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Going on tour at Bowers & Wilkins (pictures)

A picture tour of B&W's Worthing, England, speaker-manufacturing facility.

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A warning

Oh, the risks I take for a good story.
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Factory floor

The main factory floor. In the foreground are the final finishing stages for the $24,000/pair 800-series speakers.
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Care for a few drivers?
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800 waiting

Here are some partially finished 800-series speakers, awaiting many of the components we'd see later in the tour.
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This machine breaks things on purpose, so the engineers can see which and how parts break. Check out this video of the machine in action (destroying a woofer driver).
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Strong drivers

To demonstrate the strength of the drivers, B&W's Peter Paice stands on one.
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The sound of silence, uh, I mean science

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Weather and more

Since B&W makes outdoor speakers, it's not surprising it has equipment to stress test gear with increased heat, humidity, and other factors. Despite being on the ocean, it even has a machine to test for saltier conditions.
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The sandwich

This multilayered sandwich is many layers of wood with glue in between. This is actually the makings of a speaker cabinet, thanks to the machine in the next slide...
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The sandwich is compressed with this machine, molding it to the shape you see on the left (it's curved in multiple dimensions). Check out this video to see the machine in action.
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After the machine squishes the sandwich for 20-30 minutes, a robot rotors away the excess, leaving the incredibly rigid and curvy panels you see here. These are tops of some small tower speakers.
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Other pieces

This same process is used to form larger speaker cabinet parts, like the back and side piece you see here. This requires a larger machine, which you can see in action here.
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Before and After

The finished part on the left, the raw sandwich on the right.
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Though the majority of the speakers are made from wood, the distinctive teardrop midrange enclosure on the 800 Series Diamond is a dense composite material that is incredibly heavy. The unfinished enclosures arrive at B&W, where they're sanded extensively to get a smooth surface.
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Once sanded, they're painted. That's not the end of their journey, though.
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Paint booth

One of the paint booths. It's rather Kubrickian, right?
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Black is tough

One entire floor of B&W's facility is devoted to just black finishes. This is because to get a smooth, high-end, piano-black finish, the environment has to be clean, and many, many additional steps must be taken. Otherwise, the end result has a lumpy "orange peel" like finish. This is fine for many speakers, but for expensive speakers, not so much. Here, many different speakers await further fiddling.
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Back to matte

Once painted with many layers of black paint, the speakers are actually sanded down to the finish you see here. Then...
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... they're polished and polished and polished until the speakers are smooth and shiny.
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Some speakers, like the big Nautilus here, are polished by hand for two days. Each.
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As you can see in this closeup, the end result is smooth.
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Here, 800 Series cabinets get rotated in for the robot paint sprayer you'll see in the next slide.
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The robot paint sprayer. I assume it never gets bored.
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Some of the high-end speakers get hand-wound voice coils, made in-house. Shelves around this area were stacked with what I assume was tens of thousands of dollars of copper wire, of many different thicknesses.
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Spider and coil

Here the voice coils (the copper wires) are mated with a spider (the yellow part).
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Diamonds are forever

This is a close-up of one of B&W's diamond dome tweeters. They're incredibly rigid, but also incredibly thin.
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Tweeter assembly

Here the diamond domes are mated with the many pieces needed to become actual tweeters. The end result is the long tweeter top you see sitting on the top of some B&W speakers. These are put together almost entirely by hand.
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Discs of Kevlar are stamped to form a cone shape. A different station applies a gluelike material that fills in the holes and brings the drivers up to an exact weight.
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More hand crafting

I'm not sure a machine could do a better job than this. She's assembling the cover that goes between the top of the 800 speaker cabinet and the teardrop enclosure you saw 20 slides ago. While no consumer will ever see the underside of these, as you'll see in the next side, they're immaculately put together.
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That's some fantastic craftsmanship for an area probably not seen by most people.
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Here the massive crossover network is mounted in the base of an 800. After some final assembly here, and some testing, the speakers are pretty much ready to ship out.
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Lots of boxes.
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The sounds

In the first of two listening rooms (the other was a larger theater), I got to take a listen to a few cuts with the 800 Diamonds and some Classe electronics. Beautifully clean treble, accurate and tight bass, a big soundstage that you could still localize instruments in. Simply fantastic. These are the same speakers used at Abbey Road Studios.

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