Bowers & Wilkins 805 Diamond Speaker System Page 3
It’s Complicated is actually quite simple. The Latin-tinged acoustic guitar music that serenades the first few minutes gives way to the familiar voices of Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin. If Zombieland was a missed opportunity, this bedroom comedy’s soundtrack was more about restraint. In the presence of first-rate comic acting, the Diamonds had no need to show off. They were capable of intimacy.
Teddy Bears and Mad Romantics
For Steely Dan’s Katy Lied, I had a choice between original vinyl or original CD. I chose the vinyl. My tube phono preamp rolled off the cymbals a bit (no fault of the Diamond’s tweeter). The tradeoff was an opening up of the midrange, home to Donald Fagen’s neurotic teddy-bear vocals and a lush chorus topped off by Michael McDonald. The voices moved forward in the soundstage, just slightly ahead of the other instruments. This was a perfect approach to an album that was firmly rooted in 1970s pop-rock but foreshadowed the timeless jazz-funk style of The Royal Scam and Aja. The ingratiating hooks were still dominant, but the chords were starting to thicken. Matched speakers made the Dolby Pro Logic II Music mode the logical choice, expanding from two speakers to 5.1. It offered more of everything without paying the price in any loss of cohesiveness. Each channel in the soundfield meshed with the others, exhibiting the precision and perfection you’d associate with a Swiss watch.
Hideyo Harada’s SACD of piano works by Robert Schumann includes the Fantasia in C Major, a minor Arabesque, and Kreisleriana. Audite’s multichannel disc was recorded in 24-bit/44.1-kHz PCM, mastered in DSD for the SACD, and converted back to high-resolution PCM on playback. All channels had significant content, although the center was just slightly lower in level compared with the others. Each note sounded with a hard, glassy attack, followed by an extraordinarily well-developed and sensuous decay. Whether the hardness of the initial attack resulted from all of those digital conversions, the stone walls of the church venue, or the preferences of the recording engineer, I can’t say. Recalling the previous demos, I thought it was out of character for the 805D. Where the content and diamond-domed tweeters really collaborated was in the decay that swam from the front of the room to the back, perfectly complementing Harada’s poetic interpretations of Schumann’s mad Romanticism. I’ve rarely heard such quantity and quality of surround information in a solo piano recording. The spaces between the speakers were as strongly present as the speakers themselves, creating a seamless, convincing, and potently dreamlike soundfield.
The John Pizzarelli Trio’s Live at Birdland SACD is a true DSD recording circa 2003, compliments of Telarc. Its soundfield is well thought out, with the guitar in all three front channels, the bass toward the right, the piano toward the left, and the audience mostly in the surrounds. All of these decisions made sense, but what I really loved was that the bandleader’s vocal was an almost pure mono image in the center channel with barely a trace of subtle reverb. The HTM4 center speaker was again a perfect soul mate for the 805D monitors. I couldn’t imagine a mismatched, lobing, horizontal center speaker doing justice to Pizzarelli’s suave, swinging, velvet vocals.
The Bowers & Wilkins 805 Diamond provides the high-end sophistication of the Diamond Series in a monitor package that’s especially well suited to home theater (and that certainly includes music). This speaker’s top-to-bottom confidence is the product of a good ear, first-class engineering resources, and top-flight materials. It also has an artistic prowess, an ability to juggle disparate elements that made each new listening experience unique, often sur- prising, and as pleasurable as the source material could support. The HTM4 Diamond center is equally worthy, and it’s not often that I can say that about a center speaker. The ASW 12CM sub complemented the Diamonds with an ideal mix of power, restraint, and adjustability. No question about it: This is an expensive system. But worth it.