Andrew Everard Reports
In a worldwide launch event held on Wednesday, September 9th, Bowers & Wilkins announced an all-new generation of its celebrated 800 Series. The new 800 Series Diamond may have a familiar ring to its name – after all, the current speakers have been using the company’s diamond-dome tweeter for many years now – but is in fact completely redesigned.
In fact, the company says that, of the 800+ components making up the new 802 D3 speaker, which is the range-topper for now until the flagship 800 D3 comes on-stream next spring, only a handful is carried over from the model it replaces: the dome of the tweeter, the terminals on the rear and – well, that’s almost it.
The most obvious changes – well, apart from the whole shape of the speakers’ main cabinets, which now use a ‘reverse wrap’ design in which the front baffle and side panels are made in one piece, formed from multiple layers of wood under extremely high pressure – are the shape and material of the midrange ‘head’ used from the 803 D3 upwards, and the disappearance of the famous Kevlar midrange cone, now replaced with a new woven material design called ‘Continuum’.
Highly flexible and with a metallised silver finish, this new cone is the subject of a patent application, so for now details of its materials and manufacture are somewhat sketchy: as Senior Product Manager Andy Kerr puts it, ‘This is our technology, and we’re not intending to share it with anyone’.
Speaking about pre-launch speculation that the company’s diamond technology was being extended into the midrange section of the speaker, Kerr said that such a move was ruled out on cost grounds: ‘We did discuss it,’ he said, ‘but it was a very short conversation!’
The chassis of the driver is also new, and designed to avoid the ‘ringing’ of the old design while increasing rigidity.
The bass units are also replaced, with the Rohacell carbon-fibre/foam sandwich of the old drivers giving way to a new ‘Aerofoil’ construction: again it’s a carbon/foam design, but with improved materials and a new profile, thickening across the radius from the centre, and then tapering down again to the surround. The result is an exceptionally stiff and inert, yet still very light, cone.
Aluminium is also used to mount the drivers to the cabinets, bolting through to the construction beneath the ‘wrap’, and enabling the company to reap the diffraction benefits of a curved front panel while still providing a solid mount for the drivers.
As an indicator of the attention to detail here, even the packaging has been designed to make the speakers easy to install: the boxes for the larger models unwraps from around them, and then part of the base becomes a ramp down which the speaker can be rolled from box to floor. That’s especially handy when you consider that all the new engineering has added considerably to the weight of the speakers: an 802 D3 now tips the scales at 94.5kg, compared with the 72kg of the model it replaces.
All the new 800 D3 models are being handmade,, from cabinets and crossovers to drive units and finishes in the company’s factory in Worthing, which has been the subject of substantial and ongoing investment to allow it to meet the demand for the new series: Kerr says that since showing the new products to distributors and retailers, orders are already in place to account for the next 18 months of production, even though production of the new models has been running since March of this year.
The new speakers will be available in a choice of gloss black, a smooth semi-matt white, or rosenut veneer, with the Turbine head and trims on white models finished in a matt silver, rather than the standard black. Early reports suggest that the white models are proving by far the most popular.
The range starts with the standmount 805 D3, using the 25mm Diamond dome tweeter and a 16.5cm Continuum mid/bass unit, a pair of which will sell for £4500, $6000 or €6000 when the majority of the 800 Series Diamond line-up goes on sale in October. Optional stands in silver or black, and based on the design for the 805 Maserati edition speakers, will sell for £450 per pair in the UK, and $500/€500 each in the US and Eurozone.
The first of the floorstanders is the 804 D3, with Diamond tweeter, 13cm Continuum FST midrange and a pair of 16.5cm Aerofoil bass units. It will sell for £6750/$9000/€9000 a pair.
The 803 D3 is the first of the ‘headed’ models, using the Turbine aluminium head to house its 13cm Continuum FST midrange driver, and with a pair of 18cm Aerofoil bass drivers. A pair is priced at £12,500/$17,000/€17,000, while the flagship of the initial launch range is the 802 D3, using a15cm midrange driver and a pair of 20cm bass units. It will sell for £16,500/pr or $22,000/€22,000.
The existing range of supporting centre channel speakers has been rationalised down from four to two models: the HTM1 D3 is £4500/$6000/€6000, and the smaller HTM2 D3 is £3000/$4000/€4000, with the matching FS-HTM D3 stand at £450/$600/€600.
When the 800D3 joins the range next Spring, it will sell for £22,500 a pair in the UK, and $30,000/€30,000 in the US/Eurozone.