B&W Nautilus 801 loudspeaker Comparisons with the Alón Circe
From Stereophile, May 1999, Vol.22 No.5
The B&W Nautilus 801's $11,000/pair price is quite close to the Circe's $12,000/pair. Both speakers are quite sensitive to the ancillary components that must be used with them. But the two speakers sound quite different from one another, and I don't imagine they'll appeal to the same listeners. The B&W is dynamic as all get out, and can play loud enough to cause structural damage. The Alón did a superb job of presenting dynamic contrasts and shadings, and played plenty loud enough for me---even in head-banging moods---but didn't convey the same sense of unlimited dynamic potential as the N801. This is an area where different people will react according to their nature. Not everyone needs to peel the paint off their walls with sheer loudness.
Allied with this sense of greater loudness potential, the B&Ws also seemed to possess greater volume in terms of soundstage size. The N-801s just projected more sonic real estate. The Circes' soundstage was detailed and densely packed with information, but felt more constrained.
The B&W, to my ears, has a tauter, leaner, more muscular bottom end. The Circe's generous bass is extremely supple and tuneful, but it is warm and, perhaps, a shade less well defined. Again, a matter of taste.
To use a visual analogy, the differences between the two speakers struck me as similar to the difference between videotape and film. Videotape has a "realness" that is not to everyone's liking. Edges are sharply defined, and colors don't have the rich saturation they have in film, while light has a starkness that seems harsh in comparison to film. The B&W seems to me similar to videotape---no one can deny that it depicts reality, but some folks might wish the edges weren't quite so ungiving. The Alón also reflected reality, but colors were subtler---richer, some would say---and the illumination was often softer.
I wish I could pick and choose qualities from the two, but that would create a third speaker, one not under review here. Ultimately, I'd go with the Nautilus, but I truly do comprehend the Circe's transformative magic.---Wes Phillips