Stereo Speakers Awards – Q1 2013 (Part 3)

3/14/2013 9:10:30 AM

PMC Twenty 22: $2,738

The Twenty series celebrates PMC’s first 20 years, and builds on everything it has learned over that time. It looks as though the engineers have learned a lot, considering both our higher-priced Award have done their way.

There’s plenty of technical prowess to admire here. The tweeter, a 27mm Sonolex dome, is designed to deliver high levels of detail with wide dispersion. While the paper-coned mid/bass driver – PMC likes paper’s light weight, rigidity and resonance behavior is specifically designed for use with a transmission line.

Did you know? PMC stands for ‘Professional Monitor Company’, denoting the firm’s lofty origins in the world of professional studio recording

Did you know? PMC stands for ‘Professional Monitor Company’, denoting the firm’s lofty origins in the world of professional studio recording

It’s the inclusion of a transmission line that makes PMC speakers different from most. The idea is that the rearward output of the mid/bass driver is forced through an internal folded path that exits through the grille at the front of the speakers. This path is lined with specially chosen damping material that absorbs all but the lowest frequencies in the sound. As these very low frequencies exit the transmission line, they augment the forward output of the driver. PMC thinks this is the best way to get high-quality, low-distortion bass.

There are other technical idiosyncrasies, including the slight rearward slope on the enclosure’s front and rear panels. These not only give the speakers a distinctive look, they are also said to improve cabinet rigidity and reduce internal standing waves.

These PMC speakers have the scale and power to do justice to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, but with terrific tonal balance

Speed is of the essence

These Twenty Standmounters are immensely fast and precise. Their detail levels are excellent, and they deliver the sound with breathtaking agility. You can add wide dispersion and a focused soundstage to the list of plus points. Tonally, the speakers sound lean and taunt. Some may prefer a more relaxing presentation, but it would be very hard to find such leading-edge definition and speed any other way.

These PMC speakers do it all. They have the scale and power to do justice to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and the tonal balance to render individual instruments convincingly. They’ll also deliver intimate music such as Bon Iver’s Michicant with real finesse. The 22’s detail resolution and way with low-level dynamics is as good anything we’ve heard at this price level. That’s why they pick up an Award.

Best floorstander: $2,250+

PMC Twenty 23: $3,150

As if to prove great designs don’t happen by sheer luck, PMC grabs our top floor-stander (as well as top Standmounter) Award, with the petite and immaculately constructed Twenty 23. All the things we like about the Twenty 23. All the things we like about the Twenty 22 are here, albeit with a smaller paper-coned mid/bass unit and without the need for stands.

PMC Twenty 23, the best floorstander: $2250+

PMC Twenty 23, the best floor-stander

Technically, these towers are classic PMC. They borrow heavily from the thinking behind the brand’s high-end FACT range while keeping faith with its traditional engineering ethos.

The most obvious example is the continued use of a transmission line to tune the bass output. As with the 22, this technique helps these floor-standers deliver a deeper and more articulate bass than would be suggested by their size and drive-unit specification/

If the Twenty 23s have a weakness, it’s their low perceived value. If you’re willing to spend this kind of money there are any numbers of hugely capable, monster-sized designs worth considering. The 23s are, in comparison, tiny.

Our doubts, however, lasted right up to the point at which we started listening to the Twenty 23s. These PMCs will happily deliver the likes of Iggy Pop’s Search and Destroy with enthusiasm – there’s plenty of bite to the leading edges of notes and a naturally hard-charging sense of rhythmic drive. Yet move on to the likes of Adele’s Someone Like You and the 23s change down a gear effortlessly.

With vocal-based material such as this, the superb drive-unit integration comes into play, as does the PMC’s wonderfully expressive midrange. If there’s even the tiniest bit of emotion in a song, these speakers will dig it up.

With vocal-based material the superb integration comes into play, as does the wonderfully expressive midrange

Faithful to the source

The Adele example also shows just how well these speakers cope with less-than-perfect recordings. They’re more than happy to reveal any shortcomings just as they are capable of shining with excellent source material but they’re never overstate flaws. These PMCs are far too well behaved for that.

You can add a firm sense of control, convincing tonality and a high level of detail resolution to the sonic plus points. And we think they look pretty smart too.

Easy positioning and an unfussy attitude to partnering equipment simply seals the deal. The Twenty 23s really are a fabulous buy.

Best desktop speaker

Epoz Aktimate Micro: $390

We’re massive fans of B&W’s excellent MM1 desktop speakers, so the ease with which Epoz’s Aktimate Micros trumped those gems in a Group Test was something of a surprise.

Epoz Aktimate Micro, the best desktop speaker

Epoz Aktimate Micro, the best desktop speaker

These Micros are hard to pigeonhole. Yes. They have a USB input, 40 watts of internal power and are small enough to put on desk next to a computer, so desktop speaker it is. However, they also come with a 30-pin iPod dock and a 3.5mm line-level input so they can form part of a handy small-room or student system, working in tandem with a more conventional music source. And if you want a more conventional finish, they come in black or white too.

However you use them, you can be sure these speakers will shine. Ideally, if using the Epoz on a desk, place them slightly away from the rear wall, or bass notes will become a little over-cooked. In every other circumstance they’re a pleasure to listen to.

They’ll deliver everything from Elgar to Rihanna without favoritism, thanks to a sound packed with bass and detail

They’ll deliver everything from an Elgar symphony to Rihanna’s Loud set without showing favoritism, thanks to a vibrant sound packed with punchy bass and plenty of detail. High frequencies can cause problems with more affordable speakers, but the Micros rise to this emphasizing the hardness that is part of most modern commercial recording.

Loud? Yes, but don’t push it

These speakers will deliver a decent turn of volume too, though if you’re looking to have a party that might be a step too far.

Essentially, $390 buys a well-made and conceived set of powered speakers that sound better than any dedicated desktop set-up we’ve heard. It’s a bonus that they can double as a pretty effective second system too. That’s great value in anyone’s judgment and reasons enough to award the Micro a Best Buy gong.

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