Dr. AIX's POSTS NEWS — 25 October 2015

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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.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(16) Readers Comments

  1. Up until 1999 I’d been replacing my speakers approximately every two years. I then bought a pair of B & W DM 602 S2s – I’ve still got them. I keep meaning to upgrade but the B & W sound is so alluring it will have to be to another pair of B & W speakers. The problem is, to be a significant upgrade it will have to be the diamond series. However, since I do most of my music listening through headphones I just can’t justify the price.

  2. Mark- I was at this year’s Axpona in Chicago. Don’t you
    feel the big Revel speakers are as good or better than
    any B&W speaker – old or new?

    • I don’t think I would say that. The Revel Salon IIs were fabulous and are less expensive than the B&W 800D3s…but I’d have to do a side by side comparison.

  3. B&W put a lot of research and engineering into their new 800 D3 line of speakers. I have listened to the 800 D3 and found it to provide clarity in the mid-range and solid bass in the woofers. However, I also found the diamond tweeter to sound a little hot with sizzle in the upper frequencies which could lead to listener fatigue. The 800 D3 cost a considerable $15k which places it in a category where there are other very desirable speakers.

    • I meant to say 803 D3, not 800 D3.

    • Boy, I’ve never found the diamond tweeter anything but clear and transparent. And I’ve done hours of listening to them when I had a demo roon setup. They are expensive…and I need 5.

    • Hiker, I’ve heard comments like this (brightness of sound) about B&W and the diamond tweeters over the years. However, I have a different angle on the issue.

      My sense is, as Mark says, these tweeters (and those by other reputable science-based companies using other high-rigidity metals, beryllium…) allow accurate reproduction beyond the audible high-frequency. In testing, SOTA speakers like the B&W do not inappropriately bias the high frequencies but lay bare what is on the recording.

      As Mark says, the capabilities of the hardware are ahead of the content providers. Well recorded realistic music will be reproduced beautifully while questionable content could indeed sound overly bright or sibilant. I don’t think it is an issue with the diamond tweeter and in fact, I hope more audiophiles recognize this fact… Personally I would take an ACCURATE pair of speakers capable of demonstrating the harshness of suboptimal recordings than rolled-off tweeters incapable of high frequency extension and dynamics any day. Better to tune with EQ/room correction to personal taste in my perspective.

      • You make a great point…one that I hadn’t actually considered previously. The production of audio in the analog era and the use of equipment that might not have been as capable means that accurate recordings done in the digital era and mixed/mastered on high-end capable speakers might account for the perceived excess of HF information. Interesting.

      • My ears have always preferred the accuracy and natural smoothness of fabric soft dome tweeters.

        • I would have to agree with the people and designers at JBL and B&W, that their special composite tweeters are doing something very accurate and great sounding.

          • Transparency in the highs depends on amplifier’s settling time. Polyester tweeter is the best sounding.

  4. I have many comments.

    First, it is unfathomable to me why B&W discontinued the 801 model. To me, there’s a huge gap in the line between the 802 and 800. What do they have against a single woofer? The current 800D sounds so much better than the 802D but one may not need all the bass extension of the 800D and an 801 would be the Goldilocks model that is “just right” in terms of price/performance.

    I share your love of vintage B&W. I’m still using a pair of 801 Matrix 2s that I got new in 1987. I don’t recall whether your Matrix III speakers came with a bass alignment filter. If they did, do you use it? I replaced the stock filter on mine first with a Golden Flute filter then switched to Anodyne. My Anodyne filter just died and I’m running them straight. I still have the B&W filter, but never liked the sound but I’m not 100% happy with the bass without the filter, though they still sound great. I was going to replace them with the 800D when they announced the 3D series. I’m not sure I can wait until next spring for the 800D3 (or the 801D3 that will probably never exist). Is the 3D series such a huge improvement over the D Series to warrant waiting? Can you comment on the sound of the 802D3 compared to the 802D (which I found to be a little harsh compared to the 800D which I love).

    • The 800D3 won’t be available until the spring, I think. The 802D3 were really great…but since I can’t afford either the 802 or 800 D3s, I’ll just wait to hear the new flagship.

      • I still smell a large dent coming to the Waldrep credit line in the near future.

        Couldn’t really afford the new Hsu Research 5.1 system I got last week, but it WAS worth it. 😉

        • Not going to happen…

  5. Thanks for these initial thoughts on the 802 D3. I look forward to more on them. Love my Nautilus 801s (c. 1999) still. I had auditioned the 802 D2 and decided it was not enough of a jump in sound to switch. (And in the interim I moved to Classe amplification which added a new layer of enjoyment to the old warhorses! The new D3s though, that is an entirely different matter. Many design changes in there and some rather impressive spec improvements vis-a-vis the 801s. Will be auditioning them for sure.

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