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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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Image 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.


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