Just one month after Neil Gader received a personal preview of the new 800 Diamond 3 at B&W’s British factory (read the preview here), the company officially launched the series to the world. The U.S. unveiling took place in September at New York’s legendary Sterling Sound studios. No doubt the site was chosen as a reminder to the throng of assembled journalists that countless studios around the globe employ B&W speakers as their reference monitors.
The event kicked off with B&W Group President Doug Henderson boldly declaring that this was “the most important launch in B&W history.” I could see his point. As Neil pointed out in his report from England, it’s been a long time since the 800 series—the company’s most crucial product and arguably the most successful speaker line in audio history—has been thoroughly revamped. During that period, although sales have remained solid, competitors have become more numerous, sophisticated, and aggressive. So the 800 D3 series is as much a response to market realities as it is a result of B&W’s inveterate drive for technological advance.
Following Doug Henderson’s opening remarks, Stuart Neville, the firm’s Head of Engineering, gave a detailed presentation laying out each of the many advances that led to the D3. Neil has already thoroughly described these, so I will only add that the New York presentation made clear that B&W had left no area—no matter how small—unexamined, and had considered no prior approach sacrosanct in its effort to perfect the 800 series.
I then got my first close look at the D3s. As you have seen from Neil’s photos, despite all their internal changes the new lineup closely resembles its predecessor. The curvature is more sensuous, the finish is more luscious, and the design details (not to mention the incredibly close tolerances) speak to extraordinary quality. Yet no one will ever mistake one of these speakers for anything other than a B&W 800 series model. That was the company’s goal, and it was well met. Still, B&W may find itself pushed by market and competitive forces to up the “cool” factor of the series, perhaps through new colors (for now, the only addition is white) and finishes.
Next came the demos. I was prepared to be disappointed. Not because I thought the sound wouldn’t be good; on the contrary, I assumed it would be. Rather, I doubted that B&W would have the guts to allow us to validate for ourselves the effectiveness of all these upgrades. In other words, I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to compare D3 models with their D2 counterparts.
I was delighted to discover that I was wrong. In one of Sterling Sound’s mastering rooms, I was able to hear the stand-mounted 805 D2 followed immediately by the new 805 D3. Electronics were all from Classé, and source material consisted of a wide variety of high-resolution files. To make the comparison conditions as close as possible, B&W physically swapped out the speakers so that each set would occupy exactly the same room position.
I have to concur with Neil that the difference between the two series was not subtle. Starting off with the D2 version, I found very little to complain about. Indeed, I was reminded of how good the 800s have become. The 805 D2s sounded alive and immediate, with solid micro-dynamics and natural tonality. I could hear some breakup on loud passages, which served to quash the largest dynamic leaps, but that was about it. The switch to the D3 brought an immediate change. The new speaker delivered both more incisive attacks and more controlled decays. Its dynamics were unleashed, and the breakup I had heard through the D2 was completely banished. The combination of these improvements yielded, for instance, a much more realistic-sounding piano. On other tracks, like an alternate take of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s familiar “Tin Pan Alley”, the 805 D3 exhibited a far greater sense of space and upper-end extension.
B&W also provided us the opportunity to compare the 805 D3 with the range’s penultimate model, the 802 D3. The new 802 was situated in a nearby and very similarly laid out room. Electronics were the same, as was source material. Not surprisingly, since the 802 is a floorstander with two big front-mounted woofers, the more expensive model boasted greater bass extension. But what really struck me was its foundational solidity. This is a speaker that will never be perturbed. That solidity, somewhat counterintuitively, allowed the big speaker to sonically disappear even more completely than had the monitor-sized 805.
Although we only had the opportunity to audition two speakers, I left New York with the impression that the “sweet spot” in the line was likely somewhere in the middle. The 802 is probably more speaker than many of us need—or many rooms can handle. The very similar but significantly less expensive 803, I felt, might be ideal. Neil essentially confirmed my suspicions with his report from the factory, where he was able to hear every new model in the line.
B&W’s D2 series brought a combination of Kevlar drivers and diamond tweeters to a speaker line that spanned a remarkably broad price range, including the value-packed 805. Now the company has applied its technological approach and economies to an essentially all-new lineup that is only slightly more expensive than its predecessor, yet is unquestionably a major sonic leap forward. That is important news, indeed.