B&W 804D speaker review

Diamonds Are Not Just Women's Best Friends...



The generosity of members the hi fi community is truly amazing. You ask for help and a whole bunch of people come forward to let you check out their system.

I was in the market again, after having sold off my Monitor Audio GS 10 and LCR. Giving myself a budget of around 10k, for the front pair and hopefully the centre too, I began my search.

The first audition was the 804D, and accompanying equipment was:

AVR600 connected to Emotiva XPA-1 monoblocks driven by a Oppo BDP 95

Now the 804D is a truly revealing speaker and throughout the audition, the word that came to mind was : detail.


You truly get to hear a lot more of the music and the clarity that comes through is quite amazing. In addition, the focus is also very solid and you get a nice soundstage which is about as deep as you are sitting in front of the speakers.

Regardless of the genre of the music, you can find detail, clarity and retrieve significantly more information from the recording. You will hear things you didn’t in other lesser speakers, and if you have a good recording, with well placed mikes, the placement of each instrument, each singer will be explicitly positioned. If you enjoy an exacting experience, and like to hear even your flutist gasping for air in between, this speaker will please you. However do not try to shortchange it with mp3 recordings, for it will ruthlessly expose their shortcomings.

In home theatre, it also comes into it’s own, allowing you to get more out of lossless, high definition Blu Ray discs, and again, hear a lot more detail.

The build quality is impressive too, but considering that these speakers cost so much, you would expect the best piano gloss finish in the world.

You also get a healthy boost in the bass and there is a significant difference in scale compared to a 805s or D. Timing and pace are well balanced.

However this wonderfully detailed speaker comes with some caveats.

Firstly, you can make do with some mid-level electronics, but honestly, this baby thrives on quality and therein lies the main issue. If you are moving up in the world of hi fi, and have traded in your speakers for this and expect to plonk this into your current setup expecting a heaven and earth change in sound quality, then you are sadly mistaken.

The main thing is that this pair of speakers will expose all the weak links in your system and make them look pedestrian. If your source was a plain BR player, you will be tempted or even pushed into getting a solid CD player. If you were using a AV amp, and no matter how musical it is, you will soon be opening your wallet for a stereo amp or at least a musical power amp. And this is the issue, get the combination wrong and you may get a slight harsh sound, that makes you feel that you didn’t get your money’s worth in the upgrade.

The B&W are not so system friendly as other more warm or neutral speakers, and if your system is already on the harsh side, it will reveal this. An amplifier with a lot of power and current will also be good, as it thrives on solid amplification. No 2 watt tube amps for this speaker, despite the specifications.

Furthermore, with a USD 3000 or so price difference to the smaller 805D, you begin to ponder other options, such as a 805D with a subwoofer combination. The 804D gives a lot of scale, but the price difference is large enough for one to invest in a subwoofer with a really tight and deep sound, such as the JL Audio F113. And that can also do double duties in a HT system and go deeper than the 804D can.

Furthermore, there are speakers with more scale and although it will go deeper than a bookshelf like the 805D, it won’t be anywhere near the 803 or 802D.

So who should consider this speaker?

If you do not have a lot of space, but would like a floor-stander speaker, and like the B&W sound, you should consider this speaker. Just be prepared to upgrade the entire food chain, and swop out the amplifier, the cables etc before you regain Audio Nirvana. It is revealing, and needs careful partnering to avoid a harsh sound. Done well, the solid focus and clarity will shine through...


Links and specs:

Woven Kevlar

Crossover Tuning

Nautilus Tapering Tube

Flowport

Mushrooms

FST

Tweeter on Top

Matrix

Rohacell

Diamond Tweeters

De-coupling

Quad Magnet Tweeter Motor

Dual Magnet Tweeter Motor

Description
3-way vented-box system
Drive units
1x ø25mm (1 in) diamond dome high-frequency

1x ø150mm (6 in) woven Kevlar® cone FST™ midrange

2x ø165mm (6.5 in) Rohacell® cone bass
Frequency range
-6dB at 30Hz and 33kHz

Frequency response
38Hz - 28kHz ±3dB on reference axis
Dispersion
Within 2dB of reference response
Horizontal:
over 60º arc
Vertical:
over 10º arc
Sensitivity
90dB spl (2.83V, 1m)
Harmonic distortion
2nd and 3rd harmonics (90dB, 1m)

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<0 -="" .5="" 120hz="" 20khz="" span="">
Nominal impedance
8Ω (minimum 3.0Ω)
Crossover frequencies
350Hz, 4kHz
Recommended amplifier power
50W - 200W into 8Ω on unclipped programme
Max. recommended cable impedance
0.1Ω
Height:
1020mm (40.2 in) (not including feet)
Width:
238mm (9.4 in)
Depth:
351mm (13.8 in)
Net weight
27kg (59 lb)
Cabinet:
Cherrywood

Rosenut

Piano Black Gloss
Grille:
Black cloth





Now that I have been using this speaker for about 10 months and I want to do a little follow up, especially after following a thread on it in an adjacent forum:


Being an owner who has been using it for both HT and music, I would like to add the following thoughts:

There have been two professional reviews which find that the treble on the 804D (there is no D2, by the way, until the new series comes out..) and both have mentioned a hot treble, although one of them was a little more politically correct, shall we say?

I tend to agree to a certain extent. In music, one may find the treble hotter than some other brands, such as Sonus Faber, Quads, or even B&W's own CM series. In particular, if you toe them in, and sit with one's ears at tweeter level with the tweeters pointing at you, it will be more prominent.

Of course, partnering gear matters too, and here one can adjust the level crispness desired with cables, footers, amps and even sources.

I had previously written something about taming the treble here:


On the hand, I have also found that the current setup is simply AWESOME for HT.

The level of detail, the crispness in effects, and the voicing is precise and leaves little else to be desired. Of course one could spring up for the bigger models in the same series, but if you have a decent sub, then you won't really miss those lower octaves. I have found that placing the speaker about 50cm from the rear, and in the right listening position, the bass is quite impressive.

I have also found that a little more power is a good thing for these speakers, and the control that the MF A 5.5 gives and the bass is quite awesome.

A caveat, it doesn't suit those who want the buttery smooth sound that the classic Sonus speakers can provide, so as always YMMV.

Having said that, with the Marantz NA 11 S1 as a DAC, and the Oppo 105 serving as a transport, and the MF A 5.5, the combination is quite musical, with the detail still there and yet now the treble is detailed but no longer so prominent.

Update (17/5/2014)

I have now acquired the partnering Marantz PM 11 S3 and the two are a match made in heaven. The NA 11 s1 is neutral to warm, and matches the power and revealing PM 11 S3.  You also get network control of the amp via the NA11S1, and you can now use the Marantz app for the DAC and amp. This pair had no issues driving my B&W 804D and it also took the slightly bright treble edge off the speaker, making it a fine combination to listen for hours.

The Marantz has the drive for these speakers, even though the speakers can dip into the 4ohm territory.
The combination is the epitome of smooth, you still get the details, but the soundstage has opened up significantly, and the depth of the soundstage is about 2m behind the speakers, with good separation of instruments, and there is scale to match, even when switching from vocals to complex orchestral pieces.
If you like a neutral to warm sound, this combination will please you to no end.

2 comments:

  1. A comment from my B&W dealer:
    The new diamond quad magnet nautilus tube loaded tweeter now comes with a improved diamond diaphragm, and this helps a lot to cater for a wider dispersion area, and couple together with the FST Kevlar Mid Range Driver which gives a wider dispersion area on the mid frequency as well. Hence in my opinion you would not need to toe in much :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Stereophile review this speaker too:

    http://www.stereophile.com/content/bowers-amp-wilkins-804-diamond-loudspeaker

    ReplyDelete

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