Phase Technology PC80 loudspeaker Robert Harley September 1991
In the January issue I reviewed the $650/pair Phase Technology PC80 loudspeakers and found them to offer good performance for their modest price. The PC80s are solidly built (1"-thick cabinet), attractive (real wood veneer), and had some special musical qualities not normally found at this price level. In particular, they had smooth tonal balance and the ability to throw a large soundstage with pinpoint images. In fact, the PC80s were one of the best-imaging speakers I'd auditioned in my listening room. My primary criticism, however, was their underdamped bass. They had deep extension for such a small speaker, but the bass lacked definition and detail. It was somewhat sluggish, making the bass appear to lag behind the rest of the music. In view of its overall performance, however, the PC80 earned a Class D recommendation in Stereophile's "Recommended Components."
In their response to my review, Phase Tech raised several points. The first was that by measuring the PC80 with the grille off, some frequency-response bumps were seen that are not there with the grille on. Contrary to the implication in the manufacturer's response, however, all the auditioning was performed with the grilles on. Phase Technology also complained that I failed to mention their subwoofer, the $550 PC-90, made for use with the PC80s. Since I liked the PC80 quite a bit apart from the bass presentation, they suggested I audition the PC-90/PC80 combination.
I'd spent the previous seven weeks listening to the Muse Model 18 subwoofer with the Hales System Two and System Two Signatures, a tough act to follow. It was immediately apparent that the PC-90/PC80 combination was in a completely different league from the Muse/Hales. I found the presentation lackluster and uninvolving. Though the upper bass region sounded thin and lacked body, there was sufficient output in the bass (30–80Hz) to give the presentation a somewhat boomy character. Attenuating the high-pass signal by 3dB with the switch helped, but not enough to give the presentation enough upper-bass meat.
This leanness, coupled with a low-frequency boom, was an unpleasant sensation because the presentation's low-frequency component seemed detached and not musically related to the rest of the music. In addition, the bass lacked any sense of bounce or dynamics, making the presentation seem "flat." I don't use this word in an amplitude vs frequency sense, but to convey an undynamic, cardboard-like character. The entire low-frequency region sounded pinched and constricted, robbing music of life and vitality. To top it off, there was virtually no sense of pitch: individual bass notes all seemed to have the same tonality.
Remembering how much I liked the PC80s, I was surprised at how uninvolving the presentation was. I was also concerned that I was being overly critical of the PC-90 after living with the superb (and nearly five times the price) Muse Model 18 subwoofer. I thus disconnected the PC-90 and listened to just the PC80s.
What a difference! I experienced something I hadn't felt with the PC80/PC-90 combination: enjoyment of the music. The PC80s were far more musical and involving on their own than with the PC-90. The bounce returned to the bass, along with some sense of pitch, and the entire presentation took on a lively, unfettered quality. Although there was more extension and weight with the PC-90, the bass it produced detracted from rather than enhanced the presentation. After spending two days the previous week auditioning 10 pairs of low-cost loudspeakers, I gained a new appreciation for the PC80s; they're well-balanced little speakers.
I reiterate my recommendation for the PC80: it's a good little speaker. Those who find themselves wanting more extension and better LF definition than the PC80 offers would be better off, in my opinion, spending their money for a full-range system like the Vandersteen 2Ci, which is identically priced—$1195—to the Phase Technology speaker/subwoofer system.—Robert Harley