Turbine, Aerofoil and Continuum – no, not the name of the latest firm of estate agents or advertising gurus, but technologies the world’s press was to discover as a number of global ‘reveals’ on September 9th introduced journalists to the new 800 Series Diamond.
An early – well, early for journalists! – start, saw a group drawn from across Europe (and even a way beyond) enter the Bowers & Wilkins Visitors Centre in Worthing, to encounter a room with empty ‘catwalks’ just waiting to be filled with the new speakers when they were revealed.
But first those technologies, and to an informative presentation in the centre’s cinema/presentation room, with every seat taken by the assembled press. After a brief recap of 800 Series history, and a run-through of the new models and where they fit in the range, Senior Product Manager Andy Kerr revealed some of the background to the development of the new series, and just how long work had been going on at the well-known Bowers & Wilkins research centre just up the road in Steyning.
The message was simple, and a long way from the usual ‘well, we changed this, and tweaked that’ so common at events like this. Not much ‘if it ain’t broke…’ going on in Worthing, and while it was repeatedly stressed that the previous 800 Series Diamond was a strong platform on which to build, it soon became clear that, along with the Diamond tweeter dome, only a handful of components were carried over from new series to old.
And only the dome, mind: from the diaphragm backwards, everything else about the tweeter is new, including the signature Nautilus tube. It soon became clear there was a lot of ‘what if…?’ right from the very start of the project, and even the idea of Diamond diaphragms for midrange drivers was considered for a while. Joined by Bowers & Wilkins Head of Research, Martial Rousseau, Kerr explained that once the practical and cost implications of a diamond midrange were considered, ‘That became a very short conversation.’
Not that the engineers haven’t been daring in just about every other area of the speaker, and if the diamond midrange – one of the rumours circulating before the event started – was quickly dismissed, confirmation came that the Kevlar driver was being retired from the ‘D3’ series, and replaced by the new Continuum driver.
As much as could be explained (given a pending patent application) was laid out before the press, with samples of the new cone being passed round the group, touched and manipulated – with the discovery that the diaphragm is actually very flexible, unlike the stiff Kevlar design – and photographed. The journalists got hands-on with the new cone, the Aerofoil bass unit, with a cut version to show the construction, the improved Nautilus tube for the tweeter and even the redesigned basket (or chassis) for the drivers, with Rousseau demonstrating how the old designs ‘ring’ when tapped with a metal object, while the new ones just go ‘plack’, so inert are they.
Each development was explained with an insight from the engineers, the display of visualisations from the advanced modelling and measurement tools used at Steyning, and even a look at some of the prototypes used along the way, including ‘this is an existing 802 to which we took a chainsaw’, to experiment with early investigations into the design of the Turbine head for the larger D3 models.
Passing round the final version of the new Turbine housing – the one for the 803 D3, Kerr advised caution as the hefty aluminium component, all 11kg of it, went from writer to reviewer to editor, and pointed out that the ‘head’ for the 802 D3 is even bigger and heavier, and therefore probably not suitable for this hand-to-hand treatment.
The same went for the innovative plinth assembly, which was shown, appreciated for its clever combination of silent-bearing castors and substantial but easily-adjusted spikes, and even skateboarded across the floor to show how easily it rolled. As was later discovered during a comprehensive factory tour, the castors combine with a novel packaging design with an integral ramp to allow the bigger speakers to be rolled straight out of the box with minimal effort. That’s the level of attention to detail throughout the new series.
Returning to the main area, the speakers were revealed at last, and the kind of ‘feeding frenzy’ more usual at fashion shows or car launches ensued, with journalists kneeling, crouching and leaning to get every possible new angle on the speakers, and apparently photographing ever single detail of each model. The listening would come later…
Before that, groups of the press were taken on a tour through the entire production process for the speakers, from the assembly of drive units to the massive presses and computer controlled tools used to create the complex cabinets for the speakers, and from the robotic spray-booth painting 805 D3 cabinets during the visits to the large area where the paint finish is inspected, sanded by hand, and finally polished to give the deep lustrous finish.
‘People like working for us, so talk to them when you go round’ was the message, and the press did, asking questions, photographing everything, and even sharing some jokes. For those more familiar with the usual factory tour feeling of silent workers and visitors being in the way, this was a rather novel experience.
So at last to the listening, and having been wowed by just how far the new 805 D3 had moved on from the old 805 model, the visitors got a chance to sit back and relax in the recently complete new main listening room and watch 804s, 803s and 802s old and new being hauled around for comparisons as they were led up through the range.
In each case the speakers were driven by the new Rotel RC-1590 preamplifier and RB-1590 power amplifier, with a single power amp for the 805 D3, and a pair of the 350W stereo amps biamping the larger models.