Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Big box of surprises

First of all, I have to state that the PMC IB2i speakers sound great overall, but unfortunately lack the Wife Acceptance Factor (WAF). It is unfortunate because once the WAF is not resolved, any plan to buy them has to be shelved.

That probably explains why PMC has opted for the lifestyle route in its new line-ups such as the Twenty and the Fact series.

The IB2i are huge standmount speakers which, frankly, look more at home in a studio or a specially-built music room. They definitely do not gel with a typical house's decor. Since they are so big, they have to placed at least 9 feet apart and at least 3 ft away from the rear wall in my living room.

Having said that, the sonic quality outweighs its ugly duckling looks and if you can convince the better half that the ugly ducklings look swan-like when placed in your living room, then you will be in for a sonic treat.

The IB2i is a large speaker that requires a big room.
The metal stand is specially designed for the speaker.
The stands come with special footers so that
there will be no scratches on the floor.

The IB2i is a typically British boring big box measuring 74cm (29.1") tall, 33cm (13") wide and 46.5cm (18.3") deep and comes with its own tuned open-frame metal stand. I tapped the stand with my fingernail and it sounded dead - it was filled with some material, possibly sand. Each speaker weighs 41kg (90.2lbs) and two strong men would be needed to carry it.

Having done with its looks and WAF issues, let's delve into its sonics.

The IB2i speakers are designed to be three-way reference monitors using PMCs proprietary Advanced Transmission Line design and PMC's own version of the 75mm soft dome mid made famous originally by ATC.

It uses the same 27mm Sonolex  tweeter as some of PMC's lower range speakers, but the woofer is unusual as it has a flat diaphragm instead of the normal cone. The flat woofer is made of carbon fibre/Nomex and is very stiff.

Frequency response is rated at 25Hz to 25kHz and sensitivity is 89dB making it an easy pair of speakers to drive.

In a system comprising a Bryston 4B SST, Kimber 12TC speaker cables, Benchmark DAC1 Pre , Oyaide XLR interconnects and Toshiba laptop playing J. River V16 and Furutech GT2 USB cable, the IB2i speakers had a wide range of music streamed to them.

The dome mid and Sonolex tweeter.
The flat woofer is made of carbon fibre and Nomex.

Compared with my ATC SCM40s (note the difference in price - the PMC IB2i speakers retail at RM59,200 while the SCM40s retail at around RM15,000), the PMC delivered deeper bass which was tight and taut. There were also more details in the bass region.

The treble was smooth and extended but seemed a bit recessed. Unlike the previous PMC speakers I reviewed, the PB1i (see  http://hi-fi-avenue.blogspot.com/2011/10/pmc-pure-musical-charm.html ), the treble of the IB2i did not stand out despite the fact that the cymbals, hi-hats and triangles could be heard. With the PB1i, the treble soared and was more apparent and extended without being bright.

Another difference I noted was that the height of the IB2i's soundstage was a bit lower than that created by the PB1i. I felt it was a bit strange given the size of the IB2i.

And the vital midrange? Sure I heard more details compared with the ATC SCM40s (which use a 'studio' version of ATC's famed dome midrange) and there was greater transparency but there was also a lightness to the sound, a noticeable lack of body and weight to some acoustic instruments especially the left-hand keys of a piano. Again I thought it was a bit strange as the bass - from upper to low - was strong and tight.

Furthermore, the images like the lead singer and guitarists were positioned a bit further back than what I am used to even though the size of the soundstage was large with good depth, but - as mentioned earlier - with lower height.

Another unusual thing I noted was that the PMC IB2i speakers sounded different when I plugged the speaker cables to different jacks. This confirmed the experiences of other audiophiles in British online forums.

The speakers have three sets of speaker inputs for tri-amping or tri-wiring. They come from the factory with thin brass rods to connect all three sets of inputs, but they arrived at my house with short lengths of multi-strand speaker wires with dielectric cut off at the ends to connect to the inputs.

I could change the tonal balance by simply plugging the speaker cables to the bass inputs (for a bassier sound) or to the mid inputs (for what I felt was the best tonal balance) or the treble inputs (for a more transparent but less bassy sound).


The tonal balance changed when I plugged
the speaker cables to different sets of inputs.

I would recommend that you should at least bi-wire these speakers using the bass and mid inputs. I have encountered speakers with three sets of inputs before (such as the ATC SCM40), but their tonal balance was not that much affected by which inputs I used.

Overall, the PMC IB2i speakers are designed for monitoring purposes - they are brutally honest and good components and well-recorded music are necessary to get the best out of them. On the whole, despite the idiosyncrasies the IB2i speakers are the best to have been auditioned in my house. Have I heard better speakers elsewhere? Yes, but they cost much more.

PMC speakers are available at AV Designs which is on the mezzanine floor, West Wing of Rohas Perkasa building, Jalan P. Ramlee, Kuala Lumpur. Call them at 03-21712828 or 03-21712825.

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