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High End 2016: Hands on with the new Bowers-Wilkins 800 D3

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Bowers & Wilkins opted for the historic Bayerischer Hof Hotel, established in 1841 after a direct request by King Ludwig for a fancy hotel where the generations to come would introduce their speakers!

The press-only event was held by senior product manager Andy Kerr and head of research Martial Rousseau who went into details regarding the evolution of the series 800, as well as the company’s huge production targets of 60.000 pairs of speakers, which in turn led to the amplification of the production facilities to a staggering 155.000ft² and the need for 7 days per week shifts.

Yes, B&W is expecting to sell quite a lot of these babies and has good reason to believe so. They are fully packed with state of the art technologies and look beautiful both in lacquer finish and in wood trim.

The list of technological novelties is huge and clearly departs from the last 800 generation, instead of messing things up I’m citing the official press release:

Aerofoil cone

Sometimes, new technologies allow us to achieve things in engineering that wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago. The Aerofoil bass cone is a perfect example. By using advanced computer modelling and a new syntactic core material, we’ve been able to produce a cone of varying thickness, with maximum stiffness where it’s needed most. This optimised shape means the cone displays pistonic behaviour further up the audible range, producing bass that’s precise, controlled and utterly lifelike.

Turbine head

Constructed from a single piece of aluminium, braced with internal radial fins and with a raised, slimmer profile, the turbine head is almost totally inert, producing a sound that’s free from cabinet coloration.

Solid body tweeter

The tweeter assembly for the new range is housed in a solid piece of aluminium, while an improved gel decoupling system isolates the tweeter from the effects of cabinet resonance. The result? Pin-sharp acoustic detail, and new levels of insight into a musical performance.

Continuum cone

For decades, we thought that nothing could beat Kevlar® as a midrange cone material. But now, following eight years of intensive development, we’ve finally come up with something even better. Thanks to its composite construction, the Continuum cone avoids the abrupt transitions in behavior that can impair the performance of a conventional drive unit. The result is a more open, neutral performance.

Reverse wrap cabinet

When it came to designing the ideal shape for the 800 Series Diamond cabinet, we did a U-turn. Quite literally. Instead of a flat-fronted speaker with a curving back, we produced a cabinet with a front and sides formed of one continuous curve, held together with a spine of solid aluminium. Fewer joins make for a stiffer, more inert structure, and a curved front means less baffling around the drive units. So sound dispersion is improved, and cabinet reflection is reduced.

Matrix

Matrix provides the backbone for our speakers. It’s an internal structure that works like the bracing of a ship’s hull, with criss-crossed interlocking panels keeping our cabinets rigid and inert. For the 800 Series Diamond, we’ve introduced our most radical rethink of the Matrix concept yet. The internal panels are thicker, solid plywood has replaced MDF, and metal components have been added to reinforce key stress points. All together it’s the most solid Matrix system we’ve ever built.

Plinth

A great speaker needs a rock-solid foundation. By moving the crossover from the plinth to the main body of the speaker, we’ve been able to create a base for the 800 Series Diamond that’s more stable and resonance-resistant than ever. Replacing the original open-box design, the new plinth is constructed from a solid piece of aluminium. This improves stability by lowering the centre of mass and counter-balancing the weight of the turbine head.”

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Taking the various parts in hand, I can reassure you that this level of fit and finish is rare even among ultra-high-end speakers. Cast and CNC machined pieces, domes and magnets, nothing is left to chance. B&W staff went into detail explaining that they even have separate production lines for spraying the white and black piano gloss finishes.

The only element that remains the same is the diamond tweeter; the rest is designed from scratch which also translates to a new and higher price tag. US retail will be $30.000 while EU will be spending a bit more at €30.000.

After the presentation we moved to a room with a slight touch of acoustics treatment (largely insufficient) for a listening session. Electronics were by Classé, a pair of CA-M300 mono power amplifiers and a CP-800 preamp with internal DAC connected to a PC, nothing particularly fancy but the sound was almost perfect.

The demo consisted of five tracks, ranging from blues to electronic music (yes, they actually played us a Deadmau5 track) along with Verdi’s Requiem (which I believe was the Solti take on Decca) and let me tell you, these new 800D3s mean business. Bass is fantastic, rock solid and clean, fast and authoritative. Mids are detailed, maybe a bit forward compared to the rest of the spectrum but very pleasant without being overly warm, a trait which I prefer to the high-end-ish lush sound. My only concern was that there was a slight sibilance here and there which was hard to attribute, maybe because of the electronics or maybe because of the diamond tweeters. Top extension was all there, detail and air was a plenty and if I were to judge them as a whole, the new 800 D3 will most definitely be a major blockbuster.

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About Panagiotis Karavitis (180 Articles)

Doctor and Editor @ Part-Time Audiophile
Publisher @ Audiohub.gr

2 Comments on High End 2016: Hands on with the new Bowers-Wilkins 800 D3

  1. 60,000 speakers at $30,000US? Hard to believe they can really sell that many. Seems like they are going all in though.

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