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Speakers

Listening to Bowers & Wilkins brand spanking new 800 Series Diamond speakers

The Audiophiliac checks out two new speakers from the radically revised Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamond lineup.

Ever since Bowers & Wilkins launched its 801 speaker in 1979, recording industry professionals and audiophiles have held the British company's 800 Series speakers in high regard. No other company has ever made speakers which so consistently appeal to both groups.

Bowers & Wilkins' 805 D3 speaker. Steve Guttenberg/CNET

With that in mind, I went to a special invitation premiere of the latest major revision of the 800 Series, now called the 800 Series Diamond, which was in development for five years. The most obvious change is all 800 Series models now feature a new Continuum midrange driver -- the familiar yellow Kevlar Bowers & Wilkins driver has been retired. An entirely new bass driver that features an Aerofoil bass cone is used on all models. The 800 Series synthetic diamond dome tweeter is the only carryover from the previous 800 Series models. Bowers & Wilkins manufactures all 800 Series speakers in its plant in Worthing, West Sussex.

The event was held at Sterling Sound, the prestigious record-mastering facility in New York, this past Wednesday, where I listened to two new 800 Series speakers, the 805 D3 stand-mount monitors ($6,000 or £4,500 per pair), and the 802 D3 towers ($22,000 or £16,500 per pair). Australian pricing is not yet available, but those UK prices convert to around AU$9,700 or AU$35,000 per pair.

I've listened to many generations of 800 Series speakers over the years, but the 805 D3 sounded remarkably clearer than what came before. The sheer clarity of the sound of a live Ryan Adams recording blew me away. Stereo imaging was precise, with terrific depth and dimensionality. Adams' vocals were fully present. The energy of his live performance over the 805 D3 made the recording sound like the music was happening in the moment. The 805 D3 stand mount monitor is 16.7 inches (42cm) tall, and weighs 28 pounds (12.6 kg) each. I will do a full review of the 805 D3 in the near future.

Bowers & Wilkins' 802 D3 speaker. Steve Guttenberg/CNET

I also spent some time with the 802 D3 towers, and again the purity of the sound was stunning. With piano recordings I was very aware of the pianist's touch, exactly how hard or soft they were playing each key. This larger speaker obviously made more bass, and again the clarity and precision of the bass were outstanding. In fact as I listened to the 802 D3s the thing that made the sound so special was that the speakers seemed to be doing nothing at all. They weren't adding or taking anything away from the sound of the music, they liberated it so the music was "set free" in the room.

This is exactly what a lot of recording engineers and audiophiles are searching for -- they want to hear music without coloration or influence of the speakers. The new Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamond speakers get closer to that theoretical ideal than most.

The 802 D3 towers stand 47.7 inches (1.2 meters) tall, and weigh 208 pounds (94.5 kg) each. Six models from Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamond high-end speaker lineup will be available in October, with more models planned for release in 2016.