You know a piece of hi-fi or AV kit is special when it unearths detail in favourite films or songs that you’d never heard before.
The PMC Twenty 23 5.1 speaker package does just that: it digs up every ounce of detail from a film’s soundtrack, making it sound fresh and exciting, even if you’ve seen the film a thousands times.
We’ve long been fans of the excellent PMC Twenty 23 floorstanders. A glowing five-star first test review led to a 2013 Award for best floorstander over £1500, and our fondness for these balanced and insightful speakers hasn’t diminished over the years.
What we’ve never done is build a 5.1 surround speaker package around the Twenty 23s. So we did. And we liked it so much we’re going to keep it.
The PMC Twenty 23 5.1 speaker package that now has a home in our testing rooms at What Hi-Fi? headquarters consists of two pairs of floorstanders (at £2170 per pair), a centre speaker (£1250) and a subwoofer (£2650) – making it a grand total of £8240. It’s not a cheap package by any means, but that price tag is fully justified once you hear just how talented this speaker package is.
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You’d think we’d know every second of a favourite test disc, Star Trek, by heart by now, but we hear so many tiny details and experience the sound effects in a way that we never noticed before.
From the hubbub of dozens of Starfleet personnel and the bleeps and pulses of the electronic equipment, to the solid thunk of metal levers being pulled – each sound is delivered with a remarkable amount of clarity and refinement through the PMC package. Spaceships move across the room with a weighty presence.
The dialogue is full of personality and humour. That warp-speed sound effect is glorious: taut and punchy with layers of textures in between.
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We don’t expect this compact speaker package to deliver the kind of power, grand scale and muscular performance that its bigger rivals do. It’s not suited to very large rooms, either. But the PMC package has other, more captivating talents.
Voices in particular sound fantastic. Every emotion and vocal nuance is laid bare thanks to a clear and expressive midrange. We can’t help but hang on every word.
The other defining characteristic of the PMC speaker package is its seamless integration. The cohesion across the speakers is unparalleled at this price, especially for speakers of such compact dimensions.
Key to this is the fact that the floorstanders and the centre speaker all use the same 14cm mid/bass driver and 27mm soft-dome tweeter.
As a result, it’s like being sat in the middle of an utterly immersive surround sound bubble, where there are – amazingly – no gaps in between the speakers.
For such slender speakers, their sound dispersion is impressively wide and even. Even where the surround speakers are furthest apart behind you, you’ll hear a palpable wall of sound.
You can hear the general hum of activity happening around characters in a film – just like you do in real life – while the main action unfolds on screen. It’s a delicate balancing act by the PMC package, and one at which it excels.
Tonally, they all match, too. There are no flabby bits and no sharp bits: shattered glass and gunshots have bite and excitement in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, while punches pack a wallop that makes you wince – but not uncomfortably so.
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When you first start listening, you might question the amount of bass and scale of sound the PMC package is capable of producing.
We feel that a big, brawny amplifier from the likes of Onkyo and Yamaha is needed to coax the PMC package into delivering greater scale and solidity.
But actually, all we need to do was to let it run in for longer. Within a week, the PMC package (combined with our Award-winning Pioneer SC-LX59 receiver) sounds solid, reaching into its reserves to deliver meatier basslines and a bigger, even more cohesive sound.
Build and compatibility
We must mention the unsung hero of the PMC Twenty 23s: the Advanced Transmission Line. PMC has spent years developing this technology to improve the bass performance of its speakers, by using a transmission line design instead of the more common reflex port.
The transmission line is a damped pathway within the cabinet through which the rear output of the mid/bass driver travels. As the sound is forced through the path, all high frequencies are absorbed, leaving the lowest notes to exit the speaker through the front panel.
This reinforces the forward output of the driver, resulting in bigger, more powerful bass from relatively dainty speakers like the PMCs.
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We’ve always been fond of the Twenty series’ slim, slanted design. It not only looks smart, but that size also makes it easy to slot the speaker package into a living room.
Build quality is excellent, with corners that are pointy yet smooth, and yet they are sturdy yet light enough to manoeuvre – important if you need to be flexible with your system’s placement.
There is a choice of four finishes – walnut, amarone and oak veneers, and a high gloss black – and scope for bi-wiring and bi-amping too.
The subwoofer is just as slender as the floorstanders, so you’ll have no problem keeping it snug and out of the way in your living room. It has two 18cm woofers, 400W of class D amplification, easily adjustable equalisers and volume control, and balanced analogue and digital connections at the back.
Again, if you want to use this package in a large space, you might want to consider a second subwoofer to add more muscle to the low end. For most living rooms, though, we think you’ll be pretty satisfied with the amount of bass it rumbles out.
After a few days of running in, you’ll hear it gaining strength and becoming even more robust and insightful.
Even after we’ve had the PMC playing for a month as our reference speaker package, it is still filling out and improving bit by bit. So if you feel like you’re missing some weight and muscle at first, stick with it – you’ll be rewarded with an incredible surround-sound experience.
We can’t sing the PMC’s praises enough. This elegant and talented 5.1 speaker package is utterly enchanting, and we urge you to give it an audition. We think you’ll love it as much as we do.
See all our PMC reviews