Listening to B&W's $15,000 diamond speaker

How good can a $15,000 B & W 802 Diamond speaker sound? Really, really spectacular.

The teardrop shaped midrange 'head' makes for a rather dramatic design statement. Bowers & Wilkins
I first wrote about Bowers & Wilkins updated diamond speakers in January , but I finally got to hear them a few weeks ago at Innovative Audio & Video, one of B&W's New York City dealers.

Specifically, I listened to the 802 Diamond speaker that sells for $15,000 a pair. The speaker has a big and beautiful, carefully honed design.  The 159-pound speaker stands 44-inches high by 14.5-inches wide by 22-inches deep. It has a 1-inch synthetic diamond dome tweeter, 6-inch woven Kevlar midrange driver, and two 8-inch Rohacell woofers. Rohacell is a super lightweight, yet highly rigid material that is ideal for woofers that need to move a lot of air without flexing.

The 6-inch midrange driver is housed in a teardrop shaped "head" that is crafted from inert Marlan composite material, a synthetic, mineral-filled resin. This granite-hard enclosure is sprayed with seven coats of hand-polished black lacquer. The head's internal cavity--a sphere closely coupled to a short tube--absorbs most of the sound from the back of the driver. On the outside, the teardrop shape smoothly disperses the sound around the speaker, creating a solid, three-dimensional stereo image.

The diamond tweeter is fitted to a tapering tube that is filled with absorbent wadding to control the energy that radiates off the tweeter's backside. The diamond tweeter doesn't look like a diamond at all, it's a dull gray dome, so it wasn't just used for show. B&W favored aluminum tweeters for its top models for years, but now uses  diamond domes because of their higher stiffness-to-density ratio. According to B&W, diamond gets closest to the sound of a hypothetically perfect tweeter.

I've heard my share of high-end speakers, but the thing that struck me first about the 802 Diamond's sound was its purity. It's the second-generation diamond model, the original version was the 802 D--the company changes it models every five to seven years. B&W offers a complete range of 800 Diamond Series speakers for hi-fi and home theater systems.

It's too bad that  Innovative Audio didn't have a set of the original 802 D speakers around for a direct A/B comparison, but I'm pretty familiar with that speaker's sound. The new model is cut from the same cloth, but seems significantly purer and lower in distortion.

You might think that since the diamond tweeter is the main attraction the sound would be hyper detailed, and it is; however,  the tweeter didn't call attention to itself. No, the sound was unhyped, so all kinds of music come through equally well, no wonder B&W speakers are favored by mastering engineers.

The 802 Diamond rendered the subtle dynamic shading of piano and guitar recordings with life-like realism. I also noted the sound floated free of the speakers; the speaker's curves and rotund shape play a part in helping it disappear.

As high-end speakers go the 802 Diamond is moderately priced, but it sounds like a much more expensive speaker.

 

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