Making a legend even more
Already known as the industry standard for accurate sound, Bowers & Wilkins took their iconic 800 Series Diamond and tweaked, changed and upgraded nearly every aspect of it. Why? Because as Andy Kerr, Senior Product Manager for Bowers & Wilkins at their Steyning Research & Development Facility in England told us, “we’re obsessive in our pursuit of a better loudspeaker.” As someone involved with the new 800 Series Diamond project from day one, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to ask Andy a few questions about these amazing new speakers.
M: How do you improve on an already legendary speaker?
Andy: It’s easy: you just try. More specifically, what you do is start a project cycle going, then stand back to observe the fireworks that ensue. At Steyning we have the concept of ‘improvement’ hard-wired into our DNA. In loudspeaker design everything makes a difference; from the behavior of large and apparently critical components such as drive units and cabinets, to tiny and outwardly invisible elements such as resistors.
We’re all about better: we take the view that even if something is only 0.1% better, it’s still better – and as a result, we’re still interested in utilizing it. True, sometimes you come across a giant, quantum leap in loudspeaker design, such as the shift from aluminum-dome tweeters to diamond-dome tweeters. But, more often than not, what you’re talking about is those small 0.1% improvements. The key is to put together 10 or 20 or 200 of those minor changes in one hit – then, suddenly, your overall increment in capability becomes a big deal.
What’s special about the new 800 Series Diamond is that we can talk about change both big and small in the same story. We’ve got giant leaps like Continuum and Aerofoil to shout about, but we’ve made hundreds of smaller performance-enhancing changes too.
M: Kevlar® has been the iconic standard of the 800 Series for such a long time. How does the new Continuum cone improve upon Kevlar?
Andy: Kevlar isn’t just iconic to the 800 Series: it’s iconic to Bowers & Wilkins full stop. But let’s be clear: Kevlar is DuPont’s technology (which means others can use it). Continuum is all ours. We designed it, we have a patent application under way for it and we do not intend to share it with anyone.
Its concept is based on the knowledge we have gleaned from all those years of using Kevlar so successfully. But with Continuum, we wanted to move from simply controlling break-up behavior, to making it barely discernible.
So what is Continuum made from? Sorry, we can’t say – not until that patent is approved, anyway. But the essence is this: it’s a woven composite material, like Kevlar. Its design is based on the concept of optimized and controlled flexibility. And the resultant cone is immensely better-sounding than Kevlar in every regard, with much lower noise, quicker response and superior resolution. Admittedly it did take us over eight years of research to get it right, but no doubt the wait (and all the work) was worth it.
M: The shape of the 800 Series seems to have done a complete 180 with the reverse wrap cabinet, can you comment on how this influences the sound?
Andy: We’re always trying to make our enclosures as stiff and as resistant to resonance as possible. In the case of the reverse wrap design, the major portion of the cabinet is now a single piece of curved wood composed of multiple layers of laminated beech wood. The drive units are coupled into the cabinet at its strongest point – across the front of the curvature. This curvature is further reinforced behind the wood by an additional bracing structure – a massive aluminum plate – and on our larger models, this structure is further reinforced by 10mm thick steel plates that link the aluminum directly into our new, thicker and stiffer internal Matrix bracing system. Finally, our low-frequency drive units are housed in discrete aluminum bass pods: these are then coupled directly into the wood and aluminum of the front of the cabinet itself.
Why go to all that trouble? Because as a result of all that effort our new cabinet is much more inert than before, which means acoustically the energy from the drive units themselves is utilized far more efficiently. Now you hear bass as it was meant to be rather than bass that is being colored by the acoustic impact of the low-frequency enclosure. As one key additional benefit, we also have less cabinet diffraction thanks to the new design, because there’s less visible baffle ‘edge’ to impair the effective acoustic propagation of each drive unit.
M: Can you talk about the Aerofoil cone and its influence on these speakers?
Andy: Aerofoil is a triumph of computer-based simulation. We wanted our new generation of bass units to offer significant improvements over the highly successful Rohacell-carbon composite cone. Its low mass and high bending stiffness are ideal for a bass cone, where drive unit sizes are often considerable and pistonic cone behavior is always desirable.
So, we decided to stay with the same approach for the new Aerofoil cone, but we set ourselves higher targets for performance. We worked on finding a way to change the geometry of the cone to deliver superior stiffness where it was needed most (so as to avoid adding mass to the system). The upshot is Aerofoil, which refers not to a material property but to a geometry: cut a section through the cone and you’ll see that its form follows that of an aircraft’s wing, in that its profile varies in thickness – and thus in strength – along its diameter.
Aerofoil cones behave even better than our Rohacell designs. They’re stiffer but no heavier and, as a result, they extend the pistonic behavior of the drive unit further up the audible range.
Some things never change
Bowers & Wilkins made a total of 868 changes to the new 800 Series Diamond – each well thought out and each improving, if even slightly, the acoustics of this speaker line. The one thing that didn’t change is the element that gave this range its name, the diamond tweeter domes. Bowers & Wilkins is yet to find a material that can deliver the acoustic detail, naturalness and spaciousness of the diamond, but that doesn’t mean they’re not trying.
To experience the next evolution of the 800 Series Diamond, visit your nearest Magnolia Design Center where you can examine these amazing changes, one-by-one, for yourself.
Senior Product Manager for Bowers & Wilkins