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B&W 804D
Sound quality
Conclusion
Measured Performance
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B&W 804D LOUDSPEAKER REVIEW
 

 

 

Sparkling Diamond

 


Tall, slim and stylish yet seemingly hewn from hard stone, B&W's new 804D Diamond Series loudspeaker is the very epitome of the modern floorstander, says Noel Keywood...

With a worldwide reach and reputation, B&W's recently introduced high end 804D is a floorstanding loudspeaker I could not ignore. It is a domesticated version of the larger 800D and 802D loudspeakers, predecessors used in studios. Priced at £5,750 these new babies will be slugging it out with a host of rivals from KEF, Monitor Audio, Martin Logan and Tannoy. It's a hot place to be.
    The 804D is a fabulously well finished, slinky looking product that strongly conveys its purpose. Not only have B&W come up with a pleasing visual arrangement of curved non-resonant panels, but they've applied a rich gloss black finish and positioned a natty looking 'Nautilus' tweeter assembly on top. The quality of detailing matches that of modern design icons from the likes of BMW and Apple, planting 804Ds firmly in a current style idiom. They feel solid and well made when handled, weighing a manageable 27kgs and standing 1020mm high. Rear terminals accept bare wires, spades and 4mm plugs, and allow biwiring.
    Our review samples had been 'somewhere' and lacked the foam bungs B&W usually supply, and they also had odd screw-out whatsits on the rear, unexplained in handbook or website, that should have had stickers over them saying 'Transit Screw - Remove', we were told by B&W. Removal allows the midrange unit to float on a compliant suspension to decouple its chassis. The diamond tweeter has a removable grille.
    Spikes are supplied, plus floor pads to preserve wooden floors. The 804Ds are narrow but have no stabilising plinth, so they are not for homes with boisterous children.
    This is a classic three-way loudspeaker with large Kevlar coned midrange unit, aided by two reflex loaded bass units and a tweeter.


SOUND QUALITY

A hard and edgy presentation after twenty four hours of run-in convinced us the B&Ws needed more and we had to give them one hundred and twenty hours in total of heavy running in with pink noise and Monitor Audio’s De-Tox disc before reviewing could commence.

    I still was not satisfied that our ever impressive Musical Fidelity pure Class A AMS50 transistor amplifier was an ideal subjective match and used our Icon Audio MB845 MkII valve amplifier for this review. The softer, well damped presentation of this amplifier, with its machined graphite anode 845s and Jensen paper-in-oil capacitors, was a perfect foil to the obviously tilted tonal balance of the 804Ds.
    ‘What?’ you may ask in surprise at hearing this. Even if you are not technical and prefer to avoid our Measured Performance section, one look at the green Frequency Response trace shows a distinct lift up at far right and this means treble is emphasised – a property obvious in use. The tweeters jumped out, delivering a stream of fine, filigree detail right into my lap. Smallest taps on cymbals on my obligatory Angelique Kidjo test CD, ‘Fifa’, rang out hard.  And 'diamond' does aptly describe treble quality. Apart from being extremely strong and obvious, treble had a sparkling clarity that was aurally alluring. If you want every little detail to sparkle before you, with a purity that is beyond reproach, then B&W's Diamond tweeter is quite an extraordinary performer. This tweeter avoids the metallic qualities of metal domes of all types and in this respect it is unimpeachable. It does not have the resolution of a ribbon or electrostatic driver though, meaning a Monitor Audio PL300 or Martin Logan Ethos will run it hard. But even when paired with our MB845 amplifier, both with hours of running on the clock (i.e. warm voice coils plus warm 845s) I was always aware that treble output was excessive; this is not something that you can ignore even with acclimatisation, making sibilants obviously hissy for example.
    With such strong upper midrange output and projective treble, sound stage images were well wrought, with hard clear outlines, every instrument and vocalist being placed precisely. All vocalists, from Jackie Leven's baritone range to the soprano of Renee Fleming were hard lit centre stage in a way that other loudspeakers would struggle to match. But the 804D can sound a bit remorseless at times. It is conspicuously clean and clear, but not exactly svelte. Its overwhelming upper midrange rather shades the lower midrange, wringing warmth from the sound. This is not a full bodied or warm loudspeaker, yet it has a solid, meaty sound all the same.
    Bass quality was very much B&W, meaning low notes were perfectly pitched and moved up and down the bass scale fluidly, with no sign of one-note effects. That the cabinets are clean and bass distortion is low is quite obvious by the tight yet bouncy nature of bass lines. B&W restrain subsonics to ensure there’s no overhang or sloth and it’s a good strategy in my view. So the 804D does not deliver strong ultra lows, but it got the emphasised bass lines of Fifa out into the room with flawless ability and here the 804D again runs most rivals well. My only reservation, after listening to larger but less expensive Triangle Antals or similarly priced Tannoys was that there was little in the way of upper bass detail. I could not really make out much of the bass synth used in Lady Gaga’s 'Bad Romance'. The 804D has bass power and a lovely exuberant low end quality, but it isn’t expressive in the way larger cabinets can be and at this price a Tannoy DC-10T would give it a hard time (as it would for both tonal accuracy and depth of insight).
    In view of the 804D’s unbalanced nature I was surprised at how well it reproduced Nigel Kennedy’s violin and the English Chamber Orchestra accompanying him. His violin sounded sweet, crystal clear but smooth and especially well resolved, fast little tremolos I hadn’t noticed before suddenly becoming obvious. There was an unbalancing of the instrument's basic tonality but it wasn’t especially annoying. Horns had a lovely brassy blare at the introduction of Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Scheherazade’ and individual string instruments of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra were well differentiated. The 804Ds have a dense yet well lit presentation that sounds refreshingly brisk and modern. You’ll believe you have a high technology loudspeaker when listening to it and so will the neighbours. And it’s one that handles classical music very well I found, no matter what I played. Vivacious, clean and temporally sprightly the 804Ds impress with classical. An absence of cabinet colour and port whoomph helped.


CONCLUSION
The 804Ds were at times breathtakingly pure and concise; B&W’s engineering shines through to make them a special experience, especially with classical music. There were times with closely recorded Rock that treble was just too strong: Steve Earle’s 'Esmeralda’s Hollywood' had tambourine hissing at me with demented strength. Overall though, the 804Ds are an impressive experience and at times had me wondering whether an audience of broad taste would think this is what a high fidelity loudspeaker should sound like. Not truly accurate then and a bit hard to swallow at times, nevertheless the 804Ds were impressive – with a capital I. If you want a punchy, visceral and fast sound with diamond pure treble than do try and hear them.

EDITOR, DAVID PRICE SAYS:
If you’re spending over £5,000 on a pair of loudspeakers, then you have an awful lot of choice. There are some superb electrostatics (Quad), equally wonderful electrostatic/moving coil hybrids (Martin Logan), fascinating ribbon/moving coil hybrids (LFT), stunning ribbons (Apogee) and all number of moving coil designs, weird and/or wonderful. Asked to nominate the quintessential high end conventional moving coil, I’d have to say B&W’s 800 series. You don’t get much better engineered and built than this, and they have a meticulously voiced sound that personifies the attributes of a speaker built with multiple voice coils moving the same number of cones, set into a big wooden box.
    Of course, the way a speaker is engineered completely determines its sound, which is why ribbons and electrostatics don’t - can’t - give great bass, whereas moving coils lack the finesse and space of panel speakers but can move air around a room. The 804Ds fall into this category; they’re not madcap weird, nor are they especially innovative or endearingly flawed and quirky; rather they’re straight-down-the-line big moving coil boxes with punch, poise and power. Accompanying this is a sublime build and finish, although it’s very much in the conventional idiom here; its design isn’t special, it’s just very well done, with a particular type of sound in mind. The 804D attempts, and largely succeeds, to be everyman’s high end loudspeaker - for those who don’t want weird things with horns or clingfilm inside them, for those who’ve been raised on the idea of a big multi-driver box. Given this remit, they work brilliantly.
    If you’ve got a large room and/or want a pro speaker, you’ll be buying the 801s or 802s. The 804D instead attempts to deliver a good deal of the 802’s majesty, but in a smaller and – critically – more UK room-friendly package. So they’re not engineered to push out vast tracts of bass; indeed you can (and should) push these quite close to a rear wall and they’ll work happily in a modest-sized British listening room. Properly run in (ours took yonks) and aspirated by smooth and punchy amplifier via a serious source, they give startling results. Taut, tight, propulsive and engaging, they’re wonderful for rock music, yet subtle enough for serious classical listening too. The result is a loudspeaker of great precision, with layer upon layer of detail served up with effortless ease. Treble is distinct, but works well; the Diamond tweeter does deliver a crystalline clarity and is smooth too. All in, a powerful, punchy, incisive loudspeaker with style to match the most modern of listening rooms. DP


Beautifully presented, sleekly styled floorstanders with a seriously fast, clean and punchy sound.


FOR
- punchy, tuneful bass
- crisp, clean midband
- engaging, incisive treble
- suit Rock and Classical

AGAINST
- forward treble
- well lit midband


B&W 804D    £5750
B&W Loudspeakers Ltd              
+44 (0) 1903 221800
www.bwspeakers.com


MEASURED PERFORMANCE
Our frequency response analysis clearly shows the B&W 804D has the usual phase dip at crossover due to the use of a slow (first order) low pass filter feeding the midrange unit. B&W insist this gives a better sound irrespective of the dip. In practice the dip shown tends to change according to microphone position but its existence is consistent all the same.
    Tweeter output was also consistently high, peaking up by +6dB around 12kHz. This will produce audible brightness in the treble, even a treble sting. High frequency output above 3kHz was generally strong from the 804D, giving good detailing but a bright sound balance. High frequency output from the 804D borders on excessive for a so called high fidelity loudspeaker. It is far from accurate.
    The midrange unit peaks around 600Hz in the midband and will push vocals forward a bit, giving them good presence.
    A third octave pink noise analysis, not shown, shows bass output is very even down to 55Hz (foam port bungs out). Port output peaks around 30Hz and its effect can also be seen in the impedance curve as the usual dip at this frequency. Bass will be quite dry but there is sufficient subsonic output to give some low bass weight.
    Sensitivity was high at 89dB from one nominal Watt of input (2.8V) and overall impedance measured 6 Ohms. The 804D uses a 4 Ohm bass unit measures 4 Ohms across the lower midband, from 90Hz up to 700Hz, so it will draw current.
    The 804D will have even sounding bass with a dry-ish quality and some subsonic content. It will also sound bright across the midband and sharp in its treble, straying far from accuracy. It is normal as a load, good sensitivity meaning 40 Watts will make it go loud. NK

 

FREQUENCY RESPONSE

 

IMPEDANCE

 
Comments (5)
When is enough enough?
5Wednesday, 14 January 2015 22:37
Jenell Kesler
The 802's are rather large, so I understand the need to create a speaker with a smaller footprint, but why make an 804 to begin with, if the 803 is better, why not put all the effort there, cut the price with no 804 costs, and just make the higher end at a better price?

Does B&W really need to be ALL things to ALL people?
aa
4Wednesday, 10 September 2014 13:39
aa
Hi Laurie. The Monitor Audio PL300s and B&W 803Ds both have raised treble output, our measurements show. If that's the balance you like then they are otherwise well engineered and will suit the Naim SuperUniti. You should also consider the Usher Dancer Mini-2 that has a diamond tweeter like the 803D, but of smoother response and better quality: compare the B&W804D and Usher Dancer Mini-2 frequency response curves on this site. You might also like to audition Tannoys, like the DC8/10s that are great for Rock and smoother than the B&Ws and Monitor Audios. Noel
to Laurie
3Tuesday, 23 April 2013 21:41
Bert
Hi Laurie,
I compared the 804 Diamond with the Monitor Audio PL300 and found the PL300 a bit tiring with too much treble. The 804 came across much more natural. With the 804 I then compared Superuniti with NAC-N172XS+NAP250 and the latter combination was a true winner, which I bought in the end. Initially the speaker sounded a bit harsh but this disappeared in the first weeks.

It depends also on your musical taste: the 804 Diamond is magnificant for classical and acoustic, but probably less suitable for dance.

Good luck!
B&W 803Ds speaker drivers
2Monday, 01 April 2013 14:14
Waldemar Koralewski
Hi Noel. I'm well happy with that review and your conclusions. But is there any chance you could tell bit more about the B&W 804Ds speaker drivers itself. If possible some about the HTM1 centre channel as well. I'm more interested about the values and characteristics. Since my B&W 600 s3 home cinema got flooded being in garage for a while. Over decoration change. Really sad. So I decided to keep the drivers but build my own DIY speaker system. Still based on B&W but similar to the 804D with HTM1 as centre channel . So basically I'm looking to find out what is the ohm values and the frequency range of each driver. To figure out if the diamond series crossover would work well with the spare drivers I got left. Maybe I'm not for here. But any professional help I'll be much appreciated. Thanks

I do not have that information. The best solution is to salvage the parts you have and rebuild the cabinets if they are damaged, ensuring they are the same volume as before. You will not successfully re-design the 'speaker with the information you are looking for. It is a complex business requiring considerable measurement with software such as we use, Clio from Audiomatica of Italy. NK
Query
1Sunday, 10 March 2013 21:59
Laurie Hogan
Hi Noel,

I'm saving up for my first hi-fi system. Demo'd the Naim Superuniti with Monitor Audio PL300s and Proac D18s; thoroughly impressed. I'm also looking at demoing the B&W 803Ds. What else do you think i should be considering? I aim to make so with the power output of the SU until i can move up to a NAP 250/300 after paying of the initial sting.

Kind regards,
Laurie

Hi Laurie. The Monitor Audio PL300s and B&W 803Ds both have raised treble output, our measurements show. If that's the balance you like then they are otherwise well engineered and will suit the Naim SuperUniti. You should also consider the Usher Dancer Mini-2 that has a diamond tweeter like the 803D, but of smoother response and better quality: compare the B&W804D and Usher Dancer Mini-2 frequency response curves on this site. You might also like to audition Tannoys, like the DC8/10s that are great for Rock and smoother than the B&Ws and Monitor Audios. Noel

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