Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Shift towards active speakers

After bi-amping and tri-amping your speakers, what is next on the audiophile’s list of things to do to obtain sonic bliss?

The natural and logical progression would be to buy active speakers as these would, in theory, create sound that is closest to the real thing.

The main advantage of active speakers would be that they use active crossovers which have components of very small values which are not very detrimental to sound quality. I read somewhere that passive crossovers with higher-value capacitors and inductors can cause some 20 per cent loss in signal strength and can degrade sound quality.

Yesterday, I was at AV Design in Kuala Lumpur for the launch of PMC’s new range of active speakers.

PMC’s sales manager Andy Duffield said more and more people are asking about active speakers these days.

“In the studio industry, people buy only active near-field monitors. This trend seems to be moving to the consumer market,” he said.

But it would appear only the top strata of the consumer market would be interested in upgrading to active speakers. Would someone owning an integrated amp be interested?

I think only those who have tried monoblocks, bi-amping and tri-amping would check out active speakers.

Andy said PMC makes all its speaker units in-house. The tweeter is made by another company to PMC’s design and specs while the mid-dome unit is made in-house and actually doped by hand by an Italian woman.

“Somehow she can do it better than any machine,” he said.


The woofer unit uses a chassis made by woofer specialist Volt, but the cone, magnet and voice coil are made by PMC.

PMC's sales manager Andy Duffield, a six-footer, standing
 beside the PMC MB2-XBD speaker.
The PMC-tweaked Bryston amps and crossover.
The MB2 speaker. Note the Volt-sourced
chassis  of the bass driver and the
transmission line vent at the top of the baffle.


The woofer is unique because it is the only one in the market which has the frame in front of the cone instead of behind it. This is to aid heat dissipation from the voice coil as there can be distortion and impedance change if it gets too hot.

PMC’s active speakers are different from others like ATC’s as the amplifiers are not fitted inside the boxes.


Instead, PMC offers a combo of power amps and active crossover made by Bryston but tweaked by PMC. These are connected to the speakers by proprietary cables which come with the active speakers.

And the speakers come in two boxes - the bottom box is the supplementary bass speaker with its own transmission line and the upper box, which is simply stacked on top of the bottom speaker, has another woofer, the dome mid and tweeter housed in its own transmission line.


It is possible to buy just the top speaker without the supplementry bass speaker, but PMC recommends buying the pair as together they would fill the room with solid bass since the transmission line vents are placed such that the bottom speaker has the vent at the bottom of the baffle and the upper speaker has its vent at the top. Even without the supplementary bass speaker, the bass goes down to 17Hz.


After a short slide presentation on the top-range BB5-XBD active speakers, the group of hi fi bloggers went to listen to the MB2-XBD powered by the PMC-tweaked Bryston 3B SST2, 7B SST2 with the Bryston (PMC-tweaked, of course) 10B electronic crossover.


The MB2-XBD is second in the range and the active version costs RM270,000. Without the XBD bass unit, the cost is RM183,000. A passive version is also available, said James Tan of AV Design.


They are huge speakers as the stacked MB2-XBD are a couple of inches taller than me and I’m five feet eight. The speakers are around 5’ 10” tall and the top-end model is more than 6’ tall.


A wide range of music was played and the speakers sounded great, as they should given their price and the amount of technology (or tweaking) utilised.


The speakers are designed for both the studio and home use and given its studio pedigree, they sound accurate with flat frequency response. Since they are British, the mids are fabulous. But the bass was un-British and was tight and deep.


We played a Nils Lofgren track real loud and that sounded like a concert was held at the AV Design showroom.


The MB2-XBD speakers are now on demo at the AV Design showroom at Wisma Rohas Perkasa.


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