The 802D’s midrange is much as I remember it in earlier Nautilus 800 models, clear, smooth, fast, and in this latest driver complement, slightly forward in its presentation. B&W’s Kevlar midrange driver is excellent, its only flaw being an occasional chestiness that can be heard on some vocals. This is probably a result of the stiffness of the Kevlar cone, as the paper cones on my KEF Reference Series speakers create softer, more delicate textures. The Kevlar diaphragm, although stiffer and more accurate than a paper one, is less forgiving, and can sound just a bit harder.
Listening to high-resolution multichannel music further confirmed my first impressions. This system sounded excellent and created a huge, threedimensional sonic bubble. The overall sound was extremely cohesive, except in one respect: You could actually hear the difference between the diamond tweeters in the front speakers and the aluminum tweeters in the surround speakers. Listening to “Orange Crush” from the DVD-Audio release of R.E.M.’s well-done anthology The Best of R.E.M., you notice brightness on the cymbals from the aluminum tweeters in the rear, and almost none from the diamond tweeters up front. This isn’t a significant problem, since B&W’s 800- series aluminum tweeters are very good, yet the comparison shows how much better the new diamond tweeters really are. Further listening to the R.E.M. album demonstrated how solid and quick the new Rohacell bass drivers are, while the midrange remains as smooth and expressive as ever.
I have long maintained that any speaker that is good for music should sound good with movies, and the 800 Series speaker system supports this theory. Once properly placed and adjusted, the HTM2D center channel delivered vocals that were clear and smooth, with airy highs. The diamond tweeter helped tame even harsh, bright soundtracks, while the fast bass easily kept up with even the most active soundtracks. Scorcese’s The Aviator, which chronicles Howard Hughes’ life (does anyone besides me have trouble seeing Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes?), provided a range of test material that confirmed this system’s strengths, from quiet conversations that showed the clarity of the top end and midrange, to airplane sequences that showed how cohesive a surroundsound bubble these speakers can create.
The dual ASW825 subwoofers kept pace very nicely, thank you. Although not as fast as my acoustic suspension REL Strata III, they ASW825s certainly provided more oomph, with bass drive fast enough to do justice to music. The subwoofer cabinet is shallow, with the driver right in front, and the relative compactness makes placement much easier. Using two subwoofers proved twice as much fun, making placement less critical than with just one. In my condo, they were joyous, rumbling, shaking overkill. I just ignored the neighbors with their pitchforks outside my door.
There is precious little negative to say about the 800 series, and nothing but superlatives can describe B&W’s diamond tweeter. The overworked phrase “sounds more expensive then it is” is truly applicable here. While this is not a cheap system, its strengths are great indeed, and its weaknesses relatively minor. My wish for some further textural delicacy in the midrange is at the level of nitpicking. This is a phenomenal system, and one worthy of using that home equity credit line to acquire.