Pmc Db1i (£770)

This small transmission line speaker has been improved in many respects, but its fine sound hasn't changed in character

Since 2004, PMC’s entry level DB1+ has been one of my reference speakers. Put another way: since reviewing it for the November 2007 issue of Hi-Fi News that year, I’ve regarded the DB1+ as one of the best speakers available for under £1000 per pair. How far under? Enough to allow that figure to include decent stands and cables.
   Part of this love goes back to my unshakeable admiration for transmission line speakers, since I first heard IMFs. Something about the smooth, controlled, never-aggressive bass charmed me to a point where I owned compact Radfords for years, and for the past four I have used the smallest PMCs in rotation with LS3/5As – with amplification way beyond the logical matching-by-price argument.
   And now the still-delightful DB1+ has been revamped. Precisely like its predecessor, the DB1i is a compact two-way measuring 290 x 155 x 234mm (hwd) – deeper but shorter and narrower than an LS3/5A. The ‘i’ suffix indicates a new woofer and a Sonolex fabric dome said to be very light, more stable at a wider range of temperatures and unaffected by variations in humidity. PMC chose this tweeter because dispersion in both vertical and horizontal axes is better than the earlier unit’s Vifa, resulting in a wider ‘hotspot’, and a flatter, smoother top.
   A bonus – not that the DB1+ shirked from head-banging duties – is power handling said to be a shade better. PMC’s Keith Tonge sums up his own preference for the ‘i’ version thus: ‘Putting all that aside, really fine detail is the one that gets me. It’s just clearer. The new bass unit provides a slightly stiffer cone, better power handling and a flatter, smoother top end response, so it integrates better with the bottom of the tweeter.’

If an overall tightening of the sound, a removal of any haze was part of the design manifest, then the cabinet’s makeover should be noted, too. PMC employed a better, more dense grade of Medite (MDF) and the back panel is jointed with a staggered ‘V’ groove ‘rather than a simple drop-in panel,’ says Tonge. ‘This allows us to veneer the back panel. Adding the two factors reduces cabinet coloration a fraction. The new veneers are better quality, we have a nicer lacquer and a polished metal badge.’
   Within the cabinet is a four-fold transmission line, effectively 5ft long, fed by the doped 140mm woofer in a cast-alloy frame. At the back can be found multi-way terminals that allow bi-wiring, and the transmission line’s foam-filled mouth opens at the rear, along the upper edge. Despite this, the speakers can work as close as 3–5in from the back wall, and PMC makes wall brackets for the DB1+ precisely for this purpose. But, as before, the dimensions enable the speaker to rest ideally on 24in stands.

Side-by-side comparisons of DB1+ and DB1i were run with the Benchmark DAC1 Pre and Quad 909 with a variety of digital sources, as well as the McIntosh C2200 pre-/MC2102 power amp combination with analogue and digital sources. Speaker wiring was Yter; the stands used were the sadly-out-of-production IFs.
   How to put this? It was an upgrade that seems to have left no area untouched. And yet, at the same time, you knew you were hearing everything that made the DB1 what it was in the first place. If I were to choose an analogy for this sort of evolution, the closest one can imagine is the progress of assorted Porsches from model to model. In audio, the closest path to it is that followed by the Wilson WATT/Puppy.
   Most importantly, all of the virtues are intact, and this speaker remains ‘the bastard mutant child of an LS3/5A and a Cerwin-Vega’. Its sense of scale is both accurate and ‘full-size’ – none of the scale-model reductions delivered by so many mini-systems. It was able to resolve the mass and power of both Wheatus’ and Girls Aloud’s versions of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, wall-of-guitar fuzz/thrash supporting (as Keith cited) minute details in perfect proportion. It was therefore apparent from the outset that this speaker was designed by someone who will never forget his years in studios, listening for the tiniest of sounds in even the loudest of mixes.
   For me, the natural midband is the main draw, the primary link to the LS3/5A. Textures were as authentic as imaginable, from Mike Nesmith to Katie Webster, Sheryl Crow to Ray Davies. For many, though, the improbably huge bass is reason enough to love the smallest PMC, and the DB1i is even better at it than its predecessor – fast, smooth, rolling. If ever there was a demonstration of cramming a lot into a small box, a vindication of transmission line philosophy, this is it. You needn’t ever consider a subwoofer with the DB1+ if you have a room under 12x16ft.

Naturally, this particular strength will lead you to well-recorded reggae, of which there’s no finer example than Flo & Eddie’s Rock Steady. OK, so they’re a couple of fat Jewish guys singing out of character, but they recorded this with reggae’s finest at Tuff Gong Studios, and it remains a lost treasure of the genre.
   What the PMC does with the funk is simply to let it flow. There’s a particular richness usually denied owners of small speakers; the wee PMC ignores any restraint by acting like a modern Spendor BC1. Even when moving from the loping bass of reggae to the rapidly-plucked bass on the live take of ‘Goin’ Down’ – Stevie Ray Vaughan duelling with Jeff Beck – the PMCs never showed a trace of smear, never lost a shred of definition.
   When I first faced the DB1+, I wrote that ‘their reproduction of scale was the overwhelming trait that provided the DB1+ with both its “personality” and its main selling point.’ I also wrote: ‘If you need a mini that can go loud without sacrificing refinement, thank your lucky stars for the DB1+.’ You can change the ‘+’ to an ‘i’. And anticipate even more.

A win-win situation: at £770 per pair, the ‘i’ costs only £145 more than its predecessor, taking in inflation. It’s small, available with a choice of veneers and a matching centre channel speaker, and in shielded versions. It is, therefore, as domestically acceptable as it is sonically magnificent. So, it looks like I have my budget reference for another four years to come, at least.

Originally published in September 2008