B&W Matrix 801 Series 2 loudspeaker Page 4

When it comes to audio, musicians are hard to please. Perhaps that's why so many of them have such poor audio systems; if you can't have it all, why even try? The new 801 is a musician's reference; it simply reproduces music with more immediacy and honesty than anything I (or any of my colleagues) have previously heard. It is quite unlike any other speaker, inasmuch as it goes far beyond any previous design in drawing the listener into the performance, almost as if the listener's ears and microphones were one and the same. My first impression of the sound was one of unrestrained openness, along with the sensation that the music was expanding out into the hall acoustic, not being stopped by an artificial barrier such as a loudspeaker. This is something previously experienced by this musician only at live performances, and is one of the things that separates the "life" in live music from the constriction of electronic reproduction. Whereas many other speakers have given me the impression of seeing the music through a very clean window, the Matrix 801 not only opens this window, but places me outside, actually becoming involved with the musical picture.

The Matrix 801 outperforms every other loudspeaker I've heard in its ability to recreate the wall-bending visceral weight produced by full symphony orchestra, chorus, and organ. Until I heard the 801s, I was convinced that no loudspeaker could credibly reproduce the dynamic impact that I feel during live performances. For the first time, I can sense the massive wavefronts of sound created by full orchestral climaxes, without any timbrel change, constriction, or hardness. And at the same time, this speaker recaptures the finest low-level musical details, allowing the listener to see into, rather than just look at, the performance. All other speakers that I've heard to date (except for the Monoliths and Divas) create a "haze" over the music, effectively separating the listener from the performance. This typically causes loss of clarity and immediacy in quiet passages, as well as constriction and "sonic backup" at higher volume levels.

The Matrix 801 does not discriminate between good and bad...it bares all. The non-musical aspects of performance (background noise, instrumental key noise, turning pages, etc.) can really place the listener into the recording session, something made all too clear to us during a playback of Andrew Litton's recent recording of Mahler's First Symphony. We were listening to Andrew's audition copy of the master tape, when a couple of my colleagues detected a bass-drum roll not in the score. When we ran the tape back, and listened again, that bass-drum roll was clearly a rather loud truck outside the hail...something that infuriated Andrew, especially since the sessions had been monitored with a pair of older B&W 801s. According to him, this was not at all audible during session playbacks (and we were only listening to a cassette dub of the master!).

I am also now discovering new tidbits of musical information in many of my recordings that shed new light on the quality of performance. Several recordings, that I had previously thought were musically flawless, have now become less than perfect. In Frederick Fennell's performance of Holst's First Suite in E flat for Military Band, with the Cleveland Symphonic Winds, I have discovered a very soft, but magically effective suspended cymbal roll during the first movement, used by the composer as a precursor to the following snare drum roll. Having not heard this through previous speakers, and thinking that the 801s were producing some aberration, I checked the score, and sure enough, there was the cymbal roll. Another interesting but heretofore unidentified aspect of Fennell's performance came to light with the euphonium solo (introduction of the second theme), also in the first movement. Before the 801 Matrix, I thought that I heard a tonally vague, not very well played euphonium. But now, I could detect two euphoniums (the score calls for only one...for some reason Fennell opted to double the solo part), which were neither together nor in tune. While this might not be very important, nor of any interest to the average listener, it serves as an example of the low-level musical detail retrieval capabilities of the Matrix 801.

This speaker's low- and midbass reproduction are the most accurate I've heard so far. While some other products (such as the Infinity IRS, RS-1b, and KEF R107) probably supply more quantities of bass, the harmonic integrity, texture, and overall quality of low-frequency reproduction is considerably more realistic with the 801 Matrix. Edward Skidmore, another National Symphony colleague (double bass) and member of our musicians' audio listening group, flatly stated that the Matrix 801 was the finest speaker he had heard that reproduces the double bass accurately. He went on to point out that the bass does not sound like a low cello, or any other stringed instrument for that matter. According to Ed, each particular bass has its own unique sonic qualities that, until the new 801, had been lost.

The same must also be said for my instruments, the bassoon and contrabassoon. With this speaker, I can not only determine what manufacture of instrument the musician is playing, but the vintage as well (ie, the darker, more open and focused 7000 series vs the duller, fatter-sounding 10,000-series Heckel bassoons; the lighter, clearer, but less impactful-sounding prewar Heckel contrabassoons vs the fatter-sounding, more resonant postwar models). While many other speakers provide the listener with accurate bass attack, no others, that I have heard, reproduce the decay of low frequencies as well as the Matrix 801. This important information supplies the listener with the harmonic and textural components of low instrumental tonal propagation. Additionally, this helps to define the space in which the performance is taking place, since decay time of omnidirectional low frequencies is one of the key elements in determining the spatial dimensions of the recording venue.

54 Concord St.
North Reading, MA 01864-2699
(978) 664-2870

Jason P Jackson's picture

The 801s2 is the device which at once, upon first listen, made me understand what
a."holographic imaging" and "soundstage" was
b. why we have 2 channels
c. why they call this thing "High Fidelity".