The 804 is a little more transparent and smooth in the mids and highs, the 9 has perhaps a better bass. I went with 803s.
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Actually I did not too long ago as both were high on my list (I bought Thiel 2.3s instead and haven't looked back). The biggest difference between the 9NT and N804 to me was the far better vertical dispersion of the 804 tweeter, and the resultant more-even power response and image stability throughout the room. Surprised me as the tweeters seem very similar. They also seemed freer from the occasional 'spittiness' of the 9 HFs. The mids were full and rich on both, though the 804 bass seemed a tad more defined. Although I listened to both extensively, they were not in the same room on the same day. They would need to be for me to spend the extra $800, but the 804s were notably better to my ear.
IMO, the best speaker in the CDM line are the 1NTs. The towers do not perform nearly as well.
Listen to the CDM1NTs at your dealer and then listen to the 9NTs. Listen for clarity and imaging and the 1NTs will win every time.
The opposite is true of the Nautilus line. The N805s are better than the CDM1NTs to start with (which are better than the 9NTs), but the Naut 804s are better than the N805s (and the N802s are superior to the N804s).
If your dealer carries those speaker lines, try those combinations on the same equipment (assuming the baseline AMP, etc are up to driving the N804s). I would be shocked if your experience was not similar.
There is a great review of the 9NTs at http://timefordvd.com/hardware/review/pf/BandW_CDM_speakers.shtml .With an Arcam FMJ CD 23 as source,ARC LS2B preamp & Bryston 14 BST,the results have been extremely satisfying.Coupled with quality gear the 9nts are outstanding monitors.Equally at ease with jazz or rock,the bass is tight and well defined,mid range almost liquid while the treble response is unforgiving on poor recordings despite an old tube preamp.Highly recommended.
I wanted a pair of N802's, they where out of my budget for a 5.1 set-up. I spent months comparing the CDM9-NT & N804's. I wound up buying a pair of 9's, even after being allowed to borrow the 804 floor samples for the weekend. Out of the box the CDM-9NT's where horrible!!! B&W's manual states 15 or 50 hours break in period, what a joke! The CDM9's FST midrange needs time to move. After 200 hours it's a in a completely different class as from the box! Imaging, soundstage & detailed evaluation really can't be made until after the 500 hour mark. I have owned them for over a year now, & have added a pair of cherry Rel Strata III subs to aid with the low end. This combination has made me completely forget about the entire 800 series ever existing! The CDM9-NT's are also much more placement friendly than the N804's where. I also own a pair of CDM1-NT's, & the 9's are the better Bang for the Buck of the CDM series. The CDM1-NT's are a top notch preformer over the CDM7-NT's, yet the 9's midrange rips the 1's apart once it finally decides to sing! I'm just really glad that with age & patience I didn't jump the boat & dump the 9's prior to giving them their proper time to acclimate!
We demoed the CDM9NT vs. N804 vs. N803 vs. N802, all in the same room and system. We brought our own CD's and the dealer let us have the room for three hours on each of two days. We compared by swapping speaker cables and moving each pair into a nearfield listening triangle. FWIW, the dealer's front end was Arcam FMJ CD23 >> c-j Premier 17LS >> c-j MF2500, nice stuff.
CDM9NT - would have been nice to save the $, but it was woefully outclassed, even by the not-much-larger N804. Compared with its bigger cousins it was constricted across the entire frequency range, with a comparatively thin and flat soundstage. Orchestras sounded like we were listening through a closed door, or maybe even from across the street. As most others have already said, it's also not as smooth as the Nautilus, downright raucous at times. Don't know how many hours on them, but these had been on the dealer's floor months longer than the others.
N804 - major improvement in smoothness, clarity and in the ability to play well at higher volumes. Almost thought they could work for us, though the soundstage was still a little small. Orchestras sounded like we were inside the auditorium, but sitting in the last row. On we go...
N803 - AHA! So that's what a violist/piano combination sounds like. Yuri Bashmet just walked right through the wall and started playing for me, big as life, clear as can be and no more than 12 feet away. Big orchestras were also wide, tall and deep, as from about the 10th row. (How do good speakers make you "see" an image stetching behind them, even through the wall? Astonishing.) Bigger bass but just as clear, which is to say crystal.
N802 - Oh my goodness. We'd better stop before they drag in the 800's. Thunderously clear bass lines. Soundstage the size of Jupiter (not just Holst's Jupiter, the real damn thing). Actually we decided they'd overwhelm our room, thank goodness, since they'd certainly overwhelm my wallet.
We bought the N803's. Lived through the long break in, which just means you get to love 'em a little more every day.
Enjoy the music.