B&W Nautilus 801 loudspeaker Page 2

Placement in my listening room was relatively straightforward. The speakers ended up about 8' apart and 2' off the front wall, toed-in slightly and 10' from my comfy chair. Some rooms or seating positions may require more toe-in, but the lateral spread I got in my room was amazing. Sound Anchors makes Nautilus 801 stands ($649/set) that lift the speakers off the floor between 4" and 5", which may help tame a boomy room---I didn't seem to need them (footnote 1).

The speakers have two pairs of shrouded speaker terminals sourced from WBT. (The tweeter and midrange drivers are run off the same set of posts.) B&W supplies jumper-wires, but these speakers really need to be biamped---when I went from a single Mark Levinson No.332 to a pair, they really came alive. This was so obvious that before I could return to the sweet spot after turning the amps on, my wife was in it, listening intently.

Despite the speaker's 91dB sensitivity, it really needed to be controlled by big, beefy amps. If you want to use tubes on 'em, think brawny---Conrad-Johnson Premier Eights or Audio Research VT200s might do it, but VTL Wotans wouldn't be overkill. But meaty solid-state is probably the way to go---I'd just love to hear the Nautilus 801s with a pair of Krell FPB 600s, or four Levinson No.33Hs.

To be great is to be misunderstood
Do I fail in my audio-pickiness quotient if I say that the Nautilus 801s never sounded less than fantastic in my system? From turn-on and throughout my listening, they produced thoroughbred sound at all times. I did need to move them around to find an optimum position (love those casters!), but that was more a matter of fine-tuning than a sea change. And, although the casters are convenient, the speakers sounded a lot better when spiked---clearer, more layering, better slam. There's also no question that they really blossomed with passive biamplification, but they didn't sound too shabby with a single amplifier.

I mention this because there's a tradition among audio reviewers to point out how hard we have to work to get great sound out of the products we review. ("Sh'yeah, audio reviewing is hard work---if you're lazy, better try ditch digging.") But it ain't always true, and it certainly wasn't with the N-801s. This actually came as something of a shock---I had heard the speakers at a couple of shows, and had thought them bloated at the bottom end. I had assumed, therefore, that they would prove hard to tame.

Not in my room. Oh, they did seem to have a bit of bass bloom at about 100Hz, but so has every other speaker I've tried---that's a room characteristic, not a speaker flaw.

That said, the Nautilus 801 needs a big room capable of supporting deep bass if it's going to really do its thing. When I heard the speakers at B&W's training center in Worthing, England, they had such a room, and the speakers were a revelation in terms of low-end definition and sheer slam. My room isn't nearly as good at supporting deep bass, but I've never heard any speaker do a better job of articulating submerged bass lines, or of generating bass energy that you feel clear down to your RNA matrix.

This was particularly noticeable on Massive Attack's Mezzanine (Virgin 8 45599 2), where the low bass line slams into you like a series of hammer blows. This disc sounds best pumped way up, and the N-801s proved more than capable of hurling the bass attack straight at me, while never sounding strained or overloaded throughout the rest of the musical spectrum. In fact, I'm not sure I ever "got" Mezzanine---or any other electronica, for that matter---before hearing it on the B&Ws. You've got to feel it.

Great is truth and mighty above all things
But don't assume the Nautilus 801 is just a big bully kicking bass booty and pounding sand. It had a clarity and tonal truth that I've heard very few speakers match. B&W claims extraordinarily low distortion for the 801; having heard it, I believe. I listened to a lot of old favorites on the N-801, and was pleased to hear them sound consistently great---better, in many cases, than I could remember ever having heard them.

The Palestrina collaboration between Ensemble Organum and Ensemble Vocal Européen de la Chapelle Royale (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901388) was little short of revelatory. I've listened to the disc for years, but the B&W revealed details I'd never heard (such as the traffic noise outside of l'Abbaye aux Dames), while at the same time better illuminating the inner truth of the recording---granting me even greater access to the very properties that have made me cherish this recording all this time.



Footnote 1: Sound Anchors, 2835 Kirby Ave, Unit 110, Palm Bay, FL 32905. Tel: (407) 951-4349. Fax: (407) 724-1237. E-mail: snd-anch@web4v.com .
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COMMENTS
Mocha6ft3's picture

It's funny how you first see something from a distance and your couriosity takes over for you to move closer. It was the first time i had seen the 801's. I was aware of the 800 and the 802 but i was drooling at the 801. I love bass and seeing that large woofer in that magnificent cabinet made me forget, for a moment, about the 800 and the 802. Their large brother had me hypnotize. I was told about 2 years ago that B&W no longer produces the 801. I'm crying.................

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