Phase Technology PC-60 loudspeaker
Design constraints are quite serious in this price range. Cabinet size is kept modest so that lumber and finishing costs are kept to a minimum. Driver quality and crossover complexity must be juggled so that no one design parameter is favored over the others. All of the speakers reviewed here use two drivers because two good drivers are better and usually cheaper than three mediocre ones-not to mention the simpler crossover required.
Unsurprisingly, none of the contestants I review this month comes close to state-of-the-art. To begin with, it is a given that no small speaker will produce deep bass. No one has yet found a way of circumventing that law of physics that says "To move lots of air, one needs a large radiating surface or extremely large cone excursions." Neither has anyone found a way of getting no-holds-barred sound from high-cost-barred drivers. "Budget" always involves significant compromise, beyond the compromises imposed by the laws of physics.
These cautions notwithstanding, several of these systems represent unusually well-advised sets of performance tradeoffs which add up to uncommonly good performance for the price.
Phase Technology PC-60
Judging by the excellence of the finish of our review samplesI love the light oak veneerthe two-way, sealed-enclosure PC-60 ($400/pair) would not appear to the product of a novice company. And indeed, Phase Technology has been in business for almost 30 years, most of this time under the name United Speaker Systems. When, then, aren't these names familiar to you? Well, because for all those years the company ahs been designing and fabricating loudspeakers for other manufacturers, starting in 1959 with Fisher Radio, and since then for McIntosh, Yamaha, Pioneer, ElectroVoice, Dynaco, and othersbrandnames well-known to all of us. Designer Bill Hecht, who, by the way, holds the US patent on the very popular soft-dome tweeter, must be one of the least-known "grand old men" of audio.
The novel woofer cone used in the PC-60 is a single, solid piece of expanded polystyrene foama material that combines great rigidity with a high degree of internal damping. The result is a "cone" that behaves much like an ideal piston radiator, with significantly reduced possibility of flexing and breakup. ("Breakup" is the term used to describe the tendency for a speaker diaphragm to vibrate in sections rather than as a whole. In breakup mode, adjacent areas of the cone vibrate in opposition to one another, with some segments moving outward when others move inward, and vice versa. This cause severe and selective phase cancellation at certain frequencies, raising merry Ned with the system's response linearity and radiation uniformity, and destroying its ability to image accurately.)
The "PC" in the model designation stands for "Phase Coherent," and the accompanying literature makes a great deal out of the system's phase linearity.
I am not convinced of this. It is true that the woofer's flat front face is in the same plane as the soft-dome tweeter, but this in itself does not guarantee a time-aligned design. In fact, it is usually a guarantee that the drivers are not time-aligned. Driver inertia and crossover phase shift must also be taken into account, and the correct driver placement is rarely that which outs them in the same plane.
On the other hand, I have found that phase coherency goes hand-in-hand with the ability to reproduce soundstage depth, and the PC-60s are excellent in that respect.
We tested two versions of the PC-60. The second sample came about partly because of criticisms we made of the first version. No surprise, therefore, that we liked the second version better. In the earlier speaker (serial numbers 3801 and below), the range covered by the unusual woofer was excellent, but above 2kHz there was a broad suckout extending from 2kHz to 10kHz. This had a drastic effect on tonal balance, making the system sound distant, lifeless, and fairly "blah." Brasses lacked the requisite bite and violins were so silky they sounded like violas. The timbres of all instruments were affected: the sound was dark and closed-in.
Fortunately, the second and current version of the PC-60 incorporates a revised crossover network, which greatly improves matters in the range above 2kHz. The portion of the frequency range handled by the woofer is still a delight. Mid-bass is quick, detailed, and remarkably clean, with no trace of boom or overhang.
Lower-midrange resolution, transparency, and focus are very good. This is perhaps one reason why the PC-60 does a better job of reproducing hall acoustics than any of the other small speakers I know of. The soundstage is wide, with good height and excellent depth.
The broad suckout of the first version is gone, but there are still some minor flaws above 2kHz, the most serious of which is a wiry quality noticeable on string overtones. There is also a slight brittleness to the sound that extends through the presence region (58kHz.) The upper treble lacks delicacy and is slightly closed-in and dark in nature, but these problems are not so great as to preclude a recommendation.
Phase Tech offers a separate subwoofer, with a built-in crossover, for a modest $250. Since the lower octaves of the PC-60 are already so good, the subwoofer does not make a night-and-day difference; it does extend the speaker's performance to a subjective 40Hz, which significantly augments the system's reproduction of orchestra. This same statement could be made with respect to using a subwoofer with the other speakers reviewed in this issue, though getting a good match is always difficult. The only problem I found with the Phase Tech subwoofer was an occasional instance of image wander.
Overall I find the PC-60 to be nicely balanced and eminently listenable. The lower range just beats the pants off the present competition. Enough saidthis speaker is highly recommended.
I can recommend my two top choices without hesitation to audiophiles on a tight budget. Of the speakers I review this month, the Fourier 6 and Phase Technology PC-60 emerge as clear-cut winners, with the Spendor LS3/5A running a not-too-close third. The PC-60 excels in the bottom octaves, while the Fourier 6 does better through the top range. At $400/pair, however, the PC-60 qualifies as the best biy among this group of speakers.