B&W 800D in Rosewood (Nautilus Tweeters)

R315,000.00 R88,000.00

Please note: 

The owner replaced the diamond tweeters with the Nautilus B&W tweeters. B&W had issues with their tweeter especially on 800D and 801D, so lots of people just gave up and installed Nautilus tweeters.

A NEW set of tweeters is about R32000. I can order and install. I will pass ont the tweeters at my DEALER COST, no profit.


The Summing Of The Parts

One result of the 800D’s aspects I’ve described above is neutral tonality across the entire spectrum. Pianos are a great test of this quality.

A piano can go as low as 28Hz and as high as 4.1kHz. I’ve never heard a single piece of music that covers this entire spectrum, but there are plenty of recordings that cover the top and bottom halves. When I play such piano recordings through superior speakers there is no change in the fundamental tonality of the piano, and you can sweep the frequencies from low to high in a smooth fashion. The 800D passes this test with flying colors. The superb transparency of the Coincident Total Victory IV surpasses that of the B&W 800D, but the coupling of the 800D’s tonality with it’s slighter lesser transparency again sounds very “live” to me.

A second result of these qualities is a very deep and wide soundstage, with good placement of performers. It is the depth that is especially interesting to me. I have heard speakers that are “forward” in that the front of the soundstage projects well in front of the speakers. I have also heard “laid back” speakers, where the front of the soundstage actually seems to begin a foot or two behind the speakers. Generally speaking, I prefer the laid back or neutral soundstage to a forward one, that is because I generally feel as though forward soundstages are both “in my face” and lack depth – they rarely seem to extend beyond the front wall.

The front of the 800D soundstage starts a shade in front of the speakers and extends back past my front wall, creating a very realistic image of the stage in front of me and allows me to “see” the musicians in the back. I found that both the Coincident TV IV and the Usher Be-20 were in the “neutral” soundstage category, and both with very good depth. Again, the Coincident’s spectacular transparency made it easier to “see” to the back row of the orchestra, but the 800D and the Be-20 both acquitted themselves wonderfully. Performer placement was quite good in all three, although in this regard I’ve never heard anything yet that matches the performer placement of the YG Acoustics Kipod. The Kipod let me “see” each performer, the space around him or her, how the instrument was held, the relative heights of each performer, how they combed their hair – OK maybe that’s a bit of exaggeration. In short, the Kipod’s spatial cues beat the heck out of everyone else in my room and system.

One interesting side note is that in my room, the Quantum Symphony Pro works best with the 800D and the Usher Be-20. The QSP does two things in my system. First, it tightens up the bass and midrange notes, creating an additional perception of speed and pace. The downside is that with some speakers it can also add a shrill edge to the treble. Second, it adds depth to the soundstage. The QSP adds depth to all the speakers I’ve tested, but it seems to add the most to the 800D. I recommend that anyone who feels that their 800D feel “slow” should experiment with a Quantum Symphony to their system.

A third result of the combination of the above qualities is excellent pace, rhythm and timing. Timing is one of those qualities that is difficult to describe. It’s not really speed, because I have heard speakers that make things sound “fast”, as well as those that sound “slow”, but sound quite good. One reason they sound good is because the timing between the separate drivers, just like the timing between musicians, creates a sense of cohesiveness to the overall music. Although pace is often most associated with bass instruments, timing is dependent on how the bass notes are reproduced and how they integrate with the midrange and treble. The 800D is very good at this. It is not as “fast” as the Coincident’s, but on really fast-paced music the TV IV’s could sound a bit too fast when played with my already-lively digital/solid-state system.

A fourth result is a delicacy (when appropriate) in the presentation. I’m not sure why, especially in light of its superior transparency, the Coincident sounded extremely resolving, but not as “delicate” as the B&W when the music called for it. I am guessing that this was mostly due to my companion equipment. A high-powered tube amp playing LP’s would have probably sounded heavenly. On the other hand, the Usher Be-20 really impressed me with its ability to convey delicacy, which, combined with its ability to blow your socks off with bottom-end bass slam, made it terrific on music with wild dynamic swings. However, the 800D conveyed this sense of delicacy nearly as well.

The Result Of The Sum Of The Parts: Character

Several years ago, a fellow audiophile I met was describing the speakers he then owned. He said “They’re very oceanic”. I said, “What?” He went on to explain that he meant that they were majestic, expansive and powerful, like the ocean. He was a classical music aficionado, and said that symphonic music played through those speakers could make him envision a vast calm sea, or a giant expanse of rolling waves, or a powerful storm whipping up furious swells of water.

I thought his description was a bit over the top, but he was clearly able to communicate the type of musical presentation I could expect from those speakers. He did not focus on their excellent treble, midrange or bass performance, nor did he pick nits with minor shortcomings of what were admittedly great speakers. The obviously top notch performance of his speakers was taken for granted. He was talking about the speakers’ character.

A speaker’s character comes from the sum of its musical parts. You can readily tell from my description of the 800D’s treble, midrange and bass that I think their individual performances were excellent. However, to me the 800D’s character is defined by the words “intimate” and “immediate”. The words “intimate” and “immediate” are usually associated with smaller speakers, not 275-pound behemoths like the 800Ds. They are also associated with smaller scale music, but that’s not what I mean here.

The 800D can reproduce large-scale music loudly while still feeling intimate. If the music is a 110-piece symphony you will clearly hear detailed recreation of the orchestra in a large setting. However, it does make you feel like you’re at a private performance of the Chicago Symphony in Orchestra Hall and got to pick a seat that is close, but not too close, conveying the impression that the symphony is playing for you. How can this be? After thinking about it, it’s not the scale of the presentation, or even the sense of being in row 8 versus row 18. I believe that it is the 800D’s combined ability to accurately sound delicate and thunderous, combined with the slightly forward but very deep soundstage. In contrast, the same music through the Usher Be-20 feels both like you’re sitting farther back and in a larger version of Symphony Hall. This may sound like it’s a failure to accurately reproduce the performing venue, but it can actually work in the opposite fashion.

The 800D’s effect is magnified when playing small scale music. You can easily feel as though you’re in the center of a small cabaret with a seat that is close enough that no one is obstructing your view, yet far enough away that you can see the whole stage with only small tilts of your head. This quality is marvelously demonstrated with the XRCD24 Super Analog Sound of Three Blind Mice sampler. The recording itself is intimate, but I’ve played it on other systems that do not replicate the effect. The performers were recorded in a studio, yet they seem to be in my room. A similar effect is experienced when playing Patricia Barber’s Mythologies. Patricia is singing to you and your friends, and when the drums and bass chime in your room is the venue they’re playing in.

I’m sure that there are reviewers who would tell you that this feeling of intimacy is the product of the soundstage, the perspective and the midrange, or the slightly forward soundstage with the full-bodied sound, or the slam combined with, etc., etc. I, however, cannot quite put my finger on why – it just does.

Much of what the 800Ds do is obviously attributable to the components I’ve matched it with. I cannot overemphasize that component matching and “tweaky” details can make all the difference. I wouldn’t characterize the 800Ds as “tweaky”, but they clearly benefit from obsessive care in their placement and surface preparation. For instance, I think the 800D sounds better with Walker Valid Points than with B&W’s own points. I also think that some of the demos I originally heard would have benefitted from a raising the rear of the plinth so the tweeters point slightly downward. They also readily respond to different cables, more so than many other speakers I’ve heard. I think they may get part of their intimate presentation from my extensive use of Z-Sleeves with my cables. I also think that the MBL’s house sound adds to this impression. However, the B&W 800D is obviously capable of this type of subtlety – you just need to be prepared to take the time needed to maximize what it can do.

Conclusion

These are expensive speakers, regardless of how much more expensive others may be. You have to be prepared to add to the expense by spending money on some serious power, because you won’t know how good they are if you don’t. You also absolutely need to try a variety of amps and cables with the 800D’s because they respond very audibly to changes in those other components.

Finally, you must be prepared to spend time with little positioning tweaks to get the optimal placement, and that isn’t easy with 275 pounds of speaker. If you aren’t prepared to do these things you may never know what they can do. However, if you do they will reward you with absolutely terrific music, with detail, smooth treble extension, soundstaging, depth, PRAT, slam, muscular bass and a sense of intimacy that belies their size.

I’ve had several really great speakers come through my listening room, and some have tempted me with superior bass (and I’m a sucker for great bass) or superior transparency or some other isolated quality, but I haven’t yet found anything with a better overall performance in my system. It’s going to take a really serious pair of speakers to displace my B&W 800D.


Design Analysis
The headline change from old to new, the single features that has made all the headlines, is the CVD (Chemical Vapour Deposition) diamond dome tweeter. I first head that B&W was cooking up a new tweeter technology after a casual discussion with a B&W insider following a visit to Focal.JMlab a few years ago during which it unveiled its own new signature tweeter technology, namely the ultra-thin beryllium tweeter dome. (Beryllium, an ultra hard material, has been used before, but usually in 40 micron thickness, which results in a relatively heavy dome. Focal was the first to my knowledge to reprocess the material to produce an ultra lightweight dome).

B&W however appears to have leapfrogged the opposition with its diamond dome. Diamond is the hardest of all elements, which allows fabrication of very thin, light and stiff structures that delay the first HF break up resonance to a very high frequency. Most alloy domes have a first HF resonance around or a little above 20kHz, and the best of breed alloy or titanium domes come in around 27kHz. The predecessor of the B&W diamond dome fell into this latter category. The CVD diamond dome from B&W by contrast has a first HF resonance around 74kHz, and the resonance is very well damped, as I have seen for myself on a test jig at B&W HQ in Steyning, UK.

The obvious question to ask at this point is — so what? Who other than the odd passing bat is going to care about a clean frequency response that extends three times further than the limit of human hearing? The answer is that the frequency response is a great strapline for a technology story, but it really isn’t the most important factor. Because the first resonance is no high, it turns out to be very well damped, and there is very little phase distortion (group delay) in the treble, or even considerably above the audio band. The absence of group delay extends through the audible treble as well, where the high Q out of band resonances of lesser tweeters generates in band group delay (i.e. phase distortion).

Perhaps more important still is that the behavior of the dome has allowed B&W’s engineers to redesign the dome’s suspension. The older models used a flat cellular material, where the new tweeter has a synthetic rubber half roll surround. This in turn has improved the tweeters’ low frequency behavior which has allowed the use of a simpler lower order high pass filter, which was a specific design aim. A single layer voice coil has a silver plated centre pole (improving sensitivity) which acts as a shorted turn, reducing the inductance of the primary winding. In the original Nautilus 800, the tweeter was housed in a molded tapered tube behind the dome which absorbs much of the acoustic output from the back of the dome. In the 800D the same basic idea is followed, but the tube is now a substantial die-casting, and it sits a little closer to the midrange unit, and slightly further forward thanks to the changed phase relationships in the revised crossover.

The rest of the speaker will look similar to the original Nautilus 800 to practiced B&W watchers, but in this cases appearances deceive. One important change is to the twin bass drivers, which steal a leaf from the Focal.JMlab design book by using a newly designed acoustically relatively opaque cone material consisting of a layers of woven carbon fibre sandwiching an 8mm thick aerospace expanded structural foam core made from a material called Rohacell. The material is different from the Focal W-cone material, but the idea is the same: to help block reflected energy from inside the enclosure making its way to the outside world. This new cone replaces a thin Kevlar/pulp cone.

 The original woven surroundless Kevlar cone housed in its round Marlan enclosure has changed little, but even here there have been improvements behind the scenes, for example a new strengthened basket structure. B&W has also tinkered with the compliances of the decoupling used between the main carcass and the midrange enclosure, and between the latter and the tweeter assembly.

Otherwise all is much as before. The crossover network is housed in the base and so is not subject to significant electromagnetic coupling to the enormous magnet systems, but B&W has not taken the opportunity to remodel the rather harsh looking box shaped plinth, which has been redesigned very effectively in the 801D. The main enclosure is still built as a continuous curved ply structure with an internal Matrix reinforcement, producing a structure of enormous strength, with a down firing port using B&W’s favored Flowport tapered construction with golf ball dimples to reduce wind noise.

The statistics are as awesome as ever. This is a loudspeaker that tips the scales at 275 lbs apiece (or 125kg as we prefer in the UK), and the 800D is extremely big, though not especially tall at 46.5 inches plus a little for the redesigned feet, which have soft and spiky sides. From the electrical viewpoint, sensitivity is fairly high (90dB/W/m), but although the nominal 8 Ohm impedance is benign, the 3.1 Ohm impedance over much of the most power hungry part of the band makes this a challenging speaker to drive, though most high grade amplifiers will be able to cope without problems. Still, and taking account the 800D’s prodigious power handling capacity, this is a speaker that is best coupled with solid state amplification rather than the tube powered type, which may well be able to match the B&W’s qualitative requirements, but which will inevitably limit its dynamic capabilities, and which is unlikely to deliver the requisite grip and authority.

Listening
In the event, I have been able to use a pair of 800D over an extended period with range of electronics, all solid state, from Classé (the Delta CA-M400 monoblocks), Boulder (the 1010 Preamp), Marantz, Denon (the new PMA-SA/DCD-SA1 which are very serious audiophile components) and various other components that came and went during the sensibly extended review period — about three months in total. Cables were almost exclusively Nordost Valhalla (interconnects, speaker and mains power). 

Setup is not inordinately complicated, though you’ll find you don’t need enormous amounts of room. My own 3.5 m x 9 listening room did nothing to cramp the 800D’s style. The bass was clean and extended, the mid open and airy, and the whole system snapped into focus at a listening range of 2.5 to 3 meters, which meant sitting well away from the back wall. Leave a couple of feet behind the speakers to ensure the best bass/mid balance, and a clean, open and airy balance. Orientation is easily arranged. The tweeters should be pointed at, or just behind the ears with a degree of precision that is necessary because the dispersion of the tweeter is very narrow near its upper frequency limit. The speaker can be tilted if necessary by adjusting the feet.

The original Nautilus 800 was always a formidable beast, but it was not without its detractors. The main area of criticism was the overall balance, which tended to be on the lean side of neutral. The Nautilus 800 was not going to boom in normal situations — or even abnormal ones — and bass extension was not lacking. But the sense of weight and of power was not always there. This has been put right in the new model. Indeed B&W claims that the balance of the whole range is more consistent model to model, which was an acknowledged weakness of the original Nautilus 800 series. The new 800D is devastatingly powerful, with a truly muscular, physical bass, but with no hint of excess or of overhang in my listening room, even though it is on the smaller side of ideal for any speaker this big. The B&W newcomer is also surprisingly delicate in its responses to changing musical soundscapes, and the sense of a loudspeaker that knows about timing was very strong.

Timing however is one of those qualities of a loudspeaker, or a system as a whole, that is most difficult to pin down. Although it appears to be a quality mostly associated with bass instruments, it is utterly dependent on how the mid and upper harmonics of bass notes are reproduced, and these harmonics typically extend right through the midband and deep into the treble. And this is where the 800D comes up trumps. Perhaps it is the sweetness and open quality of the treble, or its unexaggerated feel. Perhaps it is the unusually homogenous integration between the various drive units, or perhaps it is the lack of group delay, which after all is a property intimately associated with phase and therefore timing. Whatever the cause in the improvement over the previous models, which could occasionally sound a little wooden and pedestrian, was hard to ignore. Orchestral textures reproduce with more of a propulsive quality, more bounce and vitality when required, more gravitas, grip and a firmer sense of texture otherwise. Objectively the change is not big, but the musical effect is little short of profound.

You will not be too surprised to hear that the treble itself has improved, but in some ways the upper frequency region of the 800D is surprisingly understated, probably precisely because it behaves so well. Tonally it is neutral, the most neutral I have ever heard from a B&W speaker, and at least on a par with the best I have heard from Focal.JMlab’s beryllium dome, or the best electrostatics for that matter. The 800D’s resolving power is nothing less than sensational, but the tweeter goes about its business in a completely transparent way. There is no hint of aggression, nothing sharp or edgy, but no level of fine detail is too subtle to be reproduced with clarity. Nothing passes the diamond tweeter by, and this also includes the contribution that it makes to the reproduction of ambience and ‘air’. Yet there is nothing intrusive about the way that the high frequency content of program material comes across.

The one area of the speaker that has changed least, and which arguably should be first up for consideration when he next revision falls due, is the midband, the domain of the Kevlar FST (fixed suspension) driver which continues little changed from Nautilus 800 days. To these ears it is improved, presumably thanks to the cleaner bass, the revised crossover to the tweeter, and the tweeter itself that is responsible for reproducing the harmonics of frequency fundamentals. The whole effect is cleaned up, more architectural, and carries with it greater impression of image depth. But there is still a hint of a quality that was also apparent with the Nautilus 800, namely a slight unevenness, a suggestion of coloration that changes as the pitch of the music changes. There is a hint of boxiness in the midband, and of a loss of image depth and differentiation, albeit very minor.

The reasons for these observations are open to conjecture, but one obvious possibility is that it is rooted in the way the woven Kevlar diaphragm works. Intentionally, the design behaves asymmetrically on different axis, the idea being for different regions of the outer part of the cone to work in anti-phase at high frequencies, so that the effective radiating area of the cone reduces at the frequency being looked at rises. This is how the designer has been able to use such a large drive unit: in fact it is only acoustically large at the lower part of it’s passband, and it effectively shrinks at higher frequencies. But this process is probably not perfectly linear, indeed B&W acknowledges that the FST drivers is operating in its break up region for part of the time. This could be the source of some colorations, but they are mild, and perhaps only noticeable at all in the light of the extremely fine performance of the system out towards the frequency extremes.

In Summary
The 800D is a startling revision of an already excellent high-end full bandwidth design of striking appearance and superb build. Compared to its predecessor it offers greater musical contrasts and transparency, a less intrusive treble and an overall balance that is finally very close to neutral. The price has gone up of course thanks to the inclusion of the diamond dome tweeter, but B&W has done its homework here in collaboration with their subcontractor (Element Six, part of the de Beers group) as the premium being asked for the tweeter is much less than only any comparable speaker using sapphire or diamond domes.

Description

Specifications
Type: Three-way, four driver floorstanding loudspeaker, base vented reflex system

Drivers: Two 250mm Rohacell cone bass units, one 150mm woven Kevlar cone FST midrange unit, one 25mm CVD diamond dome tweeter

Frequency Response: 25Hz  to 33kHz (-6dB)

Sensitivity: 90dB/W/m

Minimum Impedance: 8 Ohms nominal (3.1 Ohms minimum)

Crossover Frequencies: 350Hz and 4kHz

Power Handling: 50 to 1000 Watt

Cabinet Finishes: Cherrywood, Rosenut or Black Ash real wood veneers. Black cloth grill

Accessories: Four spikes and soft feet included

Dimensions: 1180 x 450 x 645 (WxDxH in mm)

Weight: 125 kg each

Price: £13,000