When B&W’s groundbreaking Nautilus speaker came out, it was praised for its excellent sound and hailed as a marvel of fresh thinking and advanced technology. That engineering effort led to B&W’s Nautilus 800 line, which has now morphed into a new range of speakers known simply as the 800 Series. Although the name has been shortened, the speaker lineup has grown dramatically, with models incorporating a host of new technologies including woofers made of a hybrid material called Rohacell, Kevlar midrange drivers, and—as the most exciting development of all—diamond tweeters. Yes, you read that correctly; select 800 Series models feature tweeters with diaphragms made of diamond, which you will soon learn is the audiophile’s best friend.
In the constant search for the perfect tweeter, B&W created the tapered tube-loaded, standalone tweeter that adorned the Nautilus 800 Series. New 800 Series “D” variants use a similar design, but with different construction. In theory, the ideal tweeter-diaphragm material would be infinitely light and stiff for fast, accurate transient response without coloration. For years aluminum (as used for the original Nautilus Series tweeters) has been a popular choice, though the occasional harshness imparted by this metal turned off more than a few people. For its new flagship tweeter, however, B&W decided to follow a different development path by using one of the hardest materials known to man—diamond. Using a vapor-deposition process developed by the diamond experts at DeBeers, B&W created tweeter diaphragms by applying a thin diamond “coating” on a dome-shaped former. The resulting diaphragm is light and extraordinarily stiff, producing virtually none of the tonal colorations metal domes can cause.
While most 800 Series speakers incorporate B&W’s updated Rohacell woofer and Kevlar midrange driver technologies, only the “D”-model speakers have diamond tweeters; “S”-models continue to use an aluminum tweeter carried forward from the Nautilus 800 range. The premium-priced “D” lineup includes the 800D, 801D, 802D, and 803D floorstanders and two new center-channels speakers, the HTM1D (which includes the same Marlan midrange “head” used on the 800D, 801D, and 802D) and the HTM2D. The “S” lineup includes the 803S and 804S floorstanders, the 805S stand-mount monitor, and the HTM3S and HTM4S center channels. (See photo on the following page. The HTM3S is the “S” form of the HTM2D, while the HTM4S is essentially an 805S flipped on its side.) There are also two surround speakers, the SCMS, which looks like a flattened-out 805S, and a dipole speaker called the DS8S. Two subs, the ASW825 and ASW855, round out the line.
For this review I chose the $12,000/pair 802D speakers as L/R mains, the $4000 HTM2D for the center channel, and the $3000/pair 805S as surround speakers. A pair of ASW825 subs completed the system.
Unpacking these speakers, I was struck by their absolutely beautiful fit and finish. The cabinets are constructed by B&W in Denmark using layers of wood with an internal matrix-type bracing system to provide stiffness. The Scandinavian woodwork contrasts beautifully with the polished black tweeter housings on the D models. I was somewhat disappointed to see that the base of the 802D was still black, but otherwise these speakers are simply gorgeous, with shapes reminiscent of artistic sculptures.
The 802D is more compact than it appears in photographs, especially as it houses two 8" Rohacell woofers, a 5 1/4" Kevlar midrange driver mounted in a Marlan head, and the 1" diamond tweeter. All this technology makes for a speaker that is only 45" tall, but weighs a whopping 176 lbs. I was quite thankful that the 802Ds came with small rollers that made them much easer to move around. The HTM2D uses two 7" Rohacell woofers, a 6" Kevlar midrange, and the 1" diamond tweeter. The 805s use a 6.5" Kevlar mid/bass driver and a 1" aluminumdome tweeter driver. Each ASW825 uses a 12" Rohacell driver driven by a 1000W Class D amplifier.
After making sure the speakers had plenty of run-in time, and after careful setup and adjustment, I started my listening with two-channel music, using the 802Ds with and without the subwoofers. The first thing that struck me was how the new Rohacell woofers transformed the bass. I always thought the paper-cone woofers of the previous Nautilus Series sounded somewhat slow, but the new 802Ds produced bass that was fast, deep, quick, and sharp as a tack, and that provided a rock-solid foundation for any type of music. The next thing that struck me was the lack of brightness. The previous Nautilus line was notorious for letting you know when you did not have the best of equipment upstream, and this often translated into bright, smeared highs. The new diamond tweeter is simply astounding, delivering pure, airy, life-like highs without brightness or sibilance. The old Nautilus speakers, too, had airy highs and as a result fantastic soundstaging and imaging, and none of that was compromised, but now the highs are very fast, extended, and crystal clear, yet smooth. Listening to Billie Holiday’s Lady In Satin (SACD) was a revelation. This is not the best recording, and it can sound harsh and lacking in low-end weight, with strident highs. Through the 802Ds, though, this recording was transformed, sounding smoother, clearer, and more realistic. By removing treble sibilance the speaker made the listening experience much more balanced, so that subtle, previously unheard details emerged from the music. It is no overstatement to say that this is the best tweeter I have ever heard.