Last September, with suitable fanfare, Bowers & Wilkins launched the long-anticipated update to its inordinately successful Diamond Series 2 speakers. The Diamond Series 3 was not simply an evolution of the D2 lineup; it was a re-examination of every single part and principle that had comprised those venerable speakers. The result, as I reported from the D3 introduction event—and as has been reiterated in these pages—is a world-class speaker line.
Conspicuously absent at that launch, though, was a new flagship. At the time, B&W released the 802 D3 down through the 805 D3, each a replacement for its respective D2 counterpart. Missing was the successor to the top dog 800 D2. (The company doesn’t make a Diamond Series 801.) The reason, it turns out, is that even before the official launch of the D3’s, B&W received a wave of pre-orders for the new line’s lower models. The company knew it couldn’t produce a flagship until manufacturing had caught up with demand.
Now, with a 155,000-square-foot factory that has been churning out speakers 24 hours a day, six days a week, that time has come. To launch the 800 D3 and, by the by, to celebrate its 50th anniversary, B&W recently invited a group of journalists to its U.S. headquarters just outside Boston. There I learned about—and heard—the new flagship, which will sell in the U.S. for $30,000 a pair.
From the top end through the midrange, the new 800 D3 is identical to the one-model-down 802 D3. The two speakers have in common a 1" diamond tweeter fitted into a single-piece, solid-aluminum, maniacally heavy turbine body. Both also feature the firm’s 6" Continuum FST midrange, with its woven composite cone that controls breakup modes far better than its Kevlar predecessor. The two new speakers look similar as well, sporting the now-familiar broad-shouldered woofer tower supporting the higher-frequency “head”. The 802 and 800 even have nearly identical height and weight—but not width. The flagship needed to be wider to accommodate the main feature distinguishing it from the 802: a pair of 10" woofers substituting for the 802’s 8" pair. Before you jump to the conclusion that the new 800 is simply an 802 with more bass, let me disabuse you of that notion. True, the 800’s greater woofer surface area allows it to play lower and louder—and those virtues aren’t to be minimized. But the real reason for—and benefit from—the new woofers has to do with distortion.
At a fundamental level, and all other things being equal, larger woofers don’t have to work as hard as smaller versions to move the same amount of air. That means less and inherently more linear driver excursion. Yet larger drivers impose tradeoffs such as a loss of cone stiffness and greater inertia. These represent formidable technical challenges. To tackle them, the 800’s woofers aren’t simply bigger than those in the 802—they’re completely re-engineered.