The DB1i is the baby of the PMC (Profession Monitor Company) range – above it sit a larger standmount (the TB1i) and a slim floorstander (the GB1i). The DB1i wears an in-house designed 13cm woofer cone and a SEAS soft-dome tweeter. So far, so ordinary. Not so common is the bass energising transmission line duct: a maze that snakes for a mind-bending 1.7m inside each box and emerges at the rear to a foam-covered letterbox port. Build quality is what I would call ‘handsome’ (nice, none too flashy) and each speaker feels relatively light.
The PMC DB1i and I are like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Twice married, twice divorced. And like most hi-fi separations, the euphoric specifics of early audition music have melted into irretrievable memory cells, whilst overall impressions (some sweet, some bitter) linger on.
I should’ve foreseen the marriage troubles – the PMC DB1is were an amplifier flirt: standmounts that mated well with nearly every integrated box I threw at them, yet each with their own uniquely MINUTE irritations that tainted their fast-and-furious sonic presentations. Did that rhyme?
In the tradition of Henry Ford, the PMCs didn’t seem to be especially fussy about amplifier persuasion as long as it was solid state. They demanded a substantial injection of grunt to sound their best in all but the smallest of listening spaces. Integrated amplifiers from Cayin (KT88), Consonance (EL34) and Trafomatic (300B SET) refused to spark the 87db musical ignition. I have it on good authority that the very same KT88-push-pulled Cayin has no trouble driving the GB1i (also 87db) – go figure.
After our first encounter in December 2009, the PMC DB1i worked my lounge room alongside both the fellow Brit, a Naim Nait 5i (italic 5i, if you please – AU$2100) and the suave Italian, an Audio Analogue Puccini Setanta (AU$2900). The latter offered up the better system synergy: more commanding, less disconnected bass and a smoother treble (perhaps due to the MOSFET design?). The Naim integrated performed almost as well, but in ways that are well documented in Naim circles: timing, pace and the all too indefinable “musicality”. But more than anything, the PMCs were exciting. No, wait – thrilling. Music through the DB1i was impossible to ignore. Often, it was impossible to do anything else but listen.
The new year unfurled January and I began to see other speakers. Spendor became a regular visitor and ATC’s number was in my phone book. The PMCs and I grew apart and parted company, shacking up with a mate. I heard nothing from them for over six months. But by August I’d done some growing up and – after some protracted negotiations – we thought, “What the heck, let’s give it another shot!”.
The PMC showed their familiar mettle during our second union – stunning midrange clarity, taut and punchy dynamics, effervescence. They made mincemeat of speakers in the sub-$1000 price arena. I’ve witnessed it several times recently, but it bears repeating: for the most part, you DO get what you pay for. When compared to the awesome-for-the-price Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 (AU$400), the PMCs wasted no time in demonstrating why they won’t leave the house for less than five times the handling fee: better dynamics, better detail retrieval and an altogether more engaging listen. The integrated partner this time was the German-made Aaron XX. Once again, the PMCs also responded well to differences in amplifiers. The Virtue Sensation M901 was a solid-sounding pairing that better handled the transmission line-charged bass, whose ever-so-slight lag was more pronounced with an LFD Zero LE MKII. Ironically, the LFD gave up the sweetest high-frequency taste to date.
When pushed to higher SPLs, the PMC DB1is have a tendency to lose their nerve with more complex music. Vocals sounded strained and micro dynamics suffered. Was it to be expected that subtleties were lost? Probably. Not a serious flaw by any means, but I craved the ever elusive perfection and so the PMCs and I divorced a second time.
Weaknesses aside, there are few loudspeakers circulating the market that image as well as the PMC DB1i. Music seemingly emanates from the space between and around the speakers. A rare and impressive feat and one that I’d previously thought to be the sole preserve of ProAc. Driver integration was also seamless.
The PMC DB1i is a VERY high quality standmount loudspeaker that serves up an exciting listen. They have the ability to draw people in from neighbouring rooms – I’ve witnessed it on numerous occasions with visiting friends. If musical enthusiasm and exuberance is the overriding factor in your purchasing decision then these PMC mini monitors should be high on your audition list: naked midrange, wonderful imaging and plenty of dynamics. The DB1i’s friskiness suit low-level listening.
However, as local DB1i pricing nudges AU$2500, the DB1i loses out to two very specific rivals. Firstly, the Spendor SA1 (~AU$2600) is a sealed box with classier looks and a more gentlemanly repose. The SA1 has the superior midrange clarity, a smoother treble and is easily the equal of the PMCs when it comes to imaging – music cannot be traced back to its two-box source. Moreover, the Spendor SA1 has the ability to perform well even when cornered. The PMC DB1i don’t play as nicely in a smaller room. Secondly, the ATC SCM 11 (AU$1950) walks away with better room drive (especially larger rooms) and tighter bass (again, a sealed box). Personally, I prefer both the Spendors and the ATCs to the PMC.
Conversely, my gripe with the ATC and Spendor models is their comparative lack of room ambience – or room air – in their presentation. A brief audition of either might see the listener write them off as “boring” or “not as exciting”. The latter might be true when compared to the PMC, but ATC and Spendor voice their loudspeakers to reward long-game listeners. The PMCs treble might be slightly rougher around the edges, but it better underscored the sheer sweetness of the Aaron XX integrated amplifier.
In the fiercely fought ‘quality’ (British) standmount market, the PMC DB1i crosses the finishing line with a bronze medal – but through no shortcomings of its own. It is simply beaten out by some freakishly good competition. Its final podium placement might be higher if its local pricing were keener.
Turning things on their head, the PMC DB1i are definitely recommended to those that find Spendor’s pipe-and-slippers too austere. They are taut, punchy, fast, exciting, dynamic, and – most of all – fun.
- Logitech Squeezebox Classic
- TeraDak Chameleon
- Bel Canto DAC3
- Valab NOS DAC
- Naim Nait 5i
- Audio Analogue Puccini Setanta
- Aaron XX
- LFD Zero LE MKII
- Spendor SA1
- Spendor S3/5r
- ATC SCM 11