I’ve been a fan of B&W speakers for a very long time. All of my recordings have been monitored and mixed using a matched set of B&W 801 Matrix IIIs, a very old set of speakers that used to be their top of the line…and that I still love. B&W’s 800 line is among the best selling in the world and the company can be justifiably proud of the continuing development of the line. The company has been very generous in the past in providing a full 5.1 surround set of the later 800D Diamond series for some of my demonstrations, which elevated the fidelity of my recordings beyond what I have in my own studio. In fact, the diamond tweeters qualify the 800 series to meet the JAS requirements for “Hi-Res Audio”. They can reproduce up to 38 kHz.
There is a B&W office just outside of Zurich in Schlieren. Fritz Fabig, the head of the operation, was kind enough to invite me to visit their office and audition a couple of different setups last Friday. It was a wonderful opportunity to finally meet Fritz (we’re interacted for years over the Internet and even done a project or two together), learn about the new technologies developed for the 800s, and share some thoughts on the high-resolution marketplace.
On Friday morning, I took a train from the main station in Zurich a few stops out of town to Schlieren where Fritz picked me up. We stopped and had lunch with his associate Martin before walking to the rather quiet, large office/warehouse building that house the B&W offices.
Fritz understands the realities of the high-end music business. He’s been involved for a few decades and seen the evolution of both the hardware and content. He knows how confusing and difficult it is to get the straight story on both. The latest technological developments that the 800 D3 line incorporates are incremental improvements in a line of speakers that were state-of-the-art when I acquired my first pair. But are these enhancements and the potential benefits they bring to the reproduction of sound really worth the engineering and manufacturing efforts it has taken to bring them to market?
Equipment manufacturers are ahead of the content providers…way ahead. When Fritz played the “Mujaka” track from The Latin Jazz Trio AIX recording through a new pair of 802D3 speakers using a Classe amplifier, the expected high-end percussion sparkle and clarity that characterizes this track (in fact the entire album) was immediately apparent. It was difficult to hear all of the high frequency partials associated with wind chimes, cymbals, and triangles without blur, distortion, or smear. This is where high-resolution PCM digital shines. Fritz and I both looked at each other and reveled in the reproductive ability of the new speaker design.
I played a couple of classical selections and then turned to John Gorka singing, “I Saw A Stranger With Your Hair” (a personal favorite) and a track that demonstrates the other end of the spectrum. Michael Manring’s ebowed, frettless bass, the sound of acoustic guitar, mandolin, and piano form a perfect accompaniment to John’s resonant baritone vocals. The B&Ws delivered everything that it is in the track. I listened at low volume and then turned things up. The sound was smooth, clear, expansive…especially noticeable in the low end…and provided the ideal support to my recordings.
Fritz gave me the corporate PowerPoint presentation on the 800 series to review. I’ve been through it briefly and will provide additional information on the engineering changes that B&W has applied to their flagship speakers, but for now all I can say is I’m still very much a fan of the company.