It would seem to me that the audiophiles on the other side of the pond have had PMC to themselves for far too long. This should not be the case. Especially when you consider the entire pedigree of action packed, star studded, blockbuster Hollywood soundtracks, sometimes those being the best part about the movie, that have been mixed on PMC speakers. It is a wonder you don’t see many more PMC speaker reviews in the American audiophile press. Well, maybe shame on the press, maybe not… Although you, the reader, I implore you, if you get the chance to listen to some PMC speakers, give them a nice long demo. Their neutral and revealing studio sound doesn’t stun you, it doesn’t wow you; instead, the clarity, detail, and excellent ability to reproduce the source slowly grows wins over your ears.
PMC stands for Professional Monitor Company. The name is a little on the refreshingly bland side but it is very much to the point. A professional monitor company they are. If you read over the surprising long list of high-end studios and world renown musicians that use PMC speakers, one can be left a little star stunned. But once you get in a good long audition you’ll know that bland a name and seventies-looking veneer are just fine. When you have a speaker able to reproduce the source and system behind it with such transparency, you won’t mind at all.
All PMC speakers use a variation on transmission line cabinet design. PMC calls it the ‘ATL’ for Advanced Transmission Line technology. The transmission line cabinet design is rather uncommon and a hard-to-be-perfected design. The ATL cabinet essentially places the woofer at one end of a long tunnel that is damped accordingly to remove upper bass and higher frequencies that typically come out of something like a ported cabinet. The port of an ATL cabinet acts almost as a second driver and the lowest exiting frequencies are said to remain in phase with the rest of the speaker.
The PMC version of the transmission line cabinet and drivers, either built in-house or spec’d to specific requirements, offers an array of benefits to PMC and the end user. Some being: Across the range of PMC speakers there is a near-identical voicing, massive amounts of detail in the mids, a full and rich sound at any volume level, and very clean and fast bass. PMC’s philosophy is “to design the ideal monitoring solution with the highest resolution possible without colouration and distortion.” I feel the TB2i speakers have achieved this goal.
Interestingly, the ATL cabinet design, with the baffles built-in, allows the TB2i speakers to be a bit lighter-weight than one would expect of a monitor of this size. The cabinet is made from 16mm thick HDF and with the baffles bracing the cabinet, there is very little flex/interference. In fact, I placed weights on top of the speakers to see if I could get an even clearer low-end out of them while blasting some Massive Attack and it seemed to do very little.
The TB2i speakers use a 27mm, PMC/SEAS® SONOLEX™, soft dome, ferro-fluid tweeters that are each hand selected, tested and recorded, and each pair is matched for the best possible pairing. If you are wondering what ‘ferro-fluid’ is/means, it is a carrier fluid with very small particles of iron in it. The ferro-fluid in the tweeter carries heat away from the coil so it can be absorbed by the metal work around the coil to reduce the effects of power compression and distortion. Think of it like the heat sink paste you’d stick between your PC’s CPU and the CPU cooling fan. The better the transfer of heat, the more stable the processor. And in this case, the better the sound from the tweeter.
The 170mm Doped LF driver is made to specific designs for PMC. It is housed in a sturdy magnesium chassis with a steep 24dB/Oct crossover at 2kHz and shallow roll-off even after its claimed bass response of 40Hz. This driver is what I’ve really come to like about the TB2i speakers. It reveals detail and tonal accuracy that make instruments, like the stand-up bass, a joy to bob along to. Hearing the strings hum and vibrate brings real joy to these ears. Coming from playing electric bass throughout high school and college, I always took every chance that came my way to play a stand-up. These days those chances don’t come very often, basically never, except when I put on a record and pretend to thumb away.
I drove these speakers with several different amplifier and cabling options over the review period; but I’ve predominately run them on Electrompaniet’s PI-2 integrated amplifier. With an 8 Ohms impedance and 90dB sensitivity I found the speakers easy to drive with a variety of 100W amplifiers. At thunderously loud volumes or even as quiet as a mouse, the speakers’ voicing remained balanced and coherent. I say quiet as a mouse but that isn’t really fair to the speakers. These speakers are able to put off a solid amount of bass, something a mouse can’t do, even at very low volumes. You really can have your own late night party with these without waking your spouse. And when you get the chance to crank them up their voicing doesn’t break up or lose spectrum. As well they produce a sound much bigger than they actually are. On the Heifetz version of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto in D, OP. 35 on RCA (0-7863-55933-2), cranked up, these speakers can really move some air with dynamic shifts. From the sweet spot on my listening couch they produced an image equal in size horizontally as it was vertically. This really stood out on The Cure’s Wish. With all those high frequency guitar effects and Robert Smith’s voice-over dubs, those seemed to dance in front of me and well above my head, while the bass and midrange remained enveloping, forceful, and didn’t sound too low to the ground.
But I digress from my explanation of set up. At first I ran the speakers with a single 10 gauge copper wire speaker cable. Though this sounded good, I felt it wasn’t giving the speakers a fair shake. I ended up running the TB2i’s with two sets of solid copper-core cables of different gauges. I ran a fairly small diameter cable to the tweeter and another, about double diameter, to the woofer. This pushed the high frequencies just slightly higher in volume and brought horns and cymbals to greater detail and presence. But I’ve noticed I do like this slightly tipped sound, so please keep in mind that is a basis for me. I think if you tend to like the ‘live’ sound, this may be a set up for these speakers you should consider trying. A friend came over one night after the speaker cable switch and he said he loved the sharper, more lifelike sound of the horns off an Afro-pop record I was spinning.
My seating position was fairly close to the speakers. I set them up with the “Golden Triangle” method, which means I was just about equal distance from the intersecting ‘T’ line as the tweeters were apart. With no toe-in I was able to obtain a solid and deep sound stage once all the reflection points in the room were dampened. I like the feeling of being right next to the sound, completely engulfed, almost as though the speakers are really just big headphones, and I was able to achieve this with the TB2i speakers. With some speakers this is almost impossible to achieve because the crossovers aren’t done well and I can hear a split along the sound stage where the lows stay on the floor and the highs stay above. This didn’t happen with the 2-way TB2i speakers. As well they offered both a great field of depth, if the recording had that, and the listening room was set up to best deal with not only first reflection points on the side walls but also to deal with contaminating reflection points from the back wall between the speakers. Even though I had the TB2i’s about 20 inches away from the back wall, depth of field was increased greatly when I installed some dampening material between the speakers on the rear wall.
I sat with my ears at just the level between the tweeter and woofer. Even though the TB2i speakers have an even dispersion and are flat at 60 degrees off-axis, I was able to notice if one speaker was slightly off from the other. Maybe I am just very sensitive to this issue or because of the size of the Golden Triangle and my proximity to the TB2i’s made them seemed not as easy to position correctly as some other speakers I’ve had. But I admit it could be that I was putting them in a difficult set up, and once settled they faded away and produced a coherent sound stage without gaps or overly loud parts.
I received the TB2i fresh out of a very well packaged box. Break-in took at least 20hrs for the tweeter and woofer to meld together in sound, and another good 20hrs or more for real detail to emerge. I was worried at first that these speakers wouldn’t play some of my softer music with the warmth and soul I’ve heard in other speakers. For example, I was afraid they would make Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” sound thin and emotionless. After breaking-in, I was proved wrong in my initial assumption.
This fact, that I assumed they would act a certain way and they didn’t, gets to the heart of the TB2i sound. The TB2i do a very good job at reflecting the equipment driving them and the quality of the source material. For example, if I wanted a warmer midrange I could easily plug the PS Audio Perfectwave AC5 power cable into the Electrocompaniet PI-2 amplifier and the sound out of the speakers would change accordingly. The sound would be, as I expected, warmer and male vocals had a clearer presentation. If on the other hand I wanted more bass, I could drive the amplifier with the Granite Audio #570 power cable and the speakers would reflect the increase in hi frequency detail and a larger, more dynamic, and punchier bass. Same can be said about interconnects and sources. The TB2i speakers presented to me what I presented to them.
I listen to vast variety of different music genres. Large classical pieces, a single guy/gal and the guitar, techno, thrash metal, afro-pop, electronica, classic rock and the list goes on. Across all the variety the TB2i’s reflected the music and emotion of the source material. If something was engineered and recorded well, it showed. If something was done poorly, like the MGMT’s vinyl version of Oracular Spectacular, or Dead Can Dance’s vinyl version of their 1984 self titled release, it showed.
But where I feel they really shine is on live recorded music. If the live session was recorded well, and the recording engineer not only focused on the musicians but also on the space they are playing in, that space and detail is reproduced by the TB2i speakers. For example, I’m not a huge Tom Waits fan. I know, shoot me now, I’ve obviously just eaten the sacred cow by admitting that. But a friend sent me on vinyl Tom Wait’s Asylum Years and I was blown away at the clarity, detail and spacing the TB2i revealed. In fact I was right in the middle of an email to the PMC rep when I had a heartfelt change and really decided these are great speakers. Dead Can Dance’s live album Toward the Within sounds pretty much like I remember hearing them from the Greek theater in Berkeley; of course, not as big, and with less ‘puffy puffy green smoke’ in the air. But the point is I think these really shine when presented with well-engineered live recordings.
So in conclusion, I can only say one thing. It would be time well spent auditioning these speaker for a half day or longer. I can understand how one could have reservations about refinement and detail; there are more expensive speakers out there that do in fact offer more of those things. But for what these are, and the price point they are at, they are well worth their price and you should give them some time to prove that to you.
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