Phase Technology PC80 loudspeaker Page 2

The PC80's tonal balance was fairly smooth through most of the midrange, but there was some coloration apparent in the bass as well as in the upper-midrange/treble region. Starting with the bass, it achieved remarkable extension for a cabinet of this size but tended to be underdamped and somewhat ill-defined. Bass lines were a little sluggish, creating a "rolling" sensation rather than a taut, crisp feeling. LF pitch resolution and articulation suffered, making it difficult to follow intricate bass lines. This was especially true in music in which the bass player tends to be melodic and conversational rather than creating a pulsating rhythm. The PC80s did, however, provide prodigious output in the low end for such a small loudspeaker, creating the impression of a much larger system. Many listeners will choose it for this reason.

The coloration in the upper bass gave an unnatural huskiness to female vocals and caused some left-hand piano notes on Dick Hyman Plays Fats Waller (Reference Recordings RR-33CD) to move forward. I noticed this coloration immediately with Dianne Reeves's vocal on David Benoit's This Side Up (En Pointe ENP 0001). In the first line, sung with minimum accompaniment, there is a low-frequency pop caused by a "p" sound with the vocalist very close to the microphone diaphragm. I've heard this track many times, but through the PC80s, the pop fairly jumped out at the listener. Her voice also took on a heaviness and bloat in her lowermost registers. To sum up the PC80's bass presentation: lots of low bass, a little threadbare in the upper bass, somewhat sluggish and ill-defined, and with one major peak. These are by far my most serious criticisms of the PC80s.

Most of the midrange was quite smooth and uncolored, with an "unboxy" quality. The flugelhorn on my own jazz recording was very well reproduced, with a rich, round character. The PC80s added a little bit of a sheen to the instrument that was not unpleasant. The upper midrange to lower treble tended to be a bit prominent, giving the presentation a forward rendering in this region. Saxophone seemed most affected, acquiring a somewhat thin and reedy sound rather than being big and full. Exacerbating this impression was the feeling that the lower midrange—where the meat and weight of many instruments lie—tended to be a bit thin and threadbare. The sax's "blat" component, which gives it its distinct rich quality, was somewhat lacking. The discrepancy between my impressions of the flugelhorn and sax indicate that the PC80's excessive upper-midrange energy (in relation to lower-midrange energy) is fairly high in frequency. The sax has a much more complex harmonic structure, with higher-amplitude upper-order harmonics.

This impression was supported by further listening. Cymbals assumed a slightly prominent, up-front position in the soundstage. The presentation tended to be a little etched and dry in the treble, with slightly hard textures. Sibilance tended to be aggravated by the PC80s, giving female vocals a slightly chalky character on "s" and "ch" sounds. However, I wouldn't characterize the presentation as hissy or sizzly. Instead, the brightness was lower in frequency rather than making the top octave etched. The mids were nicely detailed, with the ability to portray finely woven textures. Apart from these criticisms and the husky quality noted earlier, however, most vocal and other primarily midrange instruments were quite smooth and uncolored.

There is one area in which the PC80s excel and even compete with the best: imaging. They had a remarkable ability to throw precise, pinpoint images within the soundstage. Instrumental outlines never diffused, blurred, or overlapped. Instead, each instrument occupied a precise, focused location, spatially distinct from other instruments. In addition, the PC80s produced a very strong center channel, completely independent of the two loudspeakers on either side. Female vocals became pinpoint images that floated exactly in the soundstage center. There was no sense of lateral discontinuity in the soundstage: images were strong and precise no matter where they existed between the loudspeakers. Listen to the drum solo in "Misturada" from Three-Way Mirror (Reference Recordings RR-24CD). The location of each drum in the kit is resolvable within inches, and the center-channel palpability is remarkable. The PC80s were stunning in this regard, exceeding the performance of both the Spica TC-50s and Snell Type K/IIs.

Soundstage depth was good, but not as impressive as image specificity. The feeling of depth seemed to be better in the soundstage center than toward the sides. It was almost as though the soundstage were shaped like a triangle, pointed away from the listener. This impression really hit home with the excellent English Lute Song (Dorian DOR-90109). First listening to it through the PC80s, I heard Julianne Baird's voice to the left, with the gorgeous acoustic decaying between her and the lute. After switching to the TC-50s, the acoustic enveloped her, extending behind her and even to her left. The TC-50s produced a greater sense of space, conveying the recorded acoustic better. While the TC-50s excel in this regard, the PC80s were nevertheless superior to many other inexpensive loudspeakers in presenting space and hall size.

The Phase Technology PC80s are well-made, with considerable design effort apparently expended in their creation. In terms of construction quality and fit and finish, they are exceptional for a product in this price range. Musically, I found them satisfying for the most part, but with some specific criticisms. In their favor, the PC80s had a fairly smooth and soft upper treble that was relatively free of hardness and grain. The mids were nicely laid-back, but with some loss of body in the lower midrange and a tendency to be more forward in the upper midrange. Bass extension was excellent, and surprising for such a small enclosure. Finally, the PC80s were imaging champs: they could throw tightly focused instrumental outlines anywhere between the loudspeakers with authority and pinpoint precision.

On the downside, I was disturbed by the underdamped and somewhat sluggish bass that obscured pitch and articulation. Although the LF rendering was weighty and full in the lower bass, music lost some of its rhythmic drive as the bass line tended to roll along behind the music rather than propel the rhythm. In addition, bass output appeared to be greater in the lower bass than in the upper bass, accentuating the lowermost notes in relation to the overall low-frequency level. A slight midband nasality also tended to introduce a common tonal shading to some instruments.

Compared with the comparably priced Spica TC-50, which has almost become the benchmark for inexpensive loudspeakers, the PC80s had more lower-bass output with deeper extension, but at the expense of definition. The TC-50s had a more natural midrange presentation and a smoother, silkier treble rendering. Despite the PC80's slightly better focus of instrumental outlines, the TC-50s presented a more realistic sense of size and space.

Next to the Snell Type K/II, I preferred the PC80's softer treble, but felt the latter's midrange was more colored. Low-frequency definition was far superior through the Type K/II, despite its relatively less-well-extended lows. In terms of imaging, the PC80s took the prize. Although the Type K/IIs imaged fairly well, they didn't have the precise focus of the PC80s.

The bottom line? The PC80s are well worth an audition.