PMC DB1i loudspeaker Robert J. Reina, April 2010
Following Mikey Fremer's favorable review of the PMC DB1i bookshelf loudspeaker in the December 2009 issue, Messrs. Fremer and Atkinson asked that I give the DB1i ($1929/pair) a listen to hear how it compared with other affordable bookshelf models I've recently auditioned. For the most part I agree with Mikey's findings. "The PMC DB1i is a cannily designed, musically satisfying minimonitor," he concluded, adding "along with a response that was subjectively smooth for such a small two-way, the DB1i was among the least congested small speaker I've heard." I enjoyed the time I spent listening to a broad range of music through the PMCs.
In particular I loved the sense I had of uncolored midrange bloom with the DB1i, especially the lower midrange. The speakers reproduced gobs of detail in this region, and their ability to re-create ambient hall sound made them an excellent match for well-recorded orchestral works. Philip Glass's music for the Godfrey Reggio film Naqoyqatsi (CD, Sony Classical SK 87709) is heavily scored in this frequency range, with many trombones, violas, and cellos. (The piece is essentially a cello concerto written for Yo-Yo Ma and the Philip Glass Ensemble.) The PMCs re-created this recording's big, blowsy, liquid sound, and reproduced Ma's instrument in silky, resonant splendor. Similarly, when playing Helmut Rilling and the Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra and Chorus's recording of Penderecki's Credo (CD, Hnssler 98.311), the speakers breathed linearly, with excellent bloom and high-level dynamics. As Fremer pointed out, the speaker subtly highlights the high-frequency presence region, and this gave the trumpets in this recording a nice, golden bite that I found quite attractive. I noticed a similar effect on Miles Davis' trumpet in "Surrey with the Fringe on Top," from his Walkin' (CD, Prestige VICJ-60128).
The PMC's tweeter also rendered the high frequencies of woodwinds quite naturally. Tara Helen O'Connor's flute in John Zorn's Orphée, on Mysterium (CD, Tzadik TZ8018), had a pristine, shimmering quality that rendered it as vibrant contrapuntal foil to the busy percussive transients in this chamber work. But the DB1i's highlighting of the presence region never once interfered with the delicate balance of violin recordings. The five string instruments in the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival recording of Tomiko Kohjiba's Transmigration of the Soul, from Festival (CD, Stereophile STPH007-2), were silky and liquid, with just the right amount of bite. I was also impressed with the hall acoustic that the PMCs extracted from this recording.
Given Mikey's comments about the DB1i's bass performance, I also spent a good bit of time listening to that end of the audioband. Fremer felt that what there was of the PMC's low frequencies deviated from neutrality more than did his Wilson Audio MAXX 3s, and in a way that was consistent with other transmission-line designs he'd heard. Although I haven't had a transmission-line speaker in my listening room in a long while (the most recent was an older Bud Fried model), I've listened to quite a few affordable speakers over the years, most of them ported, and I thought the PMC's bass reproduction was quite lifelike over a wide range of music.
As Kraftwerk was purported to use PMC speakers as studio monitors, I cued up "Man/Machine," from their Minimum/Maximum (CD, EMI ASW 60611). The electronic bass-synth transients had great speed and uniform clarity, with forceful high-level dynamics. However, if I can make any criticism of this speaker, it would be of its lack of bass extension: I've heard other affordable bookshelf speakers that go deeper than the PMC DB1i. For example, the electronic bass percussion in the Kraftwerk track didn't have as much slam as the bass synth, and seemed a bit tamed in the mix. Listening through other speakers to orchestral works, such as Antal Dorati and the London Symphony Orchestra's recording of Stravinsky's The Firebird (CD, Mercury Living Presence SR 90226), I've heard the otherwise timbrally natural bass drum shake the room more during fortissimo passages.
I'm nitpicking here; with some recordings, the bass extension was not lacking in the least. With "Aurora," from John Hassell's Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street (CD, ECM 2077), there was quite a bit of energy below 65Hz from both the electric bass guitar and the electronic bass samples. The PMC produced a thundering presentation of this recording's bottom end, and I found it easy to distinguish between these instruments' contributions.
But the acid test of a bookshelf speaker's bass is in the midbass. The PMC rendered Al McKibbon's perky walking-bass line in "Shuffle Montgomery," from Herbie Nichols' The Complete Blue Note Recordings (CD, Blue Note CDP 859352 2), as clean, crisp, and natural, with no trace of lag or overhang.
I could hear why PMC speakers have proved popular with rock musicians: The senses of coherence and rhythmic pacing were quite convincing with well-recorded rock music. (I felt I got the most coherent sonic picture by leaving the DB1is' grilles on, which didn't reduce the speakers' presentation of detail or alter their tonal balance.) The acoustic and electric instruments in the title track of Taylor Swift's Fearless (CD, Big Machine BMRATS0200) were well integrated, with good senses of pacing, slam, and drive.
Comparisons: I compared the PMC DB1i ($1929/pair) with two of my favorite bookshelf speakers, the Dynaudio Excite X12 ($1200/pair, which I reviewed in March 2010) and the Linn Majik 109 ($1590/pair, reviewed in May 2009):
The Dynaudio Excite X12 rendered more inner detail in the midrange than the PMC DB1i, with longer decays of notes and a greater sense of room ambience. The X12's highs were sweeter and silkier, and it lacked the PMC's subtle HF enhancement of the presence region. The Dynaudio's bass seemed a bit warmer than the PMC's, and extended somewhat deeper as well.
The Linn Majik 109's renderings of midrange detail and ambience were very similar to the Dynaudio's, and its highs had even more silky detail than either the PMC's or the Dynaudio's. Of the three, the Linn's highs were the most delicate. Of the three speakers, the Majik 109 also had the deepest bass and the most forceful high-level dynamics.
I concur with Mikey Fremer: PMC has created a fine, musical, and revealing package in its little bookshelf model, the DB1i. It should be seriously considered by anyone shopping for a pair of speakers at or near its price.Robert J. Reina