PMC DB1i Review
Dinky, but no toy...
I’ve been a big fan of PMC for some time. Way back when I first joined the forum I was on the lookout for a midrange1 amp and speakers to go with my Cambridge 640C, and ended up with a Creek 5350 and the then-extant version of their Dinky Box, the DB1+. With their five foot-long transmission line giving infeasible amounts of bass from such a tiny enclosure and with substantial driver improvements over the original, they were deeply impressive. Sadly, I lost my way a bit and, in a fit of box-swapping ‘must buy something NOW’ angst I bought a pair of AVI Neutron Vs unauditioned, ostensibly to put in the kitchen on the end of an old Denon. As fate would have it, however, The WAF of the Neutrons was so high that they ended up usurping the PMCs in the living room. Despite not being as good as the PMCs in the bass department, the N5s stayed and the PMCs languished in the fabled JD Hifi Drawer before being inherited by a friend. If I’d known he’d subsequently swap them out for a pair of nails-down-a-blackboard Cantons then I’d have rescued them from him and saved myself a bit of grief further down the line...
However, fast-forwarding to recently...as you’ll all know, I ‘acquired’ one of the office-copy Unitis for ‘research purposes’ last year and I finally took the plunge and bought it three months or so ago. Having had some Neat Petite SXs in the house briefly, I was aware of how glorious the Naim could sound when let loose, and wanted to get a speaker that might allow it to reach its potential rather better than the Wharfedale Diamond 9.1s I’d been mostly using up to this point. Now, having heard (and lauded) the Neats, you might expect that this might be my starting point – a valid argument, but as discussed before, they simply were not going to be acceptable in our small living room; too wide, man, too wide. So the search was on for a compact standmount which would let the NaimUniti show of its best and would also gain acceptance from the final arbiter of all things hifi – Mrs JD.
The Neat Motive 3 had potential; sharing a PR (and thus cavernous boot) with Naim, it would have been easy to source a pair for an extended home demo, but size was again an issue – at 325 mill tall, they’re a good inch and a half taller than the PMCs, and had a sit-up-and-beg look that I couldn’t quite reconcile. No doubt they’d sound great if I’d tried them, sharing some of the SXs DNA, but it just wasn’t going to happen. I considered the DALI Mentor Menuet, which exude gorgeousness from every pore, but the one time I heard them on the end of a system I knew and loved, I was disappointed. Now I know how we all like something ‘new’, but I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that what I really wanted was the devil I knew...
Now, as it happened, it was Blue Murder sale time at one of my favourite shops, Unilet in New Malden, and what should pop through my door but a BM price list promising some ex-dem DB1is in walnut at a very attractive price. A quick phone call, a 20 minute drive with the boys (can we go home now?) and the deal was done2
Getting them home and onto the stands (before Mrs JD could protest), they shout quality. The walnut veneer finish (which I now much prefer over the, in retrospect, rather dowdy oak of my +es) was richly coloured, nicely bookmatched and beautifully applied. Not quite MA Platinum standard, but very attractive nonetheless (and, incidentally, knocking the SXs into a cocked hat). The shiny new metal ‘PMC’ badge seems a bit unnecessary but adds a bit of class, and the docs inside even let me know that they were built by ‘Ryan’ (thanks Ryan). Round the back, there’s a (slightly less ubiquitous nowadays) standard set of bi-wire binding posts, together with that tell-tale rectangular Transmission Line port.
Now, what with them being ex-dem, and with PMC recommending only 15 hours run-in to loosen them up, I took it as read that they were all ready to go, and so it proved. I start all new-gear audition sessions with two discs – Rush’s Moving Pictures3 and Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark. I’ve heard them hundreds of times each in the 30-odd years since I first did, and know them inside out. The PMCs did them absolute justice; they kept a fierce grip on the drums in Tom Sawyer which can sometimes ‘bleed’ a bit on lesser systems, and Mitchell’s smoky voice on Down To You had a natural richness which made the Diamonds (which I had hitherto admired as one of the great budget loudspeakers) sound positively nasal in comparison.
The standard audition repertoire out of the way, the DB1is coped fantastically well with pretty much everything I threw at them; Back in Black sounded surprisingly, yet stupendously ‘studio quality’, Kat’s vocals on Eastmountainsouth’s eponymous debut (and swansong) were beautifully rendered, and live albums like Shawn Colvin’s Live and Diana Krall’s Live in Paris (frightful record, great recording) offered up pleasingly natural images of a concert hall acoustic (albeit in miniature, what with my listening position being a six-foot triangle).
Talking of listening position, I’ve found that this is very important for the PMCs (as it was with the Neat Petites). Get it wrong in my room (primarily having them too close together and me too far away) and the treble tended to disappear somewhat, whilst when right, voices and instruments lit up in a way that I’ve only rarely heard. On the down side, as I discussed a while ago when someone asked if they’d fit in an alcove, get it too wrong and they can sound disastrous; too near a corner and all that bass pumping out of the rear port simply overwhelms all the other frequencies and you’d be as well off with a pair of twenty quid service station jobbies. Are they the best speakers I’ve had in my house? No – I think that has to go to the Neat Petite SX. And, if I’m honest, they’re not as good value as they used to be (though there’s a lot of UK workmanship in there – Ryan included). Give them room to breathe, though, and they shine like few others, and no speakers I’ve heard – at any price - do what they do in such a compact package.
I’d trade up to their floorstanding brothers if I was allowed, but they’d be using the packaging to bury me in…
2 a mwa ha ha
3 the 16/44 version rather than the recent 24/96 remaster, since I know it better.