B&W Matrix 801 Series 2 loudspeaker Page 5
The qualitative differences in attack speed between cello and double bass, bassoon and contrabassoon, bass and tenor tuba, bass drum and tympani, trumpet and flugelhorn, oboe and English horn, flute and piccolo, and violin and viola, are clearly delineated. I can also detect the amount of energy (weight of bow on the string, and amount of air support behind the tonal attack in woodwinds and brass) being expended by individual musicians within an ensemble. This effectively gives the listener a more immediate, rather than vicarious view of the performance (as one of my colleagues so colorfully stated, "this is like having sex, rather than watching it").
The Matrix 801 also sets new standards for instrumental and vocal harmonic integrity. Differences between American- and German-manufactured Steinway pianos are clearly discernible: the former are more immediate and bright at the two frequency extremes, with a slight suckout in the middle registers; the latter have a more even, resonant, but less brilliant and forward quality. The slight harmonic differences between the bright, forward-sounding trumpets vs the darker, more covered cornets in Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique are clearly evident through the 801 Matrix—the first speaker I've heard to successfully make this distinction.
And while I'm on the subject of brass: these instruments played at high volume levels create sonic distortions, caused principally by nonlinear ringing of the actual brass material (especially in the flared bells). Played en masse, combinations of french horns, trumpets, trombones, and tubas create "difference tones" and frequencies add brilliance and character to the overall orchestral sound. The same holds true for large pipe organs—beat frequencies created by slight harmonic and atonal discrepancies between the various ranks add interesting coloristic effects to the overall presentation. The Matrix 801 is the first speaker that I've heard that can actually reproduce these harmonic phenomena, effectively contributing to the overall sensation of reality.
Vocal reproduction, both solo and ensemble, is superb. This speaker will, however, accurately portray voices too closely miked; the excessive sibilance in hotly EQ'd pop selections can drive you out of the room. But when the source material is more neutral, the intensity and hard kernel of vocal resonance is remarkably well reproduced. The specific characteristics of different vocal tessituras are, for the first time, as apparent as in live performance. The nasal, forced quality of sound indigenous to the tenor sections of many choral groups, as well as the usual flat-sounding, unsupported sopranos, are clearly evident. Text in all vocal music is well delineated, without any unnatural sibilant emphasis. The 801 Matrix can even unravel the most complex voice leadings found in multi-part contemporary choral works.
String instruments produce very different harmonic tonal structures when played with and without mutes. In live performance, muted massed strings produce a covered but resonant carpet of sound (ie, the opening of Symphonie Fantastique), and until the 801 Matrix came along, I had not heard this accurately reproduced. Most speakers represent this effect as a hushed "buzz" lacking pitch center and tonal focus. But the Matrix 801 lets all the resonance, tonal warmth, and pitch definition come through.