B&W Matrix 801 Series 2 loudspeaker Page 3
B&W has wisely not included hard-wired interconnects, so the audiophile can still use his favorite brand of wiring. What amazed me was how this gizmo improved the entire sonic picture, not just the very deep bass, as we had expected. The sound became more clear and extended (in both directions), and the soundstage opened up, portraying hail ambience and dimension more effectively. I could more clearly define individual musicians in space, as well as the degree of natural hall resonance vs artificially induced reverberation in recordings.
Not being an engineer, I won't attempt to speculate on exactly what this "optional" filter does, but one thing is for sure: if you're thinking of auditioning a pair of Matrix 801s, be sure the dealer uses the bass-alignment filter and the stands.
The Matrix 801s should be bi-wired. Although they work quite well in the conventional setup, the balance between the midrange/tweeter and woofer sections is tipped upward toward the former, thereby presenting a slightly lean, hollow quality to the mid-bass that might cause the listener to think these speakers unnaturally bright and aggressive in the upper midrange.
When bi-wired (be sure to use the same speaker cable on top and bottom; these speakers are too coherent to tolerate mix and match), everything came into alignment, with all three drivers becoming more transparent and coherent, and any hint of over-brightness completely vanishing. (As an aside, I would like to mention that Straight Wire Music Conductor Speaker Cable appears to sound the best with the 801s in my system.) All of my subsequent critical observations concerning the sonic and musical qualities of the Matrix 801s were made with the inclusion of bass-alignment filter, speaker stands, and bi-wired installation.
The Matrix 801 is spectrally seamless from top to bottom, dynamic, refined, harmonically. accurate open, and, last but certainly not least revealing. The only other speaker that I have had the opportunity to live with that successfully competes (and I have owned several large speaker systems) is the Martin-Logan Monolith. Whereas the 801 does not always present as large a soundstage as the Monolith, it does appear to present soundstage more accurately. Ensemble and stage size are more clearly defined, and what sometimes appears as spatial information through the Monolith is obviously artificially induced reverberation and multi-miked bleed-through with the 801.
Perspective is more obvious with the 801: forward, aggressively recorded material can really "come out and grab you by the throat;" while the opposite perspective places the musicians well behind the speakers. The 801 is more coherent from top to bottom, more open, more revealing of recording techniques, and much more dynamic.
The only area in which the Monolith is the clear winner is transparency: electrostatics just simply do better with dynamic speakers in this category. They are both great loudspeakers (musically exceeding everything else that I've heard, except perhaps for the new Apogee Diva, which I have not yet had the opportunity to extensively audition), each presenting musical information in a valid, but totally different perspective. The Monolith might ultimately be the better speaker for long-term listening, being less analytical, while the 801 gives more of what is really there, albeit possibly a bit intimidating. The 801 is a monitor, and some listeners just might not want to hear everything the 801s will tell them, musical and not.
I was not prepared for what I heard the first time I played the 801s. After finally getting these monsters set up and wired, my colleagues and I sat down to listen to a new compact disc of Vaughan-Williams's Job (Vernon Handley, London Philharmonic, EMI Eminence CD; superb performance and recording), having just heard it recently on the Monoliths. We sat silent throughout the entire performance (something that has never happened before), and after it was over, we looked at one another without a word. Finally collecting ourselves, recovering from the initial shock of what we had just heard, someone quietly said, "I've got to have those speakers."