2012 B&W 800/802 Diamond Review

Written by on 09/29/2012 in Latest Auditions - No comments

Over the past eighteen months I’ve had the incredible privilege of spending extensive time with both B&W’s 802Diamond and 800Diamond loudspeakers.  It is important to note however that both models I’ve used are from the latest 2011/2012 “Diamond” range possessing absolute minimalist cross-overs, not to be mistaken for the previous “D” range still somewhat compromised by complicated networks . Should there be any confusion of model specifics, feel free to contact me.

Model 802Diamond spent the most time in our home as part of my regularly changing and evolving high-end music & mastering system. They quietly became my trusted partners in often complicated product evaluations as countless processes of sonic dissecting and testing takes place on continued basis. The 802’s managed to reveal and lay bare every string of complexion any change of system architecture however minute I could dish out. Listening to new preamps, cartridges, cables and amplifiers became the proverbial breeze as the B&W’s unassumingly maintained an open window to the source and remained out the way of the music. With blade like precision finding intimate truths about ancillaries became the norm more than anything else.

On one occasion not so long ago, we found it stupendously easy to listen to the effects of different brands of mains plugs! Another example was with what degree of clarity the Diamonds expressed every step of the dedicated mains spur I gradually upgraded the supply to my reference system with. The cleaner and tighter the connections became, the better the system focused and the greater the B&W’s disappearing act became projecting a lifelike sound-scape of wall to wall @ floor to ceiling proportion.

Listening eyes closed revealed a chamber of sound completely removed from their origin within the loudspeakers or the loudspeakers themselves as point sources of sound. Over the eighteen months I’ve spent with the 802’s they have never once seized to amaze me in this seamless portrayal of musical truth. In-fact, every advance in resolution from sources and preamplifiers were rewarded with greater and greater revelation of acoustic space definition. The 802 Diamonds were instrumental in my discovery and conclusion of the fact that high-end audio at the cutting edge advanced in this particular area more so than others over the past five years. 

In order to achieve such lofty levels of definition and resolving power, the loudspeaker must possess a superlative synergistic integration between its advanced drivers, crossover and enclosure. Any anomaly or less than optimum balance of virtues at this elevated level will proportionately reel in the magical experience of acoustic space definition, scale, inner detail and liveliness. The Diamond loudspeakers allowed musical events to spatially and dynamically pop into the listening environment as a truthful reflection of the original. They also allowed a greater deal of deletion of the Hi-Fi aspect normally associated with reproduced music than most loudspeakers I have laid ears on in recent times.

Typical criticism for the 800 range with Diamond tweeters are that they could sound bright. I have however found brightness only when the source material was substandard or a component further upstream was of inferior quality and/or tonal perspective. To hear the latest B&W’s with vinyl source on Audio Research Reference tubed electronics in a well sorted setup running complimentary cables and dedicated mains spur will make believers of all comers. That Diamond tweeter, proprietary FST (fixed suspension transducer) midrange and minimalist cross-over is tuned for presence, speed and immediacy when circumstances are ideal.

They will however punish the ones thinking of getting away with inferior ancillaries or second rate cables, but it is not to say they will not sound great with ordinary movie sound tracks provided it’s fed through a decent DAC such as my Apogee mastering-studio unit or the latest Wadia 121 digital preamp. We enjoyed movies through the 802 Diamonds in stereo unlike ever before. The delicacy of some sound tracks can be astounding and as real as life itself. Speech intelligibility through these speakers while watching a good drama took on new meaning. They quickly spoil you and very soon anything less special becomes ordinary and often irritating to watch. We rarely go to the movies as a direct result of this. We’ve become used to unadulterated speech allowing us to follow the dialogue of movies in a completely relaxed fashion free from any tiring efforts to follow the spoken word.

On axis, off axis, left or right, the 802 Diamond loudspeakers allow a three dimensional image of proceedings from anywhere in the room. The sweet spot remains king, but never will listeners in wider arc positions be disappointed. The eyes closed test always reveal a sound scape with images projected into the room floating free of the loudspeakers no matter where you may be seated. The proprietary FST midrange undoubtedly plays its part here. The actual cone-surface-area of the driver is closer to a usual eight inch drive-unit than one might initially perceive it to be. Remember there is no surround that robs valuable cone surface. The result is simple. Through the midrange these speakers sound ‘big’. Voices are backed with the substance of an adult human chest serving as sound board. They possess presence and authoritative realism in this range closer to the real thing than most regardless of price points.

At the other end of the hi-Fi scale and perhaps in contradiction with the above statements, I’ve recently had a hoot of an evening driving the 802 Diamonds  with my slightly modified version of the venerable NAD3020B. At the listening position I achieved 107dB peak readings from two different apps running both on my iPad and iPhone as measuring devices. The little NAD didn’t break a sweat through two albums of demanding blues played really loud in succession.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that the B&W800 Series Diamonds are very efficient loudspeakers provided the amplifier is comfortable with the really not so absurd load. The NAD 3020 with its multiple speaker driving gutsiness proved the point no end, but left us with the question of why loudspeakers with an impedance dip to no less than three ohms are increasingly labeled as power hungry monsters? Could it not perhaps be that amplifiers in general, even the high-end ones from reputable companies, do not have the load driving capabilities of old? If the B&W’s could play so loud for so long with a mere NAD3020, what is going on in the industry of illustrious amplification deeming almost unanimous amplifier warnings a necessity with the 802/800 models? 

Another general criticism of especially the 802Diamond is that of its over ripe upper bass region causing undesired bass-boom . Although I am in agreement to this aspect to some extent considering its measured response, I am otherwise absolutely convinced of a deep, tuneful and highly resolved bass register. The main prerequisites to achieving results being that the matching ancillaries are of the latest and greatest on offer and most importantly of all, the speakers are placed within, or in close proximity of, the room’s null zones where bass output will trigger room-nodes the least. In my room, the 802’s worked best in a zone closer to the rear wall than expected. Moving them forwards as well as backwards from their final positions caused audible degradation of upper bass clarity subsequently clouding everything further up the range. Careful listening and knowledge of neutral frequency response made child’s play of all B&W800 series installations I’ve undertaken. Correctly positioned 802’s driven by neutral sounding electronics within the critical upper bass range, will leave its audience with a powerful, tuneful, fast and engaging bass register. This highly resolved bass definition allowed me to over time experience the advances at the cutting edge of the high-end and how acoustic space definition begins in the clarity and resolution of nothing else but the upper bass range. 

Don’t just plonk these speakers down. They require an expert hand at setup similar to some flamboyant designs from the USA where dealership of such brands is only granted if a responsible person within the organization has a keen ear to identify and be sensitive to perceiving changes in tonal structure of the spoken word when moving through a listening environment. This raises serious concern at B&W800 series Diamond loudspeakers for which no dealer requirements exist other than to be a stockiest. Dismissal of these speakers for anomalies none of which my installations suffer from occur mainly as a product of inadequate expertise compromising setup and placement. B&W800 series Diamond require as much care and knowledge in the matching of ancillaries as they do setup and placement. General rule of thumb is the more advanced the loudspeaker design, the more it requires skillful matching, placement and setup. 

Get it all right and these superb loudspeakers will reward with mastering-studio precision unlike few others. Their clear, uncolored presentation will allow access to the deepest threads otherwise hidden within recorded material. They will reward with presence and immediacy previously only reserved for the best electrostatic and ribbon designs. Combine state of the art micro and macro dynamic capability and what we have here is a loudspeaker easily within reach of claiming to be one of an elite minority of designs running for top-dog in the industry. For the asking price of R140K for 802 Diamond and R230K for 800 Diamond, these speakers are the undoubted best buys of the high-end. It’s no small wonder they get sold in such huge quantities as they do world-wide.

About the Author

Audio Engineer, Critic & Retailer twenty-seven years in the making.

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