Old Speakers, Up or Down, Improved Sound

How Old is Too Old?
I have been considering buying a pair of B&W Matrix 801 Series 3 speakers. Sonically, I am impressed, but the speakers were produced in 1990, and I am not sure if $2000/pair is a good investment, age-wise. I just don't know how much life is left in them. The current owner says he mostly plays music at a low level. Is anything I could check on my own, apart from auditioning, that can give me a clue in terms of how the speakers have aged and what's to come?

Vladimir Kozyrev

The only potential problem I can think of is that the surrounds, which attach the outer perimeter of the drivers to their frames, might degrade over time, depending on the material they're made of and the conditions in which the speakers have been kept (temperature, humidity, etc.). A friend of mine has a pair of Matrix 801 Series 3 speakers, which he bought when they were first introduced, and he has had no problem with them to this day. Assuming you can audition them to make sure there's nothing wrong—and that you like the sound—I'd say $2000/pair is a good investment.

Up the Down Staircase
I have a 4- or 5-year old Sony Grand Wega 50-inch rear-projection TV. I have it hooked up to an HTPC with nVidia video card that sends the signal to the TV at its native resolution of 1366x768. We movies we've rented on the HTPC's DVD player or from our home servers if we own the DVD and have ripped it.

We cannot afford a new TV right now, so do you think we would notice an improvement in picture quality if we had a Blu-ray player for the PC and watched Blu-ray discs? I realize we will experience the true benefit when we get a 1080p display, but will we see an improvement with our current TV compared with upconverting standard DVDs?

Matthew Hoag

I think you would see a noticeable improvement in the picture. Instead of scaling up from standard-def DVD, you'll be scaling down from 1080p Blu-ray, which will undoubtedly look sharper. It won't be as big an improvement as it would if you were watching on a 1080p display, but it would be an improvement.

Room for Improvement
I have a Pioneer DV-610 DVD player that I use to play DVDs and CDs. I have it connected to an Onkyo TX-SR604 A/V receiver. For movies, I use Paradigm 7.1 Cinema speakers in zone 1, and for music, I use a pair of Mordaunt-Short 902i bookshelf speakers in zone 2. I'm happy with the way the system has performed in both zones, especially zone 2, but the audiophile in me is certain that the 2-channel performance in zone 2 can be improved and taken to the next level.

The DV-610 is connected to the receiver with 1m Monster 400i interconnects ($40). Will I hear an improvement in sound in my zone 2 speakers if I upgrade to 0.5m Monster M1000i ($100) or AudioQuest Copperhead ($80) interconnects? Would you suggest any other interconnects? I cannot audition cables in my area, so I must buy them sound unheard.

Also, will adding a dedicated CD player like the Cambridge Audio Azur 550C or 650C to the above system improve the 2-channel audio performance in zone 2? The Pioneer has 192kHz/24-bit DACs, but I still feel that it's primary design goal is to play DVDs, not CDs.

George Denver

I believe that exotic cables do not make enough difference in sound quality for me to justify spending lots more money on them. Also, your system is on the budget side, which means you'll hear even less difference between cables, since the weak link is elsewhere. (You can most clearly hear the difference between cables in megabuck systems because the performance of each component is so good.) Thus, I don't think you'll hear much of a difference in zone 2 if you replace the interconnect cables.

As for the CD player, that might make a more noticeable difference, but will it be enough to justify buying a dedicated CD player? It probably wouldn't for me. I think the only way to take your zone 2 performance to the next level would be to install a dedicated system for 2-channel audio. Use the Mordaunt-Shorts and add a 2-channel integrated amp and CD player.

If you have a home-theater question, please send it to scott.wilkinson@sorc.com.

Robert Oder's picture

regarding the 801's:buy them, buy them, buy them! The surrounds should not be a problem at all. These speakers were made with excellent rubber surrounds, before B&W started using other materials for the surrounds. In fact, I did NOT upgrade to the newer B&W speakers just for this reason! I have a pair of series 2s and they still work perfectly!

CJ's picture

George, regarding your bookshelf speakers in the other room, you may want to also consider adding a subwoofer for the following benefits: You will get a fuller sound. The subwoofer crossover will take some of the 'stress' off of your mid/woofer drivers since the driver will start to roll-off below 100Hz or so depending upon the setting. This will also allow the bookshelf speakers to play louder if you want to.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

CJ, great comment! I should have mentioned this myself, but I'm glad you did.

KR's picture

VladimirI still prefer the sound of the Matrix 801 Series 2 and 3 to the newer Nautilus line which I have listened to at length. Though the nautilus line gives you more sound, I question its (801/802)coherence. Subjectively, it just does not sound as musical to me as the Matrix 801. I listened to them with McIntosh MC500 amps. The nautilus diamond tweeter seems to be a bit emphasized. The Matrix 801 S2 or S3 are excellent buys. Make sure you get sound anchor stands and if you get the series 2 be sure to get the bass alignment filter by Krell, B&W, or JPS Golden Flute - all of which extend bass response in the 801 down to a reported 17hz. Read the article on the Matrix 801 Series 2 in a online Stereophile article. There's a reason these were used as recording monitors at Abbey Road for a long time. These speakers honestly give you whats on the recording or source and nothing else. Make sure the tweeters have no dimples. Make sure they have consecutive serial numbers. Each speaker weighs 119lbs.

BRIAN NUNN's picture

Can you tell me the name of the color chart usedfor non reflective wall surfaces in home theaters.It was in your magazine recently but unfortunately someone has lifted my copy.Thankyou.Brian Nunn

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Brian, it's called the Munsell Neutral Value Scale. Get the matte-finish edition. It ain't cheap at over $50, but it's what I used for my home theater and Grayscale Studio, the video-testing lab of Home Theater and UAV. You can order it from:www.munsellstore.comorwww.cinemaquestinc.com/ideal_viewing.htm

Brad's picture

I don't think you have too much to worry about the age of the speakers. I do know that older speakers with some cheaper foam surrounds will easily rip and tear just by pushing in the speaker cone. But rubber surrounds are pretty durable, as long as they weren't "beatin'" over the years. http://www.cheapforme.com

THE MASTER's picture

2,000 for speakers , heck no. build yourself something else

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Building speakers is definitly not for the faint of heart, and it's unlikely that any DIY project will come anywhere near the sound quality of the B&Ws. Thus, $2000 for the pair is a good deal, since it would take anyone but a seasoned speaker designer and builder a really long time to achieve only a fraction of that performance.

Vernon Barnes's picture

I have been using the B&W 801 series 3's for many years and I agree with Scott W, they are a bargain at $2k. I paid $2500 for mine. I have complete confidence in the surrounds holding up. By the way I have mine on Sound Anchors spiked to the concrete slab floor. I also wired four 12" woofers on each side to the B&W crossovers. Whoa! Do you think I also need a sub-woofer?

panzrwagn's picture

Remember, the 801 S3s were one of the few speakers in 1990 that could legitimately claim "State of the Art". Their components and build quality were as good as could be had at the time. My only concern woould be the woofer surrounds, which are butyl rubber in this case - a very good thing for longevity. But, if they have had a lot of sun (UV) exposure that would be a problem. Otherwise, hell yeah. You can't get that much range, detail or dynamics for $2k anywhere else, and I'm sure they probably have at least another 20 years in them.

Mike White's picture

Many of the older speakers have a sound quality that is actually better than most of the speakers made today. One thing to bear in mind is that 'The fewer components in the crossover-the more accurate the sound'. Lots of the older high end two way speakers had only a simple capacitor between the woofer and tweeter. Speaker builders today spend lots of time designing ways to charge more for their product-not enough time on sound quality. Nobody can prove that exotic materials improve sound one bit. I'll put my old (1984) Klipsch Heresys up against any speaker of equal size made today-AND WIN! There is one little known California company that makes good speakers od basic design today called 'Legend Audio'. They only sell through dealers/installers and mostly out west. Check out: legendaudio.net. You'll be glad you did. Mike

phil's picture

Wait!!!!!!! Before you invest in those used speakers....go listen to the new line ofMartin Logan speakers using the Heil technology.They will be in the stores next month and with the money you save you can buy a new receiver or dolby processor......

Ed's picture

Can someone tell me what is the difference b/w 801 series 3 and 802 series 3? And which is better? I only can see the size and a drive more or less. What else? Thanks!

K. Reid's picture

Series 2 contained APOC (automatic overload protection circuitry) - primarily included as a protection from studio with powerful amps that could overload the speakers. Series 3 tweeters were revised I believe to ferrofluid cooling or neodymium. APOC was removed and deemed not needed for home use.The binding posts were also revised to a more conventional vertical stacked orientation unlike the older horizontal orientation. I also believe the crossover may have had some minor modifications.