Bowers & Wilkins 802D Loudpeakers 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Written by Bryan Southard   
Friday, 01 July 2005

B&W’s nearly 40-year pursuit of speaker perfection has made it one of the world’s most recognizable names in high-performance loudspeakers. Long ago, with what started as a love for classical music and live concerts, John Bowers set out to create the perfect speaker, one that neither added to nor subtracted anything from the recorded music. Four decades later, true to Bowers’ vision, B&W is still on the cutting edge of technology with their latest offering, the 800 Series loudspeakers.

The B&W 802D loudspeaker is a three-way, floor-standing vented speaker system that is available in a variety of real wood veneers, retailing for $12,000 per pair. It measures 45 inches in height, 14.5 inches wide, 22.2 inches in depth. Each speaker weighs a backbreaking 176 pounds. The 802D is comprised of two eight-inch Rohacell bass drivers, one six-inch woven FST Kevlar driver for the midrange and B&W’s coveted diamond dome tweeter.

Residing third in the 800 Series lineup, the 802D takes its place beside the top offering in the 800D and 801D loudspeakers yet shares much of the technology with its higher priced counterparts. The B&W 802D is a venerable museum of speaker advancements and patents.

B&W has created a dedicated research and development facility located in the village of Steyning in West Sussex, England. Dubbed the “University of Sound,” this research center houses more than 20 full-time graduate engineers and a support staff whose sole focus is speaker advancement. Today, you will find the 800 Series loudspeakers in some of the more influential studios in the world, including the famous Abbey Road Studios, George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch and more, utilized by sound engineers who require the most accurate speakers possible to produce the music and movies you love.

Visually, the 802D is an absolute work of art. Its black teardrop-shaped upper enclosure flows with complete elegance, resembling a piece of modern art atop its display stand. The lower sections curve-continuous wood shell had me walking around the speaker, wondering how this was done. Its seamless surround enclosure looks both modern and futuristic. I think this is one of the best-looking speakers ever produced and a welcome addition to any sophisticated home interior. The 802D has a considerably smaller footprint than its larger sibling, the 801D, yet it maintains most of the 801D’s performance. Its size to performance ratio makes it extremely appealing.

This review was done with a stand-alone stereo pair, utilizing my Revel Voice center channel speaker and Revel C30 surround speakers. In a full 5.1 package, I would recommend either the B&W HTM1D center channel speaker at $8,000 or the smaller HTM2D at $4,000. For surround speakers, I would recommend the B&W DS8S at $3,000 for the pair and the B&W ASW875 powered subwoofer at $4,000. This package best takes advantage of the 802D’s performance level.

The Technology
At the heart of the 802D loudspeaker is its diamond tweeter, representing the “D” in the model name. Producing pure uncolored and distortion-free tweeters has long been one of the biggest challenges in speaker design. Tweeter designs and materials vary from one speaker manufacturer to another, yet one principle desire remains the same: the quest for the most rigid and transparent material possible. One of the more common dome materials is aluminum, long revered for its rigidity, absorption and dampening characteristics. Yet this material is not perfect, which has led engineers towards more exotic materials, such as titanium. With what started as a research project aimed at a better understanding of tweeter behavior, the B&W Diamond tweeter was born. Tweeters are clearly the toughest driver to manufacture, as they are small and their tolerances fractional compared to other drivers.

When looking for an infinitely rigid substrate, diamond made perfect sense. It’s light and incredibly rigid, it’s completely transparent to ultraviolet and infrared light and is a great heat conductor and absorber. The only problem is, how the heck do you make a tweeter from diamond? With semiconductor advancements over the last decade, the ability to grow and deposit diamond has become possible. Using modern vapor deposition technology, B&W has developed a method to thinly deposit pure diamond into intricate forms. Coupled with state-of-the-art adhesive technology, this technique has allowed the diamond tweeter to be assembled into a production drive unit.

As impressive as this technology is, perhaps it’s the tweeter enclosure that best defines B&W’s high-frequency performance. This tube-like horn enclosure was a development that first saw light in B&W’s revolutionary Nautilus Speaker. The theory behind this enclosure was to create a mathematical cavity that soaked up sound energy from the rear of the speaker driver. This assures colorless high-frequency performance in the 800 Series speakers.

The midrange driver for the 800 Series, although adorning a similar look to previous B&W Nautilus Series drivers, comes with new advancements as well. B&W has refined its FST Kevlar compound for better rigidity and absorption characteristics. It now shares the 800’s aluminum phase plug and neodymium magnet system, as well as a refined chassis design, all housed in B&W’s teardrop head unit. This top enclosure is manufactured using Marlan synthetic mineral-filled resin. Once set, this enclosure is spayed with seven coats of lacquer and polished by hand. At this point, the enclosure is hard as a rock and smooth as glass.

The design of the bass drivers is no less impressive. The drivers use a sandwich-construction of carbon fiber and a core of Rohacell, a very rigid foam used in the space program, known for being extremely lightweight, which adds to the speaker’s control and accuracy.

The cabinets for the 802D are a manufacturing masterpiece. The interior uses B&W’s matrix of interlocking braces, creating exceptionally strong cross sections while remaining light and durable and reducing colorizing resonances. Perhaps the most impressive part of this speaker’s exterior is it solid-wood curved cabinet. This cabinet is drawn using many sheets of thin wood, all molded using a male/female forming press and die. Beyond the spectacular appearance, this enclosure is audibly dead and serves to reduce internal standing waves. All 800 Series cabinets are produced in B&W’s cabinet factory, located in Denmark. The 802Ds are ported at the bottom of the enclosure with B&W’s patented Flowport design. This highly analyzed port is dimpled much like a golf ball to reduce turbulence and ease flow. The 802D is available in Cherrywood, Rosenut and Black Ash real-wood veneers.

The 802Ds have a rated frequency response of 34Hz to 28kHz at 0dB or will drop down to 27Hz at a common –6dB. They are moderately efficient to run at 90dB, which should allow for lower-watt electronics, perhaps as low as 50 watts, depending on the quality of the power.

Unpacking the 802Ds is no child’s play. Although the packaging is smart and virtually disassembles around the speaker, these are very heavy speakers that do not offer any real way to carry them easily. However, the 802Ds have roller balls on their bottoms, one of the more intelligent innovations in speaker placement, which allow you to push them into position. Once the speakers are positioned, you can install the feet or spikes provided for best sonic grounding to your flooring. The connection in my system was a bit awkward, due to the plastic shrouds that surround the terminal connectors. This is undoubtedly due to CE-related safety requirements for international sales, yet it made the insertion of larger spade lugs a bit of a challenge. I placed the speakers in the same position that my reference Revel Salons would otherwise occupy and gave them about 200 hours of break-in to assure that they were performing at the very best. The grilles on the 802Ds are easily removable and I preferred the look of their absence. Since the midrange grille fastens to the driver center cone, B&W provided replacement screw-in voice coil plugs to provide better flow and look. With a slight amount of tweaking, the 802Ds were ready for some detailed evaluation.

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.

The Downside

I searched high and low for a sonic downside and frankly there were none of any major significance. There are specific characteristics of the speakers that may fall to preference, but aurally they are rock solid. I was however disappointed with the terminal binding posts. Compared to binding posts on other speakers in this price class, the plastic-shrouded terminals were not as robust as I would like. It made connection using good cables with spade connectors an issue. I also found the jumpers provided to terminate the bi-wire posts to be somewhat sub-par and opted for a pair of Transparent Cable jumpers.

Visually, this is the best-looking speaker on the market. It has a look of modern elegance, yet looks timeless in the same way. B&W made no compromises in the structure of the speaker, yet their cosmetic beauty is much more than skin deep. Every aspect of the speakers’ construction enhances the sound of the speaker. From the curved lower enclosure to the teardrop top section, B&W has spared no expense in creating a visual and performance masterpiece.

The B&W 802D is a very revealing speaker that will not add to your music, nor for that matter subtract from it. Mr. Bowers, had he been with us for this release, would truly be proud of this speaker. I believe it embodies the true essence of what the B&W name was founded around. The 802Ds are energetic and somewhat forward in presentation, yet not the least bit fatiguing. There is always a big difference between concept and implementation and the B&W has nailed it with its diamond tweeter. The highs are delicious and will lure you into your music. Although the bass is not frighteningly low, it is very solid and controlled. In fact, the bass is a fantastic attribute of this speaker. If you want to go really low, you will want to use a subwoofer to reach the subsonic depths.

I can easily recommend this speaker to anyone who enjoys their music live and wants to hear it the way it was recorded. There are many other speakers in this price class to consider, but I don’t think you will find one that is better.
Manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins
Model 802D Loudpeakers
Reviewer Bryan Southard

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