Feature Articles & Reviews
Wouldn’t you love to find a $205,000 pair of speakers that actually performed as expected? Not just some company that claims their drivers were pressed on the thighs of tow-headed Swedish virgins and connected with 25K gold wires terminated with eight-way binding posts of 99.999%-pure platinum. You know the advertising hype you see in the more obscure audio hangouts. But how about something real?
The Professional Monitor Company (PMC) operates in one of the toughest marketplaces in all of audio -- and I’m not just talking about the infinitesimal market for their 638-pound QB1 XBD-A active studio monitor loudspeaker ($205,000 USD/pair). PMC operates in the world of professional audio. In their world, loudspeakers are investments, not just the final stage of an audio system. Owners of recording studios are used to being able to demo speakers in their studios, so that they can compare them at leisure. The best makers of studio monitors -- ATC, Barefoot, Focal, Genelec, PMC, etc. -- compete for the high-price marketplace like a Walter Hill* gang fight.
In short, some of the world’s toughest customers have vetted PMC’s speakers in ways that have nothing to do with spurious marketing claims, questionable science, or the oddities of engineering that arise when a speaker maker’s marketing division announces they need a model that resembles a dollop of thick maple syrup floating in a zero-gravity chamber. Professional users demand something as close to perfect accuracy and perfect soundstage reproduction as is available at the price, combined with rock-solid construction and dependable drivers. They need speakers that do it all while playing at volumes of 120dB or more.
For giants like Universal Music, Warner Music, Sony Music, Capitol Studios, Pinewood Studios, DreamWorks SKG, Metropolis Studios, and the BBC, $205,000 for a pair of good speakers is a drop in the bucket that can be amortized over dozens, maybe hundreds, of successful films and albums. That juxtaposition of monitor cost vs. a film’s or album’s potential profitability, and the fact that they’ve all chosen to have PMC monitors in their various control rooms, creates a powerful paradigm. Given that these studios seriously evaluate any monitors they buy, those evaluations based on their deep and broad knowledge of sound reproduction, I view the fact that they all have chosen PMC monitors is a serious endorsement.
PMC doesn’t just stop there. They’d like to see their speakers used at every stage in the production of a recording, from tracking and mixing to mastering and, finally, the music lover sitting down to listen. To fulfill that ambition, they try to make their speakers as interchangeable as possible -- not in the sense that you can combine single units of their most and least expensive models into a functional stereo pair, but in the knowledge that, at any price level, music or a film soundtrack will sound its best through a PMC speaker.
PMC believes in loading their woofers in transmission lines to maximize their bass output. Most speakers are enclosed in cabinets that are either sealed or ported, and each technology has its tradeoffs. Sealed-box speakers roll off the bass at a relatively shallow 12dB/octave, but they tend to be inefficient, and their cabinets must be absolutely air-tight. Ported boxes are cheaper to make and are usually fairly efficient, but roll off the bass more rapidly at 24dB/octave. PMC uses their Advanced Transmission Line, a complicated method that shares the shallower rolloff of sealed cabinets while retaining the efficiency of ported cabinets. Unfortunately, transmission lines cost a lot to design and build.
I would love to own a pair of PMC’s QB1 XBD-A speakers at $205,000, but too much Scottish blood runs in my veins for me ever to make such a purchase. Luckily for the rest of us, PMC also competes at the more affordable end of the market. Nothing ever arrives as a complete one-off, and that means that even PMC’s least expensive speakers will have a touch of the magic present in the QB1 XBD-As.
Enter PMC’s result6 ($2950/pair).** The ability to design and fit a transmission line into a pair of speakers that cost as little as these is remarkable. Add to that two amplifiers built into each speaker -- 65W RMS for the 1.1” soft-dome tweeter, 100W RMS for the 6.5” fabric woofer -- and a masterfully designed active analog crossover at 2kHz with the ability to match speakers within remarkably tight tolerances. They also use lasers to ensure the linearity of the drivers’ response; by measuring the drivers before and after installation in the cabinet, they can alter the loading of the transmission line to maximize the production of low bass with the smallest possible driver excursions, which requires less power and results in lower distortion.
On the rear panel of each result6 are an on/off switch, a ±10dB level trim, an IEC inlet that accepts AC feeds of 90-260V, and a balanced signal input (XLR). The dark-gray finish is a holdover from recording studios, which usually prefer to spend money on parts that make sound, not parts that merely look pretty. Despite this, the result6 is attractive and, measuring just 15”H x 7.8”W x 14.2”D and weighing only 17.6 pounds, it can fit in lots of spaces.
The reason for using a transmission line is to deepen the bass. Many professional active monitors are ported to the back, which means they can’t be placed close to a wall or corner. PMC’s transmission line vents to the front, a huge benefit to anyone operating in the tight quarters that are the norm in recording-studio control rooms.***
Like any self-respecting professional monitor, the result6 could play seriously loud before showing any signs of breakup or increased distortion. PMC claims 112dB, but my guess is that, with two of them pumping sound into a room of reasonable size, the number might be quite a bit higher. The high output numbers commonly specified for professional monitors aren’t just a game of brinksmanship with your ears, or catering to deafened rockers. The ability to play loud also means that, at normal ranges, these speakers just loaf along.
A quick word to anyone who still believes that powered speakers somehow can’t match the performance of passive speakers: Remember that designers of passive speakers have no idea what type of amplifier you’ll be using with their speakers, how much power it will have in reserve, or how it will react to various impedance loads. Designers of active speakers know all of these things because they’re providing the amp. Designers of passive speakers don’t know if you prefer 20’-long interconnects and 10”-long speaker cables or the other way around. Designers of powered speakers just make sure that the interconnects are balanced by providing only balanced inputs, and then they provide the speaker cables: inside the speaker, and only a few inches long. Active speakers usually have one amplifier per driver; the multiple drivers of a pair of passive speakers are usually driven by a single amplifier, or at most a pair of monoblocks. Finally, designers of active speakers can generally design and include crossovers that are far more accurate and steep, and these crossovers are themselves active.
In short, I’m a big proponent of powered speakers. In fact, it’s been more than 20 years since I owned a passive speaker.
A conundrum: Given the market penetration of active speakers in pro audio, why do so many consumer brands eschew this proven technology? I don’t know, but until some of the more esteemed names in consumer audio start making active speakers, active drive will probably remain a well-known but hard-to-find technology. That means that the folks who live outside the major recording areas will have to travel to hear these speakers. I’ve never understood why someone who’s spending thousands on a main speaker system wouldn’t buy a $250 plane ticket to visit a showroom where you can hear the speakers.
Question: How did the PMC result6 sound?
Answer: Amazing when the recording was amazing. Lousy when the recording was lousy. OK when the recording was OK.
One of the result6’s more remarkable characteristics was the ability of a pair of them to separately resolve the sounds of various instruments played simultaneously at various depths in a mix. When an engineer sets up the microphones for and inserts effects into a recording, they often get some things better than others. Jesse Colin Young’s song “Sunrise,” from the Youngbloods’ Elephant Mountain (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Edsel), features a nylon-strung guitar in the right channel and, in the left, a steel-strung acoustic guitar, muffled and strummed for a rhythmic feel. The nylon strings sound perfect, as if guitarist Banana (aka Lowell Vincent Levinger III) is sitting in the room next to you. Banana also plays the steel-string, but its sound is less realistic -- until he lets the strings ring out. Despite the fine guitar sounds, all is not perfect. Jesse Colin Young’s lead vocal sounds compressed and airless, and drummer Joe Bauer sounds as if the engineer told him to keep the racket down. Luckily, magnificent songs always transcend recordings of mixed quality. What’s important is that the speakers have the resolving power to tell you what sounds right in the mix and what doesn’t.
Once Steely Dan had a couple of juggernaut hits under their belts, they received all manner of support from their original record label, ABC. They spent the money on the finest musicians and best engineers. In “Babylon Sister,” from Gaucho (16/44.1 FLAC, MCA), drummer Bernard Purdie and Fender Rhodes keyboardist Don Grolnick set up a thick, funky groove, and both sound quite tasty through the result6es. The real magic of the mix comes at 2:10 into this track, when Crusher Bennett starts to lightly manipulate the chimes to give an impression of the Santa Ana Winds. Check to see how well your speakers can resolve those sounds hidden way back in the mix. For this, the result6 gets an A+.
For many years, I’ve used the last moment of The Pines of the Appian Way, from Charles Dutoit and the Montréal Symphony Orchestra’s recording of Respighi’s The Pines of Rome (16/44.1 FLAC, London). I love its ability to shake the rafters once the organ pedal comes in at 1:49. Despite the pianissimo marking in the score, the low B-flat through a 32’ pipe sounds amazing. This recording features an extremely wide dynamic range, from the opening pianississimo (ppp, or as soft as possible) to the closing fortississimo (fff, or as loud as possible). Dutoit and the MSO cover this range with utter adherence to Respighi’s wishes, better than any other recording I’m aware of. Through the PMCs, the sound opened and blossomed as the volume increased.
That led to an interesting discovery that I can’t explain but can only report. The Dutoit recording inspired me to try listening to the result6es at volumes louder than my norm, and I discovered that these speakers’ sound was so stable and clean that I heard no protest from them as I raised the volume. It was like driving a Porsche 911 -- everything is so smooth that you don’t even notice you’re going 120mph until a helpful law enforcer offers you a friendly reminder.
One of my favorite moments in all of rock is in the Grateful Dead’s Live/Dead (16/44.1 FLAC, Rhino). In “Dark Star,” 19:52 into this 23:19-long jam, lead guitarist Jerry Garcia has just finished playing the song’s introductory melody when rhythm guitarist Bob Weir plays an amazingly wild run, at which point Phil Lesh takes his bass into uncharted territory. You can understand why the crowd in the Fillmore West auditorium went crazy for this in February 1969. I was able to push the volume to the point that my ears cried for mercy, but the PMCs never sounded anything but clear and clean.
The downside, of course, was recordings from the lower end of the sound-quality spectrum. One of the classical CDs I’ve listened to most often is Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony’s recording of Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No.3, “Organ” (16/44.1 FLAC, Deutsche Grammophon). Sadly, despite barnburner conducting from Barenboim, including an ass-kicker of an accelerando in the final moments of the last movement, Maestoso, DG did us no favors. Engineer Hans-Rudolf Müller, balance engineer Klaus Scheibe, and producer Guenther Breest deliver a multitrack recording with little depth, and no sense of the size or sound of the recording venue, Chicago’s Medinah Temple. It didn’t help that Gaston Gilbert Litaize’s organ passages had been recorded a month before, in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, in France. This 1976 recording sounded as bad through the PMCs as it does through any other speakers.
The final question: Is there anything at or near the result6’s price that I’d recommend over it? Ultimately, this will be a matter of taste, and a decision that every shopper must make on his or her own. The good news is that there are quite a few active monitors in the range of $2500-$4000/pair. I own two of them. Focal’s Solo6 Be ($2990/pair list, though you can find them for $2600/pair) sound somewhat similar to PMC’s result6 ($2950/pair), though I’m pretty sure the PMC will play louder. Both are plenty loud for me. I listen to most of my music through Barefoot’s Footprint001 ($3750/pair) -- obviously, a more expensive speaker, but also a three-way design (the Focal and PMC are both two-ways). The Footprint001 plays louder, goes 10-20Hz deeper in the bass than the result6, and does just as convincing a job of “disappearing” from the room as either of the other models.
In the result6, PMC has come up with a winner -- one of only a handful of speakers that offers this level of clarity and capability. One listen through them and you’ll know the true intentions of the artists who created your favorite songs.
. . . Wes Marshall
The Professional Monitor Company Limited
Holme Court, Biggleswade
Bedfordshire SG18 9ST
Phone: +44 (0)1767-686300
Fax: +44 (0)870-4441045
PMC USA LLC
17922 Sky Park Circle
Irvine, CA 92614
Phone: (949) 861-3350
Fax: (949) 861-3352
* Walter Hill directed the films 48 Hrs., The Warriors, and Streets of Fire.
** A small complaint that won’t bother buyers but drives reviewers crazy: Whichever marketing maven helped create a name with a lower-case title should be forced to write a thousand reviews with erroneous “corrections” imposed by spellcheck.
*** Astute readers might notice the resemblance between the result6 and Digidesign’s RM2, which I lauded in September 2010 for its astonishing performance, and three years later panned because of Digidesign’s treatment of its customers. The RM2 was conceived by Digidesign, then built by PMC with some nice extras that let them work well with Pro Tools. The good news was that they sounded fantastic. The bad news was that Avid Technology, makers of video-editing equipment, bought Digidesign. Uninterested in speakers, Avid stopped having PMC make the RM2. But instead of trying to retain the goodwill of those who’d already shelled out $3500 for a pair of RM2s, Avid killed it outright: no parts support. I had two broken RM2s, and the model’s designers at PMC wanted to help me, but they’d been told to abandon the RM2 and to hand over all spare parts, which they’d done. Apparently, Avid wanted to make a lot of enemies. It worked. Count me in.