The Big Fat Ladies, flanked by the Altec A7's. In the rear: on shelves, from left, VPI Prime, Lenco GL-75 and Thorens TD-125; on top of rack, McIntosh MC-30's flanking Harmon Kardon Citation I and Chinese Preamp; on the shelves, my two McIntosh C-20's and Conrad-Johnson Premier 3 Preamps; in front, Conrad-Johnson MV75 amp flanked by Chinese Blue Velvet Preamp (with regulation diode tubes).
B&W Matrix 801 Mk I and Gotham GAC-1 Ultra Pro
Making the Rounds, Again
This past Sunday the same old crowd gathered again, this time a full house. VAS Stephen's wife, and electronic wizard Paul put in rare appearances. First, We first visited R on Long Island. Then it was a rare Sunday for Kevin to be available, and we all went to his house in the late afternoon.
Click pics to enlarge. Top, a pair of Bell 2122's flanking the Marantz 8B; Right, half way through lunch.
Altec A5 + 6V6 amps
R's stuff has not changed much since my last report (here). This time James sourced a pair of Bell 2122 and restored them for him (using teflon caps), so this pair in the pic is now R's, not mine, which I took back last time (for more on the Bell 2122, read here). All remarked that this pair did not sound quite as open as my pair, though still very good. Such are the vagaries of vintage gear restoration, or perhaps the caps are not yet broken in.
I brought with me my long time reference loudspeaker cable for horns (and most others), the Belden 9497 (reported here). I am not surprised that it sounded substantially better than R's lamp cords (literally). They are not coming out of the system.
A few meters of cable did not even begin to repay R's excellent lunch of Roast Pork and Home-Made Sausages, garnished by a wonderfully citric Apple and Fennel Salad tossed with honeyed walnuts, all washed down with an excellent vintage Chilean Shiraz at its peak. Magnifico!
I sincerely thank R for having us to lunch twice in a month! We have to think of more toys to keep him going...
The Return of B&W Matrix 801 Mk II
Click pics to enlarge. Top, the Appetizers, mostly Cold Dishes; Clockwise from 3 O'Clock, Bamboo Shoots, Pig's Ear, Beef with Tripe, Sausages and Fish, surrounding a very nice Merlot; Below Right, Addition of the Lamb Soup, served with Noodles.
Serendipity! After talking with Andy and I, Kevin had pretty much decided he'd like a pair of B&W Matrix 801. Our great leader Andy then happened to spot a pair for sale, and Kevin drove two hours to pick them up.
This is a pair of Mk II's in mint condition, with original boxes, and obviously well taken care of. They were inherited, which the seller then used for a while before re-boxing them.
The B&W 801 Mk II is one of the best loudspeakers I have heard (my experience). I am really glad that this pair is now in the possession of Kevin, as I'll get to hear it.
These as yet do not have proper stands. Kevin had improvised a pair of stop-gap stands which I am sure he will replace with something more suitable in due course.
At first, the sound as not at all close to what I know they are capable of. Well, these were placed very close and not elevated enough. I urged Kevin to move them further in room (in front of the Altec's) and have they wider apart, but for the day we only managed to have them a little more forward than in the pic, and even those few inches, which made the baffles clear the Altec enclosures, improved the sound.
The Chinese Blue Velvet Preamp, which works well with the horns (including at my place), proved to be less ideal for the system, now using CJ MV-75 amp. Things coarsened considerably at higher volume. The replacement CJ Premier 3 Preamp could play much louder. We tried several loudspeaker cables but settled with a pair of Straight Wire. But the most astonishing change came with swapping out the DIY cable between the preamp and amp for the Gotham GAC-1 Ultra-Pro I brought with me.
WOW! Now we are talking! The images fleshed out and the soundstage increased substantially in both depth and width, but the most impressive was the sheer coherence and liveliness. Andy turned around and said to me: "...just a cable change?"
Bass Alignment Filter They even came with the optional Bass Alignment Filter (read the very interesting treatise here), which we did not use on the day. Apparently, Kevin had briefly tried them out, reporting the result of less mid-bass. In Stereophile's review of the Matrix 801 Mk II, the reviewer deemed the use of the filter essential, but the same reviewer did not think it should be used in the more upscale 800 model that followed (here). Unlike Kevin's, my pair did not come with the filter, but the sound is already superb and full range to me. Being a tube preamp user, I'd be most hesitant adding the filter between the preamp and amp, but I surely would like to hear the effect at Kevin's. More fun (and articles) to come!
- B&W Matrix 801 One of the greatest loudspeakers ever made, and for baby boomers many of their favorite recordings were likely mastered using these as monitors. It is very revealing, but at the same time highly musical and authoritative. Personally, I regard the Matrix series as superior to the Nautilus and Diamond series that followed.
- Belden 9497 You never go wrong with the 9497. While I have never heard it sound bad with any loudspeakers, with horns they are simply the best. Next time, I'd like to try a double run to bi-wire the B&W 801.
- Preamp Choice While the Chinese Blue Velvet Preamp (simple circuit with basic power supply and simple diode regulation) performs well with our horns, it did not do so well with the B&W 801. Instead the much better built and regulated CJ Premier 3 (not a personal favorite) performed much better. To me, this re-inforces my belief that simpler (including vintage) preamps are better for horns whereas harder to drive loudspeakers demand more modern (highly regulated) preamps (see my thoughts in my Citation I article).
- Gotham GAC-1 Ultra Pro While I have never formally reported on this particular Gotham cable (previously mentioned here), I have used it a lot. To me, it is even cleaner and more detailed than the older GAC-2 and 4, not to mention the supremely musical DGS-1. The air and soundstage are tremendous. With the B&W 801 it sounds just perfect, but with horns it can sometimes be just a little too revealing. I have not tried the other more expensive Ultra Pro's, but I know some people in HK swear by them. Definitely worth a try.