PMC DB1i loudspeaker Page 2

The DB1is sounded best about 9' apart, 8.5' from my listening position, and somewhat closer to the front and side walls than I'd had the Wilson MAXX 3s. I figured a little boundary reinforcement couldn't hurt the diminutive PMCs. They sounded best toed-in so that their tweeter axes converged behind my head.

A period of adjustment
There was one, of course, in going from the Wilson MAXX 3s—6'-tall behemoths capable of 20Hz performance, almost floor-to-ceiling soundstage height, and especially realistic dynamics—to the little PMCs, but it was shorter than you or I might have imagined. I spent the better part of the 1980s enjoying a pair of Spica TC-50s, which had pretty much nothing to give below 70Hz. But with imaging and soundstaging like that, who cared? Not I—and at that point, most of the music I listened to was hard rock and punk.

It didn't take me long to realize that, much like those Spicas, the little PMCs could produce an exceptionally large, deep, coherent soundstage that seemed in no way associated with the boxes themselves. Whatever was missing on the bottom, there was plenty to look at above.

With the Sooloos Music Server in its Swim mode (analogous to the iPod's Shuffle mode), there was no telling what was coming next as the computer mixed'n'matched the improbable and the ridiculous: Duke Ellington's "Perdido," from the 1940s, segued to U2's "Pride" to Johnny Taylor's "Little Bluebird" to Duffy's "Warwick Avenue" to Guns N' Roses' "Yesterdays" to Nick Drake's "Cello Song" to Howlin' Wolf's "Built for Comfort" to GÛrecki's Symphony 3 to Bob Dylan's "Highway 61."

Each of these familiar tunes, rather than being scaled down and diminished, I instead heard as reimagined in a credible edition that was seemingly complete. The Spica TC-50 may not have produced much below 70Hz, but the PMC DB1i clearly went rather deeper, digging out enough tuneful, reasonably well-damped bass to create a pleasing rhythmic foundation. I'm not talking about visceral bass but satisfying bass, with body and definition, aided in great part by the designer's smart choice to not boost the upper midbass and lower midrange. Instead, the transition from the speaker's lowest frequencies to the midrange was reliably clean and smooth, with just a hint of bloom that brought the lower midrange ever so slightly forward. The heart of the midrange was subjectively smooth and coherent, as was the mid/woofer's handover to the tweeter at 2kHz.

The tweeter's performance was mostly exemplary, with excellent dispersion and smooth off-axis response signified by total absences of grit, grain, and mechanical aftertaste. Highs were clean, fast, and delicately expressed. Sibilants were naturally rendered—neither too soft nor overetched. Over time, the only consistently noticeable high-frequency coloration I heard was what sounded like a narrow presence-region boost that added a delicate glisten, not fatigue-inducing brightness.

Tonally, the DB1i delivered a subjectively smooth, relatively uncolored midband bracketed by subtle yet attention-holding presence on top and satisfying weight on bottom, and rolling off in the mid-50Hz region. This produced the illusion of a musically complete picture instead of the ascetic pleasure of, say, the legendary and justifiably popular ProAc Tablette of the 1980s, which sounded more tipped-up on top and less full on bottom.

Uncongested, well-balanced sound
But that period of adjustment, during which someone used to a big, dramatic sound had to get used to less bass, less soundstage height, less dynamics, and constricted SPLs—in short, less of everything—didn't last long.

If you're into audio because you love music, and not because you crave bling or because you're a gearhead, the music produced by the little PMC DB1i will surely captivate you and draw you in. 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, if not the least congested—although, I admit, I haven't spent as much time listening to minimonitors as has Bob Reina.

But the DB1i didn't sound like a minimonitor. Because it scaled down so smoothly and evenly the size of sound a big speaker can manage, I quickly forgot its smaller sonic proportions and was drawn into the pictures it created.

Only two consistently noticeable colorations diminished the illusion. One was the signature sound of transmission-line bass, at least as produced by a compact box speaker. This sort of bass has a character quite different from that produced by a small ported speaker: a tighter, better-controlled initial impulse, which is a plus, followed by a longer-than-expected sustain that took a bit of getting used to, but was actually less obtrusive than port chuffing. The other was a mechanical popping in the region of kick drums and toms that, when excited, produced a sudden cardboardy sound. Fortunately, it didn't happen often.

Played too loud, the DB1i began to sound strained and uncomfortable, but within a wide volume range from very low to moderately loud—louder than you might think possible from such a small box—it produced a spacious, three-dimensional picture with a transparency and depth that had me sitting and listening contentedly for hours at a time. Only the soundstage height was somewhat limited.

While the overall sound seemed, to me, scaled down, I couldn't help thinking of all the young listeners docking their iPods into puny little plastic boxes with 5" of stereo separation between two tiny speakers, when they could be experiencing big-screen sound like this—if only they knew what it was and how to get it.

When the Sooloos swam me into the Doors' version of Brecht-Weill's "Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)," from the Steve Hoffman–mastered edition of The Doors (gold CD, Elektra/DCC Compact Classics EKS-74007)—a song I've been listening to for more than 40 years—the DB1is produced an attractive rendering: Jim Morrison's deep growl was uncongested, well focused, and bathed in coherent reverb. In the refrain of "Oh, don't ask why," each voice was clearly delineated. Ray Manzarek's oom-pah keyboard had weight on bottom and sparkle on top; John Densmore's snare drum doubling the higher organ part snapped sharply and cleanly; and the watery, psych-harpsichord accent produced the desired eerie tingle. All of the song's elements, cushioned in reverb, hung nicely in three-dimensional space.

"What more could one want?" this owner of giant speakers asked in 2009—the same question he'd asked himself in 1986, when he returned home to his tiny Spica TC-50s after finally hearing Infinity's fabled, four-panel IRS monoliths at Harry Pearson's place in Sea Cliff, Long Island, having read about them for years.

Of course, after hearing the enormity of sound provided by such huge systems, one could want—and get—a lot more than either the Spica or PMC can produce. But the illusion of completeness provided by either of these well-designed small speakers should be enough to satisfy any music lover.

"This is not going to be a fun few weeks," eh? Well, the time I spent with the PMC DB1is was a lot of fun. Hearing familiar reference recordings recast as perfectly proportioned bonsai editions provided constant musical pleasure. Taken on their own terms, they never left me wanting more.

Only when I rolled the big Wilson MAXX 3s back into place was the difference revealed in a relief not that much more stark than attending a live concert after a long time spent listening to recordings. That's when you hear just how far from the real is any reproduction of music, even when you've convinced yourself that your big, expensive rig is almost there.

The PMC DB1i is a cannily designed, musically satisfying minimonitor. Whether or not it's a good value at $1929/pair compared to similarly priced or less expensive competition is probably best answered by budget-speaker maven Bob Reina, who will be contributing a Follow-Up.

Meanwhile, amid all the hoopla surrounding the Beatles remasters as I write these words, I can conclude with complete confidence that, with these British-built speakers, a splendid time is guaranteed for most.

PMC Ltd.
US distributor: PMC USA LLC
17971 Sky Park Circle Drive, Suite G
Irvine, CA 92614
(949) 861-3350