit more relaxed, whereas the 802Ds were more immediate and perhaps more live-sounding.

The song “Black Magic Woman” starts with incredible percussion, followed by the sweet vocals of Greg Rollie. Few know that Greg Rollie was the original singer for Journey’s first three records prior to the arrival of Steve Perry. Original Journey had a Santana R&B sound, which later gave way to commercial pop ballads and sellout love songs. The lead in this song was portrayed with a liquid smoothness and sweetness that made it completely engaging. There are few more recognizable rock leads than this one and the 802Ds did a great job in milking the most from this recording. Overall, the balance in the cut was exceptional. I felt the B&W 802Ds obtained every ounce of emotion for this music selection.

Cat Stevens remains one of my favorite singer/songwriters, despite his often criticized name change. With scores of classic songs, Stevens dazzled his audiences in the ‘60s and ‘70s with hit after hit, until his departure from pop music and conversion to Islam in 1977. I reached for the vinyl LP version of my favorite Stevens recording, Tea for the Tillerman. In the song “Wild World,” the sound was lush and very palpable. The highs from the 802Ds diamond tweeters were simply fantastic. B&W put years of research into this tweeter and, to my ears, it is a complete success. The highest registers of this speaker were the best that I have heard at any price. The highs were crisp and detailed, but not the least bit harsh or brittle. I would classify them as extended, controlled, liquid and at absolute ease with the listener. The 802Ds did a great job of portraying acoustic instruments and this was no exception. The unmistakable sound of Stevens’ Gibson Jumbo guitar sounded bold, with a lush richness. I was also impressed with the 802Ds’ transparency. As mentioned earlier, the 802Ds are not laid-back speakers – they are energetic without being overly aggressive. Those who like a warm, distant and rounded sound might not favor this speaker. I found the 802Ds to be truthful and articulate and, although mildly forgiving, not speakers that will mask errors. These are perfect speakers for someone who wants music exactly the way it was recorded, void of coloration.

The Movies
Although the movie “Pearl Harbor” (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) was dreadful, it has a fantastic soundtrack, saturated with explosions and action dialogue. In Chapter 23, where the Japanese are starting their attack in Pearl Harbor, the low, throaty rumble form the Zeros is realistically portrayed. The Zeros radial piston engines have a deep roar with decaying reverberation that sounded frighteningly real. As the planes first start assaulting the US barracks, the sound of broken glass on top of the low-frequency roar is clear and easily delineated by the 802Ds. Although they lacked some of the extreme low frequency of more expensive models, the 802Ds never left me feeling like I was missing something – in fact, quite the opposite. I found myself watching the entire movie for the umpteenth time, even though I don’t like the flick. That’s perhaps the best testimonial I can give to the B&W 802Ds.


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