B&W Matrix 801 Series 2 loudspeaker Page 2
Which brings us back to the Matrix 801. This is not a speaker for those with preconceived notions of what should be, but for those who wish to hear what is. I have yet to hear another speaker that gives me as much musical information as this one, without any of the usual sonic intrusions that remind me that I am listening to music through a mechanical device. The Matrix 801 is a true musician's reference transducer, a point made by several of my colleagues in the National Symphony who have had the opportunity to hear it.
Unfortunately, many of the musical attributes that distinguish the new 801 from other products will probably be lost on those audiophiles looking for the latest trends in loudspeaker design, rather than recreation of recorded artistic events.
Being a musician first, and audiophile second, I subscribe to the thesis that musical validity and accuracy is of foremost importance, and that sonics should be viewed as only one component within the overall musical picture. There are, however, those few products that utilize their sonic strengths as a means to musical integrity, rather than the more com mon "let's see how we can make our speakers sound different from anyone else's." The Matrix 801 is one such product; here are some of the purely sonic attributes that set it apart from so many other also-rans.
First of all, I don't feel that this speaker has any significant sonic weaknesses. It is ruthlessly revealing of everything up front (source material, electronics, interconnects, line-cord polarity, etc), and this is what might ultimately get it into trouble. Many US dealers who will be selling this product are not members of the high-end community, and will probably mate the 801 with greatly inferior electronics.
I can tell you that, after living with these speakers for the past two weeks, anything less than the finest electronics and source material can cause serious listening trauma. As an experiment, I connected a representative Japanese receiver (name not important, since they all basically sound alike) to the 801s, and the results were devastating. The sound was thin, grainy, and white, with no depth or bass extension. And although readers might find this amusing, it really is not—many potential buyers will audition this product with similarly mismatched ancillary equipment, and will very likely blame the speaker for the sonic shortcomings.
The people at B&W figuratively "shot themselves in the foot" when pricing this speaker...it is simply too inexpensive for what it does. While it outperforms other products costing at least twice as much, its requirements for the finest electronics will place B&W dealers in a difficult situation.
While the Matrix 801 works well with both solid-state and tube amplifiers, I definitely prefer the results when using solid-state. Although the manufacturer claims that one can use as little as 50Wpc with the new 801, I would think that at least 100Wpc should be the minimum (especially if you are going to play full orchestral material). Of the three amplifiers that I have tried on these speakers (conrad-johnson Premier Five, Mirror Image 1.1S, and Rowland Research Model 5), the Rowland Research came out the clear winner. I still think that, overall, the Model 5 is the most neutral and musically revealing amplifier I've had the opportunity to hear, and the Matrix 801 speaker once more confirmed my findings. While the Premier Five presented itself very well, with beautifully defined midrange and silky high frequencies, low frequencies were slightly muddy and indistinct. The Mirror Image was not even in the running, sounding unrefined, raw, and congested. Although I heard all of the above before through my Martin-Logan Monoliths, the differences between these three amplifiers became much more pronounced with the 801s.
The "optional" 11" stands are quite necessary. With the assistance of two professional musical colleagues (Robert Kraft, bass trombonist with the National Symphony, and Joseph Kainz, visiting flutist from Chicago), the 801s were auditioned on the floor, sitting on the attached casters, on the floor with the supplied spikes, and on the dedicated stands. Both floor-mounted positions resulted in loss of ambience and musical information, along with noticeably slowed low- and midbass response. When we placed the speakers on the stands, the sound magically blossomed, and the spectral balance became neutral and even. Additionally, the contra octave of bass became tighter, deeper, and noticeably faster.