B&W Matrix 805 loudspeaker Page 2

The wonderfully rhythmic quality of the 805s was best heard on The Commitments soundtrack (MCA MCAD-10286). Catch the raspiness of Andrew Strong's voice belting out "Guess you got to put your flat feet on the ground" in the chorus of "Mustang Sally." The 805s kept Strong's great lungs at the forefront, never allowing them to be drowned out by the band's tight drums, horns, and piano work. Everything integrated with a tight, driving rhythm. The 805s performed the same magic for my favorite classical LP, Shostakovich's Symphony 6 and The Age of Gold Suite, both with Leopold Stokowski and the Chicago Symphony (RCA LSC-3133). These minimonitors delivered a wall of sound. The LP's wide dynamic range and the music's wonderful rhythms came through clearly, more so than with the comparison speakers. Furthermore, the soprano saxophone stood out in space, separate from the massive orchestral fabric. The 805 also captured, in part, the dynamic range of the powerful bass drum in Owen Reed's "La Fiesta Mexicana" (Fiesta, Reference RR-38CD).

These observations on the B&W's impressive bass and dynamic range suggested that the 805s might even play what Corey Greenberg calls "real music." Out came my Metallica CD (Metallica, Elektra 61113-2). I used the Krell remote to cue up "The Unforgiven." This was played with tight, clean, quick rhythms, preserving the detailing needed to discern the band's drums and acoustic and electric guitars. This was definitely goosebump territory—I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I didn't even miss my Quads...much.

But I had to press on, and pulled out Jeff Beck's "Behind the Veil" again—Terry Bozzio's rimshots, kickdrum, and drumheads, and Tony Hymas's synthesizer, were all reproduced with plenty of dynamics, and didn't interfere with the cymbal shimmer. I've only heard this level of resolution and dynamics when the Quad ESL-63s are run with a subwoofer. Of the minimonitors I have heard, only the 805 has been able to play Metallica and Jeff Beck in my larger listening room.

Midrange reproduction was fast, clean, and free of nasal or honking qualities. Harry Connick, Jr.'s voice on "I Don't Get Around Much Anymore" had just the right timbre, without sounding tubby or nasal, on track 6 of the When Harry Met Sally... soundtrack (Columbia CK 45319). And the 805 captured cymbal sheen and trumpet sharpness as well as any minimonitor in the comparison (as on Wynton Marsalis's Standard Time Vol.3: The Resolution of Romance CD, Columbia CK 46143).

The 805 made it possible to distinguish the tonal characteristics of the amplifier driving it. The Mark Levinson No.27.5 played with vividness, speed, and bass definition. The Krell KSA-250 had much more bass slam, and robust orchestral timbres. The Woodside M-50 tube monoblocks were exceptionally smooth, and generated a wider soundstage than the two solid-state stereo amps. I preferred the No.27.5, which produced a synergistic match in terms of definition, imaging, and power of bass response.

The 805's high end was extended and very open. This is the only minimonitor besides the Sonus Faber Extrema (if one can get away with calling that large two-way a mini!) that has sounded to me as if it had no upper limit for reproduction. This contributed greatly to the sense of space and air around instruments, and seemed to impart much more spatial information than did some of the other small two-way loudspeakers. This was evident in the soundstage depth and width achieved in the Holst "Chaconne," played by the Dallas Wind Symphony under Howard Dunn (Reference RR-39CD), showing just how well the 805s could image. The 805s created a seamless sonic image of the chorus spread across the soundstage behind José Carreras in the opening Kyrie of Misa Criolla (Philips 420 955-2). The "Well done!" at the end of JA's recording of Anna Maria Stanczyk playing the Chopin Scherzo in b-flat, Op.31 (track 10 on the original Stereophile Test CD) came from the extreme left, further substantiating the 805's excellent ability to re-create the sonic image of a soundstage.

Like the Totem 1, the B&W 805 has a price tag high enough to make one question the ratio of speaker size to cost. Though larger than the other two minimonitors reviewed this month, its asking price of $1600 still seems high. (The total suggested retail can reach $2000 when one adds in the $400 cost of the Sumiko Franklin and Lowell stands, and even higher if the $675 Targets are used.) Many three-way full-range loudspeakers in retail audio stores have lower price tags.

However, the B&W 805s fit right into the high-end marketplace, where sonic qualities are worth more than sheer size and weight when it comes to judging a product's value. The 805s' imaging and highly rhythmic bass exceeded the performance of many floor-standing models I've auditioned in my listening room. The B&W's top end was open and transparent, so much so that I started to doubt my Quad ESL-63s. The 805's tweeter is almost in a class by itself. The speaker's powerful bass is tight without being as room-filling as that of some expensive minimonitors, even with the bass filter in the signal loop.

The B&W 805 is a neutral, well-rounded loudspeaker that plays without drawing attention to itself. It images well, and is much more open and has a more powerful bass response than the Sonus Faber Minima. Similarly, it is more open than the Totem Model 1, but lacks that speaker's depth of room-filling bass. The 805 benefited greatly from the use of solid-state amplification, bi-wiring, and such topnotch stands as the Franklin and Lowells or Targets. If you require a small, highly accurate, low-distortion, transparent speaker but aren't quite ready for the special demands of electrostatics, put the B&W 805 high on your list for an audition.—Larry Greenhill

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