Phase Technology PC60 CA loudspeaker
The PC60 CA features the Absolute Phase Crossover that Phase Technology uses in all of its speakers. The topology, originally designed for home-theater speakers to ensure broad horizontal and vertical dispersion, is also designed to phase-align all drivers, acoustically and electronically, to maximize the precision of soundstaging and imaging. The new drivers designed for the PC60 CA include a patented 1" soft-dome tweeter woven of some synthetic material, and a 6.5" woofer with a flat solid piston made from a sandwich of RPF, glass, and Kevlar. Phase Tech claims that because solid-piston drivers don't exhibit the normal breakup modes, the entire front surface of the cone reproduces all frequencies in unison.
When I opened the carton and saw the PC60 CAs, I smiled broadly. The speaker is available in Oak or Black Oak, and the review samples were finished in the latterthey looked gorgeous. As I lifted the speakers from their carton and began fondling their fine cabinetry, their dark finish and rounded corners reminded me of my old Infinity RS-1Bs ($5500/pair), which were my reference speakers for more than 10 years in the 1980s and '90s, and are still making beautiful music for their third owner, somewhere in Germany.
I placed the Phase Techs on Celestion Si stands loaded with sand and lead shot. The PC60 CA's detailed, uncolored midrange presented supple, vibrant holographs of all well-recorded vocal music. I'm quite taken by jazz composer and orchestrator Maria Schneider's recent collection of vocal works, Winter Morning Walks: settings of poems by Ted Kooser composed for and performed by soprano Dawn Upshaw, who's more usually associated with such composers as Golijov, Górecki, and Harbison. Schneider conducts the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (CD, ArtistShare AS 0121). Through the Phase Techs, Upshaw's voice was silky and airy, with every facet of her unique phrasing intact. Rubén Albarrán's singing on Yo Soy, my favorite album by Mexican supergroup Café Tacuba (CD, Warner Bros. Latin 47374-2), covers a tremendous range of styles. His raspy, nasal, upper-register fortissimo screeches, as well as his husky lower register in the album's few silky ballads, were as realistic through the PC60 CAs as when I last saw Café Tacuba in concert.
The PC60 CA's transparency in the lower midrange made it a natural showcase for some of my favorite jazz recordings. I can't get enough of the ballads on John Coltrane's Stardust (CD, Prestige PRCD-30168), and his tenor saxophone's lower register just oozed with rich liquidity out of these diminutive bookshelf speakersI thought I was listening to much larger speakers. Likewise, I was taken with the woodiness of the lower register of Marilyn Crispell's piano on her Amaryllis (CD, ECM 1742), which, through the Phase Techs, had the long decay and sustain that I'm used to hearing only from more expensive speakers.
I was even more impressed with the PC60 CA's reproduction of high frequencies, which with all recordings I played were clean, clear, extended, and uncolored. In John Renbourn's Sir John Alot of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thyng & ye Grene Knyghte (CD, Shanachie 97021), every subtle articulation of the guitarist's technique was reproduced with clean transients, extended and ringing harmonics, and the woody resonance of the body of his acoustic flattop; and Ray Warleigh's flute was airy, but with just the right amount of metallic bite in its extended upper harmonics. And I loved mining my collection of orchestral recordings from Mercury Living Presence. Every oneespecially Smetana's Má Vlast, with Rafael Kubelik conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CD, Mercury Living Presence 434 579-2)was reproduced with the entire string section having a silky, velvety sheen, and without blunting a single bit of the violins' upper-register attacks.
The PC60 CA's high-frequency realism was a double-edged sword, however. In honor of composer John Zorn's 60th birthday, I overdid it by ordering two dozen of his recordings from my favorite music outlet, Downtown Music Gallery (www.downtownmusicgallery.com). I'm a fan of Zorn's film music, and all of the soundtrack work he's released in the past decade share an uncolored sonic realism and intelligent engineering. This birthday batch, however, included FilmWorks 19861990 (CD, Tzadik TZ 7314). Although it features an instrumental powerhouse of guitarists Bill Frisell and Robert Quine, and drummers Anton Fier and Bobby Previte, it also has considerable digital-processing glare and biting upper-midrange and lower-high frequencies. The PC60 CAs' reproduction of all of this diminished my ability to get involved in the music.
The PC60 CA's reproduction of the highs and its flawless articulation of transients made it an excellent match for recordings with demanding percussion transientssuch as "My Spine," percussionist Evelyn Glennie's solo on tuned car-exhaust pipes from Her Greatest Hits (CD, RCA Victor 47629-2). I was transfixed by percussionist Daniel Druckman's delicate, forceful, varied phrasing in George Crumb's Spanish Songbook 1: The Ghosts of Alhambra, from The Complete Crumb Edition, Vol.15 (CD, Bridge, 9335). The singer and players were spread across a wide, open, airy soundstage.
I enjoyed all classical recordingsthe Phase Techs' ability to render hall sound and high-level dynamic contrasts without strain made them a great match for demanding orchestral works. From notes taken as I listened to Dead Elvis, from Michael Daugherty's American Icons, with David Zinman conducting the London Sinfonietta (CD, Argo 458-145-2), read: "air, hall sound, ambience, drama. I feel like I'm in the room with the musicians." I was most impressed by the PC60 CAs' soundstaging with Louis Andriessen's De Tijd, with Reinbert De Leeuw conducting the Schînberg Ensemble (CD, Elektra Nonesuch 79291-2). In this work, most of the orchestra plays a sustained, slightly dissonant background texture as various percussion instruments pop out of thin air with loud thwacks. Through the PC60 CAs I clearly heard the precise location of each percussion instrument. The waveform of each percussion instrument excited the rear and side walls of the recording space differently, depending on its location on the stage, and the Phase Techs reproduced each instrument on a different-sounding, localized bed of air.
The PC60 CA's superbly defined, clean bass delivered an impressively dramatic reproduction of the bass drum in "Dog Breath Variations" and "Uncle Meat," from Frank Zappa's The Yellow Shark, with Peter Rundel conducting the Ensemble Modern (CD, Barking Pumpkin R2 71600). The Phase Techs also unraveled a great deal of detail in that densely orchestrated piece. I had never noticed the pianissimo banjo way down in the mix before, and I also noticed that the speakers clearly separated the opening bass line of "Uncle Meat," which is doubled by bassoon (Zappa's favorite instrument) and piano. I also found that the speaker's linear and subtle delineation of low-level dynamics gave well-recorded instrumental solos a high level of realism. With Susie Ibarra's percussion solos on her Radiance (CD, Hopscotch HOP2) and Dino Saluzzi's bandoneón solos on his Cité de la Musique (CD, ECM 1616), each virtuoso's unique phrasing shone through the PC60 CAs.
Finally, I loved the Phase Tech's coherent presentations of rhythm sections in jazz and rock recordings. In Saudades by Trio Beyond, with guitarist John Scofield and organist Larry Goldings, Jack DeJohnette is clearly the driver of the rhythm in "Pee Wee," the tribute to Tony Williams (CD, ECM 1972/73). From my notes: "Groove!" I had a similar reaction to DeJohnette's interaction with bassist Dave Holland on pianist Geri Allen's The Life of a Song (CD, Telarc Jazz CD-83598).
I can't think of a more versatile drummer than Andy Newmark. Although probably best known for playing in that iconic session when Keith Richards first played with Ronnie Wood, he also played on John Lennon's last two albums, Carly Simon's Anticipation, and with Sly and the Family Stone and Pink Floyd. My favorite Newmark performance is on Roxy Music's Avalon (CD, Virgin 47460 2). I listened to the entire album through the Phase Techs, and Newmark's driving rhythms kept my toes tapping the whole time.2
With an audiophile friend, I spent an entire day in a marathon listening session in which we compared the Phase Technology PC60 CA ($1400/pair) to four other speakers: the Dynaudio Excite X12 ($1200/pair when last offered), the Epos Elan 10 ($1000/pair), and two others I'm now reviewing for future issues of Stereophile.
The high frequencies through the Epos Elan 10 were as detailed as the Phase Tech PC60 CA's, but silkier and less prominent. The Epos exceeded the excellent performance of the PC60 CA in lower-midrange detail and low-level dynamic gradations. However, I preferred the Phase Tech's bass extension and high-level dynamics.
The Dynaudio Excite X12's midbass was slightly warmer than the Phase Tech's, and I preferred the PC60 CA's dynamic capabilities and resolution of detail. Although the Excite X12 was well balanced, with crisply realistic highs, I felt the Phase Tech's highs were still more delicate and detailed. My audiophile friend enjoyed listening to all five speakers that day, but had a special fondness for the PC60 CA for the exciting immediacy of its sound.
Right now, the market in bookshelf speakers costing $1000$1500/pair is hotly competitiveI've heard quite a few impressive contenders in that range, including the two I used as references for this review. Even so, Phase Technology's $1400/pair PC60 CA stands out from the pack. In fact, I strongly recommend that anyone shopping for bookshelf speakers costing up to $2000/pair place these near the top of his or her list. I regret having waited so long to listen to a Phase Technology loudspeakerI'll be sorry to see the PC60 CAs go.
Footnote 1: Robert Harley reviewed the Phase Technology PC-80 in the January 1991 issue (Vol.14 No.1). Lonnie Brownell reviewed the PC-80 Mk.II in December 1995 (Vol.18 No.12) Both reviews are reprinted at www.stereophile.com/standloudspeakers/191phasetech/index.html">.
Footnote 2: Mark Flynn, the drummer in my jazz quartet, Attention Screen, spent a few weeks in the UK a while back in a marathon one-on-one training session with Newmark. He emerged from that intensive playing at a level even higher than beforesomething I hadn't thought possible. Since then, Mark and Newmark have become good friends.