B&W Matrix 801 Series 2 loudspeaker Page 6

And speaking of pitch definition, this is where most speakers fail miserably. Instruments and voices have (or should have) tonal centers that are clearly heard in live performance. But so many speakers scramble this, representing tonal pitch centers on either the high or low side of the sound, producing overly bright or dull sonic distortions (overly sharp pitch appears to the ear as brighter; low pitch as duller). And with most speakers, this pitch distortion is not consistent: characteristics change with each separate driver, causing frequency-related colorations (this is one advantage of full-range electrostatics). The Matrix 801 is dead on, giving the listener a completely undistorted view of pitch focus and intonation, regardless of instrumental range or vocal tessitura.

The new 801 also allows the listener to follow individual instrumental and vocal lines into and through complex passages. This is not achieved by artificially boosting the upper midrange or high frequencies (as some other products do), since it remains consistent for instruments through the contra octave of bass. Compared with the Matrix 801 in this area of musical reproduction, most other dynamic loudspeakers sound unclear, congested, and amorphous.

Everyone who has heard the Matrix 801 Monitors has unconditionally stated that they hear more music than ever before. Some have felt that they hear too much, and would rather be left a little more in the dark. I don't. But it's interesting to note that, ever since my musical colleagues first heard the 801s, the topic of discussion during rehearsal breaks and concert intermissions at the National Symphony has revolved around "those fantastic new speakers that Lipnick has." I even overheard a few of them muttering something about how they could try to justify buying a $4500 pair of loudspeakers.

As I mentioned earlier, this speaker has no major shortcomings per se. However, since it is so revealing of source material and ancillary electronic weaknesses, the upper midrange and lower high frequencies can become a bit much. Compact discs that suffer from excessive digititis, as well as those electronics that contain enough grain to build a beach, will be unlistenable on these speakers. For those reasons alone, I cannot understand why the B&W engineers have deleted the environmental balance control on the rear of the midrange/tweeter head assembly that was standard with both the earlier 801 and 802 speakers. This control effectively allowed the listener to attenuate or boost the mids and highs according to personal taste, room acoustics, and associated equipment. Although it might be cheating, in some cases a slight degree of lost clarity may be preferable to an ear bleed, and might also make this product more saleable to people with less than perfect ancillary equipment.

My other reservations are strictly practical. The very awkward procedure required to disconnect the bridge inputs for bi-wiring is unnecessary. There must be a better way. And those horrible input connectors really should be replaced with something more consistent with a product of this caliber.

In my opinion, the B&W Matrix 801 Monitor represents the pinnacle of current full-range dynamic loudspeaker design. It does not have the "see-through" transparency of the best electrostatics, and can sound forward and hard. Because it is so ruthlessly revealing, it may not be the speaker for everyone. But it is the first such product to convince me that it might eventually be possible to accurately reproduce live music. Do not audition this speaker with anything less than the finest source material and electronics—you will be wasting your time. And as good as this speaker is, I am sure that there are plenty of lunatic-fringe audiophiles who will find it unexciting and boring. So be it. But if you are searching for the emotional involvement only live performance can provide, and are willing to live with absolute sonic honesty, then the B&W 801 Series 2 Matrix Monitor is, musically, the end of the road.

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".